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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 729: debated on Monday 18 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the preparations for the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My Lords, we are closely following the DRC elections. Despite delays, there has been considerable progress. The election calendar has been published, the electoral law passed, and over 30 million Congolese have registered to vote. There have been reports of harassment of political activists and demonstrations in Kinshasa earlier this month led to violence. However, so far we have seen no sign of systematic attempts to undermine the process. The Department for International Development is providing significant support.

I thank my noble friend for that response. Is he aware that, during a recent visit to the DRC, we found that CENI’s electoral calendar was unrealistic and unworkable? For example, in spite of a completion date for voter registration at the end of June, by July only four out of 11 provinces had been signed off. Is he also aware that, perhaps more worryingly, the most serious threat to forthcoming elections is the increase in LRA activities, with numbers back at 2008 levels; and that MONUSCO, with just 5 per cent of its peacekeepers active in the LRA-controlled areas, is deeply frustrated by the lack of resources to utilise the intelligence gathered for DDRRR purposes?

I was aware of my noble friend’s recent visit to the DRC and I appreciate his concerns about the timing of the election. We reckon that the independent national electoral commission, to which he referred, CENI, is going reasonably well with its operations. Of course the timetable is tight, but we think that it is just realistic and that it is managing to get wider participation and better registration than some feared earlier. The Lord’s Resistance Army is a plague, as it were, a trouble which affects both the DRC and other countries in the region. Our aim is to get the African Union to support and work with MONUSCO, the UN force, in meeting this continuing threat. I fully recognise that it is a problem but if we can get the African Union fully engaged, as we are trying to, we believe that we can create the conditions in which the problem can be addressed effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was right to direct the Minister towards the depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army, in a country where, after all, between 5 million and 6 million people have died in the last 25 years, mainly as a result of marauding militias. Has the Minister seen the report in today’s Telegraph online about Makombo, where 321 civilians died and 250 were abducted at the end of last year, and where 26 died and 53 were abducted in another raid on 6 July? Given that in 2005 the International Criminal Court issued indictments against Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, and two of his lieutenants, why has MONUSCO been so inadequate in gathering the necessary intelligence to bring these people to justice?

The noble Lord is quite right to deplore the endless slaughter and activities which are associated with the Lord’s Resistance Army. It seems to be a negative force both in this country and in many others. As I said earlier to my noble friend, it is our aim to get the African Union to work very closely with MONUSCO, the second largest UN mission in existence, in meeting this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me why it has not been so effective so far; I cannot answer that precisely, but I can only say that we are working extremely hard with other countries, with the EU and with our colleagues and allies, to reinforce the determination of MONUSCO and the African Union to meet the problem. This is the way forward that we think will be most effective.

My Lords, does the Minister share concerns about what is clearly the international community’s Congo fatigue, and the consequent much lower level of engagement in the November 2011 election process compared to what occurred in 2006? Is the Minister aware that, contrary to what we heard from him, there are predictions that as things stand we risk a situation in Congo such as we saw in Côte d'Ivoire, which also had a deeply flawed election?

I hope that on this matter the pessimism of the noble Baroness, who follows these things very closely, is unfounded. Our information is that 31 million people have been registered and that the organisation of the whole election is going reasonably well. Obviously there are bad examples: there were disturbances in Kinshasa earlier this month, as I mentioned. No doubt there have been some instances of irregularity, but overall we believe it is going reasonably well. As for the level of participation compared with 2006, she is right that the donor support for the election this time, as a percentage of the total costs of the election, is down somewhat from the 2006 levels. However, it is still a substantial amount at $176 million, of which we have contributed £31 million. I hope that she is wrong, if she does not mind me putting it bluntly, but her warning that this needs watching very closely is very apposite and well taken.

My Lords, if the electoral timetable is not achieved, what plan B is in place to avoid a constitutional vacuum? Considering the large sums of money that we and others have invested in these elections, have representations been made to the Government of the DRC to rescind the ban on Radio Lisanga Télévision and to refrain from taking any other extra-legal measures against freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in the run-up to the elections?

We have certainly played our part, again with international colleagues, allies and the European Union, to urge that there should be proper freedom of expression and freedom of access, as well as opportunity for the media and the printed press to have full say in the election; that is a very important aspect. We have pressed on that, as well as on other aspects such as observing human rights, maintaining regularities, getting full registration and wider participation of women, and all the other necessary requirements to ensure that this is a free and fair election.