Conventional wisdom about the Democratic Republic of Congo make us believe that the trouble with Congo lie in the east of the country alone. That is wrong and dangerous. Like a wrong diagnosis of a disease, it leads to wrong prescription and medicine. In many ways, the newly touted United Nations (UN) intervention brigade is based on this kind of wrong diagnosis and bad prescription. The UN, with its unmatched clout in Congo, should focus in curbing the predatory Congolese state, rather than promote it, and provide help in developing better institutions for the country to stand on its own feet - instead of going to war with Congolese people, most of whom have legitimate demands and rights to be enraged with the current situation.
In Eastern Congo, the media narrative has focused on the M23, merely the tip of an iceberg, considering the number of rebel groups that continue to cause untold human suffering to the people of Congo. A recent Oxfam report depicts a map of major rebel groups in Eastern Congo that the BBC dubbed "D.R Congo's Kaleidoscope." Tragically, media watchers seldom hear news coverage of these armed groups causing havoc to civilians. The lone exception is the rape narrative, and makes no mistake; rape is a common weapon of war in Congo.
Conservative estimates say there are over thirty active armed groups in the East, such as The Patriotic Front for Change (FPC), Raïa Mutomboki (Which literally means: People Get Angry!), Ecumenical Force for the Liberation of Congo (FOLC), Allied Democratic Forces, more than a dozen of Maï-Maï armed militias, another half a dozen of regional armed groups such as the Rwandan FDLR, the Burundian FNL and the Ugandan LRA of Joseph Kony, and countless others. Maï-Maï groups might soon face a shortage of names (Maï-Maï Asani, Maï-Maï Mayele, Maï-Maï Zabuloni, Maï-Maï Kifuafua, etc.).
Armed groups and militias in Congo are like a cluster of businesses in a special tax-free economic zone. That should not surprise anyone since the government is nonexistent, except its untidy army constantly accused of rape, harassment and rampant corruption within its ranks. The other exception of government presence seems to be in the shoddy mining deals by government officials, costing the country billions of dollars according to the latest Kofi Anan's Africa Progress Panel.
A white paper produced by the Enough Project explains how the Congo wars of 1996 and 2003 opened the door for armed groups to take advantage of the absence of a functioning security system in the east. There is no army or police, so armed renegade commanders are mushrooming in the country in the name of providing protection to people and turf control.
The Oxfam report puts Congo's ragtag army and rebel groups in the same scandalous category, since both are "mercilessly exploiting local communities to help fund their war."
Security and humanitarian issues are not exclusive to the East of the country; they are now widespread in a number of other provinces as a result of complete lawlessness in the country and lack of government presence.
In the resource-rich province of Katanga, the mining hub of copper, cobalt and home to the biggest mining operations in the country, a separatist movement called Kata Katanga (Meaning 'Cut Katanga' in Swahili) battled government soldiers near the city of Lubumbashi over the past weekend and left scores of people dead. Last March, the same group had mounted an attack in the city before surrendering to the UN peace-keeping mission in an apparent suicide of a group of people with no hope for a future. At least 35 people were reported to have died and the government declared a curfew in the city and its surrounding areas for a number of days. Local officials and some provincial parliamentarians are blaming the attacks on 'misery' and the 'absence of state authority.'
An inquiry of the National Assembly produced a report in which it warned the government that Katanga is a 'sleeping volcano' whose eruption will cause damage. Well, it is already causing untold damage to civilians, 23,000 of whom fled their homes and 16 burnt alive over the past weekend alone .
The United Nations (UN) has declared a humanitarian crisis in Katanga province, noting, "Katanga is turning into a province that requires the same amount of attention as the Kivus." The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that there have been over 316,000 displaced people since January 2012 in the southeastern part of Katanga province alone. The insecurity in Katanga seems to be worsening, fueled by disenfranchised youths who accuse the government of cronyism and rampant corruption in managing resources. They want to take matters in their own hand. Maï-Maï 'Tigers,' another armed group in Katanga province, has been attacking army posts and causing havoc to local populations.
In the Province Orientale, recurrence of clashes between the army and militias continues, albeit, off the radar of media coverage. The territory of Ituri is now literally under the control of armed bandits, not even structured armed groups.
Pole Institute, an intercultural center for peace in the Great Region of Africa, recently concluded that the problems of insecurity in Congo are a consequence of "bad governance" and the "absence of the state." Unless Congo acts as a functioning country with institutions, such as a serious army, to provide security to its own people, Congo is proving that, in fact, it does not exist as a coherent state. The United Nations presence in Congo shouldn't shield such a government, rather it should work to address the deep governance issues facing the country -- it is only the way to end the conflict if Congo is to survive as a functioning and coherent state.