By Caitlin Morrin
Last week the EU pressed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to take part in a conference, scheduled for the 13th of April, aimed at tackling the humanitarian crisis in the African country. The donor meeting, organised by the EU, UN, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, comes as the humanitarian situation in the DRC is worsening by the day. Since 2016 a surge of violence has swept through the country, killing thousands, displacing over 4 million people within Congo, and causing half a million people to flee to neighbouring countries.  In addition to this, famine lingers as millions of Congolese suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition; many of the refugees depended on farming to earn a living and are now unable to provide for their families.  In October 2017 the UN declared the situation in the country as a level 3 emergency, meaning it is considered as one of the world’s worst, complex and challenging emergencies. To illustrate the gravity of this “label”; the other crises that are currently considered level 3 emergency by the UN are Syria and Yemen.  The crisis of Congo however has barely made headlines. So, what exactly is behind this crisis, what is its relevance for the region and what can the international community do?
The DRC has been unstable for years, a result from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the ensuing war in its own territory. This war lasted from 1998 until 2003 an was known as Africa’s World War because of the many countries that got involved. The last two years the situation in the country has deteriorated significantly, with provinces that were previously relatively stable, now also suffering from largescale violence. Inter-ethnic conflicts as well as political instability, due to President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016, are important factors behind the magnitude of the current crisis. 
Joseph Kabila has been President of the DRC since 2001, after his father, and then president Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila was democratically elected president in 2006, as part of a new constitution and democratic system of governance that had been put in place after the end of the brutal civil war in 2003. In 2011 Kabila was re-elected, though he was accused by many of rigging these elections, and ever since he has held onto power, citing logistical reasons for delaying the vote scheduled to take place in December 2016. As the country’s constitution states that the president can only step down when there is a successor, Kabila has been able to keep on as president.  His refusal to step down has drawn widespread criticism, and he has been accused of deliberately delaying elections.  Demonstrations calling for Kabila to step down have been brutally supressed with dozens of people killed, wounded or jailed. 
Militias in particular have used the political crises to galvanize support. In the province of Central-Kasai, which had been relatively stable until recently, local militia and the Congolese army have been in conflict since 2016 . Grievances over the division of key local posts, people loyal to Kabila were picked over tribal chiefs, resulted in an uprising led by Jean-Pierre Mpandi, also known by the tribal name Kamwina Nsapu. After his death at the hands of government soldiers in 2016 the attacks carried out by his militia have intensified and have spread to four neighbouring provinces.   The rebels used the grievances about the current political crisis to gain support, and mainly carried out attacks on government buildings. The Congolese forces responded ferociously and have in turn also been accused of using disproportionate force against the militia and those considered sympathetic to it. The conflict has since 2016 evolved into a very complex one with new militias emerging that are no longer primarily focused on attacking state institutions, but are more concerned with killing members of other ethnic groups.  One such militia is Bana Mura, allegedly created and supported by the local government, which has been attacking the ethnic group they associate with Kamuina Nsapu.  The violence and conflict seen in the five provinces of the Great Kasai come in addition to the historical turmoil in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. These areas have long been plagued by conflict with militias fighting for control of resource rich lands . All these conflict combined have set in motion a massive humanitarian crisis.
With regard to the African continent, there are fears that if the conflicts in Congo escalate even further neighbouring countries could intervene to prevent an exodus of refugees. It would not be the first time instability in the Congo spills over to Central Africa, the regional impact the crisis could have must thus not be underestimated.  It is therefore of great importance that the political instability is tackled. The longer this takes the greater the opportunity for warlords to galvanize on the widespread popular discontent and crown themselves as national political figures. 
The Norwegian Refugee Council has urged the international community to prioritise funding for the Congo and has urged aid agencies to intensify their aid efforts on the ground.  Others have called on the UN, EU and US to expand sanctions “against those most responsible for serious human rights abuses in Congo and those providing financial or political support to the repressive tactics”, and to put more pressure on Kabila to step down voluntarily. 
For now new elections are planned, they are scheduled to take place in December 2018, whether these elections will take place is to be seen. Also, whether Kabila will run remains unclear, a key aide recently said he would not run, but Kabila himself has been silent about it.