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Violence in Congo: What do we see when we take a step back?

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Schalk van Zuydam/AP

(Read caption) Congolese troops walk as they provide security for villagers on the outskirts of Walikale, Congo in September 2010. Violence in the competition for minerals is spiraling out of control in this corner of Congo, where hundreds of victims of a mass gang-rape that drew international outrage include the mother, wife, sisters and cousins of a militia leader whose fighters were among the alleged attackers.

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Sometimes it's good to take a step back and look at the Congo in historical perspective. So often we are bombarded by bad news stories in the press – not the least the recent rape statistics – that we lose perspective. After all, there have been some notable achievements since 2009: the main political faultline in the region between Congo and Rwanda has been patched over by a tenuous peace deal, Nkunda has been arrested and the CNDP semi-integrated into the Congolese army. A series of armed groups has also been semi-integrated (emphasis probably on "semi") and the series of offensives by the Congolese army (Kimia II, Umoja Wetu, Amani Leo, Ruwenzori) has petered off a bit in 2011.

So is the situation on the ground better now than a year ago?

The short answer is that we don't really know. Obviously, all the operations I mentioned above provoked massive human rights abuses and displacement. The event data is still pretty patchy, although Ushahidi is trying to do some rudimentary crowd-sourcing. One way of getting leverage on this question is by looking at displacement, as IDPs are somewhat easier to count than deaths or rapes. Here's what we know:

  • July 2008: 1.25 million internally displaced people
  • November 2008: 1.4 million
  • July 2009: 2 million
  • September 2010: 1.7 million
  • March 2011: 1.7 million

There seems to be some discrepancy in the data from different sources. The above is from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. See the original post for a graph, however, that doesn't quite jive with that.

In any case, it seems that most agree that IDP levels peaked at some point in 2009 and have been slightly decreasing since then. However, this belies the subnational variation: It is NOT the case, for example, that between the peak and now 300,000 people have gone home and there have been no new displacements. Instead, hundreds of thousands have gone home and hundreds of thousands of new displacements have occurred. While some areas have become more stable, others have become less so.

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