For the second time in 40 years the Democratic Republic of Congo has gone to the polls. Over the years, The DRC has been blighted by militia violence, corruption and political failures earning the label of a "failed state".
For some time now I have hated the notion of a failed state. It suggests utter hopelessness and zero chances of redemption. The term carries a host of negative connotations which create a number of long term problems for the targeted state. The issue of categorising a country is itself contentious as it creates an international hierarchy to the detriment of the state and its people. Along with the political consequences of the term it reflects, often unfairly, upon the ordinary citizens of that state.
There is no doubt that the DRC suffers from some serious problems. Not only has it been called the rape capital of the world but it is infamous for its militia warfare. The present elections and how they are handled however are the country's first tentative steps towards dismantling its negative image. Yes, I can already hear your screams, isn't that all a little too idealistic? Well yes and no, and who said there was anything wrong with a little idealism.
In order for change to occur in the DRC it will need lots of help and most importantly lots of hope. At present the UN is doing its part via the UN Development programme and MONUSCO. The World Bank and various NGO's have all been involved in the country. However there is something that's missing, Congolese participation. The conflict has meant that much of the running of the country is under international trusteeship with little being left to the Congolese people. The elections could potentially improve on this.
In terms of its natural resources, the DRC should be one of the richest states in Africa. It holds 70% of the world's Coltan and 30% of the world's diamonds. However, despite this its population of 70 million have a life expectancy of just 48, one of the lowest in the world. Many are quick to put this down to the overused phrase "the resources curse", another of my international vocabulary pet-peeves. The problems of African nations seem to always be explained by their mismanagement of natural resources and the problems which they create. Although these explanations may have some truth they fail to look at the wider picture. The DRC is a state that has suffered immensely. Colonial exploitation, the Cold War and an initial period of international disinterest has taken its toll and cannot be ignored.
I'm not saying that change in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be easy. A country that is two thirds the size of Europe still has many obstacles to overcome. Even during the elections there have been reports of militia violence, logistical problems and fraudulent electoral activity. It's important however not to dismiss the country as just another failed state but instead for the international community to embark on a joint strategy of reform with the support and inclusion of the Congolese people.