A woman carrying firewood in Kibati Goma, DR Congo

Political situation A difficult political legacy

For decades now, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been experiencing a deep-seated political and economic crisis. Between 1996 and 2003 the country was ravaged by two wars; the eastern provinces are still in a state of unrest to this day. In May 2021, martial law or a “state of siege” was declared in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The security situation, which had already been tight, however, has only deteriorated further.

There are frequent clashes between Congolese security forces and armed groups, especially the M23. The group has taken control of several areas along the border to Uganda and Rwanda since the end of 2021 (see also: social and humanitarian situation). The conflict is putting a strain on the political relationship between the DR Congo and Rwanda.

More than 120 armed groups are active in the eastern provinces. Amongst them is the Allied Democratic Forces militia which is thought to be part of the terrorist group “Islamic State” and is increasingly launching attacks on the civilian population.

The prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence is alarming. Rape has been – and is still – used widely and systematically in the conflict regions by various actors as a weapon of war.

Democracy is not yet consolidated

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A woman in front of a mural at the railway station of Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo.

The DR Congo is in a transition process to a democratic system governed by the rule of law. However, major deficits persist. The separation of powers exists solely on paper. Freedom of the press and other media is severely restricted. There is no independent judiciary and large parts of the country – especially in the east – are not under government control. Corruption pervades every level of government. On the Corruption Perceptions Index (External link) compiled by Transparency International, the DR Congo ranked 162nd out of the 180 countries evaluated in 2023.

Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in December 2018, with a delay of two years. They were marked by numerous irregularities, nevertheless, the voting was an important step in the country’s development: for the first time since independence there was a peaceful handover of power in the DR Congo. In January 2019, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as the new president. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held again in December 2023. According to official figures, the incumbent Felix Tshisekedi received more than 70 per cent of the vote. He was sworn in for a second term in January 2024.

Achievements and challenges

The development goals announced by the Congolese government are good governance and stronger government institutions, peace consolidation, economic transformation, reconstruction and modernisation of infrastructure, and environmental sustainability. Better use is also to be made of the potential of the country’s young people – almost half of the Congolese population is under the age of 15.

Since Tshisekedi took office, some important first steps towards reform have been taken. With international support, his government put forward reform programmes, for instance for the security sector, the judiciary, administration and commodities trade. Extremely weak public institutions, tendencies in all political camps to pursue vested interests and corruption are however hampering an effective implementation of the reform projects. So far, President Tshisekedi has not been able to achieve his most important political goals – peace in eastern Congo and the containment of illegal trade in raw materials.

Millions of people displaced

In the eastern part of the country, there are repeated outbreaks of fighting between Congolese security forces and various rebel groups. The rebel groups are fighting for political influence, land rights and access to raw materials.

According to United Nations reports, there are more than six million internally displaced people within the DR Congo. More than a million Congolese have fled to neighbouring countries, almost half of them to Uganda (as at May 2023).

At the same time, the DR Congo is hosting more than 520,000 refugees from other countries, such as the Central African Republic, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi.

United Nations peace mission

The United Nations is facilitating the peace and reform process in the DR Congo through its peacekeeping mission MONUSCO (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo). The roughly 13,000 blue berets are there to protect the civilian population and support the efforts of the government to stabilise the situation.

Since summer 2022, there have been repeated violent protests in eastern Congo against the mission. The mission is accused of failing to build peace. The peace mission launched by the regional troops of the East African Community (EAC) is increasingly criticised as well. Transparent communication about the roles and mandates of the various missions is lacking. And so the people place little trust in them.

As at: 19/07/2023