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The BBC's Jane Standley
"Even without a war going on many of Congo's people would be living in desperate poverty"
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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Analysis: Hope fades in DR Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo: Everyday is a struggle
Most are too afraid to speak out
By Jane Standley in Kinshasa

The hope of not just peace - but of political change in the Democratic Republic Congo - has all but been extinguished by an upsurge in fighting.

This despite a ceasefire which was signed by the government and the rebel factions who are fighting it.

It was also signed by all of the six other countries who have become embroiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo's war.

People complain of political repression and a ban on freedom of speech just as much now as they did under decades of dictatorial rule of the late president Mobutu Sese Seko.

Open criticism discouraged

Hidden away in a room borrowed from a mission school, there is something unusual happening - a political debate.

It is critical of the government which, in effect, bans opposition politics.

This informal "debating club" has to be careful about where it meets and what its members say.

Freedom of speech today is a tremendous question in my country - because no-one can speak as long as he has an idea which is different from what the government is thinking. It's a kind of being muzzled

Dr Kabamba Mbewbew
Leading member, Dr Kabamba Mbwebwe, who has been in jail, knows all too well the cost of speaking out.

"Freedom of speech today is a tremendous question in my country - because no-one can speak as long as he has an idea which is different from what the government is thinking," he says.

"It's a kind of being muzzled."

Down the road in central Kinshasa is the office of the beleaguered Minister of Human Rights, Leonard She Okitundu.

Though he is highly regarded he must defend the actions of his non-elected president Laurent Kabila.

"There is a presidential decree which has liberalised political activity," he says.

President Laurent Kabila: Ended the rule of  Mobutu Sese Seko
President Laurent Kabila: Ended the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko
"But opposition parties still have to fulfil conditions. They cannot be organised along tribal or regional lines."

Political parties also have to have a sizeable cash deposit - out of the reach of most - and have to abide by restrictions which mean they cannot operate.

On paper at least it is better than when Laurent Kabila placed a blanket ban on his opponents.

However, it makes little difference as most people are too afraid to criticise.

Echoes of Mobutu

Religious leaders meeting at a Kinshasa cathedral have seen it all before under previous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

UN receives little co-operation from warring sides
UN receives little co-operation from warring sides
Laurent Kabila's rebels - backed by troops from Rwanda and Uganda - ended decades of kleptocratic rule in 1997.

The country lay in ruins. Now Mr Kabila has fallen out with his former friends.

Another war is raging - six neighbouring countries are involved in this, Africa's World War.

In a church sermon, Reverend Ngoy Mukunda-Nyanga says that democracy is essential now.

"For the religious leaders, enough is enough," he says.

"They have to go to elections. The religious leaders are opposed to people coming to take up arms as a way of sharing power. This is no more acceptable in this country. We don't want any government which is coming out of guns or out of malice."

UN plan stalled

Western nations have backed a United Nations plan to send 5,500 troops to a country the size of Europe.

The troops would observe a ceasefire between the government, the rebels and the six other countries involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo's war.

Congolese: Praying for a solution
Congolese: Praying for a solution
British Ambassador Doug Scafton rejects suggestions that it is an inadequate fig leaf covering international indifference.

"I think we have to start modestly and see where we go," he says.

"Let's not write off an effort - 5,500 people is a lot of people. Let's start by seeing what they can do."

The small UN liaison team cannot do a lot from its headquarters in central Kinshasa which is having difficulty getting co-operation from the warring sides - especially the government of Laurent Kabila.

Not long ago, it refused the UN permission to fly across the front line. The Kabila government alleged that UN staff were smuggling arms, contraband and uranium for a nuclear bomb to the rebels.

No troops have been deployed yet and the head of the UN military mission, Colonel James Baxter, warns that that they may not be.

Out of frustration, the international mediator for the Democratic Republic of Congo's peace process has already thrown up his hands and stormed out, shouting non-co-operation.

It leaves the Congolese people, as ever, stuck in the middle - without peace, without democracy and with hope of a better future growing thin.

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09 Feb 00 | Africa
US backs UN force for Congo
23 Jun 99 | Africa
DR Congo: What price peace?
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