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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—July 1, 1999

July 1, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

This Great Lakes Policy Forum meeting focused on national and international media coverage of the war and economic conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a report from Polydor Muboya, Editor and Founder of Le Phare, daily newspaper based in Kinshasa, and Idris Fall from the Voice of America. David Shorr, consultant to the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, facilitated the discussion.

Economic and Human Consequences of the War in DRC

The economic consequences of the war are devastating. Many years of armed conflict, coupled with the actions of the Congolese government, have resulted in the collapse of the Congolese economy.

This is evident in the decrease in national production and the subsequent flight of foreign investors. National companies have also been affected by the war and have downsized their productions. The largest mining enterprise, GECA-mine, is in the process of laying-off 12,000 of its existing 16,000 workers, and the Banque Commerciale du Congo is laying-off 1,200 of its existing 1,500 employees, leaving many Congolese unemployed.

Moreover, because of lack of internal production, the DRC’s economy is dependent on outside resources for purposes of revenue as well as importation of goods. The significance of the dioxin crisis surrounding Belgian chicken has been the drop in taxes and customs which the government used to collect on frozen chicken from Belgium.

Finally, the existing resources for refugees are insufficient. Not only is there a lack of water, blankets, and proper medical attention, but many refugees are fleeing to territories which are just as war-ravaged as their own area of origin.

Media Repression

The economic disaster has also affected the Congolese media. In order to survive, the press has had to reduce its production costs. The daily newspaper Le Phare has been reduced to a few pages compared to 32 pages per issue in 1990. Though the newspaper costs eight cents per issue, the reading public cannot afford to buy a newspaper every day. As a result, people have resorted to displaying Le Phare’s pages in parliament offices and on public walls. Though this shows public interest in current events, it makes it difficult for Le Phare to continue production.

Freedom of the press is also threatened. Following the publication of an article concerning the arrest of a former Minister of Planning, the police arrested the article’s author, and the Minister of Information and Justice held a press conference stating that anyone who published statements criticizing Kabila’s government would be arrested.

Lack of international attention

The international media should be responsible for informing the international community of the 50 million people currently in DRC who are enduring the war and deserve humanitarian aid.

While the international community has responded with great coordination to the Kosovo crisis, pressure should also be exercised on African leaders to urge them to end the fighting and move towards democratization. Moreover, attention should also be directed towards the needs of the Congolese population and the millions of Congolese refugees.

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