Political violence in Congo reaches record high
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The year 2018 was one of the most politically violent on record for Congo and data shows that six months into the new presidency of Félix Tshisekedi "overall political violence is rising at even higher rates than last year," according to a project which tracks political violence.
A fact sheet released Thursday by the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, known as ACLED, said there have been nearly 790 "organized political violence events" in more than 420 locations since Tshisekedi's inauguration on Jan. 24.
There were nearly 1,900 conflict-related fatalities reported in connection with these events, including over 760 deaths from violence targeting civilians, it said.
By comparison, ACLED said that during the same period in 2018, under Tshisekedi's predecessor Joseph Kabila, it recorded almost 630 political violence events in nearly 260 locations, resulting in approximately 500 reported fatalities.
It said an upsurge in conflict in eastern Congo, an outbreak of the Ebola virus that has become an epidemic, and a contentious election were contributing factors.
Tshisekedi was declared winner of a long-delayed election after Kabila, under international pressure, relinquished power after 18 years. Tshisekedi's victory was disputed by another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, who maintained that he won — but lost an appeal.
The Ebola outbreak in northeastern Congo has killed more than 1,700 people since it started nearly a year ago in North Kivu province. It is spreading in a restless region where dozens of rebel groups are active and wary communities had never experienced the disease before.
Health workers have faced misinformation and even deadly attacks that have hampered the critical work of tracing contacts of infected people and deploying an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine. The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak an international health emergency on July 17.
ACLED said that since Tshisekedi's inauguration, the highest levels of political violence have occurred in North Kivu, where 50% of incidents took place, followed by the provinces of South Kivu and Ituri.
In North Kivu's Beni region, there have been over 80 political violence events and more than 140 fatalities since January, it said.
Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy for Congo, told the Security Council on Wednesday that violence in conflict areas is still having a "devastating impact on civilians" and cited increased fighting in several areas of eastern Congo in the past weeks.
In Ituri province, Zerrougui said, "spoilers are seeking to play on ethnic tensions to instigate inter-community violence" and more than 350,000 people have been displaced.
ACLED said it recorded "a surge in violence against civilians" in Ituri, with over 360 civilian deaths reported between June 1 and July 20.
It said Lendu ethnic militias were responsible for 57% of the fatalities and unidentified ethnic militias for 28%, adding that much of the violence targeted the Hema community.