Conventional Weapons Destruction Challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Over the years, I have visited more than 75 countries where the United States is working through our Conventional Weapons Destruction program to help safeguard communities from the impacts of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and excess small arms; Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen to name a few.  I recently made my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where we’re making progress toward helping the country to declare itself Landmine Impact-Free by 2017.

Before visiting, I only associated the DRC with images of war and violence. The country experienced more than 40 years of conflict, both with its neighbors and ongoing attacks from armed militia groups which continue to terrorize residents in DRC’s northern, southern, and eastern provinces. Between 1996 and 2003, the DRC was the site of the most deadly conflict since World War II, which led to as many as 5.4 million deaths. Despite its painful past and its continuing challenges, the DRC is one of the most vibrant countries I have ever visited. Maybe time does heal some old wounds, because I found Kinshasa and Goma full of buzz, music, and activity. I saw a land of incredible beauty with an enormous potential for eco-tourism and people working toward a better tomorrow. 

I also discovered how time and distance can be misleading when looking at the map of Africa. The DRC is Africa’s second-largest country in area (behind Algeria) and the 11th largest in the world with little more than 2,000 km of road in a country roughly the size of the continental United States west of the Mississippi. Traveling around the country to visit U.S. funded programs, I learned that I could fly from the capital Kinshasa to the eastern city of Goma, but from there to the city of Bukavu about 200 km -- roughly the distance from New York to Philadelphia  -- would take a three-day journey over land, to catch a ferry on the Congo River, to another series of rough trails.  Ground transportation is exceptionally challenging, especially in the east where there are not roads but trails.  In the rainy season, these trails become mud bogs.

Few paved roads in the DRC can make for difficult travel [MAG International]

Our Conventional Weapons Destruction is a key component in the broader U.S. strategy to increase civilian security by protecting lives and property; facilitate the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons; and enhance regional security by reducing at risk, illicitly proliferated, or indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war.

Since 2002, the United States has invested more than $11.2 million for conventional weapons destruction efforts in the DRC. Working in partnership with the DRC Government’s Congolese Mine Action Centre, U.S. funded NGO partners, including DanChurchAid, MAG International, and Norwegian People’s Aid, clear landmines and unexploded ordnance; safely dispose of excess and potentially at-risk small arms and munitions; and improve the DRC’s ability to secure and account for state-owned weapons

On landmine clearance, there’s cause for cautious optimism.  In 2011, the DRC Government believed that landmines and unexploded ordnance threats existed across the territory.  Since then, our partners have completed a new national survey to get a clearer picture of the nature of the threat, and discovered 130 areas suspected of landmine contamination in eight provinces, but centered primarily in Equateur and Katanga provinces.  Thanks to our joint effort and new data, we are focused on the areas of greatest risk, putting the DRC on track to meet its goal of becoming Landmine Impact-Free by 2017.

A Congolese technician carefully wires a detonation charge to safely dispose of excess munitions [MAG International]

Another challenge facing many communities in the DRC are what we call “dangerous depots” − accidental explosions from storage sites containing old munitions. In January 2014, for example, an explosion at Camp Brigade, a DRC military depot in Mbuji Mayi, one of the country’s largest cities, killed 21 people, injured 54, and left 2,000 residents of surrounding neighborhoods homeless. Ammunition from the blast was projected as far as 10km from the epicenter, and included rockets, mortars, and grenades.  With U.S. support, our partners at MAG International dispatched a team of explosive ordnance disposal specialists to help DRC authorities to assess the humanitarian impact of the explosion and plan clean-up and recovery. 

The United States is proud to be the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance to help countries in Africa and around the world address the serious humanitarian challenges posed by unexploded ordnance and unsecured conventional weapons.  Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.4 billion in aid to over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction. These programs address not only clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also destruction of stockpiles of excess or loosely-secured munitions to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, and better stockpile management of munitions to prevent depot explosions that could endanger civilians. 

Our efforts have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate, and assisted 15 countries to become free from the impact of landmines. Conventional weapons destruction in countries like the DRC helps set the stage for post-conflict recovery and development and is one tangible way the United States is working to promote regional and international peace and security.

Watching from a safe distance as recovered munitions are safely disposed of by a controlled detonation [MAG International]

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety and follow us on Twitter, @StateDeptPM.

About the Author: Dennis Hadrick serves as a Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement with the  Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Comments

Comments

junior v.
|
Texas, USA
June 10, 2015
It's shameless to see our Congolese government,their not able to fix they are only issue. Always US the have to help us ,Kanambe Kabila joseph must Gooo no more joke in Congo we never have this Genocide in congo before since he get in power 5.4 millions Congolese death we need peace in congo ,I AM willing to be a president of Congo one day!!!!. I need help to guide me this to much ,we need peace,development,good governance,construction,social life to high level I BELIEVE AND YES WE CAN Thank you American government for your help May God bless Americans
The author (right) with a U.S. funded international team from MAG International preparing to safely dispose of excess munitions in the DRC [MAG International]
Posted by Dennis Hadrick
June 4, 2015

.

Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more

Pages