“You have the opportunity to create a legacy, and an example for the whole region and beyond”. Such was the message of Foreign Minister Margot Wallström to her interlocutors in the DRC government when visiting Africa’s second largest country in March. As big as Western Europe and endowed with immense economic resourses, the recent history of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been one of armed conflict and corruption. Civilian suffering is widespread. The world’s largest peacekeeping mission is is trying to keep the peace. A regional peace agreement could bring stability but economic and political crises risk unmaking the progress of recent years. Much revolves around the uncertainty around the future of Congo’s young democracy; will it be consolidated through elections this year or will President Kabila, who cannot stand for a third term according to the Constitution, try to stay on?
Throughout her two-day visit in Kinshasa, Foreign Minister Wallström – a previous Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which brought her several times to the Congo – stressed the unique chance for President Kabila and the DRC to consolidate the gains of democracy by holding elections on time. For the past fiteen years, democracy has been established after decades of misrule and war. Remarkable macroeconomic progress has been made. Now reform risks being slowed down and achievements jeopardized through the uncertainties marring the electoral process. Wallström pleaded with the DRC not to open for renewed instability in the enormous country, already plagued with instability and poverty. Already, for Africa’s biggest copper producer, falling prices on its main export commodity are increasingly felt. A political crisis and an economic downturn could merge into dangerous social tension and violence.
Minister Wallström stressed the long-term friendship and popular ties uniting Sweden and the DRC, going back to the 1880s with Swedish missionaries offering health care and primary education in the east and west. Sweden opened its embassy in the second year of Congo’s independence and has served in every peacekeeping mission here since the 60s. It was here that UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld perished in the quest of peace – already then a strategic challenge for international peace and security. Today, Sweden is the 5th biggest bilateral donor of development cooperation in the Congo and the 4th biggest in terms of humanitarian assistance. Sweden’s commitment to the Congolese population remains firm and long-term. We want to help build peace and combat poverty, not least by tapping the enormous resources of women through enhanced political and economic participation. With more women involved in building Congo’s future, peace has a greater chance to prevail.