On June 7, 2018, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released its annual list of the ten most neglected displacement crises. The ongoing displacement crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) topped that list. According the NRC report, other neglected displacement crises include South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Burundi, Ethiopia, Palestine, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela and Nigeria. The NRC’s report breaks down the concept of “neglect” into three key areas, including lack of political will, lack of media attention, and lack of economic support.
In 2018, 57,000 Congolese refugees fled to Uganda. 77.5% percent of these refugees are women and children, according to the UNHCR. Displacement within the country itself is also a significant challenge – there are now 4.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) inside the DR Congo.
Because of these and other factors, DR Congo is facing an unprecedented level of humanitarian need. As the NRC writes in its report, 8.9 million people lack access to food and clean drinking water. Although the Congolese people continue to flee to Uganda in search of safety, only 3% of the UNHRC’s funding requirements for Uganda have actually covered by international donors, according to UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, who spoke at a press briefing. In 2017, the humanitarian response for DR Congo received only 57% of the necessary funding, according to the NRC. To make matters worse, the DR Congo’s government, which is headed by President Joseph Kabila, recently boycotted a donor conference to raise $1.7 billion for the country, claiming there was no ongoing humanitarian crisis.
In its report, the NRC warns that the humanitarian crisis in DR Congo is expected to worsen and spread across the Great Lakes Region. Political neglect of the crisis is also worsening, with fewer and fewer aid organizations serving Congolese communities.
In 2005, Andrew Strohein, then-Director of Communications at the International Crisis Group, wrote in an op-ed, “I’ve lost count of how many journalists in the recent weeks have asked me, ‘Why aren’t the media covering the Congo?’” In the article, Strohein writes that war correspondents placed the blame on their editors for the lack of coverage, explaining they couldn’t convince their editors to send them to the country.
This distinct lack of media coverage has continued. When DR Congo is covered by journalists, articles are often prone to cliches that diminish the reporting’s value. In an opinion piece, Washington Post Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah, for example, deconstructed a New York Times piece in which a Harvard professor traveled to the DR Congo, taking the same path as racist writer Joseph Conrad, and, in the process, recreated the colonial gaze enshrined in his book, Heart of Darkness.
Congolese people have grappled with many years of crisis, and deserve to have their individual stories told. Sometimes, these stories do, in fact, make their way into media headlines. Sixty-five-year-old Congolese woman Marie Charline Mutsuva, for example, was recently the focus of an Associated Press piece. Mutsuva has taken in more than a dozen children who have been separated from their families due to the ongoing violence.
Newsrooms must make a concerted effort to highlight such voices, which provide much-needed nuance and complexity to our understanding of the daunting crisis.