The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing a rapidly evolving Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the country. Recently, the disease has spread quickly, and, as of now, over 2000 people have been infected. The outbreak has been difficult to contain in part because it is located in an active armed conflict area in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. Unfortunately, the Congolese government has for far too long failed to provide safety of its citizens in this and other parts of the country. As of June 13th, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed three cases of Ebola in Uganda. The infected were members of a Congolese family who attended a funeral of a now confirmed case of an Ebola patient in the DRC. A five-year-old boy passed Ebola to his 50-year-old grandmother. Her three-year-old grandson is still alive and is still infected.
Fearing the disease could reach US borders, on June 4th, 2019, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard testimony from Admiral Tim Ziemer from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Robert Redfield, Director of Centers for Disease Control (CDC), on the current situation in DRC. Admiral Ziemer talked about the need to address the misconceptions about the disease due to the mistrust and suspicion that the community members hold toward health workers. He reported that attacks on WHO facilities resulted in the death of a WHO worker.
Ebola and War Economy: a Challenge
People in the provinces where the Ebola outbreak is occurring believe that the Ebola outbreak was created by NGOs to provide a reason for their continued presence in the DRC. One reason for this suspicion, notes Admiral Ziemer, is the failure of other foreign interventions in the region. The UN peacekeepers have been in the DRC with the expectation of producing peace since 1999, but the militias are still active in the north-east part of the country. Aid programs in the Congo which employ foreign workers are perceived as self-serving organizations which produce less-than-accurate reports on their operations to keep their donors’ support and maintain their jobs. It is common to hear locals complain that foreign aid workers and UN peace keepers become rich, yet the average social conditions of the Congolese people stay the same.
Of course, foreign actors did not bring Ebola to the country, but their behavior toward local community members helps to explain the origin of such misperceptions. It has been alleged that UN staff steal funds from aid projects, create ghost employees, and overbill for equipment and service. Additionally, UN projects are plagued by mismanagement. In May, Africa Faith and Justice Network, after receiving tips from the UN about these behaviors, sent a letter to relevant committees in the United States Senate, House of Representatives, the Office of the American Representative to the UN, and the UN Oversight Investigation Division. The letter called for, among other things, an audit of UN actions in the DRC. This audit is pressing because the UN mission in DRC plans on terminating more than 550 national staff jobs by the end of June 2019 while hiring international workers. Based on their annual evaluation, the Congolese workers who spoke to AFJN are good at their jobs and cost less than their international replacements. In May, across the DRC, UN national staff protested for two days against the massive and unjustified layoff of the national staff, but nothing was done. Congolese citizens see cases like this and believe that the international community wants to exploit them.
US Intervention to Stop the Ebola Outbreak
Robert Redfield made clear in his testimony that preventing Ebola from spreading to the US is a key driver to US involvement in the region. Yet, at the same time, US intervention will save lives in the Congo. USAID has strengthened infection prevention and control measures, training nearly 3,000 health care workers in patient screening, isolation and waste management. It has provided its partners with 53 metric tons of personal protective equipment at more than 100 health facilities. Moreover, USAID has broadened its approach to humanitarian needs, by providing food to approximately 45,000 beneficiaries.
There is still a lot of work to be done. While the people in the Congo have received material aid from the US and other Western countries, they have yet to receive genuine and transparent human to human solidarity which can help dissipate suspicions and mistrust. Any aid given to the Congo should hold the potential to lead people to improve their own livelihoods particularly with their own human and natural resources. In the case of the UN it must maintain the current level of national staff in accordance with the UN resolution 2463 of March 29, 2019 and nationalize supervisory post as it has been ordered. UN peacekeepers and NGOs must be held responsible for any exploitation of people’s suffering for personal gain.
For more details read : Eradicating Ebola: Building on Lessons Learned and Medical Advancements