As Congo today marks its 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium, its men, women and children are still suffering violence and struggling to survive. Thousands of Congolese people lined the streets to cheer the arrival of Belgian King Albert II and the United Nations secretary-general on Monday ahead of celebrations. But many are boycotting the festivities in the east of the west African country, where armed rebellions have forced a quarter million from their homes and last year alone 8,300 people were raped.
Gen Denis Kalume Numbim, the man behind the 50th anniversary party, said it’s now time to learn from the past and set new goals to improve life for Congolese people."It's an occasion for us to reflect on why the country has not developed," he said. "We are gathering officials of our government's services to identify why each has failed to deliver on the development of our country and what they can do to change that situation,” he told The Associated Press news service.
The country, which is hugely rich in natural resources, has only 300 miles of paved road. When it first became independent from Belguim in 1960, landline telephones and postal service worked. That's no longer the case. "I have never seen people living in a worse state," said UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.
Ilunga Katumba, 74, remembers earning a salary which let him live a good standard of life back in 1960, when he was married with three children. These days he makes just $40 a month as a driver and is still trying to support five children. He says he is not giving them enough food, and three of them aren't in school because he can't afford to pay their fees.
"Life today is worse because many people are not working," he says. "And those who are working don't make enough to live decently until the end of the month." The world's largest U.N. peacekeeping force has been in Congo for over 10 years to try and stabilize the country. But Congo's president wants them all out before September 2011. Earlier this month, the UN started to withdraw some of its peacekeepers.
Rebel groups in the east and north still use rape as a weapon of intimidation and earlier this month, the leading human rights activist Floribert Chebeya Bahizire was found dead in suspicious circumstances in the capital, Kinshasa. Police chief John Numbi has been suspended, but the activist’s death still goes unsolved.