Doctors without Borders is said to have suspended all non-essential work in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, February 17th, after the abduction of two of its workers earlier in the month.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its vast natural resources. The east of the country is still reeling from the Congo Wars, which claimed an estimated six million lives from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
Doctors without Borders is an aid agency that generally serves in troubled areas around the world. They are known by the French acronym, MSF which is an abbreviation for Médecins Sans Frontières. MSF has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for its medical aid in troubled spots around the world.
MSF has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo for over 40 years, having first worked in the country in 1977. They work in 20 of the 26 provinces of the country which is torn by an armed conflict that is fueled by ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes.
MSF has been working in Masisi since 2007, supporting the General Reference Hospital, Masisi health centre, and Nyabiondo health centre. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared their tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years on 1st August 2018. MSF along with other response teams have set up mobile camps in order to control the outbreak of the virus.
MSF has decided to cut down on their on-site staff, temporarily suspending medical care activities and mobile clinics. MSF provides aid and support in multiple fields in Congo such as conflict and displacement, HIV/AIDS, malaria, women’s health, outbreak response and malnutrition.
"Out of concern over the safety of its teams, Doctors without Borders has decided to cut back its staff on site," said MSF spokeswoman, Francine Kongolo. "The organization will nevertheless continue to provide emergency care at Masisi's main hospital," she added.
The statement was made due to the incident that happened on February 8th, when two MSF agents were abducted by unidentified gunmen on the Masisi-Nyabiondo road before being released later, fearing the safety of their agents. Armed groups in the troubled province are known to frequently abduct foreigners and Congolese nationals working for aid organizations.
Cosmas Kangakolo, the administrator in the Masisi territory, has been reported to have said that MSF had taken the action to force the local people to better ensure the safety of their staff.
President Felix Tshisekedi has recently called for better armed UN peacekeepers in his first meeting with foreign diplomats after taking power. The meeting took place on Friday, February 15th following the deterioration of the security situation in the country.
Civil societies in North and South Kivu have called on the United Nations’ Security Council to strengthen MONUSCO’s mandate. The restructured mandate not only has an emphasis on the neutralization of armed groups by a realistic and binding plan but also on restoring the authority of the state. The civil society in Nyabiondo and Masisi organized a dead city on Friday, February 15th, to denounce the insecurity in the region. The last cause being the abduction of the MSF staff. All activities in the city remained paralyzed.
This is not the first time that MSF workers have been abducted in Congo. MSF had suspended all of its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 2013 when armed men had attacked and abducted four of their staff, three of whom are still missing.
Our assessment is that militia groups play a major role in the disruption of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo unnerving aid organizations. MSF paring of its staff in the country will deeply impact its fight against the Ebola virus in Masisi region, the epicentre of conflict fueled by ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes. Since the services have only been temporarily suspended, MSF could resume their services when their safety is guaranteed.
Image Courtesy: MSF Switzerland