Riven by lawlessness, corruption and economic failure, the beleaguered country could fall back into civil war at any time
When he writes his court rulings, Justice Emile Dhekana buys his own paper, pens, staples and carbon-copy sheets. Then he asks for a cash payment from whichever side will win the ruling.
Justice Dhekana says he cannot support his family on his monthly salary of $600 (U.S.). So, like other judges here, he extracts money from the parties in the cases before him. He tells them he needs the payment for his cellphone costs or office supplies, though he admits it’s mostly for his family expenses. “It’s not legal, but we have to do it,” he said.
The court system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, like most other state functions, is close to collapse. “It’s a catastrophe,” Justice Dhekana said. “We don’t even have a budget to run our office. To get money, we have to hassle the people in our cases.”
The prolonged and brutal wars in eastern Congo have receded in recent years, but a near-total absence of state authority is still blighting the country, leaving it in jeopardy of further eruptions of violence and chaos. As it lurches through political and economic crises, Congo remains a dysfunctional and destabilizing factor in one of Africa’s most volatile regions.
Here in eastern Congo, only a few armed militias are still raiding villages in the remote forests, largely contained by troops. But conflict still rages in the central region of Kasai, where more than 500 people have been killed in the past five months in clashes between Congolese security forces and an opposition militia. Two United Nations investigators were among those killed, and UN peacekeepers have discovered dozens of mass graves in the region.
Almost 1.3 million people have fled Kasai because of the fighting. A third of the region’s health clinics have been forced to close, and about 400,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, the UN says.
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