Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

DRC should join the Commonwealth

This year 2012, we have the honour and privilege of celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, 60 years since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the then Princess Elizabeth succeeded her father King George VI who died on 5 February 1952 (Le Roi est mort, Vive la Reine). This is cause for celebration and the Diamond Jubilee events to mark this diamond anniversary will be held throughout 2012. As we celebrate, we will be worthily singing the British National Anthem God save the Queen: ‘God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen, send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the Queen – Thy choicest gifts in store, on her be pleased to pour, long may she reign, may she defend our laws, and ever give us cause, to sing with heart and voice God save the Queen’

Well, on behalf of the Congolese people living in the United Kingdom and those in the Congo, as Britain’s first councillor of Congolese heritage elected in the United Kingdom, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute, thank and congratulate her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her dedication and commitment to service throughout her 60 years as Queen of the UK and reigning monarch of the Commonwealth trealms, head of the Commonwealth. We are really blessed to have Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as she has renewed her commitment to service to mark her 60 years
since her accession to the throne. This is fantastic.

Moving now to the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a war-torn country ravaged by decades of wars, brutality, mismanagement, dictatorship, corruption and looting of its natural resources. The country is currently under reconstruction as it has enormous potential to become a powerhouse of central Africa. As the challenges for rebuilding the country are so huge, only improved political stability can provide a safe environment, where this country will continue to make much needed progress and strengthen its fledgling democratic institutions, and so boosting Congo’s long-term potential to effectively exploit its vast wealth of mineral and agricultural resources to fund its development. I am sure there would be significant investment opportunities in infrastructure development and raw materials extraction. Ports, river transport, railways, roads, airfields, electricity generation and distribution, construction, mining, timber, and agriculture have already attracted preliminary scouts making contacts and surveying the possibilities for investments in the DRC.

It is worth mentioning that in December 2011, more than 6,000 Congolese people from across Britain demonstrated twice in Central London over the presidential election result in the DRC, following presidential and parliamentary elections held on 30 November 2011 in the Congo. These Congolese demonstrators protested against alleged fraudulent elections result as they believe that the elections were seriously flawed with massive irregularities, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability and therefore these elections were not free, fair, transparent and democratic. If that is the case, this will be viewed as a setback as Congo risks sliding back into conflict wiping out all the international community’s efforts to stabilise the country through peace and democratisation, while bearing in mind that the UK is the largest bilateral donor to the DRC, thanks to the last Labour government.

While moving forward in our continued efforts to find solutions to the DRC’s problems, there is currently watershed as a new vision for change in the DRC has emerged with the launch of the DRC’s Commonwealth Membership Bid on Tuesday 17 January 2012 at Islington town hall in North London. I was privileged to host this historic town hall meeting on Congo joining the Commonwealth with the support of Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, Councillor Catherine West, Islington council leader, Councillor Phil Kelly, Islington mayor, with guest speaker visiting Islington Jose Makila DRC MP and former governor of the Equateur province. Jose Makila has promised to put forward a motion about Congo joining the Commonwealth in the DRC parliament. The meeting was well attended by the Congolese community as we have successfully planted a seed that will see one day the DRC being part of the Commonwealth.

Talking about the Commonwealth of Nations, the main objectives of the Commonwealth include ensuring that democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and basic human rights are adhered to by member states. I agree that most club members are on the correct track in this aspect but others in the minority face monumental tasks but I am confident that being part of this organisation will help. The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth and most Commonwealth countries are republics. The Queen has been made its head in a personal capacity, that role is not vested in the Crown. As membership criteria has been widened, new members of the Commonwealth are not required to have been former British colonies. The organisation has moved on from its imperial past and to prove this point, former Portuguese colony Mozambique joined the organization in 1995 and former Belgian colony Rwanda also joined in 2009. To date, many countries are eligible to make a formal application to join the Commonwealth, including the DRC.

On International Affairs, the Labour party promotes peace, democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law. These are the same core values that sustain the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a treaty organisation championing democracy, human rights, transparency, good governance, accountability and the rule of law among its member states.

That is why I urge the UK government through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK embassy in DRC, the department for international development and the APPG on the Great Lakes region of Africa to support the DRC in its bid to join the Commonwealth.

I strongly believe that by joining the Commonwealth, the DRC will make much-needed progress on its road to recovery through democratisation, sustainable peace, respect of human rights, strengthening its state institutions, reinforcing its ties with the UK and therefore improving bilateral cooperation between these two countries through trade, investment and business opportunities to create UK jobs and DRC jobs as well. On political, economic and social development of parliamentarians, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will ensure we keep the principles of our parliaments and assist parliamentarians within the Commonwealth member states to have the capacity, information and cooperation and to know their duties and responsibilities as parliamentarians. This will ensure capacity building of the Commonwealth parliamentarians. Capacity building means parliamentarians must know their duties once they are elected. They have to participate in enactment of laws that concern their citizens. Parliamentarians must make sure they supervise governments’ budgets. Government budgets allow for mandate to collect taxes from individuals and various production corporations. It is from taxes that governments are able to execute their duties of providing various services to their citizens. Parliamentarians are also tasked with duties to supervise their electorates’ developments in their respective constituencies.

Furthermore, I recommend the UK , Canada , Australia , New Zealand and other Commonwealth member States to support the following key recommendations for a green economy that will result from Congo joining the Commonwealth:

–         Engaging in a ‘green economy’ transition whereby sustainable
reconstruction in the DRC includes capitalising on the DRC’s emerging social economy to generate ‘green jobs’ and other employment, including for former combatants
–         Diversifying energy sources as a basis for restarting economic activity. The DRC has a hydropower potential of 100,000 MW, or 13 per cent of the world’s hydropower potential, which could meet domestic needs and generate export revenue from the sale of electricity
–         Overcoming the considerable environmental liabilities of a century of mining, with immediate action to remediate mining pollution ‘hot spots’ in Katanga, by introducing a new, modern mining approach and formalising the artisanal mining sector to introduce better environmental and occupational health standards
–         Promote trans-boundary collaboration for sustainable fisheries management in the internationally shared Great Rift Valley Lakes
–         Strengthening institutional capacities for disaster preparedness, such as epidemics, volcanic eruptions, floods and forest fires, including early warning systems
–         More detailed surveying and mapping of natural resources and integrating the economic valuation of ecosystem services into all development planning.

To mark this Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK should allow the admission of the DRC to the Commonwealth at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, so Congolese people will be proud to be part of an organisation that will help them rebuild their country through the promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance and they will begin a new era singing as well ‘God save the Queen’. That is the way forward. Wait and see.

Photo: erjkprunczyk

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Jean-Roger Kaseki

is Labour councillor for Tollington ward in the London borough of Islington

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