Africa Reports: The Poor are More Afraid of the Police than COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In the past 20 years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo faced war and Ebola. Now DRC faces the Covid 19 has been added to the list since the start of 2020.

The Congolese government declared a state of emergency and lockdown restrictions in mid-March. The Ministry of Health imposed guidelines: washing hands, compulsory wearing of masks, and social distancing. Police enforcement of compulsory wearing of masks followed, punishable by fine (tax).

Ms. Grace Ngyke, president of ACOFEPE (Congolese Association of Women of the Printing media), noted that in “several districts of Kinshasa, the population is more afraid of the police than Covid-19 itself. The police track the population and collect the tax without a receipt which they put in their pockets. Those who do not have the money at the time of their arrest are rushed to the various police stations sometimes with great brutality.”

Covid 19 and Poverty

Due to a poor communication and multiple public agencies (Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Interior, the national response secretariat headed by Professor Jean Jacques Muyembe who effectively fought against Ebola, the high command of the police, etc.), for a good part of the population Covid-19 remains a myth.

After the lockdown restrictions, social distancing and mask wearing is no longer respected in bars, restaurants and public places such as the market. Adding to the risks, in several neighborhoods, the population is facing the shortage of drinking water, exposing the population to new water-borne diseases.

In several provinces, Covid-19 response teams face a glaring shortage of medical equipment to care for those infected. And allegations of misappropriation of funds intended to fight against Covid 19 at the Ministry of Health is now the subject of a legal investigation.

Despite all these immense human and natural resources, the DRC is ranked among the last 10 poorest countries in the world. Almost 80 percent of its population survives on the edge of human dignity. “Because of the poverty of the population, the mask model is not imposed and each individual organizes to find the mask adapted to his means. The main thing is to cover yourself and protect yourself against the pandemic.” added Pitsou Kand, a nursing staff at the Kikimi Hospital Center in rural Kimbanseke.

Impact on social well-being

The global economic recession in 2020, which is likely to worsen, should lead to a general decline in the living conditions of the population, in particular through job loss; falling incomes; difficulty accessing food, education and health care; deteriorating living conditions; and increased inequality, including gender inequality.

Movement restrictions imposed could during lockdown worsen in the event of large-scale infection and affect the population in general, especially the most vulnerable categories. In rural areas, small-scale farmers and farm labourers would be the most affected, as they would no longer be able to carry out their livelihood activities.

In urban areas, where there is heavy dependence on markets as the main source of food, the cessation of economic activities, would significantly reduce the access of a large number of households to food, particularly among the poorest segments of society.

Although it is not possible to accurately quantify the various impacts of Covid-19 on national life, some clear indications emerge that allow decision-makers to take the necessary steps to mitigate or protect populations. As a gesture of solidarity, and to encourage the provinces to pursue a proactive response, it is appropriate to promote the continuation of economic activities in unaffected areas to make up for the deficits caused by the pandemic in affected areas.

The government should adapt its lockdown/end of lockdown strategies to local realities, particularly by considering the constraints of excessive overcrowding in peripheral and poor neighborhoods populated mainly by young people with very high mobility. Otherwise, social unrest is inevitable in an economy dominated by the struggle for daily survival. Moreover, in view of recent developments in the social situation and the implications of the lockdown on economic activities, the Government has no choice than to find political solutions, if not economic solutions, to the mass of workers in the informal sector, which is a veritable social time bomb.

In view of the current and future effects of Covid-19 on health, the economy and social well-being, the reference growth trajectory and the ways and means of reaching the different stages of development set out in the National Strategic Development Plan (PNSD) and by the SDGs will have to be revisited in the light of the world current economic and financial environment. Specific studies should be carried out to provide indications on certain challenges and issues, and even on new approaches to development and societal resilience. The refocusing of the PNSD should be envisaged with the development of its operational tools, notably the Integrated National Land Use Plan and the Economic Diversification Programme as tools by incorporating the lessons learned from
the Covid-19 pandemic.

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