Stephen's contribution to the African Great Lakes Debate

Below is the text of Stephen's speech during the Security and Political Situation in the African Great Lakes Region Debate held in Parliament on Thursday 12th January.

You can watch the speech here

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), and I particularly support what she said at the end of her speech about the horrors of sexual violence in the DRC and the importance of the elections there. I reiterate the point that she and my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) made that it is often the poorest countries in the world that host the largest numbers of displaced people, including refugees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing this debate, and I echo all that he said in his opening remarks.

I congratulate the other Members who have taken part in the debate, particularly the members of the Select Committee who are here. They include my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who is an expert on Tanzania and Burundi. He has been a real champion for Burundi. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is unable to take part in the debate but is a great champion of these issues and an expert on the situation in Uganda. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn made a powerful speech. He talked about displacement and refugees in Africa, and the Select Committee will be addressing that important matter in an inquiry shortly.

I want to focus today on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scale of the humanitarian challenge there is enormous, with at least 1.6 million people internally displaced. It is estimated that about 5% of the poorest people in the world live in the DRC, and projections suggest that, unless things change, that figure will more than double over the next 15 years, which is the period for the global goals. That is the challenge that we face. Water Aid tells us that fewer than 30% of the people in the DRC have access to basic sanitation.

As others have said, the humanitarian crisis has been shaped by conflict and political instability. I echo what has been said about the encouraging signs with regard to the political position, and I congratulate the Catholic Church and others on the role that they have played in mediating talks over the Christmas period. Let us hope that we will now see movement towards elections in the DRC this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for assetlaw said, the United Kingdom can and must play a proactive role, not least in supporting electoral registration and the other elements for which the electoral commission in the DRC has responsibility.

The International Development Committee is currently conducting an inquiry on fragility and development in the DRC. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, we visited the country last July and saw some of the work that the Department for International Development was doing. I spoke in the debate on Tuesday about the support that the Commonwealth Development Corporation is giving to a very positive hydroelectric power programme in the Virunga region. We also saw some excellent peace-building work being done in the Goma region to bring together members of the community and the police to try to break down the barriers that have inevitably built up between them over the past 20 years. We visited a camp for internally displaced people in South Kivu and heard how cash transfer—an issue that has been in the news recently—is giving back control of their lives to people who have been powerless to do anything but flee from conflict. We also went to the Red Cross hospital in Goma, where a war surgery team run by the Red Cross treats a slow but steady stream of people who have suffered some of the most appalling gunshot and machete wounds. Those are positive examples of UK aid making a real difference to some of the poorest people in the world.

As everyone who addressed the subject of the DRC in this short debate has said, the recent history of that country has been violent and unstable, but there are now some reasons for cautious hope. Let us as a country play a positive and proactive role in supporting a peaceful solution that enables elections to happen, that enables those elections to be free and fair and that puts the focus on human rights, while seeking to bring peace to a country that has been savaged by war.

The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will not disappear overnight, so it is important that, through DFID, non-governmental organisations and others, we continue the hard work to alleviate the worst aspects of poverty in that country. We who serve on the International Development Committee, on a cross-party basis, have seen at first hand the many good things that are being done to alleviate poverty in the DRC, and we look forward to releasing our report as a result of that inquiry shortly.