GENEVA (AP) — Congo on Friday took the extraordinary step of boycotting an international conference aimed at raising hundreds of millions of dollars to help its people, saying the Central African country’s humanitarian crisis has been exaggerated.
The rare and possibly unprecedented snub of the U.N.-led pledging conference by President Joseph Kabila’s government — which one U.N. official called “unfortunate” — comes amid differing views about the needs of a sprawling country where millions are displaced and hungry amid a brewing political crisis.
The conference aims to raise funds toward a $1.7 billion U.N. appeal this year to help 10.5 million people in Congo. The U.N. says $209 million has come in toward that goal so far this year.
Many speakers on Friday didn’t address the elephant in the room: Congo’s absence.
In a brief video message, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the country faces “one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises,” and that “the single biggest obstacle is the lack of funding.”
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said the number of people in Congo in need of assistance doubled last year to 13 million, and cited troubles including inter-ethnic conflict and “an epidemic of sexual violence — much of it against children.”
The U.N. says 2.2 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
Congo’s government has objected to the pledging conference, saying it hurts the country’s image. Its officials have downplayed the extent of the widespread hunger and displacement there.
Congo’s ambassador to the U.N., Ignace Gata Mavita, told the Security Council last month that the U.N.’s crisis level for his country was “excessive” and “exaggerated.”
The country also has simmered with tensions over the long-delayed presidential election, with critics accusing Kabila of trying to cling to power.
The U.N. works with Congo’s government, but Kinshasa has been bypassed by such international funding. A similar but smaller funding drive last year collected over $540 million for the country, but 85 percent of that went through independent organizations.
Asked whether the Congolese government cared for its own citizens, U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said: “I think you should ask the government whether it cares for its people.”
Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.