KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Having the title of the deadliest conflict since World War II (with casualties numbering as high as 5.4 million), being considered the “rape capital of the world,” encompassing millions of displaced people seeking escape, the conflicts surrounding the Democratic Republic of Congo since its independence from Belgium in 1960 have turned one of the richest countries of the world in natural resources into one of the poorest and violent countries on Earth.
Simplified, most, if not all of the current problems infused into the Congo for the past few decades can be derived from poor leadership, ethnic discord and attempts at highly valuable resource acquisition. To expand on these three, one would first have to look at the late 19th century when Belgium’s King Leopold II, for all intents and purposes, enslaved the native population to extract as much rubber and ivory as possible. Once independence was given however, those that came to rule the area were hard pressed to change the previous model of leadership.
The current conflict is further rooted in the two previous civil wars, beginning in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The first was sparked by the 1994 Rwandan genocide where Hutu groups led mass killings of mostly Tutsis. In response, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front overthrew the Hutu Rwandan government, causing millions of, mostly, Hutu refugees to escape into neighboring Congo.
The resulting refugee camps were essentially used as a base of operations to attack Rwanda and local Congolese villages until 1996 when a Tutsi-led group forced the refugees out, thus causing the First Congo War. Afterwards, Rwandan and Ugandan armies, backing Lurent Désiré Kabila, invaded the Congo, eventually overthrowing Mobutu Sese Seko’s government and instilling Kabila as the new president. Kabila soon after turned on his former backers which led to the joint invasion of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda sparking the Second Congo War, a war that involved nine other African nations until its end in 2003.
In spite of the ethnic hatred between the Tutsi and the Hutu, the Democratic Republic of Congo is brimming with riches that range from gold, cobalt, copper to tantalum, used to make microchips for electronics. In fact, many of the governmental and militia-controlled mines are feeding raw materials to electronics and jewelry companies while also taking as much of the minerals for themselves, feeding corruption and instigating further chaos in the area so as to preserve their own interests.
But what’s the human cost of ethnic hatred and fighting for lucrative resources? In 2010, a few hundred armed men moved into the village of Luvungi and proceeded to gang-rape at least 200 women, the most well known incident from that village being the 80-year-old Mrs. Mburano. Many young boys are, moreover, being forcibly recruited as child-soldiers, a forced conscription that the U.N. human rights commissioner is currently accusing the reportedly Tutsi-warlord-led faction called the March 23 Movement (M23) of doing.
Lastly, the people displaced throughout this conflict not only have to contend with warfare, but also from malnutrition and mostly preventable diseases which have caused more deaths than the actual fighting. The U.N. reported that by the end of August 2013, the number of people being uprooted from the Congo conflict has reached about 3 million, 2.6 million of which have chosen to stay within the country while the rest have reportedly escaped into neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda.
What is being done about it? Besides sending in thousands of U.N. troops, a myriad of humanitarian organizations have cropped up to give as much aid as possible. One such organization is Oxfam which is working on a way to create more toilets for the thousands of Congolese refugees encamped on the grounds of Don Bosco Catholic school. Moreover, great strides have been taken by the U.S. lawmakers and corporate leaders in lessening the technology industry’s dependence on conflict mines, but they still have far to go.
– Scott Baptista
Sources: National Public Radio, NY Times, New York Times: Congo, NPR, New York Times: Democratic Republic of Congo, Huffington Post, Enough Project, New York Times: Congo’s Never Ending War, New York Times: Congo Fighting Increases, The Atlantic