The Democratic Republic of Congo DRC is a country in Central Africa which is largely dependent on mineral resources, particularly Cobalt and has been making the news for its unending impunity and gross humanitarian crisis for decades on end. So much so that it has been counted among the worst places to live as a woman or child. Babies born there today inherit decades’ worth of adversity and are at grave risk of facing challenges that include: poverty so severe it places the country near the bottom of global GDP rankings; non-stop bloody civil conflict which has displaced more than five million people within the country in recent years; rape and decapacitation of women and children as an everyday tool of war; Ebola, a terrifying sickness that kills up to 50 per cent of patients and the devastating grooming of child soldiers, both girls and boys.
But what can be attributed to the birth of the recent crisis in Congo is “The Great War of Africa” which is a conflict that almost crushed Congo from its borders starting from 1998 (the Rwandan genocide that killed over 800,000 people in just 100days) to 2003 after a peace deal was signed. It sucked in soldiers and civilians from nine nations – as well as countless rebel groups. And it was fought almost entirely inside the borders of the unfortunate Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since 2003 until now, the people of Congo have however not known any lasting peace, despite several failed attempts at intervention by UN and its peacemakers. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a radical Islamist rebel group and the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), an agricultural and religious group made up of ethnic Lendu people are two factions most responsible for the nation’s unrest. Their attacks have left at least 704 people dead and certain elements constituting genocide which is a rare designation under international law may be present. And what’s worse? The FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) army and police have failed to stop the violence and have themselves carried out executions, rapes and arbitrary arrests. Nearly 57,000 Congolese have fled to Uganda while more than half a million have been displaced in their homeland.
According a UN report, the barbarity that characterizes these attacks – including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war – reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages. Rape has especially been a brutal and common part of the DR Congo crisis.
“Rape is a weapon even more powerful than a bomb or a bullet. At least with a bullet, you die. But if you have been raped, you appear to the community like someone who is cursed. After rape, no one will talk to you; no man will see you. It’s a living death,” said Jeanna Mukuninwa, a 16-year-old Congolese survivor of multiple gang rapes at the hands of soldiers.
There is however a more advanced and organized driver of these tragedic pattern in Africa. Congo is extremely rich in gold, diamond, copper, cobalt, tin, uranium, coltan and many others. It has 64% (the largest) of the world’s coltan; a precious mineral that is needed for our modern electronics such as phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, jet engines and so on. So, it is a reality currently under the scrutiny of the UN, that the multinational corporate makers of these products and their government serve as the engine of conflict in the east of Congo. The trading of its precious minerals has kept armed groups and elements of the Congolese army funded throughout the fifteen-year conflict in the east of the country. In other words, mining plays a significant role in financing rebel activity in the country and fueling the ongoing conflict. Informal miners, or diggers, work in appalling conditions. Members of the military or rebel groups infiltrate the mineral trade, diggers’ lives are not secure and their incomes are incredibly downsized. Soldiers in the east of Congo can make thousands of dollars a week in each mine they illegally tax. There is a whole market thriving on the blood and misery of the people of Congo with giant tech-driven capitalist nations as its patrons.
“The mineral riches that should make the country wealthy have funded governments whose corruption has undermined the young democracy and left its people desperately poor.”
Michael J. Kavanaugh in The New York Times
The people of Congo having suffered great unrest and inhumane conditions are awakening to hope and there is a surging outcry for justice, restitution and peace. They have taken to the streets of Congo and social media to make their plights known to the world and garner relevant supports. For an African nation filled with so much potential to catch up with its thriving sisters, Congo is so ridden with heartbreak that its future is alarmingly endangered.