Every time I read or attend a talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo I always end up being a little bit more confused and pessimistic about this vast central African country. After attending a panel discussion on the conflict this afternoon I feel compelled to say something small about it.
The complexity of the conflict is mind boggling. First, there is the resource war that has been raging in Ituri since the mid nineties. Uganda and Rwanda have a hand in this, just as much as the local Congolese militia who own or tax the mining operations. Second, there is the political struggle waged by Eastern Congolese who want more autonomy and political space from Kinshasa. Third, there is the local ethnic and clan conflicts, pitting one ethnic group against another. For the record though the ethnic groups in the region have oftentimes been used as proxies by the invading armies of Uganda and Rwanda to fight their own wars against other ethnic groups that have not been sympathetic to their missions in Eastern DRC. Fourth, there is the total breakdown of order. Women are routinely raped. Young children have been forced to enlist in the militias and commit acts that leave them scarred for life. There is widespread hunger and disease. The number of “excess deaths ” from the conflict, currently estimated at over 5 million, continues to rise (this makes the conflict the deadliest since WWII).
The above is just a rude summary of the kinds of factorst that continue to fuel the embers of the conflict. Rwanda and Uganda should get it straight and stop raping and pillaging Eastern Congo for financial gain. The UN has started pointing this out and I hope that international pressure continues on Kagame and Museveni on this issue. The other problem of ethnic conflict should also be addressed soberly. Rwanda should make honest attempts at resettling its Hutu and Tutsi populations who fled to Congo or are there on military expeditions. And both Uganda and Rwanda should stop using local ethnic groups in their divide and pillage games that they use to loot the DRC’s mineral resources.
The other thing that came out at the panel discussion was the role of multinational companies in the conflict. It is very depressing that Western multinationals willingly buyout rebel groups to guard their mines and facilitate the exploitation of minerals. How are they getting away with this? The blood diamond” movement worked for the diamong industry and I think the same model of mass action should be applied in shaming these faceless companies into coming clean on their operations in the Congo.
So the bottom line is that more than 5 million human beings have died and more will die if nothing is done to stop the violence and the root causes of the violence.