||In his book, “King Leopold’s Ghost”, Adam Hochschild writes: “At the time of the Congo controversy a hundred years ago, the idea of full human rights, political, social, and economic, was a profound threat to the established order of most countries on earth. It still is today.”
His words hold true today, partly, because the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) contains Africa’s largest single deposit of gold, along with diamonds, coltan, cobalt, zinc, iron, coal, and uranium. It is reported that Congo has been a key source of uranium for the West since the birth of nuclear technology. Congo provided most of the uranium used to make the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. (1)
These natural resources are particularly plentiful in the northeastern part of the DRC, where seven militia groups are still fighting – two years after the signing of the “final peace agreement”. The fighting is mainly about the control of the region, for the control of the region brings with it economic power. The latter is extraordinarily crucial for any militia group existing in a country which is in political turmoil, like the DRC.
In June 2004, the investigative NGO, Global Witness, issued a report that detailed how the DRC’s natural resources fuelled slavery, exploitation, suffering, and a civil war. They chronicle the DRC history with all its atrocities from King Leopold’s reign of terror till today.
King Leopold was a terrorist of the worst kind, a special breed that stands out from the rest. A shady king like no other, whose legacy was characterized by forced labour, vicious whipping, and severed hands. According to Hochschild’s research, king Leopold’s reign of terror was responsible for about 10 million deaths.
Global Witness described the gradual development of the 1998-2003 civil war, detailing the involvement of different factions and of neighbouring countries which relied on the exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources to finance their war expenses.
When the 1998-2003 civil war broke out, Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to the DRC to back the rebels who were seeking to oust the late Laurent Kabila (who was the president at the time). They claimed Laurent Kabila was backing insurgent who were threatening their national security. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to back Kabila – splitting the country into rebel and government-held areas. That war, which is reported to have killed more than 3 million people in that country, came to an official end in April 2003.
The main points of the final peace agreement were that the four-year-old war should halt. That has not happened. Fighting in the northeastern parts of the DRC continues unabated. The UN gave the fighters till April 1, 2005, to hand in their weapons, warning that those who did not could face prosecution. Militia groups are still clutching their weapons, more firmly than ever.
Further, the final peace agreement demanded that the transitional government, headed by Joseph Kabila, was to pave the way for the transformation process that was to last two years. It was hoped that at the end of that two years, the first democratic elections in 40 years would take place. This month (April) marks the end of that transformation process. There are reports that elections in the DRC might be held in June. However, with the continuing violence in the northeastern part of the country, it is unlikely. It is amid this violence that we witnessed two failed coup attempts in the DRC, last year.
According to the UN: since 1999, fighting in the northeastern district of Ituri has killed more than 50 000 and forced 500 000 to flee their homes. (2) And, the 16 000 UN peacekeepers in the DRC seem to be incapable of stopping what some describe as the deadliest conflict since World War Two. This is the UN’s largest and most expensive mission, but at the same time the most ineffective and troubled mission the UN has undertaken in recent times.
And too, in a country that has about 50 million people, 16 000 peacekeepers is not that large. According to newspaper reports, “Peacekeepers in Ituri [northeastern Congo], for instance, are responsible for protecting 6 million people.” (3) By contrast, according to Captain Shebih Hassan, a United Nations peacekeeper from Pakistan, “Kosovo has 2 million people and 60 000 Nato troops.” (4)
Apart from being understaffed, the mission itself has been a total disaster. There have been reports that the peacekeepers have failed to defend victims in attacks despite being authorized to use all necessary means to do so.
There have been numerous reports that the peacekeepers are sexually exploiting young girls and women in eastern Congo. The Sunday Independent, South African weekly newspaper, reports that: “The UN is investigating 150 instances in which 50 peacekeepers troops or civilians in the DRC mission are suspected of having sexually abused or exploited women and girls, some as young as 12.” Furthermore, “the UN is also investigating reports of rape or sexual assault in the DRC, including one case in which a French logistics employee was found with hundred of videotapes that showed him torturing and sexually abusing naked girls.”
Understandably, the anti-war movement has been occupied only with the imperialist war in Iraq, and is still yet to include on its agenda civil wars which are the design of the imperialist mischief-making schemes. Consequently, we have yet to see urgently needed global solidarity in Darfur, as well as in the DRC.
It is imperative that the anti-war movement let people from these regions know that they are not alone. That they have friends who are in solidarity with their struggle for freedom, desire for a better life, and hope for a world where poverty is the thing of the past.
So, I pose the question, what is going to take us to move from where we are to a position where we will have means to provide this kind of solidarity?
1.Sunday Times, February 27 2005: South Africa fear over Congo Nukes, by Bonny Schoonakker
2.The Sunday Independent, February 27 2005: UN Peacekeepers Slain in Congo Ambush, by Bryam Mealer
3.The Sunday Independent, April 3 2005: Congo Peacekeepers Face African Waterloo, by Emily Wax 4.ibid