Today’s BBC reports rapes and killings by rebels and DRC forces as 250,000 people are displaced hiding in the bush or simply trekking along roads to nowhere. One only has to listen to stories by asylum seekers and refugees in the UK to know what horrors women, children and men are faced with. Most of the reports in the media explain the conflict in terms of rebels and Congolese forces, Tutsis, Hutus – yet more African tribal warfare and unspeakable acts of violence. These simplistic explanations are easy and do not require much thought just use the copy from a few years ago or from some other conflict.
I listened to a report from the DRC on photographer Rankin who has documented life in the DRC with his exhibition of people. Asked why, he responds that people don’t want to hear about doom and gloom so happy photos instead. Well surprise surprise there are real people in the DRC – they laugh, love, fight, have babies, go to work, work the farms, fish, go to school – that is the reality as much as the reality is that right now and for the last 20 years hundreds of thousands have lived in an almost constant state of terror. We don’t need happy photos to know people live!
Back to the conflict. Take this Q&A from the BBC site
What is the conflict about?
For years fighting in DR Congo has been fuelled the country’s vast mineral wealth.
DR Congo is about the size of western Europe, but with no road or rail links from one side of the country to the other. That makes it easy for all sides in a conflict to take advantage of any anarchy and plunder natural resources.
Why has the fighting broken out again?
It is not entirely clear.
But Gen Nkunda has always said he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide.
The Congolese government has often promised to stop the Hutu forces from using its territory, but has not done so.
But the truth is far more complex and much deeper than these cheap explanations. Johann Harris provides some real depth and home truths. We are all culpable in the conflict and the West’s uabated greed and desire for the many mineral resources in the Eastern Congo. Describing those involved as the “armies of business” whose aim it is to “seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling”. The BBC and other media present what Harris calls the “official story” quoted above, one that conveniently ignores Western complicity and the true story, one which has been around for 200years.
There are two stories about how this war began — the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were, at least not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were — and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice — so six other countries invaded.
These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole — and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them.
There are 17,000 UN troops (MONUC) in the DRC. They are there supposedly to protect civilians. A UN spokesperson said last week, first there were not enough troops to cover the whole country. Well they could start with covering the conflict zones in the Eastern region where at present they have only 6,000 troops. Why so few? Then he said no it wasn’t that they didn’t have enough troops but they were not the right sort of troops. What are the UN waiting for – another massacre just as they waited and did nothing in Rwanda? Why are they not prepared after all they are on the ground and must know what is happening? Their lack of action in the DRC is yet another example of their uselessness. The UN forces are more likely to add to the conflict by harassing, raping and killing civilians than actually protecting them as anyone living in Haiti or Darfur will attest to. Early this week, the people threw stones at the UN for failing to protect them against the rebel forces.
The refugees watched in anger as the UN tanks headed away from the battlefield and the Tutsi rebels they were supposed to be stopping.
“Where are they going? They’re supposed to protect us!” shouted Jean-Paul Maombi, a 31-year-old nurse who had fled his village because of the violence. Nearby, young men hurled rocks at the UN troops.
In 2006 just before the elections, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja was interviewed in Pambazuka News on “the strategic importance of the DRC. Nzongola-Ntalaja believed the elections were more important to the international community so they could continue with the unrestricted access to the DRC’s mineral resources. Just as they had in 1906 so too they would have in 2006.
What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non- African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo.
This helps to explain the EU proposal, lead by France, to send troops to Goma under the guise of humanitarian aid – the reality is the troops are being sent to protect their interests. In the post, “1906 – 2006 History Repeats Itself” I detail some of the multinationals created by King Leopold at the beginning of the 20th century, the early post independence period and Patrice Lumumba up till the present.
200 years of conflict minerals fueled by Western multinationals in the Great Lakes region. Harris ends his report by calling for the prosecution of multinational corporations buying the “blood-soaked natural resources” from rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda and Rwandan businessmen who then sell to Western businesses and corporations. By this time next week, the US will have a new President in Barack Obama who speaks loudly of change. I for one will not be holding my breath but at the very least I hope those in the US who support him, often it seems unquestionably, will remember the people of the DRC are tired of rapes, killings and poverty. All of us in Africa are tired of the never ending exploitation and poverty. Yes we are all thankful for the band aids, those small targeted projects. But what we need is a real meaningfully change which can begin as Harris suggests by putting people before profit…..“values the lives of black people more than it values profit.”