Heart of the DRC

Trying to unravel the chaos that is taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo without writing a 200 page document is near impossible. What is clear is that the violence continues. Ethan Zuckerman‘s description of the DRC as “lurching towards a democracy” is pretty apt as the dates on the various elections are constantly being changed and updated. The constitutional referendum was originally to take place in November but took place in December. The elections were to take place in April, were then postponed until June however it is no longer certain when exactly the elections will take place. Joseph Kabila has ensured he will be the major candidate by insisting that the Constitution allow the President to be under 35. Various militias vie for control of rich mineral resources and are now entering the political fracas such as the Rwandan-backed RCD-Goma rebel group. Altogether 33 candidates including Kabila have been provisionally registered to run for election. Elements of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army are reportedly moving between the Sudan, Uganda and the DRC with reported incursions by the Ugandan army in pursuit. Uganda has also been complicit in illegal trade of gold as it is smuggled into Uganda and then exported by foreign businesses as if it originated in that country.

Some of the political parties and activists are voicing their distrust and disgust with the increasing foreign involvement in the election process as Kabila and others make deals with foreign investors and governments. French language DRC blogs that are maintained by mostly indigenous Congolese, such as UPDS Leige (main opposition party led by one time Mobutu supporter Etienne Tshisekedi who has threatened to boycott the elections) and Le Blog du Congolais both comment on the negative consequences of continued foreign participation in the electoral process which they conclude could lead to civil society taking to the streets.

The political stakes are high in the DRC because of the concentration of mineral resources. A HRW report from last year details atrocities in the north west region of DRC where local warlords and multinational companies are reaping huge sums of money from gold mining on the backs of local people who are being slaughtered, tortured and raped.

The report documents the activities of two multinationals – AngloGold Ashanti which is part of a conglomerate called Anglo American and Swiss gold refining company, Metalor Technologies. The report details how AGA “provided meaningful financial and logistical support” to the “murderous armed group the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) helping them to access gold mining around the town of Mongbwalu in the northeastern Ituri province (HRW report: Ituri covered in Blood). Ituri is rich in petroleum, gold, ivory and diamonds and it is no coincidence that this region is the center of the bloodiest of conflicts in Africa. AGA won the mining rights to a large gold concession in 1996 but due the war did not start preparations for extraction until 2003.

In the midst of all the chaos and largely ignored in any discussions by the French language DRC bloggers, thousands of children remain at risk from sexual and physical abuse, abductions and attacks on schools and recruitment as child soldiers. Outwards signs of normality especially in the capital and major cities is deceptive. The most violent area remains around the north east in Kivu along the borders of Uganda and Rwanda (see map), Goma and further south in Bukavu. The figures as most figures of abuse in the DRC are astounding – 33,000 children are estimated to have been used as child soldiers between 1998-2002 – the highest concentration of child soldiers anywhere. Minors under the age of 15 are sitting in death row with no legal representation. Simliarly many women who have been sexually assaulted by armed militias including young boys cannot obtain justice because the judicial system has collapsed along with everything else. A Lancet report from last January estimated 38,000 deaths a month “mainly from preventable diseases such as dehydration caused by diarrhea”.

On the 18 and 19th April Civil Society Organizations of the DRC Natural Resources Network and the media held a workshop with the aim of reviewing various reports from national and international organisations on the illegal exploitation of mineral resources which included:

the signing of one-sided contracts; the exploitation of children in the mines; the degradation of the environment and ecosystems; corruption in the terms of the deals; lack of respect by the mining companies for the normal social responsibility.

The group have called on the government to investigate illegal mining and to alert international organisations to those multinationals involved with the aim of implementing sanctions against them. They have also called for the denouncement of the “mining and forestry policies of the World Bank which support pauperisation”.

The overall death toll in the DRC since 1998 is estimated at around 4 million people and still rising. The rapes are numbered at 40,000 women and girls and still rising. The elections when they do take place may lead to even more violence as selfish interests prevail on all sides. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are disenfranchised as people can only register in their home village or town so if you are driven out by militias and fighting you cannot vote.

Links: Proxy Wars in Central Africa; HRW: Gold fuels massive human rights atrocities;

The Lancet: Mortality in the DRC (registration required)