The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Placing the Chaos in Congo in Context

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

    For the last 15 years the Congo has been arguably the most volatile region in the world. More than 5 million people have been killed in a two-decade long conflict that has included six other African countries.  Recently,  Reuters has reported that the Congolese army assaulted civilians in a rebel-dominated military base in the eastern region of the African country. International attention on the Democratic Republic of Congo will continue to dominate the global news as the United Nations prepares to send soldiers, known as the “Foreign Intervention Brigade” consisting mainly of African troops, to stop the rebel group M23 from advancing.

   International actors are growing concerned over the Congo conflict and its destabilize effects on the rest of the continent. The UN decided to pursue a militaristic solution to the volatility on the large African nation, after 1,500 UN Peace Keepers, watched as M23 seized, Goma.  Since 1999 the United Nations has spent 10 billion dollars to limit the violence in the Congo.  Moreover, a few countries, including Beligium, China, and the United States are training “commando battalions” to aid the Congolese army. Also, surveillance drones will be used to monitor rebel activity. In 2000, the United Security Council issued resolution 1304 which called for the end of Uganda and Rwanda’s involvement in the second Congo war.

   The conflict is complicated because of allegations that link Rwanda with M23. The M23 is actually a fairly new  rebel group formed in 2009 after a failed negoations. The United States criticized Rwanda after a Human Rights Watch report surfaced claiming the small African nation backed the rebel group. Naturally Rwanda officials have denied these allegations. However, Rwanda officials aren’t alone in their skepticism. Jason Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters; The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, has written on his blog, Congo Siasa  that much of the accusations about the M23-Rwanda connection are over exaggerated.

   However, nearly two decades earlier, in response to the genocide in Rwanda, Rwandan troops entered eastern Congo and executed between 500 to 800 refugees. The soldiers opened fire on the refugees under the pretense that the soldiers were going to provide food for the refugees and help them repatriate.   

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

   Of course this isnt the first time refugees have been gathered up to be slaughtered. The attack on Burundian and Rwandan refugees by anti-Mobutu forces which resulted in 100 dead civilians, is a perfect example. During this time period, THE AFDL (Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire), a rebel group devoted to overthrowing Mobutu, tried to galvanize other Congolese citizens  to kill Hutu refugees by comparing them to “Pigs” and telling them that the Hutus were going to kill them. Anytime the AFDL stumbled upon a Hutu refugee camp they responded with indiscriminate firepower that killed numerous refugees.

   The violence against innocent civilians by all armed-combatants wasn't limited to torture and execution many used rape excessively to dehumanize their opponents. In 1995 the Zairian security group, Civil Guard, raped women near Kindu. Two years later, eye-witnesses note that the AFDL raped women during an attack on refugees trying to reach the UNHCR in order to be transported back to Rwanda. Recently, one Congolese solider admitted to raping 53 women. 

   Another common theme throughout much of the conflict was the use of child soldiers. Near the beginning of the second war in 1998, children were recruited in the Katako-Kombe region. These children help transport arms, and stolen property, they were often abused and subjected to humiliating punishments. Boys were forced to rape young girls in an effort to make them men, if they refused they were executed. In response, the International Criminal Court has charged specific individuals with unlawfully enlisting children into combat and issued warrants for their arrests.

   All these massacres were recorded in a comprehensive leaked report issued by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The report analyzed over 600 violent occurrences between 1993 until 2003, the document, which catalogues the atrocities committed in three separate time frames, showcases Congo’s endless cycle of violence. The report was so powerful, that Rwanda threaten to pull troops out of Darfur if it were published.

   Of course the violence didn’t begin with the AFDL. It was the former Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko, who created an environment rich in hostility and brutality. Near the last few years of his presidency, Mobutu, in conjunction with the Union of Federalist and Independent Republicans, created a military group, JUFERI, that carried out attacks on civilians. The attacks were mainly aimed at the Kasaians, an economically-rich ethnic group, which attempted to coordinate attack with another ethnic group to topple the Mobutu regime. Numerous Kasaians were killed, expelled or tortured.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

   There are multiple reasons why the Congolese people were eager to overthrow Mobutu. In an effort to concentrate political power, Mobutu eliminated a multi-party system, and took control of the legislative and judicial branches. Furthermore, the imprisonment, harassment, and torture of opposition groups made it difficult for democracy to evolve. In addition to the former Zairian leader’s political malfeasance, it was his greed, coupled with incompetent economic policies that alienated the Congolese further. It was estimated that Mobutu accumulated between five to 8 billion dollars. Of course it wasn’t just Mobutu stealing money from the citizens, a general’s wife was stopped while she was carrying 17 briefcases filled with money.

   Mobutu’s failed economic programs such as the Maluku steel mills, Inga hydroelectric plant, and the domestic auto-industry are just some illustrative examples. During Mobutu’s regime, inflation rose by 1,000 percent while the national debt ballooned and production halted. This is a bit unusual given the fact that the Congo, has a physical environment more conducive for agriculture than other African countries. Moreover, with natural resources such as cobalt, industrial diamonds, forests, and large lakes, Zaire, would have been an economic superpower if it weren’t for poor economic and political decisions. 

   It’s reasonable to assume that Mobutu’s ascendency into political office in 1965 was a direct result of United States intervening in central Africa in an attempt to derail Soviet expansionism during the Cold War. During that time the United States decided to topple Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba because it was uncertain if the former leader had communist inclinations. In addition, the United States provided both financial and military support, which allowed Mobutu to carry out human rights violations with little accountability or transparency.  

   In contrast to conflicts in the Middle East, such as Syria where much of the funding for the conflict originates in other countries, it is the mineral-rich natural resources that is fueling the conflict. The Congo is known for its gold and tin-filled mines. In addition, Congo also has mines rich in cassiterite, that is used in laptops, coltans (cell phones) and wolframite ( light bulbs).

  Approximately 80 percent of all minerals, are taken from the mine without begin accounted by the government. Moreover, over a billion dollars of potential government revenus from exporting gold alone is not added to the gverment's budget every year. 

  The Congo can not grow economically until it can figure out a way to minimize the violence throughout the country. As of yesterday, the BBC reported that the  international community, is calling on all citizens  to turn in their arms or be listed as a rebel fighter. Ultimately, stability  in the region, will depend on the effectiveness of the UN brigade.  

No comments :

Post a Comment