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The Congo War, take three?

Confused about what’s going on in the northern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people who follow African issues closely were surprised to see fighting in the eastern DRC become so fierce so quickly. I suspect I’m not the only person tearing myself away from US elections coverage and trying to catch up on an extremely complex situation.

The very basic rundown: DRC has been nominally “at peace” since a ceasefire was signed in 2003 between most of the parties involved with the Second Congo War, often referred to as “Africa’s World War”. It’s a conflict that has cost the lives of over 5 million people, largely due to disease and poverty exacerbated by the fighting, rather than to direct violence. And the conflict has never really ended, despite reasonably successful elections in 2006.

The conflict, in part, is an outgrowth of the Rwandan genocide. When Paul Kagame’s forces chased Hutu militias out of Rwanda in 1994, they fled across the border into eastern DRC. This created one of the world’s most morally complicated humanitarian situations. People who’d fled Rwanda were refugees, and many legitimately feared for their lives, so humanitarian organizations felt compelled to care for them. But it became clear that these camps were housing and feeding militias, who were making raids across the border and continuing to kill Tutsis, which made some humanitarian organizations wonder whether they were helping perpetuate the conflict. (This is why we don’t set up refugee camps in war zones… but it’s very hard to figure out where those zones actually are.)

There are still Hutu militias in eastern DRC. And there’s a Tutsi militia as well, the CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda. This group is nominally a self-defense miliia to protect Tutsi populations against the Hutu groups… but things are a little complicated in eastern DRC. This part of the country has amazing natural resources – a wealth of minerals as well as valuable timber – and anyone who’s fighting in eastern DRC is probably also attempting to gain a share of some of this wealth. When the Second Congo War ranged, it drew in Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, all of whom wanted a share of the booty.

So the current conflict is nominally between Nkunda’s forces, the CNDP, who are trying to root out a Hutu group called the FDLR. The FDLR is probably supported by the Congolese government, and so much of the conflict has been between the CNDP and the Congolese army. But the Congolese army is badly trained, miserably supplied and extremely ineffectual, and lots of army members have simply been running away. So the conflict has ended up being between the CNDP, who are marching into cities in eastern DRC and the UN’s forces – MONUC – who are in those cities trying to protect civilians.

This ends up being a deeply odd situation. Since the Congolese army won’t fight, CNDP – which many believe to be backed by Rwanda – is fighting the UN, which consists mostly of Indian soldiers. Oh, and because MONUC hasn’t been very effective at protecting civilians (in part because they’ve got the mandate of keeping a peace that doesn’t exist), they’re getting attacked by the civilians they’re supposed to protect.

Video from the fall of Rumangbo Station, the headquarters for Virunga National Park

If you’re an average Congolese living in north Kivu, the situation is very, very scary. Roughly 250,000 people have fled their homes, and many are seeking safety in the thick jungles of Virunga National Forest. The video above is from the official website of the forest, which does an amazing job of using digital media to share what’s going on in eastern DRC… and to raise money for the work rangers are doing in protecting natural resources in a very unstable war zone. Nkunda’s rebels have now seized the headquarters of the park – the team is now trying to find 50 rangers who’ve fled into the jungle, and are looking for places to make phonecalls and let their families know they’re alive.

Most of the 250,000 people who’ve fled don’t have a resourceful team of bloggers and videographers looking out for them, but it’s worth paying close attentions to the accounts from Virunda, because they give a sense for how desperate and precarious the situation is.

For more on the situation, which is fluid and changing:
The Economist has a pretty good overview, as does the Guardian, focusing primarily on international mediation efforts. Global Voices is covering the situation from the perspective of bloggers, mostly the Virunga crew. Sokari’s got a strong piece about western mineral interests in DRC that’s worth reading.

20 thoughts on “The Congo War, take three?”

  1. War, Plunder, Genocide and Criminal Enterprise in the Congo

    By Peter Okema Otika.

    If there is any group of people in Africa who have been betrayed by their own African leaders, looted, maimed and killed by foreigners then those people are no doubt the Congolese people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


    In Mobi, rebels and tutsie soldiers walked down the street with a human

    head in their hands, in some other places children where force to look

    the mutilated corpes of their families members

    Genocide, torture and economic plunder have been and still remain the major instruments Western nations have used to exploit and ruin the Congo. For the 115 years of Belgium colonialism and subsequent U.S. imperialism over 10 millions Congolese were killed. Today, Congo is no better off than it has been 100 years ago and has remain what some analysts have preferred to call the “world’s biggest disaster.”

    Under King Leopold II who personalized the Congo after the 1885 Berlin Conference that led to the partition of Africa, the Belgians used brutal torture, forced, labor, and slavery of the Congolese as they plundered Congo resources. History has it that one of the daily duties of the Belgian soldiers and their agents in the Congo was to deliver at least 1000 severed hands of those who have refused to work to the overall official. Women were raped, forced to work all day and Belgian officials would shoot arrested Congolese for leisure and sport.

    As if those were not enough, the United States took over what the Belgians had not finished. With the help of the Belgians and CIA agents, the U.S. liquidated Congo’s first ever-elected leader Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. To fill up the power vacuum, the U.S then supported the then Colonel Joseph Mobutu take over power in a the bloody 1961 coup. A previous assassination attempt on Lumumba by the CIA through scientist Sidney Gottlieb using biological toxins had just been foiled.

    Following the publication of his book “The Assassination of Lumumba,” in which Dutch authors Ann Wright and Renee Fenby clearly narrated how Lumumba was killed, the Belgian Prime Minister apologized to the family of Lumumba for its role in the death of Lumumba.

    Colonel Mobutu who later came to be known as General Mobutu Sese Seko was a Western boy for 37 years. He was the greediest and most luxurious African leader ever known I the history of Africa. General Mobutu Sese seko came with more vigor than his predecessor and with a guaranteed Western support; Mobutu plundered the country, liquidated and silenced political opposition until natural justice came his way. As long as Mobutu was sharing his loots of Congolese resources with the U.S., Belgium, France, Britain and his other European thieves, his Western support was guaranteed.

    In 1996 when Mobutu had become too big to fit into Western shoes because he was forgetting to share Congolese riches with his Western allies, Washington pull away its support for Mobutu. By then Mobutu was ranked among the world’s riches rubbing shoulders with wealthy cheats like the King of Brunei, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Queen of Britain and Bill Gates among others. He had scores of bank accounts in Swiss banks and allegedly owned one full street of real estates in France, let alone in his own impoverished nation of Zaire.

    In what the Wall Street called a “brain child of Washington,” the US trained and armed to the teeth, the Rwandan and Ugandan armies whom it later used to toppled Mobutu. Washington trained Rwanda army officers in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina shortly before the 1996 Zaire invasion. When Mobutu was overthrown by Rwandan and Ugandan troops using American training and weaponry, Uganda and Rwanda installed their stooge in the name of Lauren Kabila. Kabila’s rule became very rocky when he started voicing concern over Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers massacring Rwanda Hutu refugees as a revenge for the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Kabila was reported to have rewarded Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa in Gold bullions for their support in overthrowing Mobutu. The U.S was reportedly promised mineral concessions in the Congo.

    But like Lumumba, on the same date January 17, Kabila was assassinated allegedly by a conspiracy by Rwandan and Ugandan governments who have since fallen apart with the Kinshasa government. It is said he was assassinated because he was not allowing Rwanda and Uganda control the Congo or continue with the genocide of the Hutu refugees who have sought sanctuaries in the Congo after the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Kabila’s son Joseph Kabila has since taken over leadership of Congo although the entire mineral rich eastern part of the Congo remain up to now still under Ugandan and Rwandan military occupation who masquerade as MLC and RCD rebels respectively.

    As all these are going on behind the scenes and the world continue to passively watch the situations get form bad to worse. Uganda and Rwanda continue to plunder Congolese resources, which they routinely transport to their allies and fellow thieves in Europe and the U.S. respectively. Rwanda that does not have any coltan makes a U.S. $250 million every 18 moths in coltan exports alone. Coltan, which is short name for columbite-tantalite, is used in the making of chips in computers, cell phones and electronics all over the world. Although Australia and America also produce coltan, the coltan produced in the Congo is the best in quality the world over. Burundi and Uganda were also mentioned in the 2001 U.N report on exploitation and plunder of Congo resource to fund their occupation of the Congo. Uganda’s 2000 Gold export was 10.83 tones outstripping Uganda’s national production figures of0.0044 tones a year. All the excesses came from the Congo.

    The U.N. report pointed out directed at President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda whom it said are operating “criminal cartels” in the east of the Congo. U.N. said Western governments, companies, and multilateral institutions like Sabena and Belgium airlines giving transportation while Citibank give required finances. Western governments then awarded Rwanda with an increase in aid from $26.1 million in 1997 to $51.5 million in 1999. Also, out of the 35 companies the U.N. listed as illegally dealing in resources from the eastern Congo through Rwanda, 26 of them are from Western countries. These firms include Cogem, Transintra, Issa, Finconcorde, Cogecom, Tradement, MDW, Sogem, Soger, Cogea and Finiming. Others are Cicle, Eagleswing, Union-Transport and Banro Resources, a Canadian company.

    Other than the above and Uganda and Rwanda big shots exploitation, ten other Canadian mining companies have also seriously committed their investments in the minerals of the Congo. These companies are: Barrick Gold, American Mineral Fields (AMF), Tenke Mining, Banro Resource, Consolidated Trillion, First Quantum Minerals, International Panorama Resource, Milkior Resources, Samax Gold and Starpoint Goldfileds. These companies have gained concessions of cobalt, gold, platinum, zinc and copper mines. These companies have very strong influence on the law makers in Canadian parliament who have stood very strong against any political or military stability that may ripped them off their ludicrous mineral profits.

    While all these Western conspiracy and criminal enterprising is going on, millions of Congolese are being killed, thousands of women raped and thousands others displaced.

    As the West is busy plundering Congolese resources, Uganda, Rwandan troops are on a slow but sure genocide of the Congolese and Rwandan refugees in the Congo. As stated by Alison Des Forges who is Senior Advisor at the African division of the Human Rights Watch, “the only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.”

    To crown up the family of all hypocrisy has been the silence of conspiracy by the Western media about the real situation in the Congo. The Western media have constantly remained mute and when they report, they report about the need to change the government in Kinshasa. When you compare this with the intentions of the Uganda, Rwanda, the U.S. and companies dealing in resources in the Congo, you find that there is actually no sympathy for the poor Congolese. No one want to report the progress president Kabila is trying to make in ending the war. Instead, the media are busy humming war drums of how the rebels are advancing to Kinshasa. They even portray the suffering of the Congolese people under Ugandan and Rwandan controlled areas as if it was being caused by the Kinshasa government but not foreign aggression. No one wants to mention the fact that it is foreign aggression and greed for minerals resources in the Congo that has caused suffering to the Congolese.

    It is very sad that the whole world has ganged against the Congolese in the scramble over resources. The Western world is solely morally and criminally responsible for the over 15 millions lives lost in for the over 115 years since the West got involved in affairs. There is no reason why Uganda and Rwanda should continue to aggressively occupying eastern Congo. If Uganda and Rwanda cannot get out of Congo, the U.N. should get them out, as did the U.S. during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

    For the Congolese, there no single friend left that they can trust. Not even an African nation because even the fellow Africans are all looking forward for a share of the Congolese resources. Africans have betrayed fellow Africans for a share of handouts and military support the West gives them. There is no one who wants to speak for their plight and this is exactly what lies dark and deep in the hearts of humans. May be one day the world will realize how unfair and evil it has been treating the Congolese people. Until then, prayers and sympathy for the innocent Congolese people. Liked it? Hated it? Review It!

    Peter Okema Otika publishes the On and About Africa Blog in the Black Star News, New York’s Pan-Africanist News weekly. Online at http://www.blackstarnews.com/

  2. Wow—war and war—I am confused. It is very sad to see children running as they cary and some of them laughing to make themselves strong. When does politician learn to solve their problem in desiccation or other methods than fighting with gun. How are they fighting for the citizens or to their power? don’t they learn from history? I am confused and sad to see children caring— the video captured the horror of war in it first stage in children life. very sad.

  3. In a meeting with EU commissioner Louis Michel, Paul Kagame says “the DRC is responsible for 95% of its problems”. But according to the group Toward Freedom, the Rwandan Army has made an estimated $500m in the last 18 months (as of October 2008) derived from Congolese coltan. It’s plain obvious that Rwanda is backing Nkunda’s boys, otherwise this whole neverending conflict in the Kivus wouldn’t have lasted so long.

    For a more humorous background on the conflict, check out the snarky blog Wronging Rights (Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).

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  6. You are not the only one who is deeply saddened by the latest outbreak of violence in the eastern DRC. It is terribly depressing to watch the images of people suffering, the fear and confusion on women and children’s faces as they are made to flee for their lives yet again in North Kivu. But as you stated, the endless fighting and rapes in the eastern Congo is a very complex and long-running crisis. The conflict will have no end until the perpetrators of the decades-old violence and rampid exploitation of natural resources are finally brought to justice.

    This would mean that people like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Museveni of Uganda, General Laurent Nkunda and other militia leaders still active in the Kivus and Katanga, a number of the national and regional DRC army and the national police commanders, and yes even the President of the DRC himself, Joseph Kabila, should be made to answer for their crimes and/or their lack of effort to stop the murder and plunder.

    Since justice will most likely never be served due to a lack of international will and effort on the part of the UN, the AU, the EU and their respective member countries, the people of the eastern Congo are doomed to a future of continued misery and suffering___ at least as long as the Congo’s plentiful minerals and forests hold out.

    This is the truth that our ‘fearless leaders’ dare not admit to the media and the world community.

    P.S. You forgot to mention the GVO piece by Elia Varela Serra “Confusion Reigns in Goma”. Checkout the background summary at ‘Extra Extra’ and ‘From the Frontline’. I recommend that you pickup a copy of Tim Butcher’s new book “Blood River” while you’re at it. Many people may not like the use of “Victorian-era clichés” in the book describing Butcher’s travels across the Congo, but the writing is honest and hauntingly revealing of what exactly is happening today in and around Goma.

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  10. I just wonder why there can’t be any kind of stability. It is really sad what happens there. So I wonder what can we do. Sure, bloggin’ about it and make it public is a part of taking social responsibility. Sending money down there is no solution because we can’t track whether the money arrives in the right hands. I just feel desperate about it all…:(

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  12. Hello, Very good article. I will continue to pursue this article, as it is written is very interesting. Since we are interpreted very much on good information. Best regards :-)

  13. An international regime to monitor mineral exports from Congo so that warlords do not monetize their militias by exporting minerals through Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Oh please. Anything with the word “international” in it is not going to work effectively. Corruption in Africa is endemic. There have already been similar attempts to restrict imports and exports….

  14. Thank you so much for the article. I am very interested in Congo Conflic issues, but i can’t find in the web the chronology of the conflict. I read your article and i just know that, congo conflict was the outgrowth of Rwandan Genocide..i mean i don’t understand the connection between those two conflicts.

    isn’t Rwandan genocide supposed to be finished? since as i remember its a very old case…So what was the cause of congo conflict?

    i am sorry for my bad english, >_<

  15. Kazuki, it’s a very complex question. You could start with reading the Wikipedia articles on the First and Second Congo Wars – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Congo_War, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Congo_War . A very simple summary – the first Congo War was mostly about Laurent Kabila overthrowing Mobutu, with the support of Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda, in part, was trying to crush Hutu forces who’d taken refuge in Congo after the genocide ended. The Second Congo War was an amazing mess, involving 8 nations and 25 armed groups. To a certain extent, it involved Rwanda supporting Tutsi groups in eastern DRC against the government they’d helped to install in the first Congo war… but the conflict was/is mostly a very complex struggle for property and minerals in eastern DRC.

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