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The diverse peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to endure the worst armed conflict since World War II and many Congolese activists carry on a courageous struggle for human rights and peace that is largely invisible to Canadians.
Since war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998, more than 5 million people have died – most of them from lack of access to food and health care, but many directly from violence. And though technically the conflict ended in 2003 with ratification of the Pretoria Accord, fighting has continued.
Today, the humanitarian situation in eastern Congo is among the worst in the world. In the eastern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced and too frightened to return home. The conditions for women and girls are particularly troubling: thousands have been raped by militia men or soldiers from the national army.
KAIROS works with human rights partners in the DRC, including Héritiers de la justice (HJ), the Protestant churches’ service organization for human rights and peace. Based in Bukavu, HJ's mandate is to work non-violently to support human rights and reconciliation in the South Kivu, North Kivu and Maniema regions, as well as the larger Great Lakes region of Africa including Rwanda and Burundi.
The elections held in 2006 were meant to put an end to the era of dictatorship and war in the DRC. It had been over 40 years since Mobutu Sese Seko, with the help of U.S. and Belgian security agents, overthrew Congo's last elected government and killed its leader, Patrice Lumumba. Despite the historic 2006 elections, the underlying causes of conflict in the DRC – such as disarmament of militias, army reform, the legacy of the genocide in Rwanda, and the illegal exploitation of Congo’s mineral wealth – have not been adequately addressed in the country, and hostilities have continued.
On 12th December 2008, a Group of Experts on the DRC appointed by the United Nations delivered a report to the Security Council providing one more piece of evidence that the main source of financing for the militias in the country comes from the illicit trade of natural resources, particularly cassiterite, gold, coltan and wolframite. The Group presented an appraisal of the mining operations and showed evidence linking these activities with some exporters based in South Kivu, as well as foreign consumers at the head of the chain.
DRC's soil holds at least 80% of the world's coltan, for example. Coltan is refined into a heat-resistant powder called tantalum that can carries the high electrical charge needed in computers, video cameras and game consoles; it is also necessary for the capacitors that control the charge in cell phone circuit boards. All of the parties involved in the war in DRC have been involved in the mining and sale of coltan according to the UN, including, most notoriously, former members of the Hutu regime that committed the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but have since fled across the border into the DRC and formed the militia group, Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR). The illegal trade in these resources fuels conflict in the DRC and neighbouring countries.
The December 2008 report builds on the work of another UN panel struck in 2003 to research the connection between war and resources. The first panel concluded that a predatory network of the elite including army and government officials had been established in the DRC for the illegal exploitation of resources leading to "an economy of war" in the country. The panel called on the United Nations to impose financial restrictions on 29 companies and 54 individuals involved in the pillaging. It also named 85 multinational mining firms accusing them of ignoring OECD guidelines on ethics.
Eight Canadian companies were on the original list of those that had violated OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
A Chance for Peace
The United Nations has the largest peacekeeping force in the world stationed in the Congo and trying to halt the violence. It numbers about 17,000 members. But Congo is a region the size of Western Europe, and the troops cannot be everywhere at once.
In January, 2008, following weeks of negotiations, 22 armed groups and the government came together in the town of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the east, and signed a ceasefire agreement. Unfortunately, the former genocidaires from Rwanda (members of the FDLR) were not included in the agreement.
Nonetheless, the Goma agreement provided for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops from key areas and creation of a program for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants into civilian life or the national army (FARDC). The Agreement and the resulting Amani peace process followed negotiations between the government, renegade general Laurent Nkunda and numerous Mai Mai (community-based) militias to end fighting that had resumed in the region late in 2006. The new program, headed by a Catholic priest, has so far failed to provide a durable peace. Despite the promises, human rights abuses continue, and in the fall of 2008 new waves of violence erupted in the east.
The ceasefire brought a great sense of hope to the Congolese people. Urgent action is needed to get the peace deal back on track.
Africa's Blessing, Africa's Curse: The legacy of resource extraction.
This KAIROS publication is available on our order form. Designed for personal reading and the classroom, it offers an overview of African nations' struggle to control their mineral wealth-- and the colonial forces that have sought that wealth for themselves.
KAIROS policy briefing paper #3: Will Democracy Take Root in the Congo? (Oct 2006, PDF format)
Africafiles' Central Africa section
Human Rights Watch Congo section
Pambazuka's Conflict and Emergency section:
Congo's Hidden Tragedy: 65 million people the world forgot. Africa Files/ Hugh McCullum
Development and Peace: Bishops speak on Congo's Dirty War