The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mute War


A puzzle; that is what the Democratic Republic of Congo represents, the prime example of the chaotic African state which, when allied to its potential as a country, makes it a more acute enigma. that has proved practically insolvable to the outside world. Atrocities, corruption, rape, war crimes and militia gangs continue to stalk the eleventh largest country in the world, while stuggling to come to terms with the impact of Africa’s “continental war” of which the Congo provided the central stage for human suffering. The most costly human conflict since the Second World War.

The Democratic Republic of Congo did not used to be a generic term for decentralised violence and atrocity in the 1950s. t was the coming of the various tyrants such as Amin, Mobutu and later Mugabe in 1980s that ushered in a era of dictatorship for many African countries. These dictatorships were often held up by Cold War powers such as the U.S.A in the Congo for Mobutu in exchange for support against Communist threats in Africa. In the case of Congo (renamed Zaire by Mobutu) he monitored Angola which granted him the ability to rule Zaire in a centralized dictatorship, which expanded his own wealth at the expense of his own people. The year 1994 changed all this.

The Rwandan genocide was the catalyst for the continental war. Building up over a prelonged period and triggered by the shooting down of a plane containing president Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira. 20% of the Rwandan population is believed to have perished in little less than a month between April 7th and the 4th July. Some 800,000 are believed to have perish in a war ended by the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame which overthrew the government.

The UN and the Western powers passivity was subject to heavy scrutiny. This was only the beginning for Zaire and heralded the beginning of the end for Mobutu’s dictatorship. U.S support for his regime had deteriorated in the wake of the ending of the Cold War, the result was that support against his regime grew and the genocide in Rwanda provided the catalyst for the collapse of his despotic rule.

The mass exodus of Hutu’s from Rwanda spilled over into Zaire, amongst them they contained many of the primary perpetrators of the genocide the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi sparked a local conflict in Kivu. The conflict eventually came to absorb Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and almost 20 different political groups with varying objectives and which included a fractiousness ethnic diversity which makes peace even today a difficult issue. The few examples names highlight the diversity of the groups established in DRC; Rwandan rebels (Hutu and Tutsi), M23 (The March 23rd Movement), the Lord’s Resistance Army (Ugandan), the MLC (Congo), the AFDL, the Allied Democratic Forces, the FDLR, and the Rwandan Patriotic Army.

The broken heart of Africa is a term frequently used to describe one of Africa’s most turbulent countries. Yet the coverage in the media is infrequent, even shocking. Five million dead, continued uncertainty in the eastern regions and no end in sight to the fundamental corruption that pervades every level of administrative, economic and political level of government in Congo.

The level of publicity depends upon Western foreign policy. While there are obvious and innumerable victims, the difficulty lies in distinguishing the “villains” and “heroes” from each other who having become so convoluted due to a wide range of splinter governmental and rogue military/militia forces have perpetrated mass forms of violence, including rape as a strategy of terror against local populaces to gain objectives, has deflected media attention.

Unlike the conflicts in the Middle East, conflict in the Congo are not seen to have an immediate impact on western interests (i.e. foreign policy, connections to terrorism and security, and connections to perceived threats). The result is that western readers feel no social connection with the violence in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo. For example as Vava Tampa, founder of ‘Save the Congo’, states an interesting point on the Congolese conflict and the general conflict in the region;

“The wars in the Congo have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — all combined and then doubled.”

What is underestimated is the physicality of the violence, an almost compulsory need to allude to Joseph Conrad’s journey in Congo in Heart of Darkness, and similarly the myth that western engagement in African crises, whether by journalists, aid workers or governments, is essentially noble and heroic can often be dispelled.

London and Washington may have been wracked by guilt over their ineptitude concerning the deaths of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis’ in Rwanda. Nevertheless they maintained a staunch post-Somalia passive acquiescence to the genocide and then the continental war; the result of Rwanda’s tragic self-destruction. Now today they are ignoring their fundamental responsibility to the vacuum left behind in which the West’s legacy is violently attached with Africa. Colonial European logic played havoc with the delicate web of relationships; Congo was a product of Leopold’s violent colonialism, Rwanda’s genocide was the product of Belgian differential preference to the Tutsi minority and many aid groups, officials and journalists forget this key link.Congo is the West’s legacy.

It is arguable that though Congo is the host to the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, the lack of involvement, the particular reason why Somalia has gained so much publicity is because it is regarded as a haven for Al-Qaeda and its allies (Al-Shabaab), which placed Somalia into the dominant Western post-9/11 narrative. Somalia remains an example that African countries will not likely submit to meddling and experimentation of previous past.

Nor is it a case that injecting monetary boosts will solve the problems of Africa and in the case of the Congo, likely worsen the economic Terry Butcher points out in his journey through the Congo in 2004. The economic infrastructure is plagued by bribery at every level of the political, administrative and economic governmental structure. Raw cobalt ore, one of many of Congo’s abundant raw materials, rarely makes as an export, nor does it benefit the local economy or humanitarian projects in the country. In order for an investor to make any money he would need the necessary paperwork he needed to pay off the Ministry of Mines, the Immigration Department, the Department of Customs and the local Governor’s Office etc.

This would need excess bribery to pay the officials bribes, where the drivers travel on poor roads for thousands of kilometers, but are paid so poorly that they simply hand over the loads of cobalt they carry. Not to mention the way the cobalt is attained are would give Health and Safety a field-day, with miners being killed by mining accidents frequently. Money never reaches the local economy, it fall into the hands of corrupt officials. Until this fundamental attitude changes, an attitude that has existed since the emergence of dictator Mobutu in the 1960s, the Democratic Republic of Congo will always remain underdeveloped and wracked by political, ethnic and tribal violence. Solving the problems of Democratic Republic of Congo needs full understanding of the violence itself before a viable solution to its problems can be properly addressed.

Matthew Williams


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