Monday, November 30, 2009

Africa's First World War: The Conflict in DR Congo

As we speak, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly known as Zaire is being tested in ways that we cannot imagine. Civilians are being abducted, women and girls are being raped and forced into sexual slavery, men and young boys are forcefully conscripted into the armed forces. The worst forms of child labour are in full manifestation in the DRC. People are dying in their numbers in the DRC while in other parts of the world, people quietly watch. A majority of people do not even know that there's a potentially rich country (as large as Western Europe) called the DRC, whose people live in peril.

There's an armed conflict raging across the DRC, with the highest number of casualties and human rights violations registerd in the Northeastern Ituri district. Some analysts have described the conflict as "Africa's First World War". There are as many reasons for the war as there's sand in the Sahara desert. But the reasons that stand out include, conflicts over basic resources such as water, access and control over rich mineral resources such as cobalt, coltan, cassiterite, copper, diamond and gold. It is no secret that countries rich in minerals are often marred by corruption, militarization, civil war and various political agendas. Unfortunately, the DRC is not different.

The DRC is geographically as large as Western Europe and is very attractive to both national and international Corporations. These corporations have an interest in the mineral potential of the country and have fueled the conflict in the region in one way or the other. An example of a company that has come under scrutiny for fueling the brutal conflict and human rights violations in eastern Congo is Afrimex (a United Kingdom (UK) company). See Global Witness Report.

Congo has been in some form of armed conflict since 1996 when the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) led by Laurent Kabila launched a campaign to oust Mobutu Sese Seko. Since then, more than 5.4 million people have died and it has been the world's deadliest conflict since World War II. There're more than 1.5 million internally displaced people/refugees and 45,000 people continue to die each month from violent and non-violent causes such as malaria and other deseases. The figures are shocking!

Where is the international community?

There's a lot of international attention focused on ending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan and other hotspots in the world. Is the DRC less important?

Presently the largest number of "blue helmets" (UN peacekeeping forces) ever deployed to a conflict are on the ground in the Congo but they have failed to secure peace. Why? Is the conflict in the DRC a tailored conflict?

I will address some of the above tough questions in subsequent posts. We can't forget the people of the DRC. WATCH...

NOTE: Contrary to what the narrator in the above video said, as of today, the conflict in DR Congo is NOT over

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