The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part One

6 Jan

 Laurent Kabila

President Laurent Kabila Inaugeration

What if a movie script was pitched to a group of Hollywood moguls about a war that never seemed to end in a country where ethnic cleansing was practiced daily on a scale infinitely larger than the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where 30% of all the diamond resources in the world were located, where an estimated $157 billion dollars (US) in minerals such as cobalt coltran, and copper lay under the ground, and where gold worth billions of US dollars could be had for the taking? What if the greediest players in this conflict were a band  of international arms dealers, former Russian and Israeli soldiers and intelligence agents who fueled the conflict by keeping everyone in the region armed to the teeth with an endless supply of automatic weapons and the ammunition to keep them continuously shooting back? And what if one of those Russians took control of an entire island in order to store his enormous cache of arms and ship all matter of deadly munitions to the mainland?  And what if other countries surrounding this unfortunate nation crossed its border at will in order to loot and pillage whenever possible- even maintaining illegal mining operations there for decades. What if business transactions that in no way benefited the residents of this country were conducted there on a daily basis by corporations based in some of the wealthiest nations on earth; like the United States of America, China, and Great Britain.  And lastly what if the rest of the world looked on in silence and did nothing.

Seem like too fantastical a plot for a blockbuster movie? Even James Bond might fail when charged with sorting out problems of this magnitude.  But this is the real state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as of December 2012. In my next several blogs I shall attempt to explain each step in this highly complicated drama, piece by piece, in a logical fashion so my readers can come to understand just where the DR Congo is headed and who the major players might be.

But in order for my audience to watch this movie and have it make any sense at all, they will have to know something about the country first. I have removed less important dates so that the reader is not distracted and can concentrate on what actually occurred but all of my facts are current, accurate, and truthfully stated. The reader can Google each date by searching for specific topics. I have collected the citations and references for all of my facts and keep them with me.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa. A total area of 875,520 sq miles makes it the second largest country in Africa and the eleventh largest one in the world. It is about one-fourth the size of the United States and has a varied terrain that contains many different ecosystems within its borders: The central plateau in the heart of the country is covered by dense tropical rainforests fed by large and small river systems, mountainous regions occupy the west and north west regions, expansive savannas top the south and southwest plains, a large area of grasslands fills the northlands gradually turning into the Ruwenzori Mountain Range in the east, a high, steep line of mountains shared with the bordering countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

According to International Rescue Committee, the DR Congo “is the world’s least developed country  in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators, like maternal and child mortality. The government is unable to provide protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from dire poverty and neglect.”

And the latest United Nations Development Index (UNDP, 2011) which rates the quality of life in 187 countries and territories around the world ranked the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the last one on their list, number 187 out of 187 countries.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) for 2012 reported that “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has recorded very little democratic or economic progress during the period under review (January 2009 – January 2011).  According to the BTI factors such as severe human rights abuses, the inability to follow constitutional law, widespread corruption within the administration, and the president’s inability to create and implement essential policies has left the government weak and barely functioning in some of the country’s more remote districts. BTI is a global assessment of transition processes in which the state of democracy and market economy as well as the quality of political management in 128 transformation and developing countries are evaluated.

 The report continues on to reveal that the country’s economy has not progressed satisfactorily  even though there was some growth in the GDP during 2009 – 2010, but this had no affect on the people of the country who live marginal lives at best. And the BTI blames the government for this, stating,“The implementation of economic policies has only been possible as a result of constant pressure from the IMF, World Bank and other international donors. The country’s leaders have not really shown the willingness or the capacity to devise appropriate policies and implementation strategies to set the country on a sustainable course for democracy and economic development.”

While the western section of the country has managed to achieve a relative level of stability, the eastern part of The DR Congo has faced constant war and destruction as a host of different militias, warlords, and the Congolese army vie for control of the vast mineral reserves located there. The UNHCR has reported that over 64,000 more villagers left their homes just in the last month of 2012 due to the most recent battles between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in Goma.  Hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their towns and villages in the past few years and trudged down extremely treacherous roads to make it to the UN- subsidized refugee camps like Mugunga III as well other UN camps established in the countries of Rwanda and Uganda. These UN camps have had to service millions of refugees due to the unstable and violent conditions encountered in East Kivu District. According to the UNDP, it is not easy to live in the DR Congo where life expectancy is a mere 48years, the education rate for adults is 3.5 years, and the majority of the population survives on less than $1.25 US a day.

The current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila, is the son of the man who liberated the country from its previous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May of 1997. Mobutu, who was originally supported by countries such as the United States and Great Britain, squandered the wealth of his country on himself and his friends. Laurent Kabila was the first revolutionary leader in Central Africa to recruit “child soldiers” and he used thousands of them to fight his way from Katanga in the East of the country to Kinshasa, its capital city located in the west. But unable to create a trained army of professionals he also used  forces provided by  his allies, Angola and Zimbabwe to hold fortifications in the west, and on the Hutu Interhamwe  to launch attacks on Mobutu’s Congolese troops in the east.  Once Kabila secured Kinshasa he claimed the government offices, there and named himself President of the entire country. Then he changed the name of the country from Zaire to what it is today, The Democratic Republic of the Congo- not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo which is another country in Central Africa altogether. Laurent Kabila remained president for less than four years. Meanwhile the First and consecutively the Second Wars in the Congo raged on despite the Sun City Peace Agreement signed in 2002. By April 2002, more than 2.5 million people had died but the fighting had not stopped.

 In August 2007, a rebel militia leader, named Laurent Nkunda, who had once fought with Laurent Kabila in the First War in the Congo, resumed fighting in the Kivu Districts uprooting 200,000 civilians again. Nkunda who had fought in the Rwanda- supported RCD durng the Second War had been taken into the Congoloese army at the end of the Second War where he earned the rank of General. But by 2007 he with many of his former soldiers deserted to form a new version of the RCD. Nkunda who was a Tutsi, maintained that he was forced to do this to save  his fellow Tutsi from the Hutu Interhamwe living in the DR Congo. He accused Joseph Kabila of protecting the  Hutu Interhamwe , the ones responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and claimed that Joseph’s father, the former president had  allowed the Interhamwe to live in these districts after they had fought for him during the First War in the Congo.

Nkunda was detained on January 22, 2009 by Rwandan forces after he had crossed into Rwanda to help them hunt down other Hutu  Interhamwe operating in the area. Joseph Kabila had made a deal with President Kagame of Rwanda: he would allow Rwandan soldiers into the DRC to eradicate the  Hutu Interahamwe  militants there  if Rwanda would stop Nkunda  from waging further war in the Kivu Districts.  Although there has been an international warrant issued for his arrest Nkunda has not been tried either in Brussels or in Rwanda. He is currently being held under house arrest in Gisenyi, Rwanda and has yet to be charged with any crime.

 As part of the terms of  Nkunda’s capture his Tutsi militia would be re-absorbed into the Congolese Army once more and awarded the same ranks they had held in Nkunda’s militia. Also, as part of the agreement, forces from DR Congo and Rwanda would work jointly together until all of the Hutu Interhamwe had been exterminated from the eastern region of the Congo. This mission lasted about five weeks but then the Congolese soldiers were abruptly reassigned to other duties in the area and the Rwandan forces were asked to pull out of Kivu Districts for good and return to Rwanda. Now some of the elders in the region say that the troops left as ordered and others say that many of the Rwandan soldiers were ordered to insert themselves into smaller Tutsi militias that had refused to disband and continued to hunt down the Hutu extremists. Either way, this region was much too isolated and inaccessible for anyone to know for sure.

In a report released in January 2008, The International Rescue Committee found that “despite billions in aid, the deployment of the world’s largest peacekeeping force, and successful democratic elections, some 45,000 people continued to  die each month in DR Congo, mostly from starvation and disease.” (IRC, 2008)

I will continue on with this story in my next Blog Posting: The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part Two

Kat Nickerson             Kingston, RI                   USA



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