This blog is devoted to providing information and viewpoints on the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

War in the Congo Introduction

Scale of Devastation

According to the BBC, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to the loss of more lives than any conflict since World War II. A study by The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, has estimated that between August, 1998 and April, 2004 the war led to 3.9 millions deaths. The study indicated that while less than 2% of these deaths were directly due to violence, conditions of violence kept people from having the food and health care they needed to survive. Most deaths resulted from preventable causes such as malnutrition and infection diseases. One should note that the study was unable to survey the most insecure areas of the DRC and that other observers assert that the war has caused higher numbers of deaths when one places the beginning of the war to 1996 with the overthrow of President Mobutu.

In addition to high death rates, the war has led to the use of child soldiers, child slavery in mines, a rise in HIV/AIDS, the mass displacement of peoples, and the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war. In one province alone, the United Nations has estimated that 45,000 women were raped in the last year. At a hospital that treats women who have been raped, a doctor estimates that approximately 10% of the women have been gang raped and shot in the vagina.

Plundering the Congo

The war in the Congo has been fueled by the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The DRC has been a source of diamonds, gold, columbite-tantalite, cobalt, copper, uranium, and petroleum. The commonplace significance of some of these resources often goes unnoticed by the general public in the United States. For example, columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan, is a mineral refined into metals for use in capacitors, superconductors, and transistors in a wide range of devices that include cell phones, lap tops, Sony PlayStations, and automotive electronics. Moreover, coltan can be found in missile guided systems. The Pentagon has classified coltan as a strategic mineral, and the US government holds large stockpiles of it.

The DRC is the most mineral resource rich country in Africa. Currently, it is estimated that 64% of the world's coltan reserves are located in the DRC, while 34% of the world's cobalt and 10% of the world's copper reserves are found in the country's Katanga province. Demand for these minerals fluctuates. Copper, cobalt, and uranium are currently experiencing increased demand, while demand for coltan has cooled. Nevertheless, the vast reserves of coltan indicate its potential long-term significance.

The Not So Distant Recent History

To profit from the Congo's resources, Uganda and Rwanda combined with rebel groups to occupy parts of the DRC from 1998 to 2003 when a power sharing agreement was reached with the government of the DRC. Ostensibly, the country was in a period of transition until the current elections. Nevertheless, the eastern part of the country is still not under government control, the country's resources continue to be looted, and violence persists. According to a report by the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa, "Three years of transitional government in the DRC has not led to stability and development. On the contrary, the governing elite are busy enriching themselves, while the situation of the population deteriorates." The report details daily murders at mines by government brigades along with the "slavery" of hundreds of thousands who work "independently" as miners to survive. The only ones who benefit from the situation are "foreign interests."

Responding to the Crisis

The United Nations forces in the DRC have been accused of collusion with business interests, assisting wanted war criminals, looting natural resources, raping local women, and failing to prevent murders in their midst. Still, a United Nations force that is held accountable arguably remains the best immediate hope for bringing the levels of security needed for death rates to drop. Currently, there are 19,500 UN troops in the DRC, but the African Union has argued that possibly 45,000 troops are needed to bring security to the country.

Because the plundering of resources fuels the war, there is a need for the international monitoring, regulating, and certifying of natural resource extraction and sale. Such a goal will only be accomplished by a mobilized public bringing pressure to bear on governments to create the necessary institutions for such a response.

Each of us can play a role in mobilizing public opinion and action by informing and organizing those whom we know.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Additional Facts

  • 80% of the population lives on $0.30 a day.
  • 75% of the population is undernurished according to the UN.
  • There are an estimated 1.3 million displaced people in the DRC.
  • UNAIDS estimates that 1.1 million Congolese are living with HIV/AIDS.
  • In 2005, a Doctors without Borders report stated, "DRC holds the sad world record for mother-child mortality with 1,289 deaths per 100,000 live births, which represents a loss each year of 585,000 children. The mortality rates for under-fives are around 213 deaths per 1,000 live births. This means that one in five newborn Congolese children will never reach the age of five years. Among the under-fives, 30% of deaths are caused by malaria, which claims the lives of 300,000 children each year."
  • A 2002 UN report on the eastern province of Ituri estimated that 50,000 people may have been killed in Ituri alone since 1999. Central to the conflict in Ituri is control over gold deposits.
  • In Bunia, the main city of Ituri, Doctors without Borders, reports that while 40 girls and women who have been raped seek help each week, there are many who are unable to come due to the high levels of violence.
  • Close to two-thirds of the population in the DRC cannot afford conventional health care.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Suggested Readings

A well-written introduction to the war:

Johann Hari, “The War the World Ignores,” The Sunday Independent, May 14, 2006.

A much shorter introduction:

Amitabh Pal, “Hope for End to the Killing of Millions in Congo,” The Progressive, July
25, 2006.

A press release for the study conducted by The Lancet that concluded that 3.9 million people died as a result of the war in between 1998 and 2004:

International Rescue Committee, "The Lancet Publishes IRC Mortality Study from DR Congo; 3.9 Million Have Died: 38,000 Die per Month," January 6, 2006.

The Lancet is accessible on-line, but it requires going through a free registration process. The relevant article is:

"Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Nationwide Survey" by Coghlan, Brennan, Ngoy, Dofara, Otto, Clements, Stewart, The Lancet - Vol. 367, Issue 9504, January 7, 2006, pages 44-51.

A highly detailed account of corporations and persons involved in the plundering of the DRC's natural resources:

Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski, “Suffering in the Congo,” Z Magazine, July-
August 2006.

Articles focused on rape in the DRC:

Goodwin, Jan. “Silence=Rape,” The Nation, March 8, 2004.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (UN news service), "DRC: MONUC Troops among the Worst Sex Offenders," August 28, 2006.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (UN news service), "DRC: Sexual Violence, Lack of Healthcare Spreads HIV/AIDS among Pygmies," September 13, 2006.

Critique of Corporate Media Coverage of War:

Friends of the Congo, "Congo: New York Times Front Page Frontin,'" July 6, 2006.

Other publications:

The Doctors without Borders 2005 briefing on the DRC.

Fatal Transactions, “The State vs the People: Governance, Mining and the Transitional Regime in the DRC,” The Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa, March 2006.

Timothy B. Reid, "Killing Them Softly: Has Foreign Aid to Rwanda and Uganda Contributed to the Humanitarian Tragedy in the DRC?" African Policy Journal, Spring 2006, Vol. 1.

Benjamin Todd, "Congo, Coltan, Conflict," The Heinz School Review, April 7, 2006.

Kristi Essick, “Guns, Money and Cell Phones,” The Industry Standard Magazine, June
11, 2001.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (UN news service), "DRC: Forgotten Killer is Back," July 19, 2006.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (UN news service), "DRC: Diamonds, Children, and Witchcraft," July 17, 2005.

Amnesty International Press Release, "Democratic Republic of Congo: Alarming Resurgence in Recruitment of Children in North-Kivu," March 31, 2006.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Recent PBS Show

The PBS program Wide Angle recently did a show on the DRC called "Democracy in the Rough." Here is a description:

Everything about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is extreme: its vast unpaved geography, its mineral riches, its pervasive corruption, and its history of misrule, first by Belgium and then by Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Such is the case with the first democratic elections held in over 40 years, from the cost of over $400 million to the mind-boggling logistical challenges posed by a country the size of Western Europe, with only a few hundred miles of roads. With the DRC's wealth of timber, diamonds, and coltan, the stakes are high. Although the DRC is one of the most resource-rich countries in Africa, its per capita income hovers around $100 a year. Will the newly elected leaders improve the lives of its citizens?

Visit the Democracy in the Rough website. The website includes a link to an interview with Bill Fletcher, Jr., along with a couple of articles.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Talking Point: UN Troops in the Congo

Currently, there are 19,500 UN troops in the DRC. The UN forces have been criticized and accused of numerous wrongs including collusion with business interests, assisting wanted war criminals, looting natural resources, raping local women, and failing to prevent murders in their midst.

In response to this situation, at least two competing positions present themselves:

1) UN troops who commit wrongs should be held accountable for their actions, but UN forces as a whole should remain. Due to their size, resources, international accountability, and mandate for neutrality, UN forces are the best viable option. Their numbers should be increased in order to bring about security. The African Union has argued that as many as 45,000 troops might be needed.

2) The esteemed Congolese scholar Ernest Wamba dia Wamba has argued that the Congolese themselves "expect too much from the international community." There should be a recognition of the UN's limitations. The answer for the DRC is greater self-reliance through the development of Congolese forces.

Questions for further deliberation:

1) What is the best way to hold UN troops accountable and to prevent their corruption?

2) If the DRC were to be entirely self-reliant, how would an adequate army be formed? Who would direct them? Who would arm and pay for them? What would prohibit the army from wrecking its own havoc as the dominant centralized power in the country?

3) In addition to the two positions mentioned, what other positions might there be?

4) What would have to be done in order to eventually demilitarize the DRC?