A Tale of a Forgotten People
By Vava Tampa
Outside public eyes in a remote corner of Africa and literally under the world’s radar screen, a country is sinking in a river of blood! Mothers crying! Fathers and sons trading hot metals! Neighbours, in alliance with local armed groups, seething through the thick dense forest to secure mining areas with unparalleled natural resources! Hospital beds filled with mothers and young girls raped and shot in the vagina.
This is the Congo is the richest country in Africa and the scene of the world’s nastiest, bloodiest and deadliest war since Adolf Hitler’ army marched across Europe. For the past fifteen years, she has been raided, hacked, raped and looted by her neighbours, friends, sons and international cooperation. At some points it involved nine foreign nations -Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe – as well as numerous indigenous armed militias
As to the dead, figures are staggering: You could take all lives lost in Bosnia, Rwanda 1994 and Darfur then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, then add a 9-11 every single day for 356 days and then go through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, multiply by 2 and you still don’t reach the number of lives that has been lost in the Congo since the war started.
Over 6 Million have been killed. War, disease and malnutrition are killing 45,000 Congolese every month. Around 2 Million have been uprooted; 100 000s of women and young girls have been brutally gang raped and around 40% of all adult women have been made widows.
The root cause of the killings: natural resources. The DRC is a home to vast expanses of pristine rain forest, rare animal species and a treasure trove of rare precious minerals, it houses all elements found on the periodic table; and just about every natural resource under the sun.
The most lucrative and wanted of all is Coltan also know as columbite-tantalite: a dull metallic ore used in the aerospace weaponry as well as electronics devices such as: laptops, cell phones, pagers, play station, game counsel, VCR, CD player, P.D.A. and TV, remote control and various other electronic devices.
The Congo possesses over 80 per cent of the world’s reserve of Coltan; and for the past fifteen years neighbouring countries, in alliance with certain Congolese armed groups, have raided, hacked, killed and raped to gain access to Coltan, gold and diamonds mines as well as coffee plantations.
Major world military and economic powers, consumed by a painful sense of guiltiness for not responding during the one hundreds days of genocide that claimed over 800 000 lives in Rwanda 15 years ago, dare not to question or lecture, let alone speak out loud against, the leadership of Rwanda for their role and actions in the Congo.
1994 is the year it all begun. 800 000 lives hacked to death in one hundreds days: neither Africa nor the UN Security Council showed interest. The world stood idly: Rwanda, ethnically targeted, was covered in blood. Soon, waves of violence unleashed by the Rwandan Genocide spilled over Eastern Congo, back then Zaire.
Some 1.7 million Rwandan, among them, Hutu militias responsible for the genocide and armed to teeth, fled from Rwanda to Eastern Zaire. Once in eastern Zaire, Hutus militias regrouped and launched border raids against Paul Kagame’s newly established government.
The Zairian state was in a grave: the end of the Cold War brought an end to Zaire’s long privileged relations with the West. Mobutu, once America’s closest ally in Africa against Communism and Africa’s one-man party because the US and former European colonial powers did not trust the people of Zaire to elect a leader who would let them control their country’s resources, was not longer needed.
The US Congress had cut off military and economic aid to Mubutu’s regime. France and Belgium, similarly, had cut off all development aid and downgraded diplomatic contacts to pressure Mobutu to relinquish power. In 1993 the Clinton administration refused to replace its outgoing ambassador to Zaire and barred Mobutu and his closest associates from visiting the U.S.
Mobutu, a monarchical ruler who lived in grotesque splendour while his people starved, as the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka once described him, was sick: advanced prostate cancer proved too much for a guy who, for 32 years, ruthlessly ruled Zaire and the Great Lake region by fear and the rod.
Meanwhile, Paul Kagame, then Rwandan vice-president, and generally seen as the representative of the victims of the genocide hence, often, is received with the same moral weight as Jewish Holocaust survivors, heirs of the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide and the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s
In light of Hutus militias military raids against Paul Kagame’s newly established government, major world military and economic powers, ashamed of their inaction in 1994, granted Paul Kagame a blank cheque: do whatever you need to do to secure and re-build your country. Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Paul Kagame’s closest ally in Africa, had an idea: Laurent Desire Kabila.
Laurent Desire Kabila, a disciple of Lumumba, had been a fierce opponent of Joseph Mobutu. He once lived with Che Guevara in the dense jungle of Congo plotting how to overthrow Joseph Mobutu; but this time: he was to lead a coalition known as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL) made up Rwandan, Ugandan, Burundian, Chadian, Eritrea and Angolan troops as well as Congolese Tutsi and anti-Mobutu groups to overthrow Joseph Mobutu.
By May 1997, after only seven months of fighting, the coalition force reached Kinshasa, Zaire’s capital city. Laurent Kabila, from Lubumbashi, the second city in Congo, declared himself president; and gave the country it’s real name back By May 1997, after only seven months of fighting, the coalition force reached Kinshasa, Zaire’s capital city. Laurent Kabila, from Lubumbashi, the second city in Congo, declared himself president; and gave the country its real name back “The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)”. The honeymoon, however, did not last long. Laurent Desire Kabila’s relationship with West as well as his with Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni soon deteriorated. The US desired to see Kabila’s government include personalities from outside his own alliance, one of which was Etienne Tshisekedy, the only prominent opposition politician and leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
The U.S. State Department’s spokesman, Nicholas Burns, was quoted as saying that the U.S. ambassador to Kinshasa, Daniel Simpson, has started extensive talks with Kabila’s chief advisors Diofrasia Bovira and Paul Kayungo, urging them to pave the way and establish contact with Etienne Tshisekedi. Laurent Kabila, however, had a different plan: Etienne Thisekedy, he claimed, was an American agent. He refused to meet with him; and rushed into forming a presidential government akin to the American system, i.e. without a Prime Minister, thus snubbing Etienne Tshisekedi, in which key cabinet posts and the new Congo army and security forces were staffed at the highest levels by Paul Kagame’s closest friends and families and banned political activities and demonstrations in the country; and announced that elections, a key demand of many Western nations, will not be held for at least two years.
The moved angered the US, UN and Europe. In addition to this, the coalition forces, while on their way to Kinshasa, had wreaked terrible vengeance on the Rwandan Hutu exiles encamped since 1994 in eastern Zaire: hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilian, among them militia responsible for the 1994 genocide, and villagers had been massacred and raped. Laurent Desire Kabila, being the leader of the coalition, was called upon to answer allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of humanitarian laws by the UN and Human rights groups. Much of the atrocities were carried out by Paul Kagame’s Rwandan army; and fearing that investigation by the UN Human rights team and human rights groups would destroy Rwanda’s image as a country that recovered from genocide to become one of Central Africa’s most benign and stable regimes, Paul Kagame pressured Laurent Desire Kabila to stonewall all investigations. But after, relentless (Western) media attacks and growing calls from human rights groups that the massacred of Hutus refugee and villagers be fully investigated; and the perpetrators be identified, named, shamed and punished, Laurent Kabila cryptically responded: claiming that he had no blood in his hands; and hinted that the atrocities and violations were committed by troops beyond his control; and stated that countries and international groups, including groups in the name of sending humanitarian assistance, were responsible and to blame for the massacred and violations.
The move, in the international arena tarnished and severely discredited Laurent Kabila; in the regional level the claim had severely strained his relationship with Paul Kagame and Yowweri Museveni as the claim was seen as pointing fingers directly at them; at home, with the overbearing presence of Rwandan and Ugandan military and civilian advisors in Congo, made him look like a puppet to his own people: a feeling Etienne Tshisekedy had soon capitalized on as he lashed out at Laurent Kabila claiming that he was held hostage by foreigners. Kabila later fell out with Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni: accusing Rwandan and Ugandan troops in eastern Congo of stockpiling Congo,s diamond, gold, coltan and coffee; and ordered them out of Congo. Less than a week later, on August 2, 1998, the dismissed Ugandan and Rwandan troops, under the pretext of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, regrouped, and allied with President Mobutu’s military disciples and launched a bloody military offensive to overthrow Laurent Kabila, who, similarly under the same pretext of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, realigned with local anti-Kagame armed groups and other regional forces to fight what they perceived as Tutsis hegemony in the Great Lack region.
This turned the Congo into huge battlefields, which, at some points, involved nine foreign nations -Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe, as well as dozens of militia groups and private armies fighting spontaneous wars that goes on to this day despite of several UN Security Council Resolutions, Peace Treaties and amnesties; the largest UN Peace-keeping force in the world -17, 000; and shaky, much-violated, U.S., EU and UN-sponsored and backed cease-fire. The biggest single factor behind the continuing mass killings and human rights violation, according to the UN, is looting Congo’s rich abundant natural resources, particularly Coltan. And behind the fighting are two principle actors: Rwanda and Uganda government, in alliance with certain Congolese armed political groups. Together these alliances have actively continued to fuel inter-ethnic conflicts by using the treat of their own security to justify their military intervention and the control of Congo’s richly diverse mineral areas.
As a result, Congo, specially the eastern and northern regions, has been transformed into hotbeds of barbaric atrocities. No rule of law seems to exist and life has lost its basic value. Eastern Congo has been left at the mercy of tyrannical administration of warlords; and transformed it into what can only be termed as concentration camps: nothing but terror, mass human rights abuses, extreme sexual atrocities, ethnically motivated persecution and systematic massacres of innocent civilians reign.
Unable to be protected by the Kinshasa government and abandoned by the international community, those still trapped in these concentration camps have no hope: they are all awaiting the final solution: If lucky he or she will be shot dead, if not, he or she will endure a slow painful death depending upon the mood of his or her killers, some are set ablaze or hacked and chopped off; whilst women and young girls are subjected to orchestrated campaign of mutilation and rapes that go beyond the mere meaning of rapes. This is the Congo: sinking in a river of blood without a whiff of complaint from the superpower. Only heaven knows if the value of life of Africans is the same as that of citizen of other nations.