March 2013 news

Haunted by violence, children relieve their pain through art

Witness to horrific crimes, displaced by the violence in North Kivu, children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo heal through art at camps in and around Goma. Read more and watch a short video here.

The arms trade, mining and Congo's festering warfare

A recent book by Andrew Feinstein – The Shadow World – Inside the Global Arms Trade (Penguin 2012) [pp 443-453] gives a clear picture of the “hell on earth” of the Second Congo War 1998 - 2003, which continues to a lesser extent today. Initially it involved Rwanda and Uganda against Congo's central military forces. Then Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola agreed to send troops to fight off the attack while Sudan, Chad and Libya also came to DRCongo's aid. When Rwanda and Uganda fell out, three sides were “locked in a triangular battle based on their individual territories. None was powerful enough to press for full military victory, and even within each group's area, smaller militia units vied for control”.

The conflict, across a country the size of western Europe, was only possible because of the unrestrained flow of weapons paid for by massive exploitation of Congo's valuable natural resources, especially of gold and coltan, an essential component of mobile phones.

Feinstein makes clear how this devasting exploitation worked:
“All parties used their armed strength to seize mines in their regions of control... especially gold, copper and coltan mines (which they staffed by contingents of virtual slave labour). Elite networks made up of senior political figures, military commanders and prominent businessmen diverted billions in revenue that should have gone to the coffers of the DRC into their own pockets.... The arms trade was their means to intimidate, and was operated with a network of smugglers and transporters used not only to export the minerals but to bring in arms. Feinstein alleges that at least one arms trader had links with all the participants. In addition “there was a constant flow of cheap and plentiful small arms, from rocket launchers to the ubiquitous AK-47, mostly sourced.... from surplus stocks in Eastern Europe.

“With a seemingly endless supply of arms and companies desperate to assist in mineral extraction, it was feared the the Second Congo War would continue in perpetuity......However in 2001 the DRC's President Laurent Kabila was assassinated and his son, Joseph, embarked on a massive round of diplomacy, aided by international observers. …. In December 2002, the majority of the warring parties met in the Sun City resort in South Africa and committed to ending all hostilities, with neighbouring countries withdrawing their troops from DRC. There was also commitment to the provision of a transitional central government leading to democratic elections which were held in 2006 and again in 2012 (amid allegations of fraud and corruption).

Feinstein adds:”However the agreements did little to change the situation in the combustible eastern region.... The much-feted troop withdrawals by Uganda and Ruanda proved chimeric... proxy militias remained to protect and monitor rebel-held mines.

Even “in January 2010 it was estimated that 50 per cent of all mines in the eastern Congo remained in the hands of non-government militias. By 2010, 5.4 million people had died in the DRC since the beginning of the Second Congo War in 1998, with 2.1 million of those deaths occurring since the official end to the war in December 2002. The scale and viciousness of mass rape of women “defies belief” said the UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay. Even in 2013 the conflict continues, especially in N Kivu, and fear and rumour are rife.

“Remarkably the UN saw no reason to impose an arms embargo during the Second Congo War... allowing all forces involved to import arms with impunity. A current embargo is virtually unenforceable.....”