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The Scramble for Africa: the DR Congo case

UN troops provide medical and sanitation supplies for over 250,000 displaced people in rebel-held territory in The Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: bbc.co.uk

UN troops provide medical and sanitation supplies for over 250,000 displaced people in rebel-held territory in The Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: bbc.co.uk

African issues seems to have gained popular debate within academia, students and in general public gatherings . However, this dialectic discourse has never taken a clear and critical position in creating a better understanding of Africa and the issues that plague her, such as the plundering of African wealth and beauty.

Many of these issues stem from the fact that African countries are not formed of groups of people who, traditionally, would have chosen to live in the same place. Most of the borders in Africa today are the result of colonialism. Someone sitting in Westminster drew a line across a map of Africa and declared that it was the border between two countries. African countries were forced to form new political entities by the ‘divide and rule’ approach, through the boundary line drawn on a piece of paper in a Kingdom miles away across oceans and mountains.

The abolition of the slave trade led to colonization, which led to Independence and it seems to many that Africa has attained an uhuru at last.

After the Second World War, the colonial masters who were involved came out almost bankrupt, and did not have the strong national financial strength to embark on further colonial business. This was coupled with continuous anti-colonial campaigning in the West, and a series of conferences put together by a few leaders of African nations who had secured their independence (such as the All African People Conference organized by Kwame Nkrumah). This conference helped shape the visions of many African leaders who had stood for independence such as Patrice Lumumba of The Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘The major mineral resources expose the country to exploitation, especially from western multi national companies.’

DR Congo, formerly referred to as Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo-Kinshasa and Zaire, is an epitome of natural wealth endowment, beauty and crisis. Almost every natural resource, as well as conflict, environmental degradation, crime against women, child soliders, genocide, deforestation, you name it, is profound in DR Congo.

The genesis of the conflict in DR Congo was after the Conference of Berlin in 1885. The motive of this was meant to divide Africa among the emerging rivalry between European powers. Congo became a colony of Leopold II, the King of Belgium, and was a Corporate State, an extension of the king’s business empire.

Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became the site of one of the most infamous international scandals of the turn of the twentieth century. In the Free State, colonists bullied the local population into producing rubber, for which the spread of autos and development of rubber tires created a growing international market.

Then to compel the Congolese to work, the Belgians instituted a Public Force or La Force Publique, which enforced the rubber extraction quotas on the local people. The FP was an army, but its aim was not to defend the country, rather to terrorise the local population. The common punishment practiced by the force was cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas a matter of policy; this practice was widespread.

During the period 1885–1908, 15 million Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. This was the one of the first genocides carried out in modern history. Nothing was said about this and it continued until June 1960 when the Congolese thought they had attained independence. Little did they know this was a new phase of their exploitation and into the hinterland of Africa.

In 1996, a fresh conflict erupted in DR Congo. The war and genocide in neighbouring Rwanda had spilled over to the DR Congo (then Zaire). Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) who fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government were using Hutu refugee camps in eastern DRC as bases for incursions against Rwanda. This is the story most media made us believe.

According to the Independence newspaper, the Congolese militia leader called Laurent Nkunda – backed by Rwanda – claims he needs to protect the local Tutsi population from the same Hutu genocidaires who have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo since 1994. That’s why he is seizing Congolese military bases and is poised to march on Goma.

The truth is Congo has many of the world’s precious stones, metals and minerals, from diamonds, gold, tin ore, copper and coltan (used for mobile and computer manufacturing). The major mineral resources expose the country to exploitation, especially by western multi-national companies. One such example is Tantalum, (a refined coltan) which sells for $100 a pound, and it is becoming increasingly vital to modern life. For the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust, a key component in everything from mobile phones made by Nokia and Ericsson and computer chips from Intel to Sony stereos and VCRs etc.

François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, said : “Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. We are now seeing the beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit.”

‘The state of anarchy and lawlessness is so terrible that rape crime is becoming a daily occurrence for women all over the country.’

This greed has caused suffering and the deaths of 5.4 million native Congolese between 1998 and 2006, due to poor nutrition, lack of health care or directly from the fighting. Many of these victims have been children who are used as child soldiers.

The state of anarchy and lawlessness is so terrible that rape crime is becoming a daily occurrence for women all over the country. According to the government, more than 250,000 women have been raped, abused and assaulted. Rape is a cheaper weapon of war than bullets. Experts estimate that some 60% of all combatants in the DRC are infected with HIV/AIDS. As women rarely have access to expensive antiretroviral drugs, sexual assaults all too often become automatic death sentences.

Human Rights Watch reported that it is estimated as many as 30% of rape victims are sexually tortured and mutilated during the assaults, usually with spears, machetes, sticks or gun barrels thrust into their vaginas. About 40% of rape victims, usually the younger ones, are abducted and forced to become sex slaves.

Not just the native people of Congo are on the verge of extinction but also their rainforest. The Democratic Republic of Congo contains approximately 25% of the world’s remaining rainforests. The equatorial forests give off 66% of global oxygen. As the conflict continues, international logging companies are lining up to commercially exploit this valuable resource.

All Party Parliament region on Great lake wrote: “Industrial logging has little chance of bringing development benefits to DRC’s population. In a country with close to zero regulatory capacity and an ingrained culture of corruption, industrial logging has the potential to be destructive to the environment, to biodiversity and also to the livelihoods of the approximately 35 million people living or dependent on the forests.”

It is so disheartening that African students came this far and have to pay between £9,500 and £25,000 to have an education for better future to help get their countries out of this state of hopelessness. It is becoming more and more obvious however that their money returns to their countries as destruction through universities’ investment in arms and unethical companies.

In 2008, a Campaign Against Arms Trade inquiry into the University investment in arms companies found that the University of Sussex is investing in an UK arms company called Cobham worth £1,389 and US arms company General Electric worth £4,373. This investment might be relatively small in comparison to what they pay. But the fact is every penny makes a difference to the line of production.

The University of Sussex should not be investing in arms or unethical companies. Universities should aim to promote human development and protection, not destruction. By so doing, the University of Sussex is giving arms and unethical companies moral and intellectual justification.

As a fresh conflict erupted between the Rwandan-backed rebel leader Laurent Nkunda militia and DRC government forces on 25th of October, Hear Afrika and Suubira Uganda Societies are staging a conference to create critical political and economical discourse on the issues surrounding this potentially rich country on the 11th of November 2008 from 1 pm to 5.30 pm. It is tagged The DR Congo: The New Scramble for Africa.

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