The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not an obvious candidate to be Africa's turnaround story of the coming decade. This is a country that has been pillaged by outsiders for more than a century, cursed by its extraordinary natural resource base to unparalleled levels of death and destruction. With a seemingly intractable war in the east, one of the worst corruption-fighting records in the world, and some of the highest rates of sexual violence ever recorded, Congo does not, understandably, lend itself well to optimistic prognoses. But sometimes a situation deteriorates so badly that it catalyzes transformative responses. And things can actually change, no matter how entrenched the troubles. That opportunity for real progress is exactly what I found on my recent visit to Congo.
Congo's conflict, the world's deadliest since World War II, is not really a war -- it's a business based on violent extortion. There are numerous armed groups and commercial actors -- Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan -- that have positioned themselves for the spoils of a deliberately lawless, accountability-free, unstable, highly profitable mafia-style economy. Millions of dollars are made monthly in illegal taxation of mining operations, smuggling of minerals, and extortion rackets run by mafia bosses based primarily in Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala. The spoils are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, minerals that go into laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, and jewelry stores in the West. Armed groups use terrifying tactics such as mass rape and village burning to intimidate civilians into providing cheap labor for this elaborate extortion racket.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not an obvious candidate to be Africa's turnaround story of the coming decade. But sometimes a situation deteriorates so badly that it catalyzes transformative responses. Read More »
Appearing on Capitol Hill this week to testify about the Obama administration’s foreign policy priorities, Secretary of State Clinton offered some specific details – and personal dedication – on the topic of stopping the marauding Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. Read More »
Nairobi — A campaign is growing in the United States to end wars and atrocities in eastern Congo by discouraging the export of what organisers describe as "conflict minerals."
The effort is inspired by the movement a few years ago that helped stop murderous conflicts in West Africa by successfully targeting the "blood diamonds" that were financing them.
The Congo initiative is also modelled on the influential US varsity-based campaign to halt mass killings in Darfur as well as on the earlier push against US corporate investment in apartheid South Africa.
Prof Herbert Weiss, a Congo expert at a Washington think tank, noted at a US university forum last week that an increasing number of Americans are at last paying attention to Congo.
The organiser of the conflict-minerals campaign John Prendergast told activists to rally behind proposals in the US Congress to create a global certification system for four valuable metals found in large quantities in Congo.
Monitoring would be put in place to ensure lawful control of these minerals, which are essential for the manufacture of telecommunications devices, Mr Prendergast said.
In honor of Valentine’s Day I attended a benefit production of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play The Vagina Monologues. This year the V-day global campaign focus is “Stop Raping our Greatest Resource: Power to Women in the DRC.” Over 5.4 million people have died in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1998 – currently 45,000 people die each month. Thousands of women experience brutal sexual violence on a daily basis. Thankfully journalists like Nicholas Kristof are keeping the DRC in the news – most recently with this moving video of a Message for President Obama. However, as one Congolese woman says, “we speak but nothing changes.” The Enough Project highlights how our demand for conflict minerals – the material in the cellphone in your pocket – fuels this deadly war. Congolese women and men risk their lives so we can talk on our cellphones, check our email and update our Facebook status. What will we do for them?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: February 10, 2010
I’ve learned some new words.
One is “autocannibalism,” coined in French but equally appropriate in English. It describes what happens when a militia here in eastern Congo’s endless war cuts flesh from living victims and forces them to eat it.
Another is “re-rape.” The need for that term arose because doctors were seeing women and girls raped, re-raped and re-raped again, here in the world capital of murder, rape, mutilation.
This grotesque vocabulary helps answer a question that I’ve had from readers: Why Congo? After a previous visit to eastern Congo, a reader named Jim D. objected. “Yes there are horrible things happening in Africa,” he wrote on my blog. “None are anything we can do anything about by ourselves.”
“My question is why do you not concentrate on this nation’s poor,” he asked. “Yes, Africa suffers, but you need to look in your own house first.”
Jim D. has a legitimate complaint, echoed by other readers: We have enormous needs at home, and we shouldn’t let foreign crises distract us from them.
But do we really need to say that we can’t address suffering in Congo or Haiti, or anywhere else, because we have our own needs? Particularly when the Congo war has claimed so many lives (perhaps more than six million), isn’t it time for the U.S. to lead a major, global diplomatic push for peace?
My Sunday column is again from Congo, through the lens of a doctor (Denis Mukwege) and his patient (Jeanne Mukuninwa). They are both extraordinary figures, and Dr. Mukwege is sometimes mentioned — most deservedly — as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. His Panzi Hospital is an oasis in South Kivu, just as the Heal Africa Hospital is in North Kivu.
(There is, though, a widespread misapprehension that most of the vaginal fistulas here are caused by rape. Some are, but the great majority are now caused by obstructed labor in childbirth. In 2009, Panzi Hospital received about 400 fistula cases, with about eight caused by rape. But Panzi receives about 10 rape cases a day, and those are only the tip of the iceberg, since most rape survivors never seek treatment.)
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: February 6, 2010
It’s easy to wonder how world leaders, journalists, religious figures and ordinary citizens looked the other way while six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And it’s even easier to assume that we’d do better.
But so far the brutal war here in eastern Congo has not only lasted longer than the Holocaust but also appears to have claimed more lives. A peer- reviewed study put the Congo war’s death toll at 5.4 million as of April 2007 and rising at 45,000 a month. That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.
What those numbers don’t capture is the way Congo has become the world capital of rape, torture and mutilation, in ways that sear survivors like Jeanne Mukuninwa, a beautiful, cheerful young woman of 19 who somehow musters the courage to giggle. Her parents disappeared in the fighting when she had just turned 14 — perhaps they were massacred, but their bodies never turned up — so she moved in with her uncle.
Do you live in Oklahoma? Or have any friends and family in the lovely Sooner State? Then you need to get on the phone and tell Senator Tom "Dr. No" Coburn to stop blocking the passage of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), under the leadership of self-proclaimed messiah Joseph Kony, has terrorized a wide swath of central Africa for over 20 years, and became particularly notorious for their use of child soldiers and child sex slaves. What started as a brutal rebellion in Northern Uganda has now spread across the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Darfur, and the Central African Republic. In the past few months alone, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced, and thousands more have been either killed or abducted by LRA forces. According to an Enough Project researcher, as many as 400 people have been killed in the last two months. Recent waves of violence also threaten to further destabilize already-precarious situations in South Sudan, and possibly even Darfur.