The Neglected Murkiness of the Congo

After decades of Belgian colonial socioeconomic and political exploitation, the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC has been infamous for dozens of conflicts ravaging within its own frontiers since independence in 1960. The security situation has been particularly atrocious since the late 1990s, when Joseph Desire Mobutu’s thirty-two year long autocratic regime was ousted by rebel leader Laurent Kabila. This has ensured constant civil war; rendering it more impoverished since 1998.

It should not be the case. The DRC possesses wealth in natural resources (comprising of gold, coltan and other minerals) worth roughly US$24 trillion – the equivalent of a combined GDP of America and Europe. This potentially provides the nation a supply of monetary capital abundant enough to transform it into one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. Instead, this wealth is consistently plundered by government forces, rebel groups and foreign armies of neighbour countries.

In fact, the DRC is highly vulnerable to its neighbouring governments who continue to intervene in its domestic affairs in order to economically exploit its vast natural resources. The Rwandan Government has been consistently militarily, politically and economically violating DRC’s sovereignty.  Kigali has propped Hutu and Tutsi militias who plunder resources in DR Congo’s eastern regions. Meanwhile, the Ugandan government forces have perpetrated human-rights abuses and pillaged DRC’s natural resources while hunting down Lord Resistance Army fugitives in northeast DRC.

Systematically, Congolese mines yield millions and millions of US dollars which eventually flow into the pockets of rebel factions. These militias use the mines to finance their weaponry purchases for their operations across eastern DR Congo. Coltan especially is mined extensively, ending up in laptops and other electronics of affluent countries. This is done at the expense of the local civilians who face the brunt of the exploitation. The miners are impoverished Congolese villagers who work in the most unimaginable wretched conditions. Their existence is under brutal militia’s controlling the mines. Conditions are entrenched slavery with miners working under appalling conditions for a mere pittance if at all constantly under threat if they do not abide to the coercion.

Unsurprisingly, DRC is one of the world’s most politically and socioeconomically fragmented states. Consequently, it is also one of the poorest as the conflict has severely hampered its development. Its conflicts have deteriorated the living conditions of its citizens, whose per capita GDP is devalued by two thirds from US$380 in 1960 to US$139 by 2006 while its HDI declined by 10 percent in the last decade, ranking it 167 out of 177 countries. This has rendered impoverished 71.34 percent of the people. The conflict has heavily damaged the infrastructure, especially its transport networks which are on the verge of collapse. The capital city Kinshasa festers with dilapidated and unfinished building as the government has been focused in stabilising the state instead of developing it. Moreover, the government has been incompetent in dealing with national security due to the widespread corruption pervading its bureaucracy. The corruption is rooted in the lack of national political order, which makes the government inept in disciplining its military who also participate in the economic exploitation and human rights atrocities in conflict-ridden regions.

There is certainly much worldwide public sympathy to ameliorate DRC’s plight.  International organisations including NGOs, Bretton-Woods institutions and United Nations (UN) affiliated institutions recognise that the DRC cannot develop nor stabilise without rectifying the security situation. One of the main projects is the World Bank ledPlanned Country Assistance Strategy scheme. It aims to politically and economically stabilise DRC and improve social services. This includes providing HIV/AIDS relief and augmentations in health and education infrastructure. Sadly, the programme has been ineffective. Internal institutions and their administration are so poor that almost nothing has been achieved. The current instability levels prevent any development. UN peacekeepers have been attempting to provide security in CRC. Yet instead of pacifying the situation, they are being accused of cooperating in league with rebel militias and additionally being involved in atrocities against civilians, whom they are supposed to protect.

DRC is suffering catastrophic proportions. Ravaged by conflict, most Congolese have impossible living conditions. Especially in the eastern provinces, they are subjected to horrendous enslavement in the mines and starvation. Their slave masters, the discussed internal and external political actors, are pick-pocketing their labour in billions of dollars for their personal monetary gains. Such abundant wealth could have otherwise been channelled into health, education, social and community services and infrastructure development for better conditions of their society. With so much wealth at stake and far too many brutal militias in the game, DRC’s instability will persist in a vicious cycle of conflict, brutal repression and exploitation and abysmal living condition of the ordinary people.

Kunal Kirpalani

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