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Congo: The silent crisis

CRISIS: Thousands of civilians flee their homes in Democratic Republic of Congo

IT HAS been 53 years since the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) first legally elected prime minister, an event which many have argued contributed to the country’s current economical and political crisis.

Lumumba founded the National Congolese Movement (MNC) in 1958, and believed in the need for social and economic changes in the country. He pushed for immediate independence from the Belgian colonial government.

However, the media painted him as communist and viewed as a threat to Belgium and the West. He was arrested by President Mobutu’s soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on January 17 1961, just ten weeks after his election.

For more than a century, the DRC has been at the epicenter of civil wars on the continent, and it has been driven into a humanitarian crisis.

The ongoing conflict in the eastern region of the country, instability, weak institutions, dependency and poverty are a direct product of 125 years of enslavement, forced labour, colonial rule, assassinations, dictatorship, wars, external intervention and corrupt rule.

BRUTAL

In fact, it never recovered from Belgian King Leopold II’s brutal regime from 1885 to 1908, in which he turned the ‘Congo Free State’ into a massive labour camp, and made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber.

He was responsible for the death of an estimated 10-15 million people which has been described as the first genocide in Africa.

With a population of 65 million and despite being rich in minerals such as tin, tintalum and tungsten - vital components for mobile phones and computers - and producing more than a billion pounds of gold each year, the DRC has been described as a failing state.

In the harrowing documentary, The Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth, Dedy Mbepongo Bilamba, a Congolese author and activist , called the country “a nightmare in heaven.”

“It’s the heart of Africa, and has so much natural resources, people, flowers, animals, everything, but the thing is people are living in hell…everyone wants a piece of Congo.”

Millions of Congolese have lost their lives in a conflict that the United Nations described as the deadliest in the world since World War II.

In 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo (then Zaire) and again in 1998. This resulted in mass killings, systemic and brutal sexual violence and rape of young girls and women on a daily basis, and widespread looting of Congo’s natural wealth.

In the documentary, human right campaigners and activists argue that world policy makers have not done enough to stop the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and failed to bring those responsible to account - similarly to what is currently happening in the DRC.

Maurice Carney, the co-founder and director of the organisation Friend of the Congo said: “There’s a global consensus that exists that says it’s ok for nearly six million black people to die in the heart of Africa and for us to be silent.”

Jean-Roger Kaseki, a human rights campaigner and Labour councillor in, Islington, north London, believed the DRC is suffering because of a lack of media coverage.

He described Congo as an “abandoned country” and called on the international community to offer more support.

AGENDA

He said: “I presume the media are controlled by a right wing agenda and then behind that I suspect there are forces willing to fight for the situation not to improve, but to remain the same as they are making a lot of profit.”

Having come to UK as a refugee in the early Nineties, Kaseki said the focus was on the need to “build institutions”.

“This is a country that has the potential to economically be a power house in Africa. We need new operative ideas that are currently being put forward to join the Commonwealth of Nations to help the country through its process of stabilisation,” he explained.

As a former Belgian colony, DRC is not one of the Commonwealth’s 53 member states.

“Congo needs allies like the UK. We need security; we need a proper and workable strategy for disarming the militias.”

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has pledged to spend £790 million in DRC over 2011-2016.

The FCO has several aims including to strengthen the rule of law and tackle the root causes of conflict, as well as deliver 2.3 million humanitarian interventions per year.

In addition to this, the UK provided an additional £18 million in humanitarian support to provide a timely, flexible and appropriate response to the current crisis in eastern DRC.

Rape is often used as a weapon of violence and a war strategy to disempower and weaken communities, which has left tens of thousand of people dead every month. The attackers are either foreigners or local Congolese driven by greed.

Now, many of the UK-based Congolese community are standing up against the injustices and oppression of their people.

Sylvestre Mido, is a 31-year-old activist and member of the Congolese Action Youth Platform (CAYP), which was formed to give its people a voice.

Last year, the CAYP organised a memorial to commemorate the six million people who have been killed since the Second Congo War in 1998.

The event, in London, was the first of its kind.

He said: “It was an initiative started by a young lady in our platform who said we got nothing in Congo to acknowledge the fact we are going through a genocide at the moment. And that our previous history shows this is not the first time.”

DICTATORSHIP

Having left the Congo during the civil war in 1999 for the UK, Mido said history is repeating itself 100 years after King Leopold’s dictatorship.

He said: “Instead of it being for gold and rubber tires, the purpose is now for mobiles phones and computers. But the cruelty of the act remains the same, people are being raped, killed, butchered and no one is saying anything.

“It’s a silent crisis, and the worse thing is, it could be forgotten about very easily if no one talks about it, because most of our people including myself, didn’t know it had already happened until I started researching our history.”

CRISIS

British-based poet JJ Bola, who was born in Kinshasa, DRC, believes the world has closed its eyes on the humanitarian crisis in the DRC.

“The DRC does not need charity, it needs justice. There needs to be justice and accountability in order for there to be change and progression” he said.

“This will come from a stable, progressive government that fulfills the wishes of the people by creating institutions that will benefit the people in the communities in DRC first, and not international investors.

“I think the coming elections will be very influential in the direction in which the country will go, however, I think that ultimately, there will be peace in the DRC, once there is justice.”

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