Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Introduction and Background
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation found in central Africa. It is mostly known for its vast mineral deposits, approximated to be worth about $24 trillion. Although these mineral deposits should translate into a booming economy and a good life for its citizens, the DRC is mainly known for the recurrent civil wars that have plagued the country for decades. Through the years, the almost constant violence has claimed the lives of millions and left millions more displaced from their homes. The international community has intervened, with the United Nations stationing peacekeeping forces in the country for years. The worsening situation in the DRC begs the question, what is the cause of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Some of the factors that contribute to the violence in the DRC include political instability, the country’s mineral resources, global policies on these minerals. and external factors like the Rwandan genocide.
Since its independence from Belgium, the DRC has had a turbulent history. The country was under Belgian rule between 1885 and 1960. The country’s first President, Mobutu Sese Seko, ruled between 1965 and 1997 under a dictatorial form of government. Mobutu’s rule came to an end with a rebellion led by Laurent Kabila in 1997 (Bakamana, 2021). Several other east African countries, including Rwanda and Uganda, supported the uprising that saw Kabila installed as president in May 1997. President Kabila made efforts to strengthen institutions such as the judiciary in the country. His son, Joseph Kabila, took over as Resident upon the elder Kabila’s assassination in January 2001. Joseph Kabila set up a transitional government with autonomy for the three branches of government. The DRC held its first democratic elections in late 2018, with opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi sworn in as president in January 2019. The DRC continues to have weak government systems even after the democratic elections. Years of fighting have made it impossible for the country to develop, leaving its infrastructure, healthcare, education and other systems in tatters.
Mineral Deposits and Violence
The Democratic Republic of Congo has vast deposits of important minerals used in various industries. The DRC is one of the leading producers of cobalt, a mineral used in making batteries used in mobile phones. The country produces about 100,000 tons of cobalt each year, which is more than 70% of global production rates. The DRC also has other essential minerals such as coltan used in making mobile phones, gold, titanium, uranium, silver, copper, diamonds, cobalt, and many others. The country has a cool and wet climate with fertile soils that make it ideal for growing crops, further adding to its attractive qualities. However, the country’s rich mineral deposits have turned out to be a curse.
The DRC’s mineral resources are one of the primary causes of the raging conflict in the nation. The BBC published an article highlighting the devastating state of the DRC titled ‘DR Congo: Cursed by its natural wealth.’ Dan Snow, the author of the article, visited the republic to trace the roots of its violence. Snow writes that the DRC conflict has drawn in fighters from nine countries, resulting in one of the world’s bloodiest, long-running conflicts. When Belgium moved to colonize the DRC, its mineral deposits were the main point of attraction. King Leopold forced locals to harvest rubber from the forests. The DRC supplied the minerals and resources that drove industrialization in the West and also the weapons used in major world wars. When the country gained its independence in 1960, it was already in shambles, and its people were not ready to run their country (Snow, 2013). There were no capable leaders due to the fact that the Belgians promoted illiteracy to make sure that the Congolese remained under their control. Other developed nations looked away as chaos raged, as long as they had access to minerals from the country. Control for minerals in the country fuels the raging wars, encouraged by foreign powers who know that stability would be detrimental to their welfare and gain.
Global Policies on DRC Minerals
The term conflict minerals is widely used to refer to the situation in DRC where the presence of minerals leads to conflict. This term applies perfectly to minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Parker and Vadheim (2017) conducted a study on how US policies have affected the violence in the DRC. The United States and many other countries believe that global demand for mineral resources triggers and fuels conflict in poorly governed nations. The DRC is rich in highly sought-after minerals such as cobalt, coltan, gold, and silver. Unfortunately, most of the mines and production of these valuable minerals are run by warlords who earn immense wealth from them. The workers in the mines and production process barely make a living from their hard labor and also work in dangerous conditions. The United States passed the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 that committed to “cut off funding to people who kill people” (Parker & Vadheim, 2017). The policy applies to regulated minerals, namely tin, tungsten, and tantalum. US buyers should trace the source of minerals and boycott those sourced under unethical conditions. The Act, however, excludes gold and other unregulated minerals. It was found that the policy shifted mining from the targeted minerals to unregulated ones, further fueling conflict in regions where these unregulated minerals are located.
Global policies significantly impact the mineral production processes, which are one of the leading causes of conflict in the DRC. The DRC government, in conjunction with other countries, has tried to implement policies to break the link between mining and violence. Diemel and Hilhorst (2018) sought to determine the unintended effects of global policies around mining. The US implemented the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 that required American companies to find out the origin of 3T minerals to avoid financing warlords and other beneficiaries of the minerals. Similarly, the EU set up The EU Conflict Minerals Regulations that require buyers of Congolese minerals to set up due diligence systems (Zeuner, 2018). All these reforms aimed at reducing conflict by buying minerals through legal channels to avoid funding corrupt warlords and officials who benefited from the minerals while bankrupting the country.
Mining in the DRC is associated with violence due to forced labor, poor wages, and dangerous working conditions, among others. Global policies on sourcing minerals allow buyers to purchase ethically sourced materials that contribute to the development of the country and local populations. One of the unintended consequences of these policies is that President Kabila banned artisanal mining in 2010 ahead of the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act, robbing small-scale miners and traders of their livelihoods (Diemel and Hilhorst, 2018). Although the policies were created to safeguard miners’ wellbeing and ensure they were well compensated for their work, it led to adverse effects. External Events: Rwanda Genocide
The violence in the DRC can also be attributed to the events in neighboring Rwanda. The 1994 Rwanda genocide led to a mass exodus of civilians from Rwanda seeking asylum in neighboring countries, one of these being the DRC. Most of these refugees were Hutu. Congolese rebels attacked the Hutu community supported by Tutsis in power in Rwanda (Mathys, 2017). These armed groups claimed that they wanted to track down those who participated in the genocide. The Congolese government could not control the armed groups in the eastern part of the country, leading to rampant violence. These Rwandan groups eventually supported the ousting of Laurent Kabila as president.
The DRC experienced several distinct episodes of violence directly related to the Rwandan genocide. The first of these started in October of 1996 when troops from Rwanda entered Congo searching for politicians and militia they claimed had planned the genocide and were also plotting attacks in Rwanda from the refugee camps in the DRC. The second event happened in 1997 when Rwandese groups working with Congolese allies overthrew Mobutu, resulting in the First Congo War. The third event was the Second Congo War when Kabila, who had taken over from Mobutu, tried to expel the Rwandans who had put him in power (Mathys, 2017). The violence caused by Rwanda caused all persons who spoke Kinyarwanda, the primary language in Rwanda, to be seen as supporters of the Rwandan regime that caused havoc in the DRC. Congolese saw these people as a threat to their safety, creating even further disharmony and disunity in an already tense and violent situation.
The DRC has weak government systems that contribute to the violence in the country. The government shows little commitment to strengthening institutions under the constitution. The president controls all arms of government, meaning there is no justice or accountability for those supporting and funding violence across the country. Massive corruption has also crippled the DRC and led to violence (Parker & Vadheim, 2016). Government officials own many mines across the country and channel resources to their own pockets rather than the development of the country. A perfect example of this is President Joseph Kabila, who has amassed over $ 2 billion during his thirteen years in power, a mind-boggling sum in the impoverished nation. The government and other foreign bodies keep funding the various armed forces in the country to keep the war going (Vlassenroot & Verweijen, 2017). When the country is unstable, these powers have ample opportunities to loot the country while its citizens are too busy trying to survive. The DRC has more than 4 million internally displaced persons from the civil unrest, which also left more than six million dead.
Victims of Violence in the DRC
Although the violence in the DRC has affected the whole population in general, specific demographics have been impacted in different ways. The first area of focus is the violence against women during conflicts in the Congo. Historically women have borne the brunt of conflict mostly due to their gender. During the war, women have been enslaved, forced into prostitution, raped, killed, kidnapped, mutilated, displaced, tortured, and impoverished. Women face different kinds of violence during conflict due to their physical inability to protect themselves when targeted due to their weakness and helplessness. Women have been pushed into insecurity, poverty, and exploitation, especially when they lose the central male figures in their lives, such as husbands, brothers, and other family members. Aroussi (2016) explored the sexual violence that women experience in the DRC and whether this should be defined as gender-based violence.
Women in the DRC have experienced rape, threats to their life, extreme brutality, financial hardship, psychological trauma, loss of loved ones, dispossession, and lack of access to essential services such as healthcare. Women rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and the conflicts in the country have robbed them of this. Due to constant displacement as a result of armed conflict, women who rely on agriculture and trade to make a living can no longer provide for their families. The country has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world, ranked fifth globally according to the World Health Organization (Aroussi, 2016). More than half of global victims of maternal mortality come from the DRC. The country also has one of the highest fertility rates globally, mainly due to the lack of access to reproductive health services.
Sexual violence against women in the DRC is of particular concern due to the widespread nature of the crime and the fact that victims often get no justice. Sexual violence is a defining feature of armed conflict, often used as an intimidation tactic and also to punish various groups. In the DRC, armed groups used rape as a means to punish communities that were suspected of working with enemy groups (Rustad et al., 2016). Women also experience sexual violence from intimate partners and other civilians, leaving them with no opportunities for justice. Women and girls who lose their source of income during war resort to prostitution to survive. Female victims of rape are often stigmatized, which pushed them deeper into desperate measures such as prostitution. Society views victims of rape as worthless, destroyed, and unmarriageable, with no hope of a future ahead of them. Sexual violence has serious physical, emotional, and psychological effects on the wellbeing of women during war.
Many countries across the world have taken sexual violence against women very seriously and offered various forms of support to put an end to the heinous crime. The United Nations has sent troops to the DRC with sexual violence as one of the main reasons for ending the conflict. Other countries have provided funding for victims of sexual violence to get justice. Canada, Belgium, Sweden, and the EU financed mobile courts and logistical support for the prosecution of sexual violence crimes. The DRC government has also made an effort to address sexual violence against women. For example, in 2013 and 2014, the government prosecuted 196 members of the country’s armed forces, such as the police and army, charging them with sexual violence (Aroussi, 2016). These measures contribute to the fight against sexual violence, but millions of women in the DRC continue to suffer silently. More needs to be done in terms of psychological, emotional, physical, and financial support and bringing justice for survivors.
Children are another special group affected by violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children are affected in several ways. First, the loss of parents and loved ones resulting from the armed conflict has severe psychological impacts on the development of a child. Additionally, constant displacement from their homes affects children’s development and growth as they lack stability, parental care and affection, and other basic needs such as healthcare, education, and leisure activities. Kelly et al. conducted a study to determine how children are indoctrinated into armed rebel groups and the traumatic effects of taking part in wartime activities such as killings.
The Lord Resistance Army is one of the armed rebel groups that are part of the bloody conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group originated in Northern Uganda but spread into neighboring countries due to government operations to improve security in the region. The LRA is reported to have abducted more than 20000 children in Northern Uganda and adjacent areas. The study involves 34 participants, including formerly abducted children, their parents, and other community members. The LRA prefers children and youth as they are easier to brainwash, stay longer with the group, and are more loyal. These children were lured with the promise of material gains, misinformation, violence, and witchcraft (Kelly et al., 2016). The children were forced to kill or watch others get killed, leading to severe trauma that affected their long-term mental health. Children are exposed to long-term violence, including sexual violence (Murdoch-Fyke, 2019), which affects their intellectual, physical, and emotional development.
In summary, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced decades of bloody armed conflict which has destroyed the country. There are several causes of this violence, such as mineral deposits, global policies on these minerals, political instability, and external factors. Unless drastic measures are taken to dress the situation, things are likely to remain the same in the future. The armed conflict has crippled the resource-rich nation, leaving it one of the poorest, most unstable countries in the world. The DRC needs the intervention of foreign bodies such as the United Nations to keep the peace and protect innocent civilians who have been the victims of armed conflict. The sorry state of the nation calls for strong leadership and foreign support to protect innocent lives and stop the massive corruption that keeps it in eternal turmoil.
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Kelly, J. T., Branham, L., & Decker, M. R. (2016). Abducted children and youth in Lord’s Resistance Army in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): mechanisms of indoctrination and control. Conflict and health, 10(1), 1-11.
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