The Congo – an unreported human disaster
We should all know The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a country the size of Western Europe with a surfeit of natural resources. Even though those valuable resources have not uplifted the country from poverty. Instead, they have brought war and exploitation, with no Western media reports on it.
DRC remains one of the least developed nations. Devastated by long-running conflict and famines, it remains a place of chronic communal and state violence. DRC’s wars have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – all combined and then doubled.
From the beginning of the wars in the 90s to the end of the transition, other more high profile emergencies such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, and now Syria superseded the Congo in terms of global attention. The Congo was actually one of Doctors without Borders’ ten most unreported humanitarian stories of the year from 1998 onward.
In 2005 it was Reuters’s top ‘forgotten crisis’ and the United Nations declared it ‘the biggest most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world. Despite the efforts of a few intrepid journalists, scholars, and human rights observers, the war goes largely undocumented. One wonders why barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.
Currently, more than 5 million people have fled their homes and are internally displaced or have sought safety in neighbouring countries. Yet, the international response has not matched the gravity of the situation.
“The international community needs to wake up. Today, the lack of funds is already affecting humanitarian operations. Our teams in North Kivu have seen peer agencies pulling out or scaling down, while the needs are increasing.
There is no excuse for doing nothing. There are 13 million reasons to care about DR Congo. Those lives are just as important and just as worthy as the lives anywhere else in the world”, said the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.
December 19, 2017 – marked exactly one year after DRC president Joseph Kabila's second term as president ran out. The president already reached the constitutional two-term limit before that point, but a court ruled that he could stay in office until a new election.
Kabila has ruled DR Congo since 2001 since he took power from his father, Laurent Kabila following his assassination. Kabila junior took office just ten days, after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila. Politics is a family affair in Congo. Now seventeen years later, he clings to power as the country plunges into civil war again.
The most recent survey estimated that 45,000 people are dying each month from conflict-related causes (primarily hunger and disease), nearly the same shocking rate as during the war itself. And with the recent flare-up of violence in Congo’s volatile east amid political uncertainty about how long Kabila will cling to power, things don’t seem to be getting any better. As the opposition continues its call for protests, Congo sees violent crackdowns. At the same time there is also growing polarisation between the government and the opposition.
“There is a lack of political will to crack down on the militia. The only way this regime can keep power is to maintain a situation which allows them to keep pillaging. Each armed group can be tied to an official in Kinshasa, either in government or in the army”, said Fidel Bafilenda, an analyst in Goma.
Recently the UN has labelled the DRC, Africa's second largest country, as the ‘rape capital of the world'. It is because of the pace and scope of the use of rape as a weapon of war by proxy militia gangs fighting for control of Congo's easily extractable and highly valuable natural resources. This resources are mostly destined for sale in Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States in exchange of weapons.
Hence the UN has an appeal which is aiming to raise $1.7 billion to help more than 10 million people in desperate need across the country. So far, only 12 per cent of the appeal has been funded. Without sufficient aid, many Congolese people will not get the help they desperately need.
“Over the last year, the situation in DRC has worsened. We have witnessed a gradual and continuous escalation of conflict, which is why Mercy Corps has doubled our humanitarian response and set up the Kivu Crisis Response programme for displaced Congolese. This is only part of our role in DRC. We also focus on addressing the root causes of what is causing the conflict, grievances, and the lack of access to services and economic opportunities in a country where two thirds of the population is under 25,” said Jean-Philippe Marcoux, Mercy Corps DRC country director.
If humanitarian crises were listed by some sort of moral or editorial standards on the stock exchange, to help indicate which ones urgently require international news coverage and political action, shares of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) would have commanded international news headlines and extensive press coverage over the past 12 years.
The question here is not whether the human suffering in Congo deserves more media coverage because it is greater than other wars, but rather, why have other crises qualified for extensive media coverage, but not the atrocities happening in Congo? We should all make noise about what’s happening in Congo the same way we do with every new iPhone model.
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