Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Congo: Still the worst war. Still under-reported.

It seems that every sixth months or so, I am throwing out a post to remind that the world is not limited to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, but that there is and has been a very bloody war raging in the Congo for a long time. The following reporting reminds us that all of us have an indirect hand for a horrible conflict that is being waged in part for our benefit. The first step towards ending the bloodbath is acknowledging that it is taking place. From Democracy Now!:

JOHANN HARI: This is the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler's armies marched across Europe. And it's a war that has still not ended. But what I think is really important for people to understand is, this is not a distant tribal war that has nothing do with you. It's a war whose trail of blood leads absolutely directly to London, to New York, to Paris, to the laptop people will be listening to this on, to their remote controls, the mobile phone, and indeed to the diamond necklace, if they're fortunate enough to spend their money on one.


Just to give people a sense of the scale of the suffering there, I’ve covered -- I’ve been to Iraq, Palestine, some of the poorest parts of South America -- the sheer quantity and quality of suffering in Congo is markedly worse than anything I had seen in those countries. Going to hospitals full of women who had been gang-raped and then shot in the vagina, a common practice; going to villages where child soldiers had been made to kill their own father so they couldn't run away back to their family -- unimaginably extreme violence is happening there.

And I think it’s important for you to understand, there's a complicated kind of official story about what happened in the war in Congo and how it began, and then there's the real story. The official story is that after the end of the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu Power genocidaires, the psychopaths who murdered 800,000 people in just a hundred days, fled across the border into Congo. And the official story of how the war began is the Rwandan President Paul Kagame ordered the Rwandan troops across the border to hunt down these genocidaires. And then, the Uganda, neighboring country, also invaded to get some of its criminals, and then... the President of Congo appealed to some of the surrounding countries to support him --

AMY GOODMAN: And I just wanted to clarify, when you say “genocidaires,” for people in the United States, you mean the killers in Rwanda?

JOHANN HARI: Sorry, the people who committed the genocide, exactly. And the Congolese president appealed to some of the surrounding countries to come and help him against this invasion. So, in a sense, in that story, the war in Congo is like a kind of the First World War, just a gigantic cock-up, you know. Someone acts out of a good motive, and then it all spirals and goes wrong. It’s a nice story. It’s a reassuring story. It’s also completely untrue.

The United Nations established a panel of experts, once the war had completely spiraled, to find out what really happened. And what they said, what the panel of experts found, is that in fact these countries all acted as, in their words, armies of business. They went into Congo not to track down killers, but to seize the country's unbelievably immense mineral wealth, to grab it and to sell it out to New York, to London, to Paris, to the developing world. So they seized, for example, coltan, which at that time had a huge market spike. Coltan is a metal that's extremely good at conducting heat. You have it in your cell phone, in your remote control, and so on, and your laptop. And Congo has one of the largest stocks of it anywhere in the world. And there was at that point a big spike in the global price, partly because of Sony Playstations, which contain coltan, so as one human rights campaign in Congo put it: so kids in New York and London could play imaginary war games, kids in Congo were enslaved and sent down coltan mines.

So, we know that this story is the real story, partly because the Rwandan army, when it went into Congo, didn't go to where the Hutu Power people who committed the genocide were. They went to where the mines were. And, indeed, we have memos that were unearthed by Human Rights Watch that show that the Rwandan army actually gave orders to collaborate and cooperate with the Hutu Power people in the rape of Congo.

This continues right to the present day. You still have -- I went to mines that were controlled effectively by slave labor, where they were owned by the militias. So you can't ever have a unified state in Congo, while you have this situation. The government doesn't control the resources. You’ve got a situation where the government is trying to get the country to be united by bribing, paying soldiers to join the national army.

The problem is, you go to the camps, the Congolese National Army camps, as I did, people are paid $5 a month, if they're lucky. There were people dying of AIDS just in the barracks. There were people are starving, people with their children there starving. And they were saying, “Well, look. If we join the national army, we get $5. If I go out and join one of the militia groups that control a gold mine or a diamond mine or cassiterite mine or a coltan mine, I can get $60 a month. What should I do?” So, it guarantees that Congo -- the fact that we in the outside world are still buying these blood-soaked minerals guarantees that Congo can't be unified.

And the United Nations identified some of the most core multinationals as responsible for this: Anglo American, De Beers, Barclays Bank. And what's really shameful is this a war fought for us, so that we can have these resources. But when our governments were informed by the United Nations that they were cooperating with some of their -- that their corporations were collaborating and indeed causing some of the worst human rights abuses anywhere in the world, our governments didn't react by holding these corporations to account. They reacted by saying to the UN, “Why has our company been put on this list?” The companies lobbied very hard, not just in the Bush administration, but in Britain, in Germany, all over the developed world, to say, “Get us off the list.” And lots of them were taken off the list. It's a disgrace.

And it's a real disgrace to us, because last time there was this scale of mass slaughter in the Congo, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Belgians colonized it and killed ten million people, basically turned the country into a giant rubber plantation, there were mass campaigns across the developed world, led by people like Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle. There were questions asked in the Senate. There were huge mass meetings in London. The same thing has happened in our lifetimes, and we've done virtually nothing.

It's very easy to lose hope, but I always think of the -- whenever I do feel despair about the situation in Congo, there are scenes that come back to you. I saw a guy being beaten to death. I went to a Pygmy village where a guy had been beheaded the day before. It’s awful. I think about the incredibly brave people in Congo I met, who were fighting. I met an extraordinary man, who was a kind of Oscar Schindler of the Congolese mass rapes, who had been treating women who had been horrifically subject to sexual violence by the different armies of business, who treated these women in secret, because he would have been killed if he hadn’t. I think about -- there was a guy called Bertrand Bisimwa, a fantastic Congolese human rights activist. He said to me -- I thought he summarized the situation brilliantly -- he said, “You know, people have looked to Congo for over a hundred years, and they've seen a great big pile of riches with some black people inconveniently sitting on top of them.” And he said to me just before I left, you know, “It's your country and the developed world that has been doing this to Congo. So, tell me, who are the savages, you or us?”


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