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Congo's tragedy: the war the world forgot.


In a country the size of Western Europe, a war rages that has lasted sixteen years and cost millions of lives. Rival militias inflict appalling suffering on the civilian population, and what passes for political leadership is powerless to stop it. This is the DR Congo, and the reason for the conflict is control of minerals essential to the functioning of the Western Society.  That makes the Western’s blindness to the horror doubly shaming.


This is the story of the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler's armies marched across Europe- a war that has not ended, but it is the story of a trail of blood that leads directly to you, to your remote control, to your mobile phone, to your laptop and to your diamond necklace. 


In the TV series Lost, a group of plane crash survivors believe they are stranded alone on a desert island, until one day they discover a dense metal cable leading out into the ocean and the world beyond.  The Democratic Republic of Congo is full of those cables, mysterious connection that show how a seemingly isolated tribal war is in reality something different.  This war has been dismissed as an internal African implosion.  In reality it is a battle for coltan, diamonds, cassiterite and gold, destined for sale in London, New York, Paris and all over the world.  It is a battle for the metals that make our technological society vibrate, ring and bling, and it has already claimed million of lives and broken a population the size of Britain's.


The War for Games Consoles


There is an official story about the war in Congo and then there is the reality, uncovered by a trilogy of bomb-blast reports from the UN Panel of Experts on the DRC.  The official story is convoluted and hard to follow, because it does not ultimately make sense.  But its first chapter is true enough, and goes something like this intention- the Rwandans' desire to track down genocidaires, only to spiral out of control.  It resulted in mass slaughter of Congolese population.


Once the Congo was drenched in death, the UN commissioned a panel of international statesmen to travel the country and uncover the reasons behind the war.  They found that the Rwandan government's story hid a much darker truth.  The Rwandans had a clear intention right from the beginning to seize Congo's massive mineral wealth, to grab the coltan mines, sell it to the waiting Western world, as they’ve quickly flicked the channel away from the news of this war with their coltan-filled remote control.  


Other countries came in not because they believed in repelling aggression but because they wanted a piece of the Congolese cake.  The country is ravaged by "armies of business, commanded by men who carefully planned the redrawing of the regional map to redistribute wealth,” the UN declared.


The UN experts knew this because the Rwandan troops did not head for the areas where the genocidaires  were hiding out.  They headed straight for the mines, where they swiftly enslaved the population to dig for them.  They did not clear out the genocidaires, they teamed up with them to rape Congo.


Jean-Pierre Ondekane the chief of the Rwandan forces in Goma, urged his units to maintain good relations "with their Interhamwe (genocidaires) brothers.  They set up a Congo Desk that whisked billions out of the country and into Rwandan bank accounts- and they fought to stay and pillage some more.  The UN found that; British, American and Belgian companies were involved in the illegal exploitation of Congolese resources.  The ones they recommended for further investigation included Anglo-American P LC, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and De Beers.  The British Government while boasting of its humanitarian goals in Africa barely followed up the report, publicly acquitting a few corporations like e Anglo-American whose subsidiary AngloGold Ashanti has been shown by Human Rights Watch to have developed links with a murderous armed group in the region, and leaving others like De Beers in an "unresolved category.


Why this invasion was so profitable?  Global demand for coltan was soaring throughout the war because the massive popularity of coltan-filled Sony PlayStations.  While Sony itself does not use Congolese coltan, its sudden need for vast amounts of the metal drove up the price- which intensified the war.  As Oona King, one of the few British politicians to notice Congo, explained: " Kids in Congo were being sent down into mines to die so that kids in Europe and  America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms."



The Last of the Belgian colonialists


The Belgians unified Congo in the first great holocaust of the 20th century, a programme of slavery and tyranny that killed13 million people.  King Leopold the π bragging about his humanitarian goals, of course- seized Congo and turned it into a slave colony geared to extracting rubber, the coltan and cassiterite of its day.  The natives who failed to gather enough rubber would have their hands chopped off, with the Belgian administrators receiving and carefully counting hundreds of baskets o f hands a day.  This system of forced cultivation continued until the Belgians withdrew in 1960, when Patrice Lumumba became the first and only elected leader of Congo.


Packing Out the Albert Hall


The last time there was a holocaust in Congo; British and American people reacted with a great national revulsion.  Books like, Arthur Conan Doyle's; The Crime of the Congo topped the bestseller lists, millions petitioned parliament to act, and the Royal Albert Hall was packed out with mass meetings detailing the Congo's long nightmare.  A century on, the words and analyses of that great campaign still ring true, Joseph Conrad called it "the vilest scramble for loot that has ever disfigured the human conscience"- But today, these millions of people have died  in the dark, unnoticed and unmourned.  The generations living in the West have said nothing while the Congo has been reduced to near-Leopoldian levels of desperation by the scramble for loot, conducted on their behalf and for their benefit.  The averagel ife-expectancy in Congo is 43 and falling.


In a country where the war is laughably referred to as "winding down”, a World Trade Centre-full of people is butchered every two days, and in the lost rural areas, bubonic plague has made triumphant come-back.


This war was launched by nations that sensed- rightly- that the Western desire for coltan and diamonds and gold far outweighs concern for the lives of black people.  They knew that the West would keep on buying, long after the UN had told them several times, that people were dying to provide our mobiles and games consoles and a girl's best friend.  Today, they still buy, and the Western Governments obstruct any attempt to introduce legally enforceable regulations to stop corporations trading on Congolese blood.  They ignore the UN's warnings that: "Without the wealth generated by the illegal exploitation of natural resources arms cannot be bought, hence the conflict cannot be perpetuated.


Since the 19th century, when the world looks at the DR Congo, it sees a pile of riches with some black people inconveniently sitting on top of them.  They would like to eradicate the Congolese people so that they can possess the mines and resources.  They destroy us because we are an inconvenience.  Just picture the raped women with bullets burying through their intestines and try to weigh them against the piles of blood-soaked electronic goods sitting beneath your Christmas tree, with their little chunks of Congolese metal whirring inside...

http :/ /news . i ndependentc.o .u k/world/afi'ica/article36 2215.e ce 5t6t2006

IndependenOt nline Edition > Africa Page4 of 8