A regrettable conflict, again

By  Fr. Stan Chu Ilo, Catholic Register Special
  • November 21, 2008
{mosimage}Once more Congo is burning and the world is watching. After five years of civil war (1998-2003) in which more than five million people were killed and another million dislocated, the war-weary people of Congo are facing the prospect of another preventable war.

The Congo conflict is the longest and most devastating conflict in Africa. It is also central to resolving the horrors in Darfur because these conflicts have led to the weaponization of this African sub-region and the surrounding countries extending to Sudan and Chad. The vast and ungoverned territories in this area provide the route for the transportation of all kinds of weapons to the African hot spots in Uganda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan. They are also fertile grounds for very angry and disinherited Africans who are tools for burgeoning terrorist cells and rogue groups and militias.
The rise of Gen. Laurent Nkunda and his militia as a main player in the conflict is not without reason. He is a front for a constellation of ethnic, national and economic interests within and outside Africa, which is playing out in the murky waters of the bloody politics of this troubled region. This self-proclaimed general of the Tutsi ethnic nationality claims to have a Messianic mission to purge Congo of the remnants of the Hutu ethnic group that perpetrated the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Nkunda is also claiming that he is a freedom fighter who will rid the region of dictatorial regimes that have mortgaged the future of the people of the Greater Congo basin to Western and Chinese economic interests. Since January 2008, Nkunda has made it clear that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo was wrong to have negotiated away a third of Congo’s resources to China. In that deal worth more than $5 billion, China will control and exploit Congo’s resources over a given period, while in return China will build 2,050 kilometres of road in Congo as well as provide other infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. 

Analysts argue that the outbreak of violence in the Eastern province of Congo was Nkunda’s way of pressing home his point that he should be part of any political and economic negotiation about the future of the nation. Nkunda’s rebel group is only one of the many military groups that are roaming freely in Congo. There are four different military groups with different loyalties in the Congo: the remnants of the Hutu army (FDLR) that perpetrated the genocide in 1994, the DRC army (FARDC) made up mainly of soldiers from the ethnic group of the Congolese president, and the Mai Mai military, a para-military force loyal to the president, and a few other remnants of the forces (MLC) loyal to the exiled leader of the opposition in Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Congo is the largest African country. It is larger than California or Western Europe. It is potentially the richest country in Africa with rich deposits of gold, coltan and niobium — important minerals for making mobile phones and satellites. It also has unexplored deposits of diamond and oil and some of the richest arable lands in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fight for the control of these resources is one of the main reasons for the endless wars in this beautiful land.

Congo is the clearest evidence of state collapse and the apparent failure of Africans to build regional integration and peace. At a time when the rest of the world is building regional co-operation and stronger economic and political ties, African countries and regions are growing far apart from each other, propping up insurgencies in each other’s backyard. 

There is also the question of failed governments in all these countries. Apart from Namibia, most of the countries in this region are facing serious political crisis because the people in power came to office through violent or foul means and have remained in power through strong arm tactics. There is also the sad involvement of external influences, mainly Western and now Chinese business interests exploiting the crisis in the Congo for economic reasons and funding the importation and smuggling of arms in the region for over three decades.

The conflict in the Congo is one which the African countries in this region cannot resolve themselves because there is a long-standing mutual suspicion and hostility among them. It is also a conflict that goes beyond Western interference and exploitation, which will still be decisive in resolving the conflicts.

This is a conflict that requires a multi-pronged approach. There is the need to immediately address the refugee problem in Kivu region, the epicentre of the fighting. This region is still recovering from the 2002 volcanic eruption that destroyed the provincial capital of Goma and the Ebola disease that wiped away a significant portion of the population. It is also a region that is susceptible to the outbreak of cholera and yellow fever. 

Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed. There is the need to convene an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which should institute a high level commission to address the unresolved fault lines relating to ethnicity, nationality, control of the rich resources of Congo and the trans-national enterprises and African businesses and governments which, unfortunately, are getting fat from this regrettable conflict.

(Nigerian Fr. Stan Chu Ilo serves in the diocese of Peterborough, Ont., and is  the author of The Face of Africa: Looking Beyond the Shadows, and founder and Director of the Canadian Samaritans for Africa.)

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