Why Nobody Cares About Congo
5 months ago
Lack of U.S., world efforts to stop brutal war in Congo shows devaluation of African lives
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not necessarily reflect those of Loop 21.
Sitting in front of a lukewarm mug of cocoa at an eerily quiet hotel restaurant in west London yesterday, I couldn’t help staring at an image in a local tabloid newspaper. It was a color photograph of a young Congolese boy staring toward the sky, with wide, delirious eyes and a mouth frozen in a scream. A short distance behind him stood a phalanx of soldiers in green camouflage uniforms with automatic rifles slung low across their shoulders.
A little over a week ago, rebels overtook the national Congolese army, as well as the boy’s home community of Goma, an area that straddles the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. Peace talks between the rebels and the government began Sunday, but the rebels have threatened to retake Goma if the negotiations fail.
It was hard to tell if the boy in the picture was celebrating the cease-fire, or expressing a madness born out of the futility of this latest rebellion.
Either way, I understood, and sighed.
Over the last decade and a half, the central African nation synonymously known as Zaire, “the Congo,” Democratic Republic of Congo and the “heart of darkness,” has enthralled and bedeviled me—much as it has the rest of the world. The Congo was the first war zone from which I ever reported, and a decade later it was the last. Over the years, I made dozens of trips there, reporting on child soldiers, then several wars later, rape as a weapon of war. The first time I set foot in the country as a naïve, anxious magazine writer looking to prove himself, I watched thousands of Hutu refugees from neighboring Rwanda slowly starve to death in the jungle as a deliberate punishment for genocidal actions against their Tutsi countrymen. The images of starving mothers trying to nurse their dead babies back to life will forever haunt me.
I traveled through the long-contested eastern half of the country, visiting hospitals, displacement camps and communes, speaking with survivors of rape and sexual assault. Violence against women has for centuries been a recurring phenomenon of conflict, but in the Congo, it took on an entirely different meaning, where combatants raped infants, using sticks, broken bottles and rifle butts. The day I interviewed a 22-year-old who’d been gang raped twice in one day before watching her three children executed with successive rifle shots to the back of their heads, I knew my affair with the country would have to end. I didn’t blame the Congolese people entirely for what was happening to them and their country, but I did look to the global community and Western nations in disbelief.
The Democratic Republic of Congo exemplifies the risks and human cost that arise when world powers decide to put a nation together without regard for history, culture or geography. One need look no further than the disarray caused by the creation of Israel on Palestinian lands in 1948, the birth of Bangladesh from Pakistan and India, the regional split by France which led to Lebanon and Syria.
After the mid-90s fall of longtime president Mobutu Sese Seko, the mineral rich nation of Congo underwent two periods of formal, declared “war,” which seemed not only to bleed into each other, but also into the various uprisings and countless militia rebellions since.