Why Congo Matters (Part II of II): Top 5 Reasons

This article was submitted by Emily Troutman.

1. An enormous tragedy requires an enormous response. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes in the DRC, making it the world’s deadliest documented conflict since WWII.

The above statistic comes from the International Rescue Committee and is often cited in coverage of Congo. But for full effect, it ought to be amended to this: “Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died — one at a time — from war-related causes.” Because 5.4 million is such an astonishing number, it has the power to make progress seem impossible.

We are asked in a situation like this to think smaller, not bigger. Just as death is experienced one person at a time, hope and progress can also happen through each of us. The enormity of our response is not measured in size, but in depth and of commitment over time.

2. A little safety goes a long way. Ninety percent of early deaths are due to non-violent, preventable causes including malnutrition, infectious disease and complications from childbirth.

Congo's staggering mortality rate results from its ongoing battle with the FDLR, Hutu forces that invaded the country following the genocide in Rwanda. Most people will be affected by the ways in which this violence limits their freedom of movement. When people don't feel safe to travel, they also don't have access to medicine, health care, education or clean water.

3. Women need other women to stand beside them. In March of 2009, there were 1,154 confirmed rapes just in North Kivu province. Of these rapes, 65 percent were committed by the armed forces.

The national army, the FARDC, recently underwent an integration of forces, in which a Tutsi rebel group, the CNDP, was folded into the regular army. Some people blame these numbers on that change, saying a new, more criminal element is at work. Ultimately, however, the epidemic of rape in Congo is an old problem that only got worse.

At the heart of the problem is the Congolese government's unwillingness to hold criminals accountable. Rapists are either not tried, or are tried and then set free. In addition, there are no safeguards to keep people with known criminal records out of the military. UN peacekeeping forces continue to work side-by-side with the FARDC despite its incompetence.

4. If you're reading this on a computer, you're implicated in the crisis: Congo holds 80 percent of the world's resources of coltan, a rare mineral that is a critical component of cell phones and other electronic devices.

The battle in Congo right now is not about identity, it is about resources. The FDLR, as well as dozens of unaffiliated gangs of criminals, is hiding in the mountainous jungles in order to secure its own wealth. Congo exports numerous minerals, including gold and diamonds. Right now, global demand is especially high for columbite-tantalite (coltan) and cassiterite, which are used in nearly every electronic device, including phones, game stations, computers and cameras.

5. Your attention can create change. People are talking about Congo now more than ever before and, as a result, international actors are starting to respond.

Just last week, the number one purchaser of tin ore from Eastern Congo, Thiascaro, pulled out of the country, citing “bad publicity.” Thiascaro, whose parent company is based in the UK, was involved with the development and implementation of a new “certification process” to ensure mines aren't funding the FDLR, in keeping with new UN regulations. But the certification process, meant to launch in early 2009, hasn't happened.

In the US, more pressure needs to be placed on companies such as Apple and Intel to offer “conflict-free” electronic devices, much in the same way the public increased awareness regarding “blood diamonds.” US Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has put forward the "Congo Conflict Minerals Act" (S.891), which would support the UN regulations for transparency and require companies to declare which mine their materials came from. But without wide-ranging public demand, it is unlikely to move forward. Americans can help by calling the US Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking for their senators' office.

Emily’s Photography
Emily’s blog, Who We Are / How We Live

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