Fahamu (Oxford)

14 August 2014

Congo-Kinshasa: Rape of Bodies, Rape of Resources, Rape of a Nation

Photo: Radio Okapi/Ph. John Bompengo
Catholic Bishops in the DRC

analysis

The situation in DRC illustrates the deficiency of global ethics, selfishness and the longstanding failure to value the lives of the African people. Tackling the DRC's impasse requires a comprehensive approach and involvement of national, regional, continental and international communities

Rape of bodies, rape of resources, rape of a nation

INTRODUCTION

One of the biggest challenges facing Africa and the international community is bringing sustainable peace to DRC, thus addressing the genocide that has occurred for decades. The DRC has been plunged into phases of wars, deadly conflicts and violence since the horrors of King Leopold's personal rule (1885-1908), followed by Belgian colonialism (1908-1960).

In addition, the first and only democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Emery Lumumba was assassinated in1961.The situation was exacerbated by Mubutu Seseku's 32-year dictatorial rule (1965-1997), invasions from Rwanda and Uganda since 1996 to the present and intermittent attacks from varied rebel groups. Throughout these 129 years, Congo and her institutions have been destroyed; more than 6 million people have been killed, hundreds of thousands displaced internally or having to assume global refugee status.

Thousands of women and girls have been raped, and even men and boys have not been spared. Physical rape is coupled with mental or psychological rape that leaves an indelible scar affecting the Congolese society for generations.

Many children who would be in schools are exploited as they are recruited as child soldiers, forced to kill, work in the mines and be addicted to drugs. Their destroyed childhood innocence and dignity are beyond recovery. The youth are disenfranchised with unemployment and poverty, making them susceptible to joining rebel groups.

A point not well understood is that the DRC conflict does not concern Congo or Africa alone. It is a global issue. The natural resources causing bloodshed and death benefit Western industries' need for rubber, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum, gold, diamond, zinc, timber, iron and uranium for automobile, airspace, technology, electronic, military, furniture, and jewelry.

The DRC is embroiled in a geo-political and economic strategic battle in the search for scarce resources that are abundant in Congo. It is the paradox of the resource curse. It is hardly remembered that sustainable extraction of the minerals would benefit global interests longer and the rain forests in the DRC are vital to curbing climate change.

The Congolese people are endowed in many ways, with potential to contribute to global progress. The situation in DRC illustrates the deficiency of global ethics, selfishness and the longstanding failure to value the lives of the African people. If 6 million people died in Europe or America, would the international community remain silent? During the Jewish holocaust, 1939-45, 6 million people were massacred and the whole world knows about it. Why the silence about Congo?

The impasse in the DRC is an epitome of African leaders' greed, selfishness, ineffective leadership and governance. How could the Africa Union (former Organization of African Unity) allow the situation prevailing in Congo to go on for decades?

The DRC is a mirror to many African nations ravaged by war, conflicts, selfishness and greed of the elite leaders who fail to plan for the development of our nations and continent at large and instead exploit both human and social capital for personal interests.

Leaders go so far as corrupting and embezzling foreign aid. When will the DRC and Africa in general stop relying on the life blood of foreign aid when our resources benefit other continents and human capital? Developing economies and great powers exploit Africa's human and natural resources relentlessly. Where do natural resources fail to benefit populations as it is in Africa?

While other regions achieve effective associations such as the European Union and foster genuine unity and development, Africa's continental and regional unions remain nominal and ineffective. While Africa laments the impasse of colonialism, we are missing our best last chance. The situation is rapidly deteriorating, rendering economic progress, peace and political stability impossible.

If the current trend in the DRC and the entire continent are not reversed soon, there will be no natural resources nor a clean environment left for our posterity. Our future will be doomed to war and conflict.

If Africa was united, the DRC has the potential to function as a power engine for the whole continent. Once President Obama said that for Africa to achieve its promise, solving DRC's problems is vital. Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, argued there cannot be an African Renaissance without a new Congo. Congo is vital to Africa's present and future progress.

Tackling the DRC's impasse requires a comprehensive approach and involvement of national, regional, continental and international actors, coupled with continued research to inform policies and praxis. Equally, varied strategies designed from local cultures, African philosophy and interdisciplinary academic views are vital.

This article poses two arguments. First, unless the DRC (and Africa at large) strengthen effective leadership and governance, peace and development remain impossible. Sustainable peace will not ensue from the barrel of the gun, but from a leadership that diligently practices smart power in enacting national and international policies, rebuilding public institutions, governance and human security.

The second argument is inextricably linked to the first. Lasting solutions to DRC problems rely upon the Congolese people who should be empowered and their rights to self determination respected to make decisions for their country.

Lasting peace cannot be detached from peoples' core values and aspirations. Thus, the restoration of the principles of African philosophy, particularly respect for life of the living, the unborn, living dead, ancestors and nature and Ubuntu philosophy that values and respects the humanness of others remain a vital strategy. Neo-liberal peace approaches, devoid of African values, are likely to lead to intermittent signing of peace agreements only to be followed by wars.

The article has six parts. It started with the introduction, followed by a chain of rape traced through the lens of Congo' history and its critical analysis; proposals on strengthening leadership, a recourse to Ubuntu philosophy and a conclusion.

A CHAIN OF RAPE THROUGH THE LENS OF CONGO'S HISTORY

The DRC is an epitome of national, human and resource rape. Civil wars, secessions, insurrections, rebellions, mutinies, deadly violence, invasions, revolts, plunder, and ethnic polarization are ongoing. Wars, economic devastation of natural resources, massacres, sexual violence, corruption and political instability have gone through a succession of phases, understood only by looking into the past.

Congo's problems commenced in1871 when the British explorer Sir Henry Stanley travelled to the Congo River and discovered Congo's riches. King Leopold II of Belgium established the Association International Africaine, disguised as a humanitarian association to aid Congo's colonization.

He employed Stanley to return to Congo and acquire as much land as he could. Wittingly, Stanley bribed local chiefs with gifts and flattery to sign treaties in exchange for their land. Did the chiefs understand the meaning and implications of the treaties?

Owning Congo as a personal property and practicing personal rule, Leopold started harvesting Congo's rubber, highly demanded for Western booming bicycle and car tire industries in the 1890s.

Resource exploitation went hand in hand with human enslavement. Villages were stormed and torched, women taken as hostages, raped and starved to death along with their children, until men produced the required quantities of rubber. Labourers worked under inhumane conditions. They were flogged, hands and limbs amputated as a punishment.

Between 1880 and 1920, 10 million Congolese lost their lives, leaving just half of the original population.[1] When Leopord's atrocities were exposed, he lost financial support. In 1908, he sold the 'Congo Free State' to Belgium which became the colonial power. Plunder, exploitation and abuse of human rights continued until 1960 when Congo became 'independent'.

Patrick Lumumba became the first democratically elected Congolese head of government in 1960. Lumumba demanded not only political liberation but also economic independence from the oppressive imperialists and asserted that Congo should be a sovereign state, cooperating with Belgium and other Western nations as equal partners.

His nationalistic stand and demand for social justice infuriated Western powers including the United Nations and USA. In 1961, Lumumba was assassinated by his opponents who are believed to have been supported by Belgium and the USA.

In a coup d'etat with support of USA, Mobutu seized power in 1965. He allowed international exploitation of the natural resources and amassed wealth for himself which he kept in Swiss banks. Was that money ever returned to Congo after Mobutu's death? To foster national unity, Mobutu started the 'authenticity' program to promote traditional culture and values as a measure to suppress Western cultural influence.

He changed the country's name to Zaire, and all Congolese were obliged to use African names only. In the middle of 1971, authenticity became 'Mobutuism', a personality cult that legitimized his absolutism. To bolster his personal rule, he destroyed all institutions, suppressed political parties, placed members of his ethnic group into leadership positions, thus antagonizing inter-ethnic relations and interests of the indigenous elite from other ethnic groups and political parties.

However, Mobutu maintained strong international relations and received economic and military support from powerful nations including USA despite well documented records of human rights violation, corruption and political repression.

He was a strong Western ally to curb communism in Africa. In 1973, Mobutu started the 'Zairianization' process of businesses owned by foreigners and assumed absolute control of the mineral resources with the establishment of the 'Societe Zairoise pour la Commercialisation des Minerais' which was entrusted with marketing all mineral resources. Zairianization destroyed the economy, leading the government to persistent borrowing and reliance on foreign aid.

In 1994, an influx of Hutu Rwandan refugees, that included former Rwandan soldiers and the Interahamwe entered Congo, escaping the Tutsi led government -Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Kagame.

In 1995 Mobutu's parliament passed a resolution that stripped Rwandan speaking ethnic groups of Congolese citizenship. In 1996, the Banyamulenge and the Banyarwanda were ordered to leave Congo in accordance with the parliamentary resolution passed in 1995. They refused to leave and instead sought for help from Rwanda. The Rwandan government intervened and embarked on destroying Hutu refugee camps and killing thousands, mostly children, women, the sick and elderly. This genocide went unrecognized globally.

The chaotic political situation led to the formation of the Alliance des Forces Democratiques de la Liberation, that comprised of Banyamulenge combatants and other ethnic groups, under the leadership of Laurent Kabila. With military support from Rwanda and Uganda, Kabila started a rebellion in the mineral rich region of Eastern Congo. Kinsasha was captured and on May 1997, Kabila was sworn in as the president.

In July 1998, Kabila fell out with Rwanda and Uganda as he ordered foreign troops to leave Congo. Rwanda accused Kabila of being corrupt, authoritarian and becoming genocidal, while Uganda charged him with incompetence, failing to provide security along her border and prevent genocide against the Rwandan refugees in DRC. Kabila sought support from other African nations such as Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, leading to 'Africa's first world war' with horrendous violence and brutality.

In January 2001, Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph Kabila assumed and maintains Congo's leadership. Kabila Jr. became the president of a nation that was poor, embroiled in political chaos and occupied by rebel groups on one hand and foreign troops on the other. Kabila was elected as the president in 2006 and again in 2011 under ambiguous processes.

Although the DRC Constitution Article 70 states that presidential mandate is renewable only once and article 220 states categorically that there should be no renewal of presidential mandate, it is not clear whether or not Kabila will seek for the third term in 2016. In May 2014 when the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Congo, he called on Kabila to respect the constitution and not to run for a third term. Kerry also pledged $30 million to support free, transparent and credible elections.

In 2002 with the intervention of the United Nations, Rwandan and Ugandan troops were ordered to leave Congo. Evidence from the United Nations proves that the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda continue to support various rebel groups in view of exploiting the natural resources. Whose interests do these two leaders serve? Why don't the African Union and United Nations impose sanctions on them for their violation of human rights, transgression of DRC's sovereignty and plundering its resources?.

Additionally, private Congolese entrepreneurs facilitate military activities for commercial reasons, while expatriate entrepreneurs work opportunistically to broker import and export deals and carry out illicit mineral trade with warlords.

The report of the United Nations Panel of Experts lists individuals, multinational corporations, foreign banks, companies and firms from twenty-six nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America who are involved in the exploitation of Congo's resources. This entire analysis is a foot print to Congo's political and economic struggle

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF HISTORY

The major characteristics of Congo's history are: dictatorship and personal rule with no leadership models, international interference and support of dictators as long as they satisfy Western (and Chinese) interests.

Why does the West support dictators at civilian expense? While African leaders are known for their 'bigmanity', dictatorship, personal rule and violation of human rights, the trend started with Western intervention in Africa exemplified by Leopold and the colonizers. Congo's institutions and leadership were weak from the beginning and dictatorial rule was just a nail in the coffin.

The economic development of Congo is hampered by personal rule, corruption, plunder and total incapacity of the Congolese people. All leaders- foreigners and Congolese alike, pursue personal, rather than national interests. Do they qualify to be leaders, presidents or plunderers?

Massacres and rape have been used for more than a century. How can the international community fail to intervene and involve all powers to save life in DRC? Does it mean that the blood of some races is superior? Congo has been referred to as the worst place to be a woman and world's rape capital. The literature on rape refers to it as 'a weapon of war'. I consider rape as a 'weapon of mass destruction' to the DRC. The ramifications of rape last for generations like the nuclear residues of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The suffering of women and girls in DRC is unimaginable. The physical and psychological suffering and wounds caused by rape robs a woman of her dignity and pride. The media, national and international non-government organizations provide rape statistics. Behind these numbers is human life, a human person whose dignity is trivialized.

If we could all imagine that those raped are our mothers, sisters or daughters, could the international community allow such violence to prevail? Besides being impregnated, tortured and having their internal organs destroyed, many women and girls are infected with HIV/AIDS. Living with HIV/AIDS, nursing HIV positive children and raising so many orphans is a tragedy for the Congolese society.

STRENGTHENING LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE

Strengthening effective leadership and governance is a vital intervention in Congo's impasse. DRC needs leaders who value and foster the well being of their people above their own personal interests. Leadership and governance are key to sustainable use of the natural resources, and the implementation of policies that bind international markets and ensure that revenues foster citizens' wellbeing and security.

The DRC (and Africa at large) needs to learn from other nations how to utilize, diligently and cautiously their resources and revenues. Providing good education and good jobs for the young is an effective buffer against recruitment into rebel groups. Having an uneducated population and so many unemployed youth is a shame and a ticking time bomb. In contrast, developed nations educate their people, empower them with expertise to think, invent and produce goods that are marketable. In this way they use Africa's resources to make products that Africans import at exorbitant prices.

Strengthened governance will ensure strong institutions to curb illicit extraction of the resources and corruption of revenues. During the first visit of president Obama to Africa, he said that Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men/women.

The judiciary as an institution will ensure justice and there will be no need of trying offenders by the International Criminal Court. In any case Justice needs to be given according to the terms of the survivors/victims and not the terms of the giver who have not experienced the atrocities on DRC.

Effective leaders will empower women to have a greater role in politics and economics. Cultural paradigms that keep women backward and deny their rights are engraved in deep insecurity. It is unacceptable and illogical to disempower women who would provide more than half of the work force.

RECOURSE TO UBUNTU PHILOSOPHY

Ubuntu philosophy is the African sense of community and respect for humanness summed up in: "I am because we are, and because we are therefore I am." The same philosophy was echoed by Martin Luther King Jr. in his struggle for a humane world: 'an injustice any where is an injustice everywhere and should not leave any one indifferent.' It is unfortunate that the richness of Africa's traditional culture remains oral, besides being eroded by colonialism, considered satanic by foreign religions and facing extinction with globalization.

A return to African values, ethics and the essence of being human enables us to rediscover the following: killing people is an evil; rape is inhumane; kidnapping children and youth to use them as child soldiers is immoral; corruption should never be tolerated; stealing the resources that would benefit the marginalized is an injustice; abusing the rights of people because they are black, African or of a different ethnic group is xenophobic.

CONCLUSION

The presentations in this paper advocate for strengthening state leadership and governance along with African values particularly Ubuntu. Congo has experienced rape and exploitation for decades.

One of the major causes of the incessant wars in the DRC is the exploitation of the natural resources, without benefiting the inhabitants. Strong institutions are needed to ensure that natural resource revenues are invested into other industries, developing human capital and social economic projects to offer employment and better living conditions to the population.

Women empowerment is fundamental to Congo's revival to turn the victims of unimaginable suffering into contributors to peace and progress. Interventions for sustainable peace rooted in strengthened leadership, governance and life giving African values, would enable Congo to progress, serving as a power engine for the entire African continent and the world.

This is the last best chance not only for the DRC but the entire Great Lakes Region and continent. If we do not seize the opportunity of ending wars and rebuilding Congo, it is most likely that more disastrous consequences will ensue. Congolese must be empowered to decide for their future and to assert for their rights.

END NOTES

[1] For details on Lepord's exploitation of the Congo, see, Hochschild, A. (1999). King Leopold's ghost : a story of greed, terror, and heroism in Colonial Africa (1st Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 161, 233

- Namakula Evelyn Mayanja is a PhD student at the University of Manitoba, Canada.

THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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