One hundred years ago, a global outrage surrounding the death of an estimated ten million Congolese resulted in the end the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium over the Congo. Ordinary people around the world from all walks of life stood at the side of the Congolese and demanded the end of the first recorded Congolese holocaust. A century later, the world finds itself facing the same issue where the Congolese people are subjected to unimaginable suffering.
Although advocacy for the Congo has a rich and illustrious tradition dating back to the dawn of the 20th century, contemporary advocacy is faced with unprecedented obstacles: corporate interests, the humanitarian industry, geo-strategic battles, the devaluation of black lives, and media caricatures and misrepresentation of Africans.
In 1908, international advocacy resulted in Congo being taken from King Leopold II and given to the Belgian state as a colony. The ultimate aim of today’s advocacy is to see the Congo removed from the clutches of multi-national corporations, foreign governments, multi-lateral institutions, the humanitarian industry and local elites and placed in the hands of the people of the Congo. The challenge of 21st century advocacy is for the affairs of the Congo to be determined by the people of the Congo.
American business interest in the Congo is focused primarily on the mining of resources such as tin, gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, tungsten and uranium – including minerals vital to the aerospace, military, automobile, electronics and technology industries.
A number of American companies were listed in a 2002 United Nations document as being among companies accused of benefiting from the pilfering of Congo’s wealth.
Unfortunately the humanitarian industry has been trapped in a “charity prism” in which Congo is viewed from the perspective of poverty, conflict, atrocities and depredation. One of the results is that the humanitarian industry is silent in the face of oppressive governments and often works in cahoots with exploitative corporations.
Probably the most deleterious effect of this way of viewing Congo is the military prescription that these institutions lobby for in Washington, DC. They often support policies that prolong conflict, prioritize military options and in the final analysis serve the propaganda of belligerent allies of the United States – such as Rwanda and Uganda – as well as U.S. corporate foreign policy interests.
In the final analysis, the humanitarian industry functions more as an instrument of Western soft power than as a genuine help to Africans. If they truly have the interests of the people of Africa and Congo at heart, their number one aim should be to put themselves out of business by calling for justice and not charity. When the people of Congo attain justice, charity will no longer be needed.
Congo is a storehouse of geo-strategic minerals vital to the industrialization of great powers in the east, mainly China, and to the west’s efforts to maintain their economic and military dominance in the world.
Apart from Western investment, China has invested U.S. $9 billion in the Congo in a mineral for infrastructure swap with the Congolese government.
Congo’s location, size and mineral wealth are far too valuable to be left alone: it will be the playground of great power interests for the foreseeable future.
Devaluation of Black Lives
Nowhere outside Africa could the deaths of an estimated six million people in a 12-year period not cause a global outcry.
The United Nations says the conflict is the deadliest in the world since World War II, and the former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland has said the Congo is “the worst killing field of our generation.”
Yet, the world community is silent. Doctors Without Borders has reported that Congo is one of the top 10 most underreported stories. We live in a world where black lives are undervalued and underappreciated.
But things do not have to remain this way. We can break the silence and change the attitudes and beliefs that have trapped the world in a mindset that undervalues a fellow member of the human family.
Pathological Media Prism
The mainstream media have presented the Congo crisis as an internecine tribal conflict with no discernible beginning or hope of ending, leaving people of goodwill hopeless, despondent and disempowered.
If more stories were presented that clearly articulate the true nature of the conflict – that of a resource war and that there are major identifiable players in Western backyards that we can hold accountable – we would see if a dramatically different response from consumers of the mainstream media.
We almost never see a Congolese scholar, thinker activist or intellectual articulating the issues of the Congo. Our people are almost always presented as hapless and in need of saving by Western do-gooders, usually a Hollywood star. Slain gorillas usually get more sympathy and in-depth analysis than the Congolese people.
A global Congo movement is as important today as the anti-apartheid movement was yesterday. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has presciently noted, “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo.”
Contrary to presentations by Western scholars and thinkers, the conflict in the Congo is not intractable. If the correct policies were implemented, the conflict could end quickly or at least be mitigated.
The two basic goals of today’s global movement in support of the people of the Congo are:
• To bring an end to the resource war being waged on the backs of the Congolese people, particularly women and children, and
• To ensure that the people of the Congo take control of their own future so they can determine how best to use their enormous resources for the benefit of their people and Africa at large.
Global pressure must be mobilized to call for a diplomatic and political approach to ending the conflict as opposed to the military heavy policies favored by the U.S. government, think tanks and humanitarian institutions in Washington, DC.
There is a growing global grassroots movement around the Congo. Thanks to the Internet, the Congolese can speak to the world uncensored. Inside the country, Congolese are organizing teach-ins and rallies. Congolese women are staging sit-ins, artists are using their talent to break the silence, and civil society is rallying to reconstruct our nation. Next month, from October 18 to 24, Friends of Congo and its allies will hold “Congo Week II,” a repeat of last year’s awareness-raising campaign.
As more people get involved, it is critical that the integrity of the movement be safeguarded. The last thing the people of the Congo need is for the movement to be “darfurized” – a process in which people are objectified and their struggle emptied of cultural and historical context. We must press for justice, not charity, and the Congolese must assert their role as agents of their own destiny.
Kambale Musavuli is the spokesperson and student coordinator for Friends of the Congo, an advocacy group based in Washington DC.