Everything you plant in Kinshasa grows. A seed towers into a mountain, a molecule of salt into a diamond, a quarrel between brothers boils into civil war. Maybe this is why Congo is the most resource-rich nation on earth. Maybe this is why the plunder still rages. The Beauty of the Congo is not just in its earth, but also in its people. The people of Congo are as courageous, as the mountains and as flamboyant as the peacocks that rummage through the forest. They are the Kongo peoples, with histories that stretch back to Mbombo creating the world out of darkness and primordial water.
Three of Mbombo’s sons said they would finish creating the world. The first to try, Nyonye Ngana, vomited white ants but died after. To honour him, the ants went deep in the earth for dark soil to bury him and transformed the barren sands at the earth’s surface. The second, Chonganda, created the first plant, which in turn gave rise to all trees, grasses and flowers. And Chedi Bumba, the third son, made the last bird, the kite. They speak in the tongues of Kikongo (Kituba), Tshiluba, Lingala, Swahili and the hisses of Kiswashili.
There is something special about a people who see a jungle, all its mystery, danger and magic and choose it as their home. Congo is the heart of Africa and who is wise enough to neglect the affairs of their heart. The ruse to capture the heart of Africa has been a century-long conspiracy. But not everyone cares about the colour of the Congolese sky or wonders at the heart of their people or mountains. They care for what is in the ground and will move any mountain, or person, to get it.
I saw a statistic that said 48 women in Congo are raped every hour. It made me sick to my stomach. Child labour, sexual assault, ethnic tensions, lawlessness, rebel attacks and counter-attacks have become as expected as chasing after a bus. The Mapping Report that was released by the United Nations in 2010, details war crimes that have taken place in the DR Congo. According to this, 617 war crimes were committed against Congolese people between 1993 to 2003. Consequently, between 1998 and 2008, a population the size of Scotland (5.4 million) Congolese people have been killed due to the endless conflict in the country.
The story of Congo is not just about what people will do for greed. But also about how much ignorance enables destruction. Congo is bleeding. It has been bleeding for over a century. We can stop the bleeding—if we choose to. Modern Congo has come to be defined by three main phenomena. Greed, betrayal, and redemption.
If there was evil, his name is Leopold Ludwig Philipp Maria Viktor; 9 April 1835 – 17 December 1909. In his letter to the Christian missionaries that he deployed into Congo, he described their mission as one where they teach the “Congo savages civilization,” by ensuring that they indoctrinate the Congolese into thinking that they are less than the white man. In an era where European governments took African peoples as their subjects and African nations as protectorates, Leopald took Congolese people as his personal property and Congo as his private estate. He converted Congo into a murderous labour camp largely mining rubber and palm fruits that fueled the capitalist expansion in burgeoning Europe.
With this, he maimed the mountainous bodies of the Congolese people, plucked the sunlight from their eyes, and with a weaponized Christiainty, engendered a subservient spirit in them. This manipulation and psychological damage done to Congolese people caused them to be indoctrinated to believe that their fate was to work and serve these white people, who had invaded them and brought them nothing short of hell.
Leopold would have to hand over Congo to the Belgian Parliament for administration, and in June 1960 Congo seemingly got its independence from Belgium. But the seed of violence had already been sown. The seed will blossom into a crisis that crescendos in the assassination of Lumumba the father of modern Congo and for many the last true pillar of hope for Congo.
The crisis begins with the secession of The Katanga region backed by the Belgian Army and supported by a Belgian mining company less than a month after Congo’s independence was declared. Lumumba, the new President of the Republic of Congo, resisted the separation and a civil war ensued. Lumumba petitioned the United Nations and the international community for assistance. He was responded to with conspiracies to end his life by American and British intelligence agencies.
Lumumba would eventually die at the hands of his countrymen, led by a leader of an opposition faction in Congo. This will sow another seed for decades of ethnic, and political rivalries in the region. The ensuing crises will draw Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi forces, and a slew of rebel and militia forces into a state of perpetual conflicts. Fighting is over claims to land, grazing rights, and mining territory. There is a saying that when elephants fight, it is the ground that suffers. On the receiving end of all of this are the Congolese people. Their families, their safety, and their livelihood.
A major site of conflict is South Kivu in the eastern region of Congo. This is a region traditionally occupied by the Banyamulenge peoples. They are a pastoralist-nomadic group who travel around the Congo-Rwanda-Burundi region with their herds and graze cattle over an area of land for long periods of time. They were said to arrive in eastern Congo in the late 1800’s. As the Tutsis fled Rwanda during the genocide, they settled on territory that was grazed by the livestock of Banyamulenge peoples causing a new set of conflicts in the eastern region of Congo.
As the Tutsis fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, they settled on territory that was grazed by the livestock of Banyamulenge peoples causing a new set of conflicts in the eastern region of Congo. The chaos that emerged created a ladder for Laurent Desire Kabila to rise from. On his ascent to power, Kabila built a coalition with Hutu forces from the eastern region. This Hutu powered rebellion would propel Kabila to the Throne of Congo.
Looking for political room to maneuver, Kabila would eventually distance himself from the Hutu forces who helped him claim power. The retaliation was swift, and a new history of chaos ensued. Eventually Kabila would be assassinated. It is rumored he was betrayed by one of the child soldiers in his ranks.
Back in the eastern region, villages continue to be raided, and lawlessness prevails. Over 300 villages were looted and ravaged, as they were surrounded by rebel forces. As this conflict has been ongoing, the Banyamulenge have advocated that there has been no effort from Congolese leaders in the past to protect them from these rebel forces and stop the violence in that region. The conflicts have all cumulated in a humanitarian crisis where child labour is regularized and sexual violence is used as a weapon of war.
As if these crises were not enough, Congo and the region were hit with the Ebola virus. 42 WHO, UNICEF, MSF, OXFAM aid workers, who were deployed to Congo to provide aid due to the Ebola outbreak were accused of sexually abusing and Blackmailing women in Beni eastern Congo. Congolese women have been impregnated and forcefully infected with disease. These acts were causing uproar at the end of September this year, and protests in Congo erupted over an end to impunity at the beginning of October.
There is a future in Congo.
The history of Congo is an example of what happens when impunity wins, when betrayal wins, and what a land without justice looks like. The Congo problem is deeply complex and it is easy to let this situation make you feel helpless. It is also true that the worst times create the best people. Diamonds still grow in Congo.
One such Diamonds is Dr Denis Mukwege. He is a gynaecologist and a women’s rights activist. He has built institutions for victims of sexual violence and assault including the Panzi hospital. With Congo labelled the rape capital of the world by the United Nations, the work of the Panzi hospital is critial in restoring digntity to victims of war. People like Dr Denis and his staff must be protected by the international community and the Congolese diaspora. Here is where you can learn more about their work, and support it: https://www.mukwegefoundation.org
Those responsible for impunity in the country must be held accountable. We want to see published supply chains by technological companies who operate with Congo’s coltan and are indirectly contributing to the child labour problem in the country. Information like this should be more easily accessible—if the production line is clearly detailed in this document, this will without doubt trace the root of the product back to Congo.
There is no price for the lives lost in Congo over the decades, but what remains true is reparations need to be paid, though there is really no price that can be offered to settle the colonial atrocities committed by the Western world.
Good governance must be supported in Congo. The government must invest in the people in the mining sector to modernize it, and get the children out of the mines! Governments must realize that a thriving mining industry, that pays good jobs, and higher professionals is more beneficial in both the long term and short term in the country, than high stakes territorial warfare.
Nonetheless, we still must keep hope and do the daunting work of raising awareness of the horrors that have taken place. Even though we know that the issues run deep it’s important to use our voices to share what we do know.
Betrayal is judged not just by what people do, but what they fail to do. It is equally a product of the promises they keep, and the promises they do not keep. If the world must care about Congo, Congolese must care about Congo, Africans must care about Congo. It could be that the Congolese have not been free since the carnage of Leopold. It could be we’ve forgotten what it means to be as beautiful as the sunrise.
Shirley Sozinha is a guest writer for TRAD and writes about the Congo on her website. You can follow her https://www.ssozinha.com/