Thousands of civilians fleeing to Goma to escape the fighting.

Thousands of civilians fleeing to Goma to escape the fighting.

UN agencies have stepped up efforts to assist those displaced by the violence.

UN agencies have stepped up efforts to assist those displaced by the violence.

Pictures from a photogallery at

Mahmood Mamdani asks:

And the politics around genocide is, when is the slaughter of civilians a genocide or not? Which particular slaughter is going to be named genocide, and which one is not going to be named genocide? …
the mass slaughter in Congo, which, in terms of numbers, is probably ten times what happened, what has been happening in Darfur.

and answers:

Well, I think that what’s happening is that genocide is being instrumentalized by the biggest power on the earth today, which is the United States. It is being instrumentalized in a way that mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.

On Friday Slate published an article about the war in the Congo: Five Million Dead and Counting – The disaster in Congo is all the more tragic because it was utterly avoidable. By Michael J. Kavanagh:

“There are only girls left in the schools in my village,” one 13-year-old boy told me. The day before, he and three friends had run from rebel soldiers who’d come to kidnap them.

There are now more than 1 million displaced people scattered throughout the province. In the last 10 years of fighting, more than 5 million people have died in the Congolese conflict—mostly civilians who haven’t had access to enough food or health care because of the fighting. And let’s be clear: That’s 5 million and counting.

Power-hungry Nkunda, his shameless Rwandan supporters, and the feckless Congolese government are primarily to blame. But the Rwandan and Congolese governments remain in power only because of the foreign powers that support them with enormous amounts of aid and diplomatic support. The failure of the United Nations and the international community—by which I mean the European Union, the United States, and the African Union—is massive.

It was no secret that the army was only willing and able to disarm the FDLR, their erstwhile allies against Nkunda, with support from the United Nations and the international community and with cooperation from the Rwandans themselves.

But exactly when it was needed most—exactly when they had the chance to put the legacy of the Rwandan genocide to rest—the support and cooperation and pressure from the international community never materialized.

Eastern Congo is a place of vast wealth in land and minerals, and all sides have their hands in the pot—or in the mines or forests or in the slaughterhouses. Rarely does any side negotiate in good faith, which is perhaps understandable after 14 years of war. But in the past, the parties involved have proved responsive to diplomatic and military pressure—if it’s credible.

Right now, it’s not.

The most obvious solution would be to send an EU rapid-reaction force to fill the security vacuum, but EU diplomats are dithering because—well, there’s no other way to say it: DRC is not a genuine priority. Instead, Angola is sending troops to fight alongside the Congolese army. Rwanda is essentially already fighting alongside Nkunda. And if, in a few weeks, Uganda and Zimbabwe join in as well, we can all party like it’s 1998-2003.

Over the years, many world leaders have made the trip to Rwanda to stand before the gravesites of genocide victims and apologize for their inaction in 1994. But if the worth of an apology is measured not in words but in actions, most of these apologies have been rubbish. True repentance for Rwanda has always meant ending the Congolese conflict—especially in the Kivus.

So far there is no sign of any country with genuine intention to end the conflict. And there is a lot of indication that more nations will get involved, or get more involved. The Slate article seems to say that the US and EU diplomats became tired of the peace process. Was it tiredness, or complacency with the status quo? After all, the coltan and other minerals are still coming out. The US and EU and others continue to profit from access. The current head of the U.N. mission in Congo, Alan Doss, is widely viewed as incompetent, maybe clueless would be as correct a description, not a choice calculated to achieve any positive result.

As long as there is this level of violence and unrest in the eastern Congo, It will be very difficult for the Chinese to mine copper or build the infrastructure projects they have promised in return for the copper. Is this result welcomed by the current US administration? The US has tended to treat China as a rival in African countries. Does the US see the current escalation of violence in the eastern DRC operating to its benefit? Rwanda, in sponsoring Nkunda, is the prime instigator of this current wave of violence. And Rwanda is a US ally, some might say client or proxy. As Mamdani said of the US, quoted above:

… mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and captured "terrorists"

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and defeated "terrorists"

Rwanda is a key partner in the US “War on Terror”. But the US is looking for coltan, and other precious mineral resources, not terrorists, and the coltan and other resources are located in the Congo DRC, not in Rwanda. Coltan is critical to cell phones. The reason that people are being displaced in the DRC is because the US, and its clients in Rwanda and Uganda want the resources in the DRC. The destruction of villages, and the brutal and pervasive use of rape, is terrorism used to depopulate areas and preserve access to precious coltan and other natural resources. This terrorism is barely known in the US, even though the US helps fund it. The sale of DRC natural resources benefits the elites of Rwanda and Uganda, and powerful players in the United States.

The really main important things that people should know that is the war in the Congo is directly connected to the United States …

From an interview with Kambale Musavuli at Democracy Now

the root cause of the conflict in the Congo is the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources … the strife is not more so of an ethnic strife, but more so of the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources.

The rapes are a direct result of the war. We’re seeing it—the latest spasm that we’re seeing right now has been going on since ’96. The rapes, the murders, they all are being done as a way of mass displacement, if you have to put it in the context. As one person is brutalized in a community, the people in the neighborhood will be afraid, and that will cause them to be displaced. As you mentioned, we have about 1.5 million people internally displaced in the Congo. As this strategy has been used in the eastern part, we’re seeing masses of people being displaced from the villages, from the cities, simply because they live in a area rich of minerals. Now we’re seeing it very clearly, The Virunga Park was taken over yesterday, simply because there are resources that Laurent Nkunda exploit into the Virunga Park.

So, to end the rape, you must end the conflict. And to end the conflict, you must stop the resource exploitation of the Congo … we do know that Rwanda is supporting proxy forces in the eastern part of the Congo. And we can use such people who have Kagame’s ear, such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Cindy McCain, Rick Warren, to put pressure on Kagame to make sure that not—we do not see another nearly six million people dying in the eastern part of the Congo …

The US has paid at least $7 million to Rwanda in military assistance this year.

Just before Bush visited Rwanda in 2008, Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey wrote:

Will the leader of the most powerful country in the world have the courage to discuss Rwanda’s negative role in peace and economic development in the DRC? Will Bush castigate Kagame for not providing the political space for Hutus to return to Rwanda? This is not likely because of the strategic value of coltan, a metallic ore extracted from Central Africa, without which cell phones, computers, and other technologies cannot be made.

From 1996-2003, the Congolese people suffered a great deal from two wars that pitted Rwanda and its allies against the DRC. A recent report from the International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.5 million Congolese have died as a result of this conflict. According to Inter Press Service journalist Tito Dragon, “to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda.” In fact, in 2004, after a three-year investigation, a UN Panel of Experts implicated three major U.S. companies (Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, and OM Group) for fueling war in DRC by collaborating with rebel groups trafficking coltan. In spite of major human rights violations, Bush administration assistance to Rwanda continues today largely due to Kagame’s willingness to be engaged in the so called War on Terror.

From an interview with Paul Rusesabagina:

PR: … And there was no infrastructure in the Congo, so everything was fleeing the Congo by Rwanda. That was very well known. Smuggling minerals, smuggling coffee… Rwanda was producing more coffee than Congo… If you planted coffee over the whole country of Rwanda, you cannot have produced what we were selling outside. That was smuggling.

KHS: So, the Congo pillage is still going on by Rwanda
PR: So, it is as I told you. That is why General Nkunda is there. Nkunda is on a mission.
KHS: His mission is to make sure the raw materials keep coming into Rwanda
PR: And also that Kagame controls Eastern Congo And he does.

The picture of gorillas at the top of this post comes from this report:

Rebels in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked and are now occupying the headquarters of Virunga National Park’s gorilla sanctuary. News is coming in that the forces of renegade general Laurent Nkunda are vandalizing the area, and are keeping the rangers trapped.

Sometimes it is easier to think about horrors on the small scale, as with the gorillas rather than the great numbers of people whose lives are being devastated. In some estimates 1.5 million people have been displaced just by the recent fighting. They are subjected to unimaginable brutality, and have lost homes, possessions and family. The press continues to portray the violence in the eastern DRC as ethnic conflict arising from the massacres in Rwanda in 1994. But that avoids mention of the true root cause, the scramble for resources. The ethnic issues could be resolved if it did not pay some people to keep them festering.

Right now the BBC is reporting thousands of people displaced. They have posted some current video here.

And there is also this report on the current situation:

The fighting had started on Sunday [Oct 26] when Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (NCDP) launched a major offensive in eastern North Kivu province.

Late on Tuesday Nkunda’s men claimed to have taken a town near Goma, the provincial capital.

… “There are at least 850,000 internally displaced people from North Kivu province, and that was before the latest wave of fighting started in August. We’re talking of another 250,000 displaced since.

“If the UN is forced to withdraw from North Kivu, you’re talking about nearly a million displaced Congolese, with basically no protection from what are about about a dozen armed groups in North Kivu.”

Those groups are brutal, ruthless, and well supplied with arms. The more they can terrorize and drive the population out, the better they can control the resources. The people at the top of the militias get a percentage of profits. Many of the soldiers are children, whose experience in life is almost entirely violence. The soldiers doing the fighting live off what they can take from the people they terrorize. Nobody should have to live this way, neither terrorists nor terrorized. And none of us should be paying to facilitate this violence.

Added Oct 30:
For some additional perspective here are some further words from Kambale Musavuli from this article:

… [Every month] 45,000 people continue to die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and that the scale of devastation seen in Darfur happens in the Congo every five and a half months.

In reality, the source of the conflict in Congo for most of its history has been the scramble for its enormous wealth, not the internecine, ethnic bloodletting more commonly blamed. In the late 1990s, Congo was invaded twice by Rwanda and Uganda with the backing and support of the United States, as documented in the 2001 congressional hearings held by Representatives Cynthia McKinney and Tom Tancredo. It was these invasions that unleashed the tremendous suffering that exists in Congo today.

The main Tutsi militia leader in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda, gestures at his mountain base, in Kachanga

The main Tutsi militia leader in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda, gestures at his mountain base, in Kachanga

Michael Klare writes in Rising Powers Shrinking Planet:

What makes Africa so enticing today is precisely what made it so attractive to foreign predators in previous centuries: a vast abundance of vital raw materials contained in a deeply divided, politically weakened continent, remarkably open to international exploitation.

… As in previous centuries, resource-consuming nations will extract as much of Africa’s wealth — in this case, oil, gas, and minerals — as they can, often jostling with one another for access to the most prolific sources of supply. In doing so they will repeatedly proclaim their deep interest in African development, insisting that the exploitation of raw materials will contribute to the improvement of living conditions for the masses of ordinary citizens. If past experience is any guide, however, few of those living in Africa’s resource-producing countries will see any significant benefit from the depletion of their continents natural bounty. (p 146, 149-50)

In addition to the mineral wealth, because of Africa’s oil wealth, George Bush created the Africa Command, AFRICOM. As Bush said: African oil is of strategic interest to us. (p. 149) But long before the Africa Command the US has been arming and looting in the Congo. It is the reason the US sponsored Mobutu for 30 years.

No country has the combination Klare describes of wealth and vulnerability in greater proportions than the Congo. None has suffered more from resource hungry predatory nations than the Congo, you can read some of this history in King Leopold’s Ghost. Businessmen from the US and round the globe flock to the Congo in order to get a piece of the resource pie.

This is all money,” says a Western mining executive, his hand sweeping over a geological map toward the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is explaining why, in 1997, he and planeloads of other businessmen were flocking to the impoverished country and vying for the attention of then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The executive could just as accurately have said, “This is all war.”


The interplay among a seemingly endless supply of mineral resources, the greed of multinational corporations desperate to cash in on that wealth, and the provision of arms and military training to political tyrants has helped to produce the spiral of conflicts that have engulfed the continent – what many regard as “Africa’s First World War.”


These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance, economic prosperity, and consumer satisfaction. … In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which ensured U.S. access to those minerals for more than 30 years.

Today, the United States claims that it has no interest in the DRC other than a peaceful resolution to the current war. Yet U.S. businessmen and politicians are still going to extreme lengths to gain and preserve sole access to the DRC’s mineral resources. And to protect these economic interests, the U.S. government continues to provide millions of dollars in arms and military training to known human rights abusers and undemocratic regimes. Thus, the DRC’s mineral wealth is both an impetus for war and an impediment to stopping it.

Both Rwanda and Uganda provide arms and training to their respective rebel allies and have set up extensive links to facilitate the exploitation of mineral resources. Along with their rebel allies, the two countries seized raw materials stockpiled in DRC territory and looted money from DRC banks. Rwanda and Uganda also set up colonial-style systems of governance, appointing local authorities to oversee their territories in the DRC. Meanwhile, high-ranking members of the Rwandan and Uganda military (including relatives of Kagame and Museveni) retain significant control over illegal mineral exploitation. Local Congolese, including children, are forced to work in the mines for little or no pay, under guard of Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Rwanda prisoners also participate in mining. To transport weapons to the rebels in the DRC, and to fly resources out of the DRC to Rwanda and Uganda, the authorities rely on private companies owned or controlled by Kagame’s and Museveni’s friends and relatives.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources.

For the west, the extraction of the wealth is what matters, where it comes from, or who gets hurt, is a matter of indifference.

This summer Refugees International published the report U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement. Contrasted to the nearly $50 million the US is spending on rebuilding the Liberian army:

it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities

Violence has flared up again in North Kivu province the DRC. The Africa Faith and Justice Network sent out an email on Friday August 29 that said:

Since yesterday, the Congolese army has been fighting with Laurent Nkunda’s pro-Rwanda rebel group in eastern Congo in the Rutshuru territory. Last year, it was around this time when the violence resumed, forcing the same people from Kanombe, Mutovu, and the surrounding areas to leave. It was just last month that we got news that people were beginning to go back to their villages to see what remained of what they left behind last year.
Now they are on the run, going back into displacement camps again. Sustainable peace is what we, and mostly importantly the Congolese people, are asking for so that they can bring their kids back home and attend school in classrooms instead of temporary displacement tents.
Please take action now. Call the White House today at 202-456-1111 and tell President George Bush that you demand action for peace in the D.R. Congo.

Laurent Nkunda is sponsored by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and funded indirectly by the US. His militia is responsible for vast numbers of atrocities, and is a key participant in the ongoing violence and unrest.

I shall continue this topic tomorrow, The picture of Laurent Nkunda above is from this picture gallery at The Guardian.

Read Part 2 of DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence here.