From an outsider’s point of view
Frequently, the plights of certain peoples are forgotten, ignored, or left outside of general debate. This has been repeatedly true for the nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with a long history of colonial injustices followed by political strife, intense conflict, and economic instability in the modern period. As an advocate of self-determination, and also an outsider supporting this cause by bringing attention to their grievances is long overdue.
According to an International Rescue Committee survey, it was found that there were 5,400,000 war-related deaths in the DRC between August 1998 and April 2007. The report notes this to be the deadliest conflict since World War II. It is further highlighted that the DRC’s national crude mortality rate (CMR) for this period, of 2.2 deaths per 1,000 per month, was 57% higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa. Such figures paint an eye-opening picture, and even more tragic as the study attributes most deaths to easily preventable and treatable conditions such as malnutrition, pneumonia, and diarrhea.
This survey was undertaken in 2006/2007, but with recent violence in eastern DRC its citizens are threatened with a similarly terrible set of statistics yet again; around 70,000 people have fled the country, with an estimated 2.2 million also displaced internally, due to the conflict between the army and insurgent groups.
With all this information, one feels compelled to enquire about the UN and its work within the country. The city of Goma fell to the M23 rebel in November 2012, drawing assertive rhetoric from the UN. Earlier in 2013, the UN enacted a 3000-strong intervention taskforce in an attempt to subdue the conflict, with the eventual aim of disarming the various rebel armies in the city of Goma. However, the outcome of this intervention is yet to be seen.
The difficulties of the present in the DRC paint a disheartening picture, but one merely has to briefly study the country’s past to realise that the plight of the Congolese people has been shaped, in large part, by outside forces. The Kingdom of the Kongo, an important predecessor state of the modern DRC, was a vast entity which lasted for more than half a millennium. While the region had long experienced relations with imperial Portugal, among others, it was the 1870s exploration of the Congo basin by the Belgian King Leopold II that resulted in the mass slavery of its peoples and intense exploitation of its resources under the ‘Congo Free State’. Studying the history of the DRC and its conflicts reveals a clear picture of a resource-rich country being subjugated by foreign empires to obtain greater economic wealth.
Some of the worst tragedies of the current conflict, however, have come directly from local forces. One which stands out is the recruitment of child soldiers. Both the rebel forces and the national armies have used child soldiers to bolster their strength. In response, on 4 October 2012 the government signed an Action Plan aiming to put an end to the recruitment of children into armed forces. One can only hope that the aims of this plan will bear positive change in the near future.
Conflicts in the DRC, which over the last few decades have had a catastrophic death toll, threaten to further draw in neighbouring states, multilateral organizations, and distant powers. Ignorance of events outside of Western states, or those which directly impact upon them, is unfortunately common. However, one should observe that those who long ignore the harsh realities of seemingly distant countries, in the context of an increasingly connected world, are likely to one day find the effects of these conflicts at their door.
Taimour Fazlani is an activist with with a keen interest in subject matters, ranging from metaphysics to economic systems. Born and raised in Karachi he has since lived in Glasgow and London. A book addict with a passion for documenting injustices encompassing the whole globe. When not at a protest, demonstration or social events, he can be found training in Muay Thai. @taimour_khan Website Taimour Fazlani