When working in Israel someone told me that if you ask two Israeli’s the problems of Israel, you will get three answers. In Congo, it seems that joke holds even more truth. The complexity and minutia that one can uncover when digging into the mining, politics, wars, economy of Congo would require many many films to try to explore. This makes it very hard for anyone to agree on the central issues of Congo, or where to begin when talking about righting the ship of Congo.
For the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, dining, interviewing, and drinking with a host of respected names in Congo politics, academia, and journalism- many of them have been my key sources of information as I’ve researched Congo. And the two key points which everyone seems to agree on are – 1) The atrocities that have taken place in Congo since Leopold are a blight on human history that should NEVER have happened, and 2) the resources of Congo have been have always been the significant thread in the narrative of Congo tragedies.
Where people begin to disagree is in HOW and WHY. And in the exploration of the “How and Why”is where things begin to sound very, dare I say, intellectual. Anyone who knows what I do, knows how important I consider providing intellectual understanding to any situation – it is essential to informing the appropriate action to take, but just as there is a risk on avoiding intellectual arguments and focusing solely on the emotional call to action – so is there a risk in believing that understanding IS THE action.
Here is what we do know:
-It is estimated that during King Leopold’s rule over Congo almost half the population (approx. 10,000,000 people) perished – while Leopold made a King’s fortune off the Ivory and Rubber of Congo.
-In 1960 when Congo elected it first President, Patrice Lumumba, western forces had him killed, as they saw him a threat and replaced him with a brutal dictator – Mobutu as to protect their resource interests from Communist threats.
- Mobutu plundered his country for billions of dollars, leaving the people in dire poverty with little to no infrastructure -all the while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and unconditional support from the West.
-Since 1996, when Laurent Kabila began his march across Congo (Zaire at the time) his AFDL army, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, who in turn were supported by the US, began massacring people at staggering rates. Yet the US gave him full support and western Multinational Companies met him on his march to begin signing mining contracts worth billions of dollars.
-Since the AFDL march until now, 16 years, Rwandan and Ugandan forces have been active in Eastern Congo. They have looted millions of dollars of minerals, and the resulting wars/conflicts have cost almost 6 million lives.
-The current President, Joseph Kabila, has sold off mining rights at an estimated 5.6 billion dollars undervalue to BVI companies, (shell companies that exist nowhere other than paper) which have in turn flipped those purchases to huge multinational companies (Glencore for example) for windfall profits. Because they are BVI companies, no one can tell who exactly is making these profits, but most are associated with Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, a very close friend of the President. And although the WB and IMF called for greater transparency in the Congo mining contracts – these organizations continue to give millions of dollars to Congo – while it is ranked the least developed country in the World.
Even if this was all there was to know, wouldn’t that be enough to act? It is important to have experts and academics to study the minutia of such tragedies as Congo – but it is dangerous to mistake such work as the objective. Understanding Nazi Germany is nowhere near as important as STOPPING Nazi Germany. History will not judge us on how much we knew about the situation in Congo – but what we did about it. And the more we “understand” about Congo, while doing so little – the more we all become complicit with the tragedies of Congo and our IN-Action becomes just as significant a thread in the narrative of Congo as the immoral actions we’re working so hard to understand.