Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: A Snapshot of the Violence

Part 2 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

Congo at present is a far cry from peace and prosperity. Although the situation has improved from its all-time low from 1998-2003 – when the armies of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Chad, Zambia, and even Zimbabwe fought it out on Congolese soil, in what was called in Second Congo War (1) – much of the country, particularly in the East, is still beset with violence, and the estimated death toll of 3 to 7.6 million people (2) continues to climb at an alarming rate, with tens of thousands of people dying each month from fighting, abuse, disease, and starvation.

The violence is as appalling as it is prolific. Massacres and rapes have become commonplace, with militants preying of off the local populations and often deliberately attacking them to try to further their authority in the area (3). According to the UN, thousands of women are raped each month (4), often brutally, with many reports of gang rape and war rape regularly taking place (5). It is likely that the number of rapes occurring greatly exceeds the number reported, since many victims simply do not report their cases (6). Thousands of children have been abducted, and child soldiers, known as kadogos(7), continue to fight on all sides (indeed, it was an army largely made up of kadogos that current put Laurent Kabila – the father of current DRC President Joseph Kabila – in power nearly 14 years ago)(8). Civilians continue to be killed and punished in almost unthinkable ways; there have been reports of people getting mutilated, sliced up with machetes (9), and even eaten throughout the conflict (10).

It is bad enough for Congo to have rebellious militias thrashing through much of its territory pillaging and abusing the population along the way, but to have the national army itself commit the largest number of such abuses has devastated hopes for peace in Congo. Understandably, such contemptible behavior has all but ruined the FARDC’s standing in the eyes of the people, making it even harder for the FARDC to fight the numerous armed groups roaming across Congo and damaging the credibility of President Kabila’s relatively new government (11).

Some have, understandably, demonized the FARDC (12) in light of the heinous crimes many of its soldiers have committed, but it is much more useful to try to understand why such people – assuming they are not bloodthirsty monsters bent on vengeful slaughter – would commit such horrendous acts of violence.

(1) Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), in Europa World online, London, Routledge. Princeton University. Retrieved 09 May 2010 from
(2) Peter James Spielmann, “Review of Congo war halves death toll,” Associated Press, Taiwan News, Janurary 20, 2010.
(3) Ida Sawyer and Anneke Van Woudenberg. “‘You Will Be Punished’: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009), 10-11.
(4) U.S. Congressional Research Services, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and Current Developments (R40108; February 4, 2010), by Ted Dagne, 2.
(5) Ibid., 9.
(6) Juliane Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the DR,.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009): 14.
(7) Swahili for “little ones.”
(8) Seymour, Claudia, “Children Choosing Combat? Failures of children’s DDR in a context of chronic conflict,” (September 8, 2009), 1-2.
(9) Sawyer and Van Woudenberg, “‘You Will Be Punished,’” 12.
(10) Eddy Insango, “Cannibalism shock as Congo atrocities revealed,” Reuters, The Age, March 18, 2005.
(11) President Kabila originally took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, but the current administration assumed control of the government in 2006 following Kabila’s victory in a presidential election..[ Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo)]
(12) Rowland Croucher, “Congo (DR): Church Suffering Intensely,” John Mark Ministries, February 5, 2003., quoted in Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 58.

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