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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

DON'T ABANDON US.  DON'T FORGET US

 

By Joan Kirby, rscj

 



Laurent Kabila was assassinated on January 17, 2001.  Joseph, the son
installed in his place, has come to the State Department in Washington and
to the Security Council at the United Nations looking for support. Who
killed his father and who put Joseph in power? What can we now hope for in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Two million people have died since August 2, 1998 in the DRC as a
consequence of invasion and occupation by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.  Death
has become a banality in an atmosphere of infernal and cyclic violence.  The
right to live has ceased to exist in the eastern part of the country.  -
Strong words about facts that are not regularly reported by our government
and do not appear in our news media but they come from the people of Congo
themselves.

I became interested to know more about the DRC when a sister rscj (Religious
of the Sacred Heart) sent an Email from Kinshasha, the capital, on August
30, 2000. Looking for rscj in the United States willing to pressure our
government to help the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa, she spoke of
invasion, suffering and pillage since August 2, 1998.  A monograph titled:
The African Great Lakes, Ten Years of Suffering, Destruction and Death tells
of military training, financial aid and arms sales provided by the USA to
the invading countries of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.  Spanish  missionary
authors of the brochure, published by Christianisme i Justicia, (February,
2000), are convinced that annexation of the Eastern part of the country is
the goal of the invaders.  In essence my rscj friend is saying: "Don't
forget us.  Don't abandon us", i.e. don't continue the current policy of
support for the invaders.

I began reading in September and started untangling a complicated web of
information reaching back to King Leopold and Belgian occupation.  Indeed,
when I asked a friendly US Congressman what we are doing to help press for
peace in the DRC, his reply mirrored my experience: "It is a very
complicated situation", he said.  I was beginning to feel that it is too
complicated a story to unravel.  Nonetheless, we asked all 250 rscj in the
USA to send very detailed letters to then President Clinton, to their
Congressional representatives and Senators, to Secretary General Kofi Annan
and US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the United Nations.  A wall of
silence was our total response from the US Government and from the UN
Secretary General.  Two lonely letters arrived from the US Mission to the
UN.

Then in December, 2000 I met another sister (I can't name her for fear of
retributions to her community), who spent ten years in Goma, North Kivu in
Eastern Congo; like my rscj friend from Kinshasha, she was asking religious
women at the UN to  advocate in favor of the DRC.  An African priest, Jean
Bosco Bahala, journalist and theologian from Bukavu, South Kivu, flooded us
with more articles and information. Letters from the women and men major
religious superiors in South Kivu, DRC and from 264 Young Peoples
Associations working with the National Campaign for Sustainable Development,
the National Network of NGOs for Congolese Human Rights and the National
Committee of the DRC Civil Society, all join in the same appeal:  to free
their country from occupation by invading forces. Thus from three widely
separated parts of this vast country (Kinshasha in the west and North and
South Kivu) came the same accounts of invasion and occupation with appeals
for help.  The presence of so many national organizations indicates that
there exists the potential for self development in the Congo.

Their message is clear.  Nowhere in the world is the gap between
humanitarian needs and the responses of the international community greater
than in the DRC. More than a million people internally displaced in the
Eastern part of the country; 1.7 million people, mostly women and children,
dead of war-related causes in the past two years in Eastern Congo.  The
response of the international community has been completely inadequate.  UN
agencies and Refugees International, while recognizing the crisis as a moral
imperative, have been strangely paralyzed without adequate resources to
cope.

The wars are deeply rooted in ethnic hatred and discrimination. According to
Juan Casoliva and Juan Carrero writing about the African Great Lakes Region
for Cristianisme i Justicia (February, 2000) the history begins in Rwanda
where for centuries the Hutu serfs were required to hand over half of their
crop and half of their labor time to the Tutsi king.  A hierarchical
socio-economic structure gave the best positions to aristocratic Tutsis
while the Hutus were in inferior positions and subject to humiliating rules.
Belgium reinforced the position of the dominant, though minority, Tutsi
aristocratic class. Finally in 1959 the Catholic Church spoke up for equal
humanitarian rights for all.

In 1994 the Hutus rebelled and carried out a genocide of at least 500,000
Tutsis in Rwanda and then as many as a million Hutus fled to Eastern Congo
while Tutsi  rebels took control of Rwanda.  Public and official sympathy
has been guided toward the Tutsis of Rwanda because of the "genocide" by the
Hutus. The media reported abundant testimonies concerning the killings
carried out by the Hutu militia against the Tutsi population.  Little was
said however regarding the Tutsi retaliations. The articles by people from
the Congo want to us to understand that for all the Hutu killings, there
were an equal number of Tutsi massacres.

In 1996 Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda entered the Congo to protect their
borders and in pursuit of Hutus ; they wiped out thousands in the refugee
camps.  Many Hutus fled to the forest where they died.  Rwanda secretly
backed a rebellion of disaffected Tutsi officers in Mobutu's army in Zaire,
with help from Uganda and Angola.  Kabila, the rebel leader, was designated
to become leader of the entire country as he fought his way into Kinshasha,
the capital.  He changed the name back from Zaire (as the country was known
during the Mobutu years) to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  But Kabila
soon refused to rule Congo as the tool of Rwanda and Uganda and his former
supporters soon became his enemies.  Rwanda and Uganda then backed a second
rebellion, this time hoping to overthrow Kabila.  Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia,
and Chad for a while, rescued Kabila from the Rwandan design to topple him.
Sudan supplied planes to Kabila and Burundi admitted to sending troops to
battle the rebels in the east. To this day, the war continues - multiplying
by geometric progression. Kabila's nation has become the battleground for
Africa's First World War.  Too much wealth - in land, diamonds, coffee,
uranium, gold and copper- make it too attractive to neighbors.  Soldiers
from nine African nations are fighting for their self interest in Congo.

What began as border protection has become a tempting opportunity to feast
on the riches of the Congo while the Congolese people suffer from
displacement, wars and potential loss of their country.  Aggressors invoking
"right of pursuit" penetrate 2000 miles into the country while leaving
behind border skirmishes that sow insecurity among the Congolese population;
under pretext of preventing further genocide the invaders make alliances
with former enemies for the exploitation of resources. Inaction by the
international community encourages the aggressor countries to rule occupied
territories as veritable colonies.  Taxes are raised on agricultural
producers and business managers and lowered on imports to the DRC from their
own countries. The invaders justify efforts to overthrow the Kabila
dictatorship in order "to foster good governance, democracy and prosperity
for the people". Civil war by "rebels" is a cover for acquisition of rich
land by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.  In essence, this is the story that
evokes the cry: "Don't forget us".

During the summer of 1999, a cease fire was finally signed in Lusaka.  Known
as the Lusaka Accords, this agreement is hailed as the solution to rid the
country of foreign armies.  But lacking the signature of Burundi and full
international support, the Accords are ignored and Rwanda and Uganda
continue the war as allies of Burundi.  Even the UN authorization to send
5,500 peacemakers has been frustrated and no more than 500 have ever entered
the country.

No right is guaranteed in the occupied territories, least of all the right
to live.  With no attention from the international community, massacres are
perpetrated with impunity.  Kidnappings, arrests, rape, extortions,
assassinations go unnoticed except by the religious people who are speaking
out.  Courage of this kind attracts persecution.  Four Bishops of Rwanda,
one of Burundi, and many priests have been assassinated.  Archbishop
Munziherwa of Bukavu, several priests, men and women religious of Bukavu,
Uvira and Goma have been coldly eliminated.  Bishop Katolika of Bukavu, a
great hero, died in Rome of what was probably exhaustion. The occupying
forces are determined to dishonor the pastors and to discredit the Catholic
Church.  The strategy aims to destroy everything the people hold sacred,
thus making them easier to dominate.  The Catholic Church and the
Traditional African Oral Traditions have become the target of a power that
wants to eradicate profound values and destroy the essence of identity the
better to subdue the people.

The Congolese people are experiencing a terrible oppression.  They are
ignored, marginalized, humiliated to the extreme while in the name of the
"African Renaissance" their resources are exploited. Their so called
leaders, in place as puppets of the invading countries, obstruct UN peace
keepers from entering the country.  The Congolese want peace and ask us to
bring pressure on those who control the conflicts from behind the scenes.

Who are the players behind the scene?  France, Belgium and the United States
are major players.  Since the role of the US is little known the women and
men religious and the Casolivo/Carrera booklet, speaking from different ends
of the country, document it carefully.  In 1996, Ron Brown, then US
Secretary for Commerce, states:  "The era of economic dominion and
commercial hegemony of Europe over Africa has ended.  Africa interests us".
Many facts demonstrate that interest: Military training for Rwandan troops
through the International Military Education and Training (IMET), massive
economic assistance for Uganda from the World Bank, arms supplies to Uganda,
US and Great Britain interference with the deployment of UN multi-national
force to protect the refugees and civil population, advice of US diplomats
to forcibly return refugees to Rwanda, to stop feeding them, support of the
Kagame government in Rwanda (the leader Congolese view as Hitler), refusal
to use the term genocide for anything but the Hutu killings, averting their
gaze from crematories built to dispose of Hutu bodies.

Mining companies in the developed world have enormous interests in the gold,
diamonds, cobalt, europium and thonium (used in aeronautical and space
industries). Uranium supplies the need of great western companies. Rwanda
controls the sale of Colombo-Tantalite (known as col-tan), a very rare
mineral used for nuclear warheads.  Can  peace come with enforcement of the
Lusaka Accords? In February 2001 the new Secretary of State, Colin Powell
promised that the US government has a great interest in Africa.  But the
story is filled with implications of those who control the conflict from
behind the scenes.  That is why these women and men religious bravely call
upon us to re-echo the cries of the Congolese people to right flagrant
injustice.

What they expect is that we make their story known.  The United States must
stop the Cold War mentality of military aid and increase support for
sustainable development.  All US military training programs should receive
congressional oversight with mechanisms in place for assessing their impact
on human rights and democracy in recipient countries. We should extend
unconditional debt forgiveness to African nations and encourage a shift from
military solutions toward human development.

In 20 or 30 years, will we shamefully recall the history of what we have
allowed to happen in Africa?  It would be better to be able to point to a
truth and reconciliation program that has helped foster and rebuild true
democracy in all of Africa and especially in this suffering Democratic
Republic of the Congo?  I repeat their cry: Don't forget them.  Don't
abandon them by continuing to support their invaders.