The Democratic Republic of Congo's forgotten genocide


It hardly occupies any space from time to time in the major international media, and were it not for someone whose voice resonates in the world, the tragedy would be more and more forgotten with each passing day. It was Pope Francis who reminded us of this during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an appeal as desperate as it is blunt: that the international community should not forget the atrocious genocide that is taking place in the country that has some of the largest mineral reserves in Africa and the world.

More than ten million people have been killed in the wars that have ravaged the country relentlessly since the demise of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Eastern Congo is the main theatre of the fighting, with no fewer than 130 militias fighting each other over the country's vast mineral wealth, an immense treasure that is also its curse. The world's fourth largest diamond producer, it is also the second largest supplier of coltan, as well as extracting vast quantities of copper, gold, iron, cobalt and manganese from the bowels of the earth.

There is no respect for human rights at all in many of the mines operated by militias rebelling against the Kinshasa government, led by Felix Tshisekedi. Children, women and the elderly work in slave-like conditions, subjected to all kinds of abuses. They suffer most on the human scale in the country, 70% of whose population as a whole survives on barely two dollars a day.

Pope Francis I blamed the situation on the "poison of greed, which has bloodied the diamonds", rebuked the international community for its indifference and asked it not to forget what is happening, especially in the Kivu region, the scene of the worst atrocities. The refugee camps have become gigantic ghettos of misery, where millions of people are crowded together, desperate for something to eat and with no future prospects of escaping from such a concentrationary universe. Neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda are promoting their own guerrillas, under the pretext of ensuring the security of their own territories. Neither Rwanda's M23 commanders nor Uganda's Islamic militia ADE are likely to heed the Pope's call for the blood diamonds that finance them to stop being exploited and plundered "from a land that is already sufficiently plundered". The Pope summed up the tormented history of the DRC succinctly: "Political colonialism having been overcome, an equally enslaving economic colonialism has been unleashed in Africa".

The Pope's trip had been preceded by Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Prevention of Genocide, who was alarmed by the upsurge in violence in the north-east of the DRC. In her report she acknowledges that thousands of people are being massacred because of their ethnic identity, while denouncing the commission of atrocious crimes similar to the genocide that took place in 1994.

In addition to the struggle for mineral resources, tensions have re-emerged between the Lendu (farmers) and Hema (pastoralists) communities, which had flared up again in 1999 and 2003 with thousands of deaths.

"Distracted" as the international community is by the war in Ukraine, warnings and appeals do not seem to have any effect if they are not followed by corresponding actions. Today, neither government troops nor the 15,000 troops deployed by the United Nations can guarantee the security of a population relentlessly subdued by guerrillas. If the Pope has gone as far as he could in his denunciation, the most dramatic portrait of the situation was provided by President Tshisekedi: "What is happening in the north-east of the country is happening in the face of the complicit silence and inaction of the international community. Pregnant women raped and stabbed; young people and children with their throats slit; children, adults and old people forced to leave their homes because of these terrorists in the service of foreign interests".

At least let there remain the testimony of what is happening, in one of the most representative countries of the essence of Africa, a continent that the Pope implored to "stop suffocating".