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In the news…

October 28, 2010
by

Unfortunately, when DR Congo’s been in the news lately, it’s been bad news.

We’ve had friends and family send us plenty of links to DR Congo-related news articles, and one of the biggest questions that we’ve gotten about our time here so far revolves around what has been in the news.  So, with this post, we want to give a brief idea of what’s going on in the country right now, and where we are in relation to all these news-worthy events.

First off though, we’ll start with a short history lesson to put recent news into context.  The past 100+ years in the DR Congo follows a semi-similar pattern to many African countries: colonialism, independence, dictatorship and civil war, each with its own type of greed, exploitation, violence and injustice.

European involvement in the DR Congo began in the 1870s, with the interest of Belgian King Leopold II in tapping into the limitless wealth rumored to be accessible along the recently explored Congo River.  Belgian colonization of the DRC under King Leopold profited from the country’s natural resources (mainly rubber and ivory), and was known for its incredibly cruelty toward Congolese people.  At the same time (mostly to facilitate exportation of resources), Belgians invested in several ambitious infrastructure projects, including navigable roadways, ferries and river transport, and a railroad system.

Around the 1950s, the Belgian Congo (as it was called) and it’s river ferries were apparently a hot tourist destination.  The Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland was partly inspired by ferry rides along the Congo River in the 50s.


1950s Belgian Congo Travel Poster

In 1960, the country gained its independence, with popularly supported Patrice Lumumba being elected as Prime Minister.  Within a few years of independence, however, a political crisis lead to a political coup, and opposition forces, supported by the U.S. and Belgium in exchange for easier access to the country’s diamond and copper mines, kidnapped and assassinated Lumumba.

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (roughly translated as The Great Unstoppable Warrior who goes from Victory to Victory, Leaving Fire in his Trail (wikipedia)

Political chaos paved the way for Mobuto Sese Seko to gain political control, supported again by the U.S., and begin his 30-ish year dictatorship/kleptocracy (=”rule by thieves”, corruption so deep that it’s sometimes without even the pretense of honest service).  In the name of African nationalism, he renamed the country “Zaire”, and many of the cities from European names to African names (including his own name, see photo caption).

Mobutu’s political opponents, backed by neighboring countries with interest in gaining access to DRC’s mineral resources, eventually, in 1997, forced Mobutu to flee the country.  Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the father of the current president, named himself president and changed the country’s name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As if they weren’t already, here’s where things start getting really crazy.  Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis from the 1994 genocide in DRC’s neighbor, Rwanda, was never actually resolved, it just relocated itself into the jungle of eastern DRC.  Rebel militia from Uganda and Rwanda got involved (AFDL) originally as Kabila’s allies (with hopes of mining rights, of course), and then as Kabila’s enemies (RCD and MLC), occasionally fighting both for and against DRC government troops.  Angola, Zimababwe and Namibia all sent troops over as well, to bolster the the DRC’s military.  Another rebel group, the Mai-Mai, once for the government and now against it, joined the chaos eventually as well.

And so, for almost a decade, acronym after acronym of rebel/government troops from half a dozen or so African nations fought for and against each other, teaming up then switching sides, with no real rhyme or reason, except to dominate their enemy du jour and for the ever-present desire to have control over the country’s rich mineral resources: diamonds, copper, zinc, and coltan (used for electronics).  This war has been the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, killing upwards of 5 million people, with huge numbers of civilian deaths and injuries and even huger number of civilian displacement.

Officially, the conflict has been over since 2002 when a peace treaty was signed between the government and rebel groups.  However, because of several factors (weak government and lawlessness in the east, easy cover for rebel groups in the jungle), the eastern region of the country is far from stable, and violence caused by rebel groups, often inflicted upon civilians, is far from rare.

And it is this violence, my friends, is what we are seeing in the news lately.

Here area few of the semi-recent articles that we have come across, or that have been sent to us be friends.  You may notice that a lot of the news on DR Congo revolves, for good reason, around the mass rapes being committed by rebel groups against civilians (both women and men).  There’s a lot to say about this topic, but I’m going to save that for a separate post…

Front page of the New York Times a few weeks ago (10/3):

BBC last month:

So right now, you may be thinking to yourself in a sarcastic tone, “Wow, thanks for the update, Katie- now I can certainly sleep easy at night knowing the status of  the country in which you and Jamie now live. ” (Oh yes, I can hear that tone from here).  However, I do have some reassuring news as well.  Although this instability that is in the news is definitely happening in DRC, it is all happening really far away from us in Kinshasa.

And here is a map for proof:

Map from Goal-UK.org

DRC is approximately the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.  We are in Kinshasa, in the far west.  The conflict is going on mostly near the border of Rwanda, in the far east of the country.  Not only is this an enormous distance, the eastern part of the country is not accessible by road at all from Kinshasa.  In fact, the only way to get there is to fly.  So it is not something that is affecting us directly at all.  No rebel attacks outside our window, not even close.

And so, to end this post on a more positive note, I’ve also found proof that not all of the recent news about DRC is bad news.  My mom sent me an encouraging link a little while ago to a news story on the DR Congo which was not bad news at all, really.  NPR did a story on a trip down the Congo River by boat, which, although it was truthful about the hardships and poverty of the country, it did not focus on the violence that is happening, but rather had a more hopeful theme of life on the river, slightly reminiscent of the days of jungle cruises 60 years ago (but without the colonialism).

River of Life – Congo Odyssey

 



River of Life - Congo Odyssey

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    October 29, 2010 4:30 am

    I feel kinda lonely making my little comments here…but thank you for the history & current events lesson, and reassurance of your relative safety! Love to you both!

  2. Gretchen permalink
    October 29, 2010 6:14 am

    WOW. This is quite intense, but your re-cap was very well done Katie! I am very glad to hear you both are relatively far from this violence. Keep the updates coming…especially if they are about you guys being safe in your new residence 🙂 I am learning so much about a place that I may never have learned about if not for you two!!

    Love you tons!!!
    Gretchen

  3. Katie Robinette permalink*
    October 29, 2010 11:33 am

    Yay, thanks for joining my aunt Melodee on the comment wall, Gretchen! She was feeling lonely.

    Yeah, I know this was kind of an intense post- important info, but intense. Hopefully the next one will be more fun!

    Love you guys!

    -Katie

  4. Katie M permalink
    October 30, 2010 3:43 am

    Hey Skatie and James – glad to hear you’re life in Kinshasa is going well and thanks for all the updates (and awesome history lesson)! Keep the updates coming please 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. The rape of Congo’s greatest resource « Les Aventures de Jamie & Katie
  2. Oops. I did it again « Les Aventures de Jamie & Katie

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