On August 30th, Tanenbaum hosted a breakfast for our Peacemaker in Action, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was joined by representatives from a delegation of 32 religious peace activists who were in New York City to appeal to the United Nations and NGOS for action to end the bloody conflict occurring in the eastern DRC. During the breakfast, they described at depth the many dynamic elements of the conflict and the true toll that it is taking on the Congolese people.
The conflict in the eastern DRC began in the wake of Rwanda’s genocide which saw the murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hands of Hutu militants. Soon after Rwanda’s genocidal Hutu regime fell, “more than two million Hutus are thought to have fled into the DR Congo fearing reprisals against them by the new, Tutsi-dominated government.” Amongst these refugees were génocidaires, who Rwandan troops followed in pursuit. Rwanda’s initial intervention into the then peaceful DRC eventually set the stage for the first and second Congo wars. These wars involved a total of 8 African countries, 25 armed groups and led to the death around 5.4 million people between 1994 and today. Though the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, it is estimated by the International Rescue Committee that some 45,000 people continue to die each month from the ongoing conflict. Despite the size of the conflict, its exact causes are difficult to pinpoint given the multiple actors, security and economic interests in the region.
The DRC, despite residing at the very bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index and a per capita gross national income of $280 per year, is one of the most resource rich countries in the entire world. Access and control of these resources, estimated to be worth around $24 trillion, is a major source of conflict. [More on DRC’s natural resources here]
In terms of security interests, the eastern DRC has been home to over 15 rival rebel groups, allegedly supported by both the Rwandan and Congolese governments since 1994. At the moment, five rebel armies are operating in the eastern Congo, including the M23 rebel group which formed on March 23rd, 2012. Since forming, M23 has been responsible for the mass rape, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, civilian deaths in the thousands and displacement of over 200,000 individuals.
M23 was created by General Bosco Ntaganda (known locally as the “terminator”) who was indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Since March, 2012, General Ntaganda has expanded the rebel movement and gone on to claim vast stretches of territory in the North and South Kivu Provinces. Until recently, Rwanda was rumored to have been providing support to M23. However, a recent UN report (S/2012/348/add.1) clearly indicts Rwanda on multiple violations of UN sanctions and arms embargos designed to undercut rebel movements in the eastern DRC. These violations include:
- Providing direct assistance in the creation of M23 through the transport of weapons and soldiers through Rwandan territory
- Recruiting Rwandan youth and demobilized ex-combatants as well as Congolese refugees for M23
- Providing weapons and ammunition to M23
- Mobilizing and lobbying of Congolese political and financial leaders for the benefit of M23
- Conducting direct Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) interventions into Congolese territory to reinforce M23
- Providing support to several other armed groups as well as Forces armies de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) mutinies in the eastern Congo
- Violating the assets freeze and travel ban through supporting sanctioned individuals
During the breakfast, Bishop Ntambo and his delegation of Congolese peace activists cited this report and claimed that since the genocide, Rwanda has been working to destabilize the eastern DRC – accusations that Rwanda adamantly contests. The delegation described in grisly detail the various methods of rape and torture that the M23 rebel group has become known for. They shared these experiences with the belief that if westerners only knew the misery and devastation occurring in their country, they would take the necessary actions to end it. Bishop Ntambo and the delegation also visited New York to send a message to the United Nations. Their message to the UN was that they must pressure Rwanda to leave the Congo through the use of sanctions and the rejection of candidature as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Additionally, to dismantle the leadership of these rebel groups, the UN must pursue and prosecute known war criminals operating in the eastern DRC.
Bishop Ntambo and the delegation believe that if Rwanda were to cease providing arms, shelter and soldiers to rebel groups like the M23, conflict in the eastern DRC would cease. Unfortunately, this region of central Africa has seen so much bloodshed over the years that it is difficult for many of us to imagine what it will take to restore peace. Certainly however, the bold actions taken by Bishop Ntambo and his delegation are steps in the right direction. After their visit to New York, Bishop Ntambo and his delegation traveled on to Washington D.C., Canada and Europe to garner additional support in their fight for peace in the DRC. Though the reality on the ground in the eastern Congo is grim, there is hope and it was vividly apparent when we looked into the eyes of Bishop Ntambo and his delegation of peace activists.
Though it is often easiest just to ignore the pain and suffering of people worlds away, Bishop Ntambo said that it is vital that Americans learn about the DRC and the issues and actors that are involved in the conflict. The truth is that though we are far from the Congo, we are all complicit in some way with the ongoing violence. The fact is that the cellphone in our pockets and the computer on our work desk contain hundreds of tantalum capacitors. These capacitors are critical components of electronic circuits and are made from a metallic ore known as coltan. The DRC contains over 64% of the world’s supply of this ore and much like diamonds in Sierra Leone, this precious metal is driving much of the conflict in the DRC and brining about the death and suffering of millions. Bishop Ntambo and the delegation do not ask that we as Americans abandon our use of coltan, or consumption gold, diamonds and copper. Rather they ask us to take the time to understand the human cost of our consumption and how we as responsible parties should use our available networks and resources to take end the suffering of innocent people.