By Gjergj LACUKU/
While the world mourns the loss of dozens of lives in Europe at the hands of ISIS, it ignores the loss of over 5 million lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mass rapes, human slavery, child soldiers, ethnic cleansing and millions displaced – fueled by the two billion people around the globe who own smart phones. It’s time the US led a global effort to end this conflict still killing a thousand people a day.
Over the last two decades, a civil war has raged among rebel groups and the government. The violence is fueled by the theft of conflict minerals – tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold, copper and cobalt — while the world turns a blind eye. The war, meddling by its neighbors, corruption and poverty have made the Congo an ungoverned space which threatens the U.S. national security by attracting terrorist groups and destabilizing the African Great Lakes region.
Our political science class at UNF studied these issues and urged officials in Washington to lead in addressing the causes of this conflict. The first priority is to shore up the shaky democracy. Several countries in the region face presidents staying in office past their constitutionally mandated terms. The Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, appears to be doing the same. The US, in conjunction with the UN and regional organizations, must press him to allow elections in November to occur and respect the constitution by ending his second term on time in January 2017. This will require an incentives package of his favorite things, such as tractors and motorcycles and a post at the African Union. Should Kabila refuse to leave, we must sanction him, his family, and close associates.
The fuel that keeps the conflict burning is the exploitation of the Congo’s mineral resources by armed rebel groups and its nine neighboring states. Our electronics depend on these minerals, yet the world is irresponsibly unaware of this complicity. Consumers know whether their eggs are free range, plastic is BPA free and coffee is fair trade. We must demand to know whether our electronics are conflict free – and free of child laborers. This will require an international verification system to ensure minerals from conflict areas such as the Congo never make it to our stores.
The conflict in the Congo won’t end if the Congolese armed forces can’t secure the country. That means ridding the country of rebel groups, especially those in control of the conflict minerals, and training the armed forces to secure the country. The UN will need additional forces to oust the rebels and reintegrate them into society, as well as a stronger effort to reform the Congolese armed forces.
Much of the conflict is caused by the lack of development in the Congo, which is tied for last in the UN Human Development Index. Forty eight rapes occur each hour, leading the Congo to be considered the world’s worst place to be a woman. We must galvanize stronger global efforts to protect the vulnerable citizens of the Congo by effective and transparent judicial and executive systems that are capable of confronting the country’s human rights violations.
The Congo is a diamond in the rough in need of development aid to help it reach its potential. The US should increase support for economic development, humanitarian aid, and environmental protection through increasing USAID’s budget towards the Congo, increasing micro-finance programs, expanding the mobile banking system, expanding efforts to reduce child labor, and increasing support for better educational institutions.
It’s time to unveil its hidden treasures, as well. For instance, the recently discovered Bili Ape, which is reported to eat lions and howl at the moon, could unleash world ecotourism that could drive the economy. Early reports indicate that additional research could reveal new information on the “missing link” of human evolution. The conflict threatens this benefit to human kind.
Americans don’t want to know that they are directly linked to one of the worst conflicts in the world. But you are complicit in this war if you own a smart device. We must demand leadership to end this war.