Dashiki Dialogues: Why do we turn a blind eye to the DRC?

2013-03-17 10:00

There’s fresh talk of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

President Jacob Zuma, Jose Eduardo dos ­Santos of Angola and the DRC’s Joseph Kabila announced a peace plan effort after a meeting in the ­Angolan capital, Luanda, on Tuesday. But the announcement met with little popular purchase.

It’s as if the suffering unfolding in the central African country has grown mundane and irrelevant for prime time media coverage. The DRC issue is daunting and won’t be easy to fix.

Consider that it hasn’t had peace or functioning institutions for more than 128 years.

The DRC’s displacement began in 1885 when King Leopold of Belgium was given the country at the Berlin Conference. He extracted more than a billion dollars in resources for himself by maiming and murdering the citizens, who were made to labour in rubber plantations.

Leopold was ­followed in 1908 by Belgian colonialism proper, which continued the pillage until 1960 when Patrice ­Lumumba was elected.

He represented a glimmer of hope, but was assassinated seven months later in February 1961. More confusion was followed by the installation of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 until May 1997.

Mobuto bled the DRC for three decades before he was deposed by rebels. The Kabila network took power. It was marked by militias and an invasion by the DRC’s neighbours to the east, including Rwanda and Uganda, under various pretexts. War has claimed more than 6?million lives since 1996.

Mass rape has been a weapon. One 15-year-old girl was kept naked in a pit for three months by combatants who raped her repeatedly. Her friend was killed and she was forced to stay with her rotting body for six weeks. She fell pregnant and was ­unable to climb out of the pit.

How can communities this wounded heal? Imagine fathers, brothers and husbands who must face raped wives, daughters and mothers they couldn’t protect.

Meanwhile, the world’s economies continue to benefit from the DRC’s minerals, extracted through terror. There are even US business groups fighting against a law requiring companies to disclose if their products contain minerals from the war-torn DRC.

I’m reminded of Joseph Conrad’s observation: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

Does this explain why the DRC’s suffering fails to gain popular purchase in the global imagination? Or is there global consensus that it’s okay? It’s a bloody dashiki that ­requires a stern dialogue from us all.

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