Monday, February 6, 2012

Strife in the Heart of Africa: The World's Deadliest Modern War

The conflict in the Congo is one of the most complex conflicts to take place in the world, between Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels, and the weak transitional government of the Congo backed by soldiers from Chad, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.  The rebels include militias such as the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo and the Rally for Congolese democracy who Rwanda and Uganda use to control most of eastern Congo and it's lucrative cobalt, diamonds, copper, zinc, manganese, niobium, tantalum and uranium, the last of which was used in making the atomic bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in World War II.  The conflict, which rages on in the east has taken over five million civilian lives, mostly from disease, starvation and malnutrition, since the government of the Congo has become so weak that it is unable to provide services for it's people.  The rebels have resorted to using rape as a weapon as war.  Pygmy hunters of the Ituri rainforest have been hunted down and eaten as if they were animals.
Currently the East is ruled by the Ugandan and Rwandan backed militias the Movement for Liberation of the Congo and the Rally for Congolese Democracy.  Other cross-border militias also play a key in fighting the government such as the Angola backed UNITA, an insurgent group based in Angola who are fighting to overthrow the Angolan government, and who frequently stage attacks from the rebellious Namibian province of Caprivi.  The conflict began during the rule of the thirty year ruling U.S. backed dictator, Joseph Mobutu also known as Mobutu Sese Soku.  During the last few years of his rule, refugees from Rwanda and Uganda entered the Congo, including both innocent civilians and the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide which killed over half a million people in about one hundred days.  Also entering the Congo was the Lord's Resistance army which operates in Uganda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic and has been at war with the Ugandan government of president Yoweri Museveni since he took office in 1987.
In 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-dominated group commanded by current Rwandan president Paul Kagame, shot down the plane carrying then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana which sparked a horrific consequence: the Rwanda Genocide.  Hutu militias, such as the Interahamwe started killing Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and when the Rwandan Patriotic Front took over Rwanda from neighboring Uganda, Paul Kagame invaded the Congo to go after these Hutu gunmen.  Under the cover of a small Tutsi militia, Rwanda and Uganda overthrew the rule of Mobutu Sese Soku in order to gain control of the Congo and it's vast resources.  Laurent-Desire Kabila, a long time opponent of Mobutu, came to power backed by Rwanda and Uganda.  Soon after however, Laurent realized that he was merely a prop for Rwanda and Uganda and he ordered the Rwandan and Ugandan troops to leave the Congo.  
This move was not well received by Rwanda and Uganda.  Rwanda formed an ethnic Tutsi militia called the Movement for Liberation of the Congo and Uganda formed the Rally for Congolese Democracy lead by Congolese Warlord Jean-Pierre Bembe.  These two groups went to war with Laurent.  With no real army of his own, Laurent received help from Chad, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, the last country which has been at war with the militia UNITA, which functions in southeastern Congo and attacks Angola from Namibia's Caprivi Strip, which has been at war with the Namibian government.  Talks between government and rebels were held at Lusaka, Zambia, the Congo's neighbor to the south.  Unfortunately, the American-picked Zambian peace-broker, Frederick Chiluba, was not a neutral candidate in this agreement.  Chiluba had in fact allowed UNITA to operate in Zambia where it staged attacks on Angola.
The Lusaka Peace Agreement was signed in 1999 but the fighting restarted.  President Laurent Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph took over.  Fighting continued between the army of Democratic Republic of Congo and the Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels and women throughout eastern Congo are raped by HIV-infected militias and the conflict continues to be driven by importation of Congolese minerals.

It seems to me that socially engaged Buddhists, already intent in helping Tibet and Burma, really ought to take a stand in the Congo.

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