Despite a Successful 2014 for Africa, Hundreds Continue to be Hacked to Death in DRC

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KINSHASA, DRC - In 2014, many African countries have seen long-awaited triumphs in the form of heightened foreign direct investment, peaceful political transitions and quickly expanding economies.

While there are undoubtedly many hurdles left to overcome, there are many pockets in Africa that are taking advantage of these opportunities, including Botswana who's per capita GDP is now $15,176 and Burkina Faso who has the most improved education in Africa with increased enrollment across all grades. (Source: Legatum Institute's 2014 Africa Prosperity Report)

These multifaceted expansions paint an encouraging picture of the Africa that investors and aid workers alike have been dreaming of for decades: plenty of jobs, youth engagement, financial stability, robust national security and an enhanced standard of living for all.

Despite this backdrop, however, there are still unimaginable, archaic and tragic atrocities going on in remote areas of the continent that should be front page news. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long been a disaster -- a country ravaged by decades of war, poverty and "big man" politics, but although many think the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is over, the DRC is still plagued by its side effects every single day.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report this week on December 16th, indicated that over 200 Eastern Congolese citizens have been murdered since October. Because President Joseph Kabila has no grasp on the country's army security processes, the rebel group called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) continues to terrorize the countryside and murder civilians with machetes and axes, while their victims are unable to effectively seek help or protection. The group is a Ugandan-led Islamist faction that has been operational in the area since 1996, and their motive is to avenge the death of their comrades who have been counterattacked and pushed out by the DRC's army or the UN's mission, MONUSCO.

The group is also particularly brutal in the methods they've been using to evoke fear and desolation. For those that they kidnap instead of hacking to death immediately, captives are sometimes crucified, held in coffins lined with nails, or forced into being ADF soldiers' wives. But although these gruesome and horrific acts have been going on since October, the government and international community already on the ground have failed to stop or even curb the violence.

These "war crimes", as so deemed by HRW, deserve a swift and powerful response. There are already peacekeepers on the ground who can supplement the national army's battle to defeat and unravel rebel groups, and it is urgent that this is implemented before another attack happens, leaving dozens hacked into pieces and more displaced.

While many developing countries, especially in Africa, are reaping the benefits of globalization, world trade and improving standards of living -- there are still monstrosities happening every day that belong in a period centuries ago, before human rights and international justice were reality. In such a modern, civilized age, it's time we stick up for those who have to face unfathomable, barbaric dangers on a regular basis.

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Rwanda's Parliamentary Elections: Democratic or Not?

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 11:54 a.m. DST, 24 December 2013

President Paul Kagame, Rwanda, Photo by David Shankbone

Rwanda, unlike many African countries has held democratic elections for its government with its people by and large in support of its current and past leader President Paul Kagame. The Parliament in which the governing party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), won a vast majority of the seats. The RPF, lead by President Paul Kagame, has been in power ever since the 1994 genocide and has yet to face a serious political opponent.

The world witnessed the horrors of the 1994 genocide, which were also brought to the attention of American movie viewers in the real life drama portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda. The movie explored the genocide, political corruption, and the repercussions of violence as a result of this conflict.

So, despite peaceful election, it seems incongruous that a populace subjected to such brutality would in the final tally of votes, grant the RPF 76% percent of the votes, which allowed it to keep the vast majority of the Parliamentary seats, winning 40 out of a total of 53, and essentially solidify Kagame's reign of the country.

Although, the elections went smoothly without reports of fraud, the election brings renewed attention to the dominance of Kagame's party for nearly two decades.

The small country has made an immense turnaround ever since the horrendous genocide, but Kagame and his party have held a tight grip on power ever since. The international community praises Kagame for the economic growth and general stability of his country, but there are still periodic reports of political oppression, freedom of speech restrictions, and meddling in the DRC's affairs.

For now, the Rwandan population seems content with the Parliamentary results and continued RPF domination, but it remains to be seen how many elections the citizens will endure before they yearn for political change and competition.

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Instability Returns to Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 23:09 p.m. DST, 03 September 2013

Congo Refugee, Photo by Steve Evans

DRC, Africa - Widespread fighting and instability are nothing new to the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as it has been plagued by conflict ever since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 spilled over into its borders.

The region, especially the area around Goma, have struggled to find peace since this crisis, and even the current issues can be traced back to this period.

The newest fighting is being caused by a rebel group, called the M23, who have been protesting the national government since April of 2012. The group is made up of members who were formally part of the Congolese national army, but mutinied to display their disapproval and disappointment with the national government that is led by President Joseph Kabila.

Since then, the group has made periodic attacks on civilians and government military forces, and in its most recent offensive, caused civilian casualties, widespread population displacement, and danger to UN peacekeeping forces (MONUSCO).

MONUSCO has practiced peacekeeping without force for over a decade now, but the M23's recent actions have prompted a military response from the UN troops. With their new mandate, certain UN peacekeepers are allowed to fire first and use necessary offensive actions in order to force M23 rebels to back down and put down their arms.

This moved was deemed necessary as the rebels have been given several options over the last few months to meet their requests, yet they continually return to violence. They have failed to follow up with peace talks and ignored demands to put down their weapons.

Beyond M23's responsibility for the chaos in Eastern Congo, the DRC's national government and neighboring country, Rwanda, also play a huge role in implementing peace. They have been involved in the fighting and tensions since the beginning, and thus they must make it their priority to finding a lasting solution before peace can be found.  Otherwise, once UN troops back off, the violence will eventually resume.

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Democratic Republic of Congo's Conflict Driven Mining Industry

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 16:03 p.m. DST, 16 August 2013

DRC Child Soldier, Photo by Children and Armed Conflict DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO − The mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a plethora of side effects for the country that destroy the standard of living and overall wellbeing of the country.  The most unbearable one is the way that the mining industry spurs violence and civil war within the country. Because rebel groups are continually fighting over control of the mines and natural resources, turmoil and chaos are incessantly being reproduced.

This system has gone on for decades in the DRC which has unfortunately made it an expected way of life where vast regions are based around a “war economy.”[1] This is a horrifying concept as it means Congolese citizens are actually dependent on the illegal and informal economy based around the exploitation of natural resources and arms trafficking, instead of moving towards a formal market economy based on peace and respect of property.

When the illegal economy becomes a way of life, the actors involved totally “lose interest in peace” because they have no concept of how to make a living without it.[2] Besides this being dangerous in itself, it is also unsustainable, as eventually these natural resources will run out and those associated with the mines will have no other skills to make a living off of.

With this lack of desire for peace, mass killings have been all too frequent when it comes to fighting over control of mining areas. Rebel groups have used deliberate killings and massacres as a tool of war to fight their way to mining towns, leaving thousands of affected and harmed citizens in their wake.[3] Alongside these massacres, rebel groups will burn down villages and force whole populations to flee from their homes in order to maintain their rough reputation and gain complete control over the territory.

Besides coping with tragic deaths, the civilians left behind then also have to handle being displaced and without refuge.[4] Despite this heart wrenching reality that still continues today, international citizens and organizations fail to acknowledge that these decades of killing and destruction from armed conflict or war related causes have amounted to the “world’s deadliest conflict since WWII,” having victimized over 5.4 million Congolese citizens.[5]

This widespread and colossal conflict has been implemented through rebel groups using atrocious tools of war like “ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest,” which leave very few citizens untouched.[6] This harrowing statistic should not need any other words to prove the terror of this situation, yet there are still further consequences while the globe stands by whilst the conflict endures.

Another catastrophic consequence of the DRC’s mining industry is the political and institutional instability that has come with the tumultuous control of the mines. Since the industry is fueled by armed conflict and rebel power, it has been indicatively hard for the central government to consolidate sovereignty and security. As rebel groups emerge and flex their persistent desire to take over mines and political control, the central government has been unable for years to maintain stability and fully oppress secessionist factions.

This hurts every citizen in the country, as years of political erosion have halted democratic reforms and institutional growth. During Joseph Kabila’s reign, this has destroyed his credibility, as shown by his ban on the mineral trade in September 2010 that he had to call off by March 2011 due to not being able to sever the ties between militia groups and mineral traders.[7] Whether this resulted from a lack of resolve, competence, or both, is up for debate, but regardless, the central government is incapable of fulfilling its goals.

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Outside of human rights atrocities, which top the list of negative consequences from the DRC’s mining industry, there are also the environmental consequences to consider as they additionally affect the state’s future. Soil erosion has been a major concern for outside observers, as those running the mines are not adhering to safe or sustainable standards, but are mainly thinking about making a profit in the present.[8] This creates a negative feedback loop where each year where environmental standards are not acknowledged for mining, the environmental deterioration builds on top of itself and becomes worse and worse, until it may become irreversible.

Additionally, one of the main areas where coltan is mined is Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. The mining of coltan has greatly hurt the animal’s numbers as they are killed for bush meat and are indirectly killed through the clearing of the rainforest. Despite the DRC being an unlikely tourist spot currently, destroying the gorilla population also rids them of a profitable tourism opportunity in the future.[9]

The Congolese mining industry has also had extensive economic implications for the country, as every mineral illegally exploited and traded is another source of income that could be used to build and fix the weak country. Unfortunately, Congolese mining code is the third best in Africa in terms of giving advantages to investors, which means the country has an insignificant role in the mining agreement and then receives very much in turn for its national budget.[10]

This is indescribably regrettable because the wealth of natural resources within their territory is slipping through their fingers everyday, whereas if the central government and its international partners stepped up, they could pool at least portions of these riches for national benefit and development that could improve the lives of all Congolese citizens. For example, in Katanga, DRC, mineral tagging has been moderately put in place and the development trend has thus been very different because business flourishes while also giving a modern boost to development through local investments.

In other areas though, where tagging has not been introduced, international buyers only buy illegally through Uganda and Rwanda, instead of directing funds to the DRC. [11] While not perfect, tagging is a great starting point for moving towards a balance of industrial profit and developmental growth for the average citizen. Additionally, executing a minor taxation on mineral exports would also bring increases to the DRC’s GDP. When the actors involved let the minerals cross the border illegally and through rebel hands, they are losing the chance to tax the goods and turn that into investments in “basic infrastructure and social provisions.”

When they do not do this, they are allowing the immense wealth to be sacrificed to neighbors. For example, Rwanda made 250 million USD from coltan alone in eighteen months despite having no coltan within their borders![12] Another way to ensure taxation would be to invest in smelting and manufacturing facilities on their own soil so they could more diligently track the trade process and make a profit off of it[13], as shortened trading chains leaves less space for conflict minerals. When viewed in summary in this manner, it is evident that the mining industry is creating massive impediments for the DRC, and that these wide-ranging consequences must be tackled sooner rather than later.

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[1] Grespin, Whitney. "Blood Coltan?" Journal of International Peace Operations 6, no. 3 (December 2010): 27-30. pg 28. [2] Ibid, pg 28. [3] Human Rights Watch. "The Curse of Gold." hrw.org. June 1, 2005. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/06/01/curse-gold. pg 32, 34. [4] Ibid, pg 29. [5] Grespin, pg 27. [6] HRW, pg 9. [7] International Crisis Group. Conflict Minerals in DRC. January 18, 2012. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/key-issues/country/conflict-minerals-in-drc.aspx. [8] Grespin, pg 29. [9] Nisa. COLTAN MINING IN THE CONGO: WE ALL HAVE BLOOD IN OUR HANDS. September 10, 2011. http://www.cookiesound.com/2011/09/coltan-we-all-have-blood-in-our-hands/. ; Grespin, pg 29. [10] Abadie, Delphine. "Canada and the geopolitics of mining interests: a case study of the Democratic Republic of Congo." Review of African Political Economy (Routledge) 38, no. 128 (June 2011): 289-302., pg 295. [11] Group of Experts on the DRC. "Letter to the Chairman of the Security Council." United Nations, 2012, 1-44., pg 40. [12] Grespin, pg 27. [13] Group of Experts on DRC, pg 37.

Thomas Lubanga, Congolese War Lord Convicted

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 17:10 PM EDT, 10 July 2012

Thomas Lubanga, Congolese Warlord, Photo by ICC-CPITHE HAGUE, Netherlands – Six years after the government of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) handed Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, over to The Hague for trial, and three years after the start of his trial, Lubanga has finally been received a verdict of 14 years in prison.

He now holds the dubious honor of being the first person to be taken into custody by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was created a decade ago to address war crimes in places where local courts are unable or unwilling to act.

Fellow warlord, Charles Taylor, 64, former Liberian President was also convicted earlier this year by The Special Court for Sierra Leone, in The Hague. He was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, and sexual slavery. In the court of public opinion, Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, Taylor, Lubanga, and Bosco Ntaganda all stand accused of conscripting children into his marauding armies. However, to date only Taylor and Lubanga have been captured and sentenced for conscripting children under the age of 15 to fight in their armies.

In the conflict torn countries – Uganda, DRC, Liberia and Sierra Leone, these children were more than just child soldiers, they were victims of extreme child abuse, who were brutalized and forced to torture and kill innocent citizens, as well as participate in the rape of women who could have been their mothers and grandmothers. Dissent was not an option as failure to participate resulted in their immediate execution.

In the Lubanga’s six year absence, the civil war that has utterly decimated the country continues to rage across the central African nation. Thousands of civilians have been raped and butchered at the hands of his co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, another militia leader who is now a general in the Congolese army in the North Kivu area of eastern Congo.

In the video below Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, was criticizing for his handling of the case, for not including the sexual violence charges as part of the case, and for omitting numerous other war crimes allegedly committed by Lubanga and his compatriots.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYLZKPkjO40]                                                                                                                                                     Prosecutors had sought 30 years in prison for Lubanga but given the diluted charges which did not adequately demonstrate “any aggravating circumstances” plus his cooperation with the court, resulted in a sentence which will only require him to serve 8 years in jail because of time served.  Lubanga who is 51 will be freed before his 60th birthday.

Lubanga's case this year has brought increasing pressure for the arrest of his much more infamous partner in crime, renegade Congolese army Gen. Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda had moved on from being a militia leader in Ituri to being the No. 2 leader in a tribal-based rebellion in 2006, when the ICC indicted both men for war crimes involving child soldiers.

Ntaganda and others have accused the court of racism in pursuing Africans, and especially Congolese. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir remains on the court's agenda along with Ntaganda and two other Congolese warlords. Congo's back-to-back civil wars that drew in soldiers from a half dozen nations killed an estimated 5 million people — more lives than any conflict since World War II. (Source: Associated Press)

Initially, the March verdict was hailed by human rights group as a victory, but today’s news was greeted with disappointment. Though other tribunals have been created throughout history to punish atrocities from specific conflicts, such as the Nuremberg trial in 1946 of Karl Doenitz, Lubanga's case may have set a precedent of leniency since he is the first person to be convicted and sentenced directly by the ICC.

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PBS | Women, War and Peace

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Women, War & Peace is a bold new five-part PBS series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain. Spotlighting the stories of women in conflict zones from Bosnia to Afghanistan and Colombia to Liberia, it places women at the center of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security, and reframes our understanding of modern warfare.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/30099445]

Featuring narrators Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard, Women, War & Peace is the most comprehensive global media initiative ever mounted on the roles of women in war and peace

Watch on your local PBS station Tuesday nights from Oct. 11 to Nov. 8. Check local listings for air times.  (Source: PBS)