It’s easy to think that the human suffering in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) couldn’t get worse until it does, and it always does. How much more Black life will have to be sacrificed to fuel the industrial world’s hunger for Congolese resource riches, meaning most of all the minerals essential to high-tech manufacturing, including state of the art weaponry? Black Africans fight one another in DRC, but all those of us on our phones, sitting in front of our laptops or in the seats of commercial and military aircraft, and in every other way wired to modern technology should know that this is our war, our highly complex and catastrophic proxy war.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in DRC to be 5.7 million at the end of 2022, and according to the UN Group of Experts on DRC’s latest report , a million have been displaced in the past year alone. The report describes myriad armed groups battling over DRC’s resource wealth, no matter what they call themselves, but Rwanda is the only state actor identified among them and the only one reported to be responsible for such staggering displacement. Most of the summary of the 240-page report is devoted to M23 and the Rwandan Defense Force working together:
Despite bilateral, regional and international efforts to de-escalate the crisis related to the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), the sanctioned armed group continued to significantly expand its territory and increase its attacks. The armed group’s expansion engendered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, causing the displacement of more than 1 million civilians in North Kivu Province. Announced withdrawals and disengagements appeared to have been temporary and tactical, aimed mainly at buying time amid mounting international pressure. M23 also launched attempts to win allies in South Kivu, in particular the armed group Twirwaneho, with the objective of opening a front in South Kivu.
The variety of M23 military equipment, some produced recently, provided insight into the significant firepower of the armed group and attested to violations of the arms embargo. The Group of Experts obtained further evidence of direct interventions by the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) on Democratic Republic of the Congo territory, either to reinforce M23 combatants or to conduct military operations against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and local armed groups.
The Group identified several RDF commanders and officials coordinating RDF operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A new pattern of targeted attacks by M23 on civilians emerged, with several deadly operations targeting populations associated with, or presumed to support, FDLR and other armed groups. Incidents of rape, including gang rape by M23 combatants, were prevalent.
All the Western powers that have supported and made use of President Paul Kagame’s Rwanda and its military force for the past three decades are complicit. The great powers of the East benefit from Congo’s wealth as well and are therefore complicit even though they have not done so much to empower Rwanda during those decades.
The rest of the 240-page report is full of detail, much of it horrifying and most of it comprehensible only to longtime students of the many players and multiple layers of conflict and even then only partially. The authors of the report acknowledge working with very partial information themselves.
These are a few highlights of what’s revealed, even if not explicitly stated:
1) “Tin, tantalum and tungsten supply chains from the mining town of Rubaya, North Kivu, have become compromised by the presence of armed groups and the suspension of all activities to ensure the traceability of minerals. This also threatened tin, tantalum and tungsten supply chains in South Kivu Province, where the production of minerals in Rubaya was laundered.” Tin, tungsten, and tantalum are minerals that the electronics industry must have, and Lockheed Martin can’t go to work without them.
The threat to these supply chains features prominently in the report and is no doubt of greatest concern to the major powers on the UN Security Council—from both East and West—who commissioned it. It’s not clear what “compromised” means.
2) The Ugandan People’s Defense Force is in DRC, reportedly to fight the Allied Defense Forces, a reported Islamist group. However, Uganda has longstanding resource trafficking operations and territorial ambitions in DRC, so it’s ridiculous to believe that they are playing any legitimate role in the interest of peace and security for the Congolese.
3) The East African Regional Force has done nothing to stop the fighting. “Despite a symbolic handover by M23 to the East African Community Regional Force of Kibumba and Rumangabo towns on December 23, 2022 and January 5, 2023, respectively, M23 leaders and combatants remained present and operational in those towns and the surrounding areas.”
The very idea of expecting an East African force including Rwandan and Ugandan forces to secure peace and security in DRC was ridiculous and cynical on its face from the beginning.
4) “The political situation remained tense in the run-up to general elections scheduled for December 2023. The Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted with concern that dynamics related to the electoral process, combined with the ongoing heightened conflict in the east and strained regional relations, posed a threat to the country’s peace and stability.”
DRC will hold elections, most significantly a presidential election, in December 2023, and pre-election tensions are present on either side of the jungle that separates Congo’s densely populated provinces. Who will be registered? Who will have the chance to vote and how will votes be counted? Who controls the army and who will it side with?
In 2018, the Catholic Church documented that Martin Fayulu had in fact won the presidential election, but Félix Tshisekedi assumed power and has held it since. The Congolese need leaders who actually represent them.
If the world gives legitimacy to another stolen election, it will be contributing to the suffering of the Congolese people.