In December 2004, the New York based International Resource Centre blamed a six-year military conflict in Congo which was being fought over the country’s rich gold, diamond and mineral stores for 3.8 million deaths in Africa’s third-largest nation. The WarChild organisation has reported more recently that more than 5.4 million have died as a result of the conflict, which represents the biggest death toll of any conflict since World War 2. At a demonstration in London on December 10th 2011 by a representation of the Congolese people, this number was quoted as 8 million. The figure reported by WarChild is that 2.7 million of this number are children ( 1 in 5 children die before their 5th birthday). This is a massive humanitarian issue.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) investigation team has uncovered mass human rights abuses, including the possible genocide of Hutu refugees. The UNHCR have recorded details of massacres, rapes and looting that have taken place in the wars in the Congo over the last 15 years.
There are 20,000 UN troops in the Congo which represents one of the largest peacekeeping missions in the world. This reinforces the fragility of the position of this country ( which is 176th out of 182 in the UN Human Development Index).
The Congo has vast mineral resources which should make it one of the richest countries in the world. It posesses 80% of the world’s columbite-tantalite (Coltan) used extensively in mobile phones and MP3 players. It also has Cassiterite ( used in solder for household electronics), gold, diamonds, and tungsten. The mines for these resources are within the most violent regions of the country and are controlled by the opposing forces within the conflict.
On 28th November there were presidential elections in the country with the incumbent, and much reviled, Joseph Kabila being a participant. Kabila’s victory was announced in the last week, which has precipitated violence in the capital, Kinshasa. The main opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi, has also claimed victory.
The Carter Centre ( under the tutelage of former US President Jimmy Carter) issued a report on December 10th which was critical of the election procedures, and concluded that they “lack(ed) credibility”. They reported that:
“the quality and integrity of the vote tabulation process has varied across the country, ranging from the proper application of procedures to serious irregularities, including the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa. Based on the detailed results released by CENI, it is also evident that multiple locations, notably several Katanga province constituencies, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila. These and other observations point to mismanagement of the results process and compromise the integrity of the presidential election”
In the context of the an on-going humanitarian crisis lasting at least 15 years, deaths in the millions, tens of thousands of women being raped, children needlessly dying, a few hundred people demonstrated outside Downing Street on December 11th 2011. There had been other demonstrations earlier in the week which resulted in the temporary closure of Oxford Circus tube station.
Whilst the event was generally good natured, initially, there was some antipathy towards the Press, but particularly the BBC ( and by implication other news services) for not covering either the demonstration, or the events in Congo. General frustration and the need to express a voice overcame the crowd and they spilled out onto Whitehall – thus stopping the traffic. This continued for several hours, and spread through to Trafalgar Square.
Many of the photograhers / journalists covering the event were being continually hounded as to what they were doing and why were they taking pictures. Whilst this could have been considered to be intimidating, given the magnitude of the crisis in their country, the way they, and their fellow country folk have been treated, then it is to be expected. The fact that in the UK we continue to ignore this situation, yet spend much time and energy on more trivial matters, was a big issue with a lot of the people I spoke to.
The passion in all of the people that attended was profound, young and old, and their determination to continue to shout loud, and ensure that something was done about their cause was unflinching. It was clear that further events were going to take place over the coming weeks – and they will continue until someone starts listening.