Do you have a smart phone? A laptop? Then you play a role in the violence that occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cell phones, laptops, and other electronics don’t work very well without the mineral coltan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo poor farmers are gathered by armed gangs and enslaved to dig coltan out of the ground.
On June 30, the Institute’s Foreign Policy In Focus project, Friends of The Congo, Congo Global Action, and Africa Faith & Justice Network co-sponsored a screening of Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth at the Reeves Center in downtown Washington. As the crowd of over 100 people gathered in the conference room there was excitement about the film as well as chatter about becoming a “friend of the Congo.”
The film explores U.S. influence on the humanitarian crisis in Congo and argues that U.S. actions and the lack thereof have fueled violence and the exploitation of natural resources there. While Congo has experienced turmoil for over 100 years, violence significantly increased after it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, dreamed of democracy as well as total emancipation for his country. However, this has proven to be a dream deferred indefinitely as western powers systematically support the nation’s destabilization. In 1961, the United States and Belgium conspired to assassinate Lumumba because he refused to conform to western ideals.
After the assassination, the United States supported Congolese dictator Mobutu a corrupt leader who committed numerous human rights violations. Washington ultimately discontinued its support for him but has continued to sponsor other Congolese dictatorships that exploit citizens.
Furthermore, the United States and United Nations have failed to respond to attacks by Ugandanand Rwandan troops on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rival war lords such as James Kabarebe of Rwanda and James Kazini of Uganda frequently raid Congo, rape the women, massacre entire communities, and help themselves to the country’s natural resources. In the war in Congo, 6 million people have been killed. No action is taken to investigate and penalize offenders.
According to Congolese human rights activist Kambale Musavuli, President Barack Obama understands that it is imperative to help Congo. As a senator, Obama wrote a comprehensive law, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006 (pdf), to support Congo. Section 105 of this legislation states, “The Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” However, the U.S. continues to support Rwanda and Uganda despite clear evidence of their attacks on the Congolese.
The film includes footage of a speech President Obama delivered two years ago in Ghana, in which he said: “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.” How true. That’s why the U.S. government must stop ignoring corruption and supporting war lords.
Timeka Smith is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.