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Friday, August 27, 2010

Hell in Congo

There are few places on earth that have more ravaged by war in recent years than the Democratic Republic of Congo. This massive African nation is the continents third largest and the 12 th largest in the world. There is also 71 million people in the nation and the average per capita GDP is the second lowest in the world.

The country was a Belgian colony for a time up until its independence on the 30th of June 1960. While the country suffered deeply at the hands of the oppressive Joesph- Désiré  Mubutu it was not until 1996 that one of the most viscous and horrifying Wars this world has ever seen broke out. Involving 7 foreign armies and with a death toll from the conflict standing at 4.5 million it has often been dubbed the African World War. Indeed no war has taken so many lives since World War 2.

While the War was said to have ended in 2003 following the signing of peace accords conflict persists in the Eastern region of the country where rebel militias which took part in the Rwandan conflicts lie in wait. It is a sore point between the two nations with the Rwandans claiming the Congolese haven't done enough to disarm the rebels.  In recent months, owing to a drive to eradicate the forces from the country, the Congolese army has launched a major offensive against the rebel groups. Besides the devastation the fighting wreaks on the land and the lives of the civilian populations in these areas the level of sexual violence used to quell dissenters in the nation is horrific.

Last year in the DRK 9,000 people were raped. That is of course only the reported figure. More than this rapes are generally carried out by groups of  2 to 6 men and the majority take place in front of family members. Indeed numerous sources can be cited saying rape has become a cultural phenomenon in the nation and not only is it committed by the rebel forces but is often  tool used by the Congolese national army. Few people are ever convicted of committing the crimes.

The country has made the news recently due to the efforts or lack thereof to prevent the rapes of more the 150 women over a period lasting 4 days. There are currently over 20,000 UN peace keeping troops in the nation, its largest operation anywhere in the world. However, the Congolese Government forces have asked them to be out of the country by 2011, something the UN has been a bit apprehensive about agreeing to. Both groups have face controversy over their lack of any response to the incident, although the UN has said they were uninformed of the incident until a week after it took place. Ban Ki Moon has rushed a senior representative to the area to talk to the victims, however I'm sure it will offer little comfort to those who have and continue to experience the worst effects of conflict in a nation that can quite aptly be described as hell on earth.

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