AN EXHIBITION FEATURING PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNSEY ADDARIO, MARCUS BLEASDALE, RON HAVIV, AND JAMES NACHTWEY
MILITARY and POLITICAL HISTORY
Violence in the DRC is the bitter result of the country’s enormous wealth, a curse wrapped inside a blessing that very few have tasted. The pillage first began with slave and ivory trade and continued with murderous and destructive rubber extraction by Belgian colonists. The subsequent discovery of copper, cobalt, diamonds, and gold fueled years of dictatorship and a war that continues today.
In 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the DRC with the intention of driving out tens of thousands of Hutu combatants who had orchestrated the genocide of ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus in Rwanda two years before and fled across the border. Once established in the capital, the forces, primarily ethnic Tutsi, overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and installed their leader, Laurent Desire Kabila, as president.
Kabila soon began distancing himself from his Rwandan advisors and in 1998, feeling their grip on Congo slipping, Rwandan troops invaded again, along with forces from Uganda and Burundi. Kabila mounted a defense with armies from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Burundian rebels. Once inside, most of the foreign armies financed their stay by siphoning off DRC’s vast mineral resources.
The war officially ended in 2003, when President Joseph Kabila (who was installed in 2001 after his father was assassinated) formed a power-sharing government with rebel leaders, monitored by United Nations peacekeepers. Kabila then won elections in 2006 – the country’s first since independence in 1960 – despite violence that left hundreds dead.
Tragically, elections alone have done little to bring peace. A multitude of remaining local rebel factions, mainly in eastern DRC, continue to battle for resources, and fighting between them and the government has resulted in nearly one million displaced civilians. Rwandan Hutu rebels still occupy territory near the Rwandan border, using rape as a principle weapon to hold power over local villages. The poorly-trained and equipped Congolese Army, comprised largely of former militia members, is often accused of the same crimes.
The wars in the DRC have killed over five million people since 1998, primarily from disease and starvation triggered by civilian displacement and isolation from medical care, deaths which could have been prevented with the most basic of resources.
Bryan Mealer, journalist and author
Mealer is the author of All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo and was the Associated Press staff correspondent in Kinshasa, DRC.