The devastation and looting of DR Congo involves a racket of local, regional and international tycoons, warlords, smugglers and pillagers. What is happening illustrates a crisis of leadership at all levels of human society, and the total destruction of the conscience, by putting money and/or profit above human life. That is how Archbishop Munzihirwa understood the crisis.
Archbishop Munzihirwa Mwenengabo Christophe was appointed Archbishop of Bukavu (South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo) March 24, 1994. On October 29, 1996, he was assassinated. The pastoral letters and messages of Monsignor Emmanuel Kataliko (May 18, 1997- October 4, 2000, p.7) indicate that the Archbishop was assassinated by the Alliance des Forces Democratique pour la Liberation (AFDL), which comprised of troops opposed to President Mobutu’s regime and foreign armies from Rwanda.
Bishop Munzihirwa was a courageous leader who respected the dignity of every person regardless of nation, tribe or gender, and strived for peace, justice, human rights and the wellbeing of every person. He was a witness to peace under his leadership, most especially during the difficult times in the Great Lakes Region, when the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi displaced millions of people leading to an influx of refugees in Bukavu (South Kivu) and Goma (North Kivu). He confronted the governments of Rwanda, Burundi and the international community, affirming that the people of Kivu wanted peace and were protesting against the wars that continue to rage in the region and devastate the DRC. He noted that South Kivu was comprised of different communities and ethnic groups that had harmoniously coexisted without fomenting armed conflicts, but were now being threatened by a war that was imposed on the region by foreigners to entrench their hegemonic powers .
Nineteen years after the bishop’s death peace remains elusive in Congo and the entire Great Lakes Region (GLR). For over two decades, the population of eastern Congo have been victims of despicable violence, insecurity and human rights violations. The dignity of the human person is not respected. The death toll is estimated at 7-8 million, and cases of sexual violence at 5000. The statistics are flabbergasting, yet they might not portray the whole truth - given Congo’s vastness, the difficulties of communication, and the circumstances under which people die. For example, deaths in forests, or in the depositories of artisanal mining, where people die due to suffocation or collapse of the walls. Additionally, the horrors of war cannot be quantified.This article poses that without leaders who seek and build peace at the local, national, regional and international levels; leaders who respect the dignity of the human person, and love and serve people even to the extent of risking their very lives; leaders who are ethical and use national resources for the wellbeing of all citizens; leaders who consider politics as a vocation for the common good and not as a means for personal enrichment; without them, peace will remain elusive in Congo and the entire region. This article will examine the peace leadership of the archbishop, the tragedy and irony of the Congo war, its cost to the Congolese population, and some recommendations and conclusion.
BISHOP MUNZIHIRWA’S LEADERSHIP
He became the Bishop of Bukavu in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide was raging. Subsequently, Rwandese as well as extremists and criminals who had blood on their hands, crossed over to the neighboring areas of Bukavu and Goma. The bishop invited Catholics and all people of good will to welcome and assist refugees against all tribal biases and prejudices. Catholic parishes and convents embraced all categories of people. For him, the dignity of the human person, disrespected by those who committed genocide, was to be treasured above ethnic polarization. The bishop and those who heeded his call were organized to defend the innocent and to protect the destruction of Congo. He asserted that they wanted peace, and protested the invasion of Rwanda, Burundi and their allies who wanted to establish their hegemony and subsequent exploitation of the mineral resources .
The tribal war that was encroaching on North and South Kivu disrupted the harmony and peaceful co-existence of tribes, including those from Rwanda and Burundi who had migrated to Congo since 1952 before the colonial invasion.
THE TRAGEDY AND IRONY OF CONGO’ CONFLICTS
Categorizing Congo’s armed wars as conflicts is a matter of linguistic limitation. What the people have and continue to experience is despicable. Some scholars have categorized it as the ‘first African war’, the worst in human history since World War II . The belligerents are numerous, with dubious reasons for their prolonged engagement with bloodshed, and the numbers of those who fight change constantly making it hard to identify the actors. There are also invisible actors who are adding fuel to the battles. For example, the ammunitions used are not made in the GLR, and the minerals that are inevitably driving the wars do not benefit the impoverished Congolese and their regional neighbours. The devastation and looting of Congo involves a racket of local, regional and international tycoons, warlords, smugglers and pillagers. Conniving with local warlords and varied actors is the “workings of global capitalism”, with each actor linked to foreign companies, tycoons and the richest multinational corporations (MNCs) , who “do not like to think of themselves as part of the problem. Some consider themselves as the solution ”. What is happening in Congo illustrates a crisis of leadership at all levels of human society, and the total destruction of the human conscience, by putting money and/or profit above human life.In 2011, prominent social scientists commissioned by the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium summarized the conflict drivers into four categories: ethnic conflict; inter-elite power struggle; conflict over land and minerals (and other natural resources); and interference from neighbouring countries. In 2001, a United Nations investigation found that Congo’s conflicts are about the control of and trade in coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt, gold and timber, while Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and their international allies are culpable for escalating tensions (United Nations, 2001b). Regardless of the driving causes: if there had been peaceful, loving, ethical and democratic leaders that cared for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of all citizens; leaders who promoted social justice, managed national resources well and allocated resources equitably; leaders who improved people’s living standards and ensured social security; the protracted and catastrophic wars would have been avoided. It is a crisis of ethics that bloody conflicts are used as the modus operandi to exploit natural resources.
CONGO’S DEVASTATION IS A SCAR ON THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY
Mineral resources, whose exploitation causes the deaths and despicable suffering of millions of Congolese people, are used in all modern electronic devices such as iPods, mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and in the aerospace, automotive, and energy generation industries, as well as in medical devices that benefit the entire human race.
The whole world benefits from Congo’s wealth. We all risk being accomplices in the fight for blood minerals. Those resources can be obtained without bloodshed, while at the same time ensuring the well-being of all those who are disenfranchised.What has Congo benefited, from all the years of mining her resources? The cost of the armed conflicts on Congo’s population cannot be quantified.
Myriad armed groups operating in Congo’s forests and beautiful mountains continue to act as formidable enemies of the people; killing them, setting their homes on fire, sexually abusing women and children as young as two months, and kidnapping and torturing many. When a mother is sexually abused, the implications affect the whole family. In North and South Kivu, the average number of children in a family is five. This means that if 5000 women are raped, the consequences trickle down to more than 25000 (5x5000) people. A child from a raped mother is stigmatized alongside the mother. There are cases where the husbands divorce their wives. How will families and communities ever recover from such trauma? Due to insecurity, many people are displaced and have migrated from rural areas where they practiced subsistence farming, to cities where they are doomed to starvation, unemployment, poverty, and misery. Others are displaced when their land is sold to multinational corporations. Youth and children are recruited or willingly join the armed groups to escape poverty and unemployment. In fact, youth below 19 years of age in the war ravaged areas have known only violence, as they were raised in a culture of war. With both artisanal and industrial mining driving and feeding the wars, the impact of environmental degradation will affect generations of Congolese. Persistent wars are traumatizing the population, with the potential to cause heart and mental diseases. The list of the atrocities committed is inexhaustible. Yet more often than not, the perpetrators go unpunished.
The atrocities gradually destroy the moral fabric of communities, traumatize and leave physical and psychological scars that might never heal. What is happening to the people of the eastern Congo is killing societies gradually. For example, how will the children who have witnessed the sexual abuses of their mothers and sisters ever recover from the terrorizing experience? What is the future of orphans who are deprived of the love of their parents at an early age; the children born out of rape, and those who have witnessed the massacres of their loved ones or even of strangers with machetes, knives or axes? Those who have lost their limbs or organs live with pain and/or scars for life. Thus, while the international criminal court could punish the perpetrators for a couple of years, it does not benefit and cannot be equated with the many losses and scars that people endure every day of their lives. Genuine acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.
The use of words like “armed conflicts” or “war” is limited in explaining what people experience. How will individuals and communities ever recover from such horrendous repercussions, of troubles that have persisted for decades? How is the Congolese state catering for millions of orphans, widows and raped women with no medication, especially in situations where they have contracted HIV/AIDS and/or other complications? How will Congo cope with the millions of unemployed youth who were recruited into armed groups and are unable to get a good education? Unemployed and impoverished youth are a time bomb for Congo, the GLR and Africa at large, as they can easily become a target for unscrupulous recruiters who advocate joining global terrorist networks and who promote religious fundamentalism. Then the international community will take drones to fight terrorism in Congo. Why not act now, and ensure their economic sustainability? How is the nation to tackle the issue of displacement and impoverishment in towns and cities where people live in misery, given that they cannot cultivate food, get good nourishment and resources to educate their children, or seek medical care?
WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD FOR CONGO?
Congo is a very rich nation with the potential to provide for the needs of all her population and avert disasters caused by the deterioration of war ravaged areas. Still needed are the leaders who will prioritize security, the reconstruction of the Congolese state, peace, and territorial integrity. Leaders who are willing to sacrifice their privileges, practice good governance, and use the national resources for bettering the living conditions of the poor majority. Peaceful leadership is crucial to ending the war, reconstructing security, and bringing the perpetrators to justice. At the regional level, it is high time for leaders in the GLR to unite and strive for the development of their respective nations, rather than enriching those who are already developed. The minerals that are being taken are not being renewed. This implies that if no action is taken, Congo risks becoming very poor indeed. While leaders in developed nations safeguard the interests of their countries and are working towards forms of regional integration, Africa’s national interests are replaced with personal interests, and unity with division. As it were, the divide and rule strategy still works.At the international level, leadership is needed to speak truth to world powers, to raise the awareness of those who are thirsting for Congo’s wealth, and that of Africa at large, to devise strategies of cooperation and collaboration as equal partners and not as mercenaries. It is time to say no to all forms of barbaric civilization that sustains the paradox of Africa being considered poor while it enriches others. What economists call the resource curse, is in fact the curse of economics and politics without ethics. The leadership, courage and determination of Bishop Munzihirwa remains an inspiration for national, regional and international leaders to collaborate, and end the destruction of Congo by putting human lives above the profit gained from the bloody exploitation of her resources.
*Namakula E. Mayanja is a Ph.D candidate in peace studies at the University of Manitoba.
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