When it comes to looking away, there are always good reasons. We are living in the time of enquiry commissions ending up in a fishbowl, of lobbyists who, in the name of good causes to defend, 'consume' considerable sums of money that would have deserved better use...
“A country as vast as Western Europe and threatened with implosion... A country where the ruling class 'eats' 68% of the state budget with impunity and is unable to pay the military or teachers on a regular basis... A country with 100 million inhabitants that has been described, depending on the time and the speaker, as a 'geological scandal', the 'lung of the planet', or a 'solution country', but which is being methodically or anarchically plundered by multinationals, by voracious neighbours, by adventurers of all kinds, and by its own elected politicians who are now standing for election again...” It is the cry of the Belgian journalist, Colette Braeckman, published by Le Soir on 9 January 2023 under the title Ah oui, le Congo, presque oublié…
“When it comes to looking away, there are always good reasons. We are living in the time of enquiry commissions ending up in a fishbowl, of lobbyists who, in the name of good causes to defend, 'consume' considerable sums of money that would have deserved better use...”, she added.
"At a time when other peoples are preparing to enter the third millennium with creativity, solidarity, fraternity fighting for human dignity, negative forces, both local and foreign, are plunging us into nameless misery - wrote already twenty years ago Sikuli Melchisedech of Butembo-Beni-. Our development initiatives are paralysed; our resources are sold off and plundered; insecurity is widespread; commercial life is destabilised; terrorism, violence, hatred and criminality are fostered; lawlessness and arbitrariness have reached an intolerable level; entire villages are destroyed and innocent people massacred; girls and women are raped with impunity; entire peoples are driven from their lands and become refugees on their own soil."
At Butembo even now daily life is deprived of joy and freedom, and trampled by oppression. “Foreign powers, with the collaboration of our Congolese brothers, organise wars with the resources of our country. These resources, which should be used for our development, for the education of our children, to heal our sick, so that we can live in a more human way, are used to kill us" had even before denounced his predecessor Monsignor Kataliko. And this is still our reality.
Our people are chained, flogged, tortured. They are despised, deprived of the elementary rights to live, to work, to know, to think, to express themselves, to love. Women and girls are raped; the survivors wander around Goma, mourn their victims in Maboya, and flee from Eringeti. Dark brings nights of terror imposed on us by national and foreigner soldiers. Days are dragged by occupation-induced poverty. Hospitals are without medicine. People put aside, silenced, behind a mask of freedom that its authorities display at the UN: a democracy imposed by arms, a justice defined in the Rwandan or Ugandan interest!
“In another age, we would protest against the rape of women, we would reject the fate of children in the mines, we would boycott the minerals whose savage exploitation poisons fields and rivers, we would refuse visas to corrupt politicians, we would close the passage to diplomatic bags full of greenbacks.” If we had the courage and awareness of reality we would 'campaign for the Congo', we would take 'to the streets to denounce the brutality' of looting, 'for an end to wars and predation of all kinds’. “But there is Ukraine, there is the price of gas and oil, inflation, the climate, the big trials...” concludes Colette Braeckman.
We would like to applaud these words if it were not that she does not mention the Congolese, the people living in Butembo. While there are words that have been resounding in our hearts for months and challenging us: "I am not afraid of the cries of the violent, but of the silence of the just" (Luther King), and "What are you doing with your brother? What are you doing for your brother?” (Pope Francis). And we became aware.
Butembo needs denunciation but also something else, a non-violent moral and social revolution. And we took our decision. "This is what we are called to today, and this is what we want to start together today".
It was the invitation that resounded at the meeting on 19 January 2023, with the participation of 55 representatives from 14 churches, from a dozen movements of Christian inspiration and traditional religions, and from civil society organisations that had presented themselves spontaneously. The only one missing was the Muslim representative, whose invitation had been lost along the way. All the living forces of Butembo were present, willing to give an answer to the political and military insecurity that suffocates economic and social life and drags it into a spiral of violence.
Pope Francis' visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo brought the suffering of Congolese people back to the front page of newspapers and the media. But compassion only serves to hide ignorance and hypocrisy about the causes of a tragedy, essentially political causes that have been fomented for 30 years by Rwanda's president Kagame (and his Ugandan counterpart), by his former cabinet general, also a Tutsi, described as killer minded.
Behind these policies, the International Crisis Group (ICC) in its latest paper, A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes, reveals, albeit in diplomatic language, the great cause of instability in eastern Congo: Rwanda's and Uganda's greed for the enormous resources of rare earths with which they make themselves allies of Western and non-Western interests. "Because of its mineral wealth, the DR of Congo […], plays a strategic role in the international economic chessboard. In addition to diamonds and gold (ranked fourth and sixteenth respectively in terms of production), Congo is strategic for cobalt, copper and coltan (columbo-tantalite), three minerals that underpin the energy and technological transition. Cobalt for battery production, copper for the production of electrical equipment, coltan for electronic components” (Francesco Gesualdi in Avvenire, 28 gennaio 2023).
In order not to lose this market, Western countries turn their eyes the other way, as Colette Baechman accuses, and they do it stupidly. Kagame will one day, and perhaps sooner than expected, disappear, but not Congo's mineral resources. With what courage and under what conditions will the Congolese be asked to re-establish the much-needed rare earths market?
The International Crisis Group points out a few important things. The US, “on 5 January asked Rwanda to withdraw its troops from Congolese territory”, but to no avail. Even if it did not come to “open war, the situation is dire and requires urgent international attention. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced amid the latest combat. The fighting is also deepening communal tensions, with Congo’s Rwandophone population bearing the brunt of popular anger”. And finally, “the M23 conflict has pulled resources away from efforts to contain the murderous Allied Defence Forces jihadists in Ituri and North Kivu provinces and an upsurge in violence between ethnic militias around the city of Bunia in Ituri.”
One reflection is particularly important: the democratic explosion in Rwanda - and Burundi for that matter - and the poverty of the underground as strong as its agricultural wealth, are two problems for Kagame's ambitions. His regime can only live by foraging international powers with the rare earths it steals from Congo. Its population - 13 million inhabitants in a country of 26,338 km², it would be 120 million in United Kingdom - with exponential growth (0-14 years old: 40.98 %, 15-64 years old: 56.53 % of the population) is a time bomb for the regime.
I lived eight years in Burundi and know Rwanda quite well. Travelling from Butembo to Goma and along the border areas, contemplating the rich agricultural areas quite sparsely populated but at the heart of the conflicts, it is impossible not to agree with the specialists from RFI and the Congo National Conference of Bishops: balkanisation is on the horizon. However, the response to Rwanda's bursting demography will not lead to a peaceful outlet in the neighbouring country. Under the impulse of the aggressive, violent policy worthy of the killer minded Kagame it will lead, according to his former chief of staff now a refugee in the United States, to an even more impetuous river of blood than that Kagame fostered in 1994 'thanks' to the countless provocations of his invading army. So much for the pundits. It will still be the poor who will suffer. But in the long run Western countries will complain about what will happen, as now with the war in Ukraine, not for humanitarian reasons but for their economic impropriety. The Rwandans are just waiting to get rid of Kagame, and the Congolese to regain possession of their natural resources that the countries supporting Kagame are so fond of and need.
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