The DRC has been plagued by a disastrous civil war for nearly five years. It has been a bloody, brutal conflict that has cost more lives in such a short period than any other on the globe in recent history. The weapons of mass destruction employed have been mutilations, rape, and starvation. Terrorists in military uniforms from various lands have carried out strikes daily on innocent civilians, murdering, torturing, plundering and destroying. Children, some as young as seven, are given a mix of Kalashnikovs, machetes and drugs to make them effective killers for rival armies. Yet somehow, unlike regions in Western and Central Asia with key oil reserves or Eastern European atrocities of ethnic cleansings that threaten region stability, the DRC's War and the snuffing out of 2.5 million citizens of the global community has gone remarkably unreported over the years. In the US, neither Democratic nor Republican administrations seem to have given it much attention. The news media has only become interested when sensationalist stories of ritualistic cannibalism appear that help the notions of "Darkest Africa" to flourish. And with everyone's focus on taking stances for or against Operation Iraqi Liberation (catch the acronym), the horrors in the DR Congo have gone unnoticed. Either the world has turned a blind eye to the region, or its victims have merely been emitting silent screams.

Millions Already Gone: Who Hears Cries for The Congo?

By Morpheus Reloaded (May 25th, 2003)

More atrocities - maiming,killing, rape - plague the Northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These victims were hacked with machetes.

This week's news from the Democratic Republic of Congo was much as it has been for the past five years. Once again, evidence of atrocities in the vast African state was reported. This time the culprits were rival ethnic militias and fragmented rebel factions in the northeastern region. Aid workers found over 200 bodies on the streets of Bunia. Many of them were women and children, some decapitated, a few with their hearts, livers and lungs ripped out.

If those figures and acts shock you, be sure to add the recent dead to the 1,000 people in nearby Drodro and surrounding villages who in early April were raped, maimed and hacked to death. Don't forget to take into account the near 50,000 who suffered a similar fate in the past few years. And to get the full effect and staggering horror of it all, throw these few thousand bodies in with the 2.5 million men, women and children that have died from the violence in the DRC since 1998.

And you thought your block was hot huh?

The DRC has been plagued by a disastrous civil war for nearly five years. It has been a bloody, brutal conflict that has cost more lives in such a short period than any other on the globe in recent history. The weapons of mass destruction employed have been mutilations, rape, and starvation. Terrorists in military uniforms from various lands have carried out strikes daily on innocent civilians, murdering, torturing, plundering and destroying. Children, some as young as seven, are given a mix of Kalashnikovs, machetes and drugs to make them effective killers for rival armies.

Within the many factions that have fought in the DRC, child soldiers proliferate. Many are kept in a drug-induced state to help them carry out their brutal acts.

Yet somehow, unlike regions in Western and Central Asia with key oil reserves or Eastern European atrocities of ethnic cleansings that threaten region stability, the DRC's War and the snuffing out of 2.5 million citizens of the global community has gone remarkably unreported over the years. In the US, neither Democratic nor Republican administrations seem to have given it much attention. The news media has only become interested when sensationalist stories of ritualistic cannibalism appear that help the notions of "Darkest Africa" to flourish. And with everyone's focus on taking stances for or against Operation Iraqi Liberation (catch the acronym), the horrors in the DR Congo have gone unnoticed. Either the world has turned a blind eye to the region, or its victims have merely been emitting silent screams.

The more remote roots of this conflict can probably be traced back to the arrival of Europeans in the region, and the resulting slave trade that not only sent millions of black bodies to the New World, but also caused mayhem, displaced peoples and destroyed cultures. Or maybe we can begin with the DRC's time as a colony, when the Belgian leader Leopold II's brutality caused the death of millions and exacerbated ethnic hatreds. Or perhaps the DR Congo's seeds can be seen in the US sanctioned, Belgian-planned, and Western-led overthrow/assassination of the country's democratic leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, one of many Cold War casualties for Africa. Yet the more modern trail properly begins with the downfall of the US backed and Western-propped up dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

Patrice Lumumba, First and only Democratic Leader of the modern state of Congo (Zaire) 1960, overthrown by Mobutu Sese Seko and Joseph Kasavubu 1960, assassinated in 1961, with Western backing.

It was supposed to be a people's revolution. The ousting of the strongman Mobutu, who had been involved in the plot that killed Lumumba and had for so long plundered and tormented his own people at the behest of Western backers, was to signal a Renaissance. His palace was ransacked. The rebels were celebrated. The name Zaire was even changed back to Congo, the Democratic Republic. But things didn't work out as planned.

Laurent Kabila took control of the vast nation with many promises of freedom and prosperity. Yet during his brief reign he outlawed opposition groups and shut down the press, making a host of enemies. He failed to implement meaningful reform to the shattered country's infrastructure and did nothing to remove some 40 million Congolese from abject poverty, in a nation literally teeming with resources. Worse yet, his blocking of UN probes into reported massacres during his rebellion against Mobutu made him an international pariah. But Kabila's greatest problem, and the beginning of his country's nightmare, turned out to be the friends he kept.

The Late President Kabila

Kabila's toppling of Mobutu was not a singular act or even that of just the people, but came with the backing of nearby Rwanda. The Rwandan army remained in Congo with the claim that they were there to train the newly liberated nation's defense forces. But when asked to leave, the Rwandans not only refused but helped spark rebellion among a faction of the DRC's army. Worse still, the Rwandans brought their own Hutu-Tutsi nightmare with them (the horror the world watched unfold in 1994 that claimed close to one million lives), citing the need to seek out threats to its own security (namely Hutu militias that operated in DR Congo's lawless frontier). Laurent Kabila soon found himself looking at not only a revolt by a section of his army, but much of the eastern part of his country that was ethnically aligned to Rwanda, all of which could result in a Hutu-Tutsi orgy of genocidal violence.


40,000 Rwandan troops entered the DRC between 1997 and 2002, claiming to seek out Hutu militias wanted for genocide. Though they helped overthrow the Mobutu government, they later refused to leave and helped generate inner-Congolese rebellion against their former ally Kabila.

It didn't take long before other vultures came looking for a feast in the weak, resource-rich nation. Uganda, claiming worries over security, sent troops into the DRC to support Rwanda's war against the latter nation's former ally. Angola, another of Kabila's one-time allies, soon joined the fray on his side-against both Rwanda and Uganda. Namibia and Zimbabwe in turn allied themselves with Angola and Kabila, sending troops into the melee.

Though itself in the midst of a bloody civil war, Angola managed to send troops to aid Kabila in the DRC War against Rwanda, Uganda and numerous rebel groups.

This all resulted in what until then was unheard of in modern Africa, a regional conflict with all the markings of a continental war - threatening to possibly draw even more combatants into the fray from as far off as South Africa and Libya. Cease-fires and treaties were signed, eventually ignored and fighting repeatedly resumed. And though these various nations issued rhetoric about claims of issues of security, many of their troops hoisted off key resources back to their respective mother countries. A UN panel noted that the foreign states all deliberately prolonged the conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, a mineral used in the making of mobile phones, from the Congo, thus highlighting a key shameful reason for the disastrous and costly war: greed.

President Robert Mugabe, though facing numerous crises on the home front including food-shortages, managed to fund and send some 11,000 troops to take part in the DRC War.Laurent Kabila wouldn't survive the mayhem that had erupted around him however, dying from gunshot wounds inflicted by a bodyguard in January of 2001. His son Joseph Kabila, 30 years old and a political novice, would take the reins of power. To the surprise of everyone the younger Kabila embarked on an ambitious plan, declaring that he wanted to end the devastating war. It would take two more years of fighting and the sacrifice of many more lives, yet by December of 2002 a peace deal was signed and foreign troops began to withdraw finally from the Congo. But half a decade of war, 2.5 million deaths, and the ruin of a nation aren't healed overnight.

Joseph Kabila (center) succeeded his father after the assassination and pushed for an end to war.The DRC's largest rebel groups during the war were the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), all attempting to remove the Kabilas from power, and fighting against Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The RCD received backing from Rwanda while Uganda supported the MLC. Under the 2002 peace accord both groups were granted one vice president in a new coalition government, along with the other political opposition and supporters of President Joseph Kabila. However the peace has been tested by the fact that the RCD and MLC aren't always cohesive units. Within and without the rebel movements there are many smaller factions and sub-groups, usually with ethnic ties, whose political stances and allegiances can shift by the moment.

The driving force for many of these factions was war itself. What armed and kept them knitted together were often the larger more cohesive Ugandan and Rwandan militaries. With these groups gone, and the greater war seemingly over, various factions have begun scrambling for control, leaving endless combatants (many of them children or young men) with no occupation, direction or distinct motive, other than the killing, raping and destructive methods the years of bloody fighting has taught them. The latest atrocities are between these very groups in the town of Bunia in the northeast. The conflict erupted after Uganda withdrew several thousand soldiers from the region earlier this month, leaving a meager 750 lightly armed UN troops to police and guarantee the sanctity of the peace accord.

Outnumbered and in the midst of rival factions, the small UN force struggles to maintain peace. Hundreds of refugees have fled to their compound for safe-haven from armed ethnic militias.Pitted against the UN forces are a staggering 28,000 ethnic fighters, armed and hostile to both the peace accord and the DR Congo's government. And while the small UN force has been blamed for not doing more to stop the violence, one must not only take into account the level at which they are outnumbered but the general mayhem and confusion half a decade of war has brought to the region. For UN officials like Secretary-General Kofi Annan, making desperate pleas for more troops for the DRC, it is hard to convince foreign governments to commit forces to a conflict mired in confusion, filled with groups that alternate allegiances and a chaotic battlefield where one is unable to gauge friend from foe.

The main players in the recent bloody conflicts in the northeast are all the legacy of Ugandan and Rwandan wartime strategy, as dangerous as any initiated by former European colonizers. The ethnic Lendu militias, cited as the perpetrators of the recent violence, once enjoyed the patronage of Uganda who has played a decisive role in shaping the political landscape of the DRC's Ituri Province since they occupied it in 1998, frequently switching allegiances between rival ethnic groups.

Lendu militias, armed and in large numbers, oppose UN intervention and the DRC government and have been wreaking violent havoc upon rival ethnic groups. At one time the Ugandans were allied with the ethnic Hema, until allegations surfaced that the government of Rwanda (a Ugandan ally in the DRC, turned foe) had persuaded the Hema to turn against their former patrons - the Ugandans. Thus the Ugandan government began to woo the Lendu. Yet these same Lendu, in their bloody assaults these past few weeks, have also been said to be attacking the withdrawing Ugandan troops - their former patrons. All of this is further complicated by the proliferation of sub-ethnic factions with agendas that range from greed to murderous vengeance.


In essence the northeastern problems of DR Congo are greatly the machinations of both Uganda and Rwanda. Both foreign nations entered the region for their own reasons, plundered resources and exploited historical ethnic animosities that have now pitted rival groups against each other, thus breaking what had at least been years of tolerance. Much like the US in Iraq, international law required both Uganda and Rwanda to ensure the regions under their occupation were pacified, protected and that law was reestablished. Instead however, both nations sowed seeds of instability and are now pulling out to return home, leaving chaos in their wake.

The pullout of Ugandan and Rwandan troops has left power struggles and chaos in northeastern DRC. These are some of the leftover bits of mayhem from the Congo's five-year civil war. Expect others to surface in different parts of the fragmented and war-torn state. Expect that the murderous actions of a few will result in the displacement and death of many. Expect to hear of refugees and more atrocities in the back portions of newspapers for some time to come, as this giant of a nation attempts to heal wounds of the past. Worst still, fear that war could spread to engulf more provinces and continue adding to the 2.5 million that have already been killed.

And while you're doing so, wonder where were the past two US administrations (those men and women so wonderfully committed to bringing peace and freedom to the far corners of the world, from Yugoslavia to Iraq) when the lives of millions were at stake or being extinguished. Wonder where were the embedded reporters to film graphic scenes of Ugandan soldiers engaging in gang rapes, or holding down naked Congolese women to slice off breasts and sex organs. Wonder where was the UN Security Council, sitting for hours in deliberation over resolutions about what had to be done to end the bloody conflict and protect innocent civilians in the DR Congo. Wonder where were the US diplomats and envoys sent flying on a global tour to shore up support for a "Coalition of the Willing" to push foreign powers out of the central African country. Wonder where were all the peace marchers, and actors/actresses to take to the streets and demand NO WAR in Congo. Wonder where all of us, the entire world, were while this destruction was taking place and why we said or knew nothing.

Then wonder, what happens now?

Will one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history continue to go unnoticed, unreported and unattended? Will those on the Right who claim to support war to bring freedom shift their focus to the less-oil rich regions of the world? Will we hear impassioned pleas from our leaders about ending the suffering of the Congolese people? Will those on the Left who wish to see peace strive for it in this vast central African state? Will protesters be in the streets marching and demanding an end to war and its remaining vestiges in the Ituri provinces of northeastern DRC? Will artists speak out, actors and actresses make their voices heard and Hip Hop promoters call for Emcees to speak out on the 2.5 million lives lost - and counting?

I suppose time and the rising body count will tell.

Farmer Basil Uzelo of northeastern DRC survived the recent violence in his region, even though his attackers slit his throat from end to end with a machete. Somehow he struggled and managed to ask a request of the reporters interviewing him. "If you can," he begged, "tell the world to send troops… bring peace, by force." Uzelo is not the first to make such a plea. Like the 2.5 million and counting victims before him, he'll just to have to wait and see if any of us are listening.

Originally appeared in Playahata.com.