Congo's tragedy began in Rwanda, its neighbor to the east, a country with a strong military and an authoritarian government. In 1994, Hutu militias began attacking members of the Tutsi ethnic group, killing about 800,000 people in only 100 days. This genocide is Central Africa's original catastrophe.
A Tutsi army under current Rwandan President Paul Kagame drove the Hutu killers to the west and into the Congo jungles. With support from Uganda, the Rwandan army pursued the militias into Congo. The official justification for the incursion into Congolese territory was to protect Tutsi living in Congo.
But once they were in Congo, Rwandan troops joined forces with Congolese rebels and advanced to Kinshasa, where they overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Laurent Désiré Kabila, the father of the current president, was named president in his place.
But this didn’t lead to peace, as the fighting continued between militias and government troops in eastern Congo. It was the beginning of a grueling civil war that has no winners, fueled by ethnic hatred and, most of all, by deadly greed. Eastern Congo is rich in minerals like coltan, which is used in mobile phones.
In fact, most of the world’s coltan reserves are in eastern Congo. Militias forced villagers to work in the mines, where they scratch the coltan out of the earth with picks and shovels. The ore is then shipped to China and South Korea via Uganda and Rwanda.
It is hard to recognize any political objectives among the parties to the conflict, which in fact revolves around control of the mines — a ticket to wealth. War has become part of everyday life, with the local population paying the price. Five years ago, aid organizations estimated the death toll at about 1,000 a day. >continue<