The Delicious Mineral Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The original Heart of Darkness and long viewed as an ungovernable state, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be plagued by its usual mix of chaos.  Most recently the UN’s promise of 3,000 soldiers and a number of aircraft have gone unfulfilled.   Unfortunately when something like this happens it puts the Congolese army in a vulnerable position.  Lack of food and supplies, a continued battle with the exiled Rwandan and Ugandan rebels, and the endless fight over mineral wealth has created the perfect storm of African conflict.


So what is it about the DR Congo and the rest of Central Africa that make it such a hotbed for violence and corruption?  Any trip to Africa and you will be well aware that it is not your usual scene.  As you get closer and closer to the center of the continent you’ll realize that you begin to see less and less foreign faces, and by the time you reach the DR Congo you will very likely be on your own.  The towns themselves look normal enough aside from the ominous addition of armored vehicles, UN aircraft, and Kalashnikovs worn like accessories on shoulders.  All this is toped off with the eerie sense that society is teetering on the brink of collapse at any moment. 

Their problems, like many places in Africa, can be traced back to when they gained their independence and were magically transformed into a “sovereign area that Belgium used to control”.  The leaders of this part of the world maintain their position by doing the bare minimum of governmental duties in order to secure their stake to whatever fortune might be worth taking.  The sparsely populated country side has little to do with the larger politics of the country; at least until a rebel group passes through and destroys what little they already have. 

Now we have a situation where the post-genocide Rwandan rebels are flooding into the country, the Lords Resistance Army out of Uganda are doing the same (both in response to the government actions of their respective countries), and a slew of different groups continue to fight for mineral wealth in a country that is for the most part lawless.  As these soldiers move across the country they rape, pillage, and kill off the wildlife from the areas that they pass through.

So what now?  We’ve seen it time and again, aid to Africa squandered on bureaucracy and poorly planned projects.  We’ve seen food donations put farmers out of business and aid workers inflate the prices in local economies.  Instead of throwing money at the continent maybe a little military support might do the trick.  In the case of the DR Congo, a little would go a long way to secure the country and make way for progress.  And hey, “progress” might mean access to all that tasty mineral wealth (Mmmm, mineral wealth).

It’s my opinion that the more you learn about Africa the more hopeless things seem.  Would increasing our military aid to the DR Congo give the Congolese army a chance to gain stability in a destabilized region or would we just be funding one corrupt side in a very corrupt situation where the rich get richer and the poor get killed in the crossfire?

November 5, 2009