Nearly 8 Million Face Starvation in Congo as Kabila Clings to Power
Maurice Carney says Congo’s crisis can be traced to its mineral wealth, long exploited by the west, and the country’s elites who refuse to let go of their power
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. Human rights organizations are warning almost eight million people are facing acute hunger due to rising violence and displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The new figure represents a 30% increase over the last year with more than one in ten people living in rural areas suffering from acute hunger. In the Kasaï region of the DRC, some 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes over the past year. In June, the Catholic church reported that Congolese security forces and the militia fighting them had killed at least 3,383 people in that region alone since October. Reuters spoke to several people directly impacted by the violence.
Speaker: My plants are growing well. Soon, I will be able to harvest spinach, okra and eggplant to eat. I will also be able to sell a part of the harvest. I will then be able to buy salted fish or meat, as well as soap and clothes.
Speaker: We have limited resources, we only have enough to support 5,000 families. Now, in and around the town there are 70,000 people in need. That’s 12,000 families. So we have a gap of not being able to provide agricultural support to 7,000 families.
Speaker: My six children were burnt alive in my house. My husband fled but I do not know if he is dead or alive. I received some traditional treatment for my injuries in Kamonia.
Jaisal Noor: Congo has some of the largest mineral reserves in the world, which has been both a blessing and a curse, because it’s been made a target of foreign powers for hundreds of years. Now, joining us to discuss this and more is Maurice Carney. He’s Executive Director and Co-founder of Friends of the Congo. He’s fought alongside Congolese human rights activists for nearly two decades in their pursuit of peace and justice in the Congo. Thanks so much, Maurice.
We know that violence has escalated in Congo since president Joseph Kabila has refused to step down after his mandate ended in December. Many fear growing fighting could spark a repeat of the tragic and enormous conflicts seen between 1996 and 2003, mostly in the east of Congo. Millions died, many from hunger. Give us the latest on the ground.
Maurice Carney: The latest, you tapped into it, that there is widespread instability throughout the country. The central source of that instability is a weak political situation. A situation whereby Joseph Kabila, whose term expired in December of 2016, is trying to hold onto power by any means necessarily. As a result of his trying to hold onto power, that has fueled a lot of conflict, instability throughout the country. That’s really the source of the instability, the major source of the instability right now is the tenuous political situation, which has come about as a result of Kabila trying to hold onto power against the will of the people.
Jaisal Noor: Congo is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, if you look at the mineral resources that it’s extracting and its reserves, yet the country faces some 40% inflation. As we’ve mentioned, millions of people are food insecure. Are the policies of the Kabila government responsible for this?
Maurice Carney: Yes, in large part, the policies are responsible for the dire situation that we see. It’s important for your viewing audience to understand that we have a country, as you said, that on the one hand has tremendous wealth. Some estimates have it up to $24 trillion in natural wealth in the country. On the other hand, you have the dire statistics, some of which you’ve laid out, over the years the United Nations have what they call the Human Development Index, where Congo has come in near the bottom. Either at the bottom or near the bottom over the last two years.
However, what you have is a country that’s being pilfered, is being plundered, both by its elites led by Joseph Kabila, and also by the international community. The current head of United Nations, António Guterres, in 2008, he gave a wide-ranging interview to the Financial Times, where he stated that, “We must not forget that the international community has systematically looted the Congo.”
The Congo exists and its current leadership exists in a global system that has plundered the country for the last 125 years, at least. 125 years or so, at least since the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Joseph Kabila is really the next puppet, I guess you can say, in line, that has come into a system that’s been in existence for decades, over 100 years now. He could not have arrived in power without the backing of the United States and Western nations, who are really the end source of the pilfering of the country.
Now, Kabila … the way he’s carrying out this plunder is by, at least of late anyways, by overstaying his constitutional mandate, which expired in December of 2016. In order to maintain himself in power, he had to install a security apparatus throughout the country and place the bulk of his government energies on that security apparatus. By virtue of his doing that, he’s left other sectors of the society to basically descend into disarray. Whether we’re talking about the health sector, whether we’re talking about questions of food security. Whether we’re talking about questions of education.
His misrule has only exacerbated an already existing system that’s built on plunder, that’s built on the stealing of Congo’s wealth, that’s built on the suppression of the people, that’s built on the maintaining the country in a state of dependency, and that’s built on maintaining the country in a state of impoverishment. It’s both the local elites and a global capitalist system, a global imperialist system that has resulted in what we see today in the Congo.
Jaisal Noor: Speaking of that topic of mineral wealth, Congo has a massive supply of the world’s cobalt, which is used in cellphones, in green technology, in electric cars. Talk about the latest news regarding that. We know some 100,000 Congolese work in these mines. Some 40,000 of them are children. There’s been news recently with Apple and other corporations saying they’re cracking down on abusive labor practices. Give us the story there.
Maurice Carney: Cobalt, it’s vital to the functioning of our devices. The interesting paradox is, as we invent green technology here in the West, we become more dependent on the cobalt coming out of the Congo. Particularly in the electric car sector, where you have car makers like Tesla, Volkswagen will be bringing cars online, the electric cars, Prius. We have a number of major auto companies that extensively will be reliant on the cobalt coming out of the Congo. I know Tesla said they can function without cobalt coming out of the Congo, but that’s highly improbable. Congo is the central source of cobalt for the global economy. However, as I’ve shared with you, within the context of plunder and pillage, the Congolese, particularly the youth, or the children who are in the mines are the ones who are going to be suffering from the need that we have in the West.
Some advocates are saying, “Well, what we need is to have a clean supply line, make sure that children are not in the mines and that the cobalt can be extracted without any human suffering.” However, within the current system that we have, where the Congolese people do not have resource sovereignty, do not have control over their resources, and have a leadership that was imposed on them by the West, we’re going to have a situation where they’ll continue to be exploited, where they won’t be the primary beneficiaries, and where you’ll need a strong leader that’s backed by the West to keep the people down as they try to resist the exploitation, as they try to resist the oppression.
The way out, Jaisal, so that we don’t hop from one mineral to the next, where yesterday we talked about coltan, today we talk about cobalt, is for the Congolese people to assert control over the country. That’s really the big battle that’s unfolding right now, where Congolese youth are at the forefront of resisting Western-backed and imposed leadership over them, whereby they can ultimately take control of their society and assume ownership over the tremendous wealth that they have and extricate themselves from the situation of dependency and impoverishment, where that wealth can be utilized to benefit them, where they can have strong systems of education, healthcare, energy, you name it.
That’s really the battle that’s unfolding, that we see in the Congo right now, where Congolese youth are trying to create a new society. The current government that’s in place arbitrarily arresting them across the board, but yet they’re fighting to bring about change. They’re reaching out to us, in the global community, for solidarity, especially seeing that we’re beneficiaries of those resources that come out of the Congo, whether it’s the coltan to fuel our cellphones, so we can tweet and lead social justice movements here, or the cobalt that’s vital for the functioning of our cellphones and keeping them charged. There is a perfect nexus, or an ideal nexus there for social justice movements throughout the globe, particularly in the West, to be in solidarity of Congolese youth, who are trying to bring about change in their country.
Jaisal Noor: All right, Maurice Carney, thank you so much for joining us. Executive Director and Co-founder of Friends of the Congo. We will certainly keep following all these developments and these stories from the Congo. We know it does not get the attention it deserves. Thank you so much for joining us.
Maurice Carney: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.