What Are the Benefits of the U.S.-Europe Divide?
|August 16, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
War in Africa — Why? And Why No Coverage from the Mainstream Media?
The Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
If you have ever wondered whether the mainstream media can muffle and boycott a news story to the extent that most North Americans are not even aware of it, well, here is a good test case. A big, bloody war, and schemes for the control of natural resources, and — significantly — a news blackout.
We don’t go for “conspiracy” theories, but there is obviously a tacit, unspoken agreement among the mainstream media to play down the Democratic Republic of Congo war.
Today we bring you this essay about the strife in central Africa, an essay made available by our friends at http://www.yellowtimes.org
by Paul Harris
I have been covering a conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the News From The Front section (NFTF.org) at YellowTimes. While I have tried to keep a close watch on the faltering steps toward peace in that country, it is necessary to cast a wider view to understand the causes of the civil war and how it eventually involved eight countries and cost in excess of three million lives. It is even more important to wonder how this could have become one of the most deadly conflicts since World War II while most of us have never heard of it.
DRC is the current incarnation of a nation that has been known to history as Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo/Leopoldville, Congo/Kinshasa, and Zaire. It is still known in some circles as Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from its neighbor, Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville. This nation of approximately 55 million is in central Africa and surrounded by Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. There are over 200 African ethnic groups in DRC but about 45 percent of the population is made up of three groups who are Bantu and a fourth group that is Hamitic.
If you think back to your youth, when you might have heard the phrase “Darkest Africa,” well, this was it.
DRC is said to be the most mineral-rich territory on earth. It has about 60 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt and about 20 percent of its copper (it is the largest supplier of high-grade copper), along with lots of gold, one third of the world’s volume of diamonds, lots of cadmium, uranium, manganese, tin, and zinc. It also has large stocks of timber, oil, coffee and one other product that is of paramount importance: coltan. This variant of tantalum is used to make cell phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and capacitors which maintain the electrical charge in computer chips. It should be obvious why coltan is so highly prized.
Despite all this wealth, DRC is essentially an impoverished nation. Many of the fatalities during the civil war were the result of starvation rather than gunfire; its farmers are fighting a no-win battle against foreign crops being dumped into their markets at less than the cost of local production; much of its mineral wealth has been ravaged by foreign countries during the civil war and mismanaged before the war because of ineffective or corrupt leaders who followed the directives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But DRC is not unique; most of the sub-Saharan African nations have the same experience, a similar history, and largely the same outcome. The resources vary from place to place but the desire of outside forces to take those resources has been never-ending.
Many of the countries in this area achieved independence from colonial masters in the 1950s and 1960s and quickly degenerated into fighting within and without their borders, much of it spurred by the “financial colonialists” who stepped into the gap left by the old monarchies. The history of these nations since the fifteenth century has been one of European colonialism, resistance, independence, followed by neocolonialism, and prolonged resistance yet again.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a history of tribalism and, to be sure, some of it has been violent. But that violence saw a marked increase with the arrival of the white man. European colonialists insinuated themselves onto the landscape and began the systematic chore of extracting all the value the continent had to offer. For the most part, they simply enslaved the local inhabitants and forced them to produce the goods which they then shipped off home; of course, sometimes they also shipped the slaves home. The colonialists had no regard for the historical relationships between tribes and either tried to throw unfriendly people together or incited additional violence between them. Occasionally, the tribesmen rose up and exacted revenge on the Europeans, but the payback was usually horrific.
As various European countries vied for pieces of the African pie, arbitrary borders were drawn on maps to create territories belonging to one colonial ruler or another. These borders were rarely based on any logical ethnographic divisions and were, in fact, more often the result of a settlement of some dispute in Europe. As one by the one the European powers began to relinquish their colonies, the borders became more fixed; today we find most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa comprised of various peoples with a long history of animosity. To further add to the endemic ill fortune, most of the newly independent countries started badly with the strongest adversaries of the former colonies becoming head of state. Usually, these were strongmen with some military skill but no management ability and even less ethics; pockets were lined; treasuries were robbed; and the resources of the countries were often traded for a song to some foreign corporation.
Today, central Africa continues to be victimized by bad planning on their own part, interference from other African countries, exploitation by large multinational corporations, and a lack of interest from the rest of the world.
To deal with the last point first, this is a region that is difficult for news media to cover. Much of the landscape is jungle or forest or swamp; there are few roads and only elementary communications systems; the conflicts have been so many and varied that it is very difficult to keep them all straight; alliances are quickly made and broken. But probably most important is that this part of the world is no longer on the radar of the United States. During the Cold War, they were critically interested as it was a fertile ground for U.S.-Soviet competition. Using DRC as but one example, Washington poured billions of dollars into the pockets of dictator Mobuto Sese Seko in order to fight off Soviet influence. The same scenario played out in many other countries.
Of course, the corporations of the world have not missed a splendid opportunity. Much of the land stretching across the equatorial areas from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean is rich in a vast number of resources. Unfortunately, very few of those corporations could be considered good corporate citizens. The Africans are desperate for anything they can obtain so they are willing to allow themselves to work as neo-slaves, to allow those corporations to extract vast sums at precious little cost to the corporations; weak or unethical leaders of various African countries have lined their pockets with the largesse of these corporations; and many of us in the “civilized” world have not hesitated to accept the products of African blood.
There is a growing movement in the West to shun so-called “blood diamonds” as a token gesture toward the suffering of diamond miners in central Africa, but this may actually be a carefully orchestrated advertising campaign by South Africa’s large diamond conglomerates to stifle outside competition. Most of us don’t ask from where our cell phones come, or the chips for our Nintendos, or the chocolate and coffee and so on. They come from what amounts to slave labor, carried on in often brutal conditions.
It is too facile to say that these corporations are merely taking advantage of the permission of African countries to do business there, that their mere presence helps to bolster the economies of those countries, that they create labor. These corporations are merely the new colonial masters and the lives of the Africans are quite disposable.
Africa is once again on the verge of massive starvation from drought and crop failure; the situation in many countries is very volatile with violence being just a blink away; DRC is said to be on the road to another genocidal nightmare like Rwanda; most of them have military or quasi-military rulers just itching to pick a fight with someone; AIDS is rampant and seemingly unstoppable.
It is not too late for the wider world to help, but first we are going to have to pay attention. I hope you will forgive me for wondering how much more attention we would give if these people were not black.
Paul Harris is self-employed as a consultant providing Canadian businesses with the tools and expertise to successfully reintegrate their sick or injured employees into the workplace.
Why are the mainstream media so afraid of covering this central African conflict, compared to their great zeal to discuss other areas of violence? Tell your views to The Progress Report!