Democratic Republic of Congo: understanding the “forgotten crisis” denounced by CAN footballers

One hand in front of the mouth, the other against the temple: all the players of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) football team took the same posture during their national anthem, Wednesday February 7, in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire), during the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations

Democratic Republic of Congo: understanding the “forgotten crisis” denounced by CAN footballers

One hand in front of the mouth, the other against the temple: all the players of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) football team took the same posture during their national anthem, Wednesday February 7, in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire), during the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations. A symbolic gesture to denounce the atrocities that millions of Congolese have experienced for more than twenty-five years.

Despite the sporting defeat, the captain of the Congolese team, Chancel Mbemba, was pleased to have “passed [the] message on the field. The European Union will see it. » Other players from the Leopards team had already spoken out on the subject during the competition, such as striker Cédric Bakambu on X: “Everyone sees the massacres in eastern Congo. But everyone is silent. Use the same energy that you put into talking about the CAN to highlight what is happening with us. »

To understand the crisis that the DRC is going through, we must return to the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. From April to June 1994, approximately 800,000 people were killed in just three months. The Rwandan Patriotic Front, created by Tutsi in exile, then led an offensive and managed to take power against the genocidal government and the Rwandan armed forces. Nearly two million people, mainly Hutu, including militiamen responsible for the genocide, fled towards the neighboring country, Zaire, today's Democratic Republic of Congo, then led by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Several thousand displaced people were murdered on the way or in their camps by armed groups such as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) wishing to take power from Mobutu Sese Seko, who had ruled unchallenged for more than thirty years. This was done in 1997, with the capture of the capital Kinshasa by this coalition led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who became the new president of the country renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1998, the head of state fell out with the Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers who had helped him in his conquest of power.

In the East, the war does not stop. In search of the DRC's numerous mineral riches, Ugandan and Rwandan militiamen turned to Kabila's opponents during the Second Congo War, from 1998 to 2002. The arrival to power of Joseph Kabila after the death of his father, murdered in 2001 by one of his bodyguards, does not end the tensions. The massacres continue today.

Since November 2021, attention has been focused on the March 23 Movement (M23), which relaunched an offensive in the East after it had stopped fighting since 2013. This rebellion is, according to a report by experts from United Nations, supported by neighboring Rwanda. For Pierre Jacquemot, lecturer at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, “the Rwandans never really left the Congo. After the genocide, they benefited from a kind of international compassion. It was difficult to accuse Rwanda of wanting to create chaos in the neighboring country.”

At the beginning of February, the armed group seized the town of Shasha and cut off the traffic routes linking Goma (North Kivu) and Bukaku (South Kivu), the two largest cities in the country. The supply of food is disrupted and the consequences could be very serious for civilian populations already lacking food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations World Food Program estimate that 6.7 million people residing in North and South Kivu and Ituri are in crisis or emergency situations. food emergency.

To the geopolitical dimension of the initial conflict is added an economic explanation in view of the numerous mineral riches which interest the militias operating on Congolese territory. “All kinds of groups control mines and deposits,” Pierre Jacquemot explains to Le Monde. We can think that Rwanda has largely benefited from this traffic to ensure its economic development over the last twenty years. »

The soils of the DRC concentrate between 60 and 80% of the world's reserves of coltan, a mineral used to produce smartphones and computers. Numerous gold and cobalt mines are also scattered throughout the territory. Rival militias compete to plunder these riches and exploit what they call “the diggers”. According to the NGO Amnesty International, around 40,000 children work in these mines “in particularly dangerous conditions”.

As soon as Laurent-Désiré Kabila came to power by force in 1997, the United Nations (UN) sent experts to investigate Mbandaka, where massacres had been perpetrated causing thousands of deaths. But the mission was a failure and failed to collect evidence.

UN forces also investigated “the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed between March 1993 and June 2003 on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo.” The Mapping report published in 2010 was damning about the actions of the Rwandan authorities, but it was not followed up on. None of the people implicated in the 581 pages have been prosecuted by national or international courts.

The latest UN setback involves the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), launched in 1999 with the aim of eradicating armed groups and stopping violence in the country , and which must end at the end of 2024. More than 1.5 billion dollars have been invested each year, and thousands of peacekeepers sent, without achieving satisfactory results.

At the request of the Congolese president, who called for an "accelerated" withdrawal of the peacekeepers, whom he criticized at the UN in September for not having "succeeded in confronting rebellions and armed conflicts", MONUSCO has begun its withdrawal from the country, which is due to be completed at the end of the year. “The United Nations, through MONUSCO, have not succeeded in eradicating violence from this region. The populations criticize their forces for always arriving after the fact, for not anticipating anything and for not having an offensive mandate,” according to Pierre Jacquemot, who was ambassador to the DRC.

It is difficult to determine the number of deaths due to the succession of conflicts in the DRC. The NGO International Rescue Committee puts forward the figure of 5.4 million deaths over the period 1998-2007. Deaths which are not only linked to the massacres of the last two decades: “it is displacement, diseases such as cholera and malnutrition, which have caused the most victims”, underlines Pierre Jacquemot. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 6.9 million people have had to be internally displaced due to the multiple crises.

Women pay a heavy price in the country: according to the UN, more than 200,000 women have been raped since 1998. Tens of thousands of them were treated in Panzi hospital (in Bukavu, in the eastern DRC), led by Denis Mukwege. The obstetrician-gynecologist reminded the international community of the country's catastrophic situation during a speech in Oslo, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.