The DRC- Finding Hope Amidst Africa’s World War
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country with quite a story. Having been through socio-political mayhem whilst remaining one of the richest natural resource bases in the world, it certainly is a region that we need to pay attention to. This is exactly what Tom Erba hopes to do. He has decided to launch a project there, using music to explore the DRC’s conflict and peace.
A Short History of the DRC
The DRC was established as a Belgian colony in 1908. The country achieved independence in 1960, but soon entered a period of turmoil when army chief Joseph Mobutu seized power and renamed the country Zaire. It gained US support when it joined the fight against Soviet-backed Angola but became a country inseparable from corruption.
In 1997, Rwanda invaded Zaire to fight the Hutu militias, whom encouraged the anti-Mobutu rebels to capture Kinshasa (the capital) and bring forth Laurent Kabila as the new president. At this point, the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One year later, the DRC faced a second insurrection backed by Rwanda and Uganda, but troops from five neighbouring countries intervened in support of Kabila’s regime. However, following the president’s assassination, his son Joseph became president and a transitional government was set up in 2003.
After that, the government signed an agreement in 2009 with the CNDP, a Tutsi rebel group. Problems with their integration into the Congolese military led to the creation of the M23 armed group (named after the March 23 agreement in 2009), causing more socio-political turmoil. The group was finally ousted from the DRC in 2013 by the government and the UN after significant human rights abuses of the Congolese people, attracting international attention from organisations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam. President Joseph Kabila has remained in power throughout all of this turmoil, though this may change at the next presidential elections in 2016.
The DRC’s People
Currently, the DRC is home to some 77M people, composed of over 200 African ethnic groups with French as the official language. Due to almost half of the population being under the age of 14, the country’s dependency ratio is an alarming 91.1%, meaning that the vast majority of the population is not in the labour force and dependent on the small minority that is. Furthermore, life expectancy is approximately 56 years and the literacy rate stands at 63.8%.
Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries socio-politically, the DRC is one of the richest resource-wise. Its land holds vast deposits of diamonds, gold, oil, copper, cobalt, uranium, coltan, manganese, tin, rubber, and many others. The river running through the country, the Congo River, is the deepest and second biggest river in the world. The country is approximately a quarter of the size of the US and owns 37km of coastline.
Going back to the population aspect of the DRC, one monumental challenge for the country is the quantity of refugees. Home to over 220,000 of them, from the Central African Republic, Rwanda and Burundi, the DRC has many refugee camps (such as the Mugunga camp). Furthermore, according to latest figures, the DRC has almost 3 million internally displaced people. When these people arrive in the refugee camps, the violence continues. Watch this short documentary by MSF to hear some of the stories of the Congolese IDPs:
It is hard to talk about Rwanda’s history and community without making mention of the gross human rights abuses. Sexual violence is abundantly used as a weapon of war by both armed groups and government security. The violence has been the worst in the East of the country, and includes acts such as the kidnapping of children, rape, looting, destruction of entire villages, and summary executions. Some of the violence is over access to natural resources, and some is ethnically motivated. This recent Amnesty International report explains the violence in more detail. In 2013, UN Peacekeeping Forces managed to disband the M23 group, but several other groups are still operating and attacking civilians.
The Aims of the Peacefire Project
It is clear that the people of the DRC have stories to tell- and they need to be heard. What we have in the DRC has been called by many, ‘Africa’s World War‘. The story of this ongoing conflict, which has taken the lives of 6 million people, needs to be shared. The hope for peace needs to be revived. The DRC needs to be reborn. These are all aims of Tom Erba’s Peacefire Project, which will be completed in the spring of 2016.
The Project will collaborate with Aloe Blacc, Rocky Dawuni and Tom Erba as well as Innocent Blaume and the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra to capture part of the story that runs deep in soils of the DRC. Once complete, the song will be performed at a concert for peace in Kinshasa alongside the Orchestra. The hope is to lift the voices of the Congolese to share their struggles and hopes with the world- watch this space.
In top photo: Girl arriving to Muganga Camp- Credit to Oxfam International