Since 1998, over six million Congolese have lost their lives in a war fuelled by economic and corporate greed. That is the largest reported loss of life since the Second World War, yet this remains an spoken issue. As part of the Congo Week, Studio/K held a documentary screening and panel discussion about the hidden history of Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday evening. The event was organized in collaboration with Friends of the Congo and Breaking the Silence: Congo Week, an initiative created in 2008 by Congolese students and activists.
Congolese genocide and crimes during the dictatorship have been longly ignored in Western countries, who often are collaterally responsible. For example, the device you are reading this on – whether it’s a phone or a laptop – is likely to have components procured from a system that deemed these Congolese casualties. SkyNews revealed in 2017 a documentary displaying the condition of the so-called “artisanal” mines of cobalt, which serves as a major components for the smartphones and electric car markets, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Amenity International, the country that produces half of the world cobalt would not respect the Human Rights and would be responsible for many deaths due to the poor working conditions.
A documentary by Congo Justice, “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth,” showed interviews of various experts who spoke about the history of the genocide and its multiple benefactors. One of the countries that contributed in the conflict, for example, was the United States who provided weapons and training to the Rwandan army in its 1996 invasion of the DRC. Since then, the abundant rainforests and mines in the country have been frequently plundered, and the surrounding villages terrorised.
These accounts were corroborated by speakers at the following panel discussion. Sylvestre Mido, the coordinator and spokesperson for the Congolese Youth Action Platform, explained the enslavement its people faced under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. “From one form of oppression to another” he said, describing the tumultuous timeline of the Congo as it transitioned from slavery and colonisation to war and to the modern-day “rigged” democracy.
“The fact that this is the biggest loss of life in decades in a single conflict – and barely anybody knows about it – is more than enough reason for me to organise this,” added Chris de Ploeg, the event organiser. For de Ploeg, everyone is partially responsible for what happened and continues to happen in DRC. “Our economy runs on what comes from the mines there and quite importantly that it is so recent and still going on,” he said. “That for me is the primary reason why this was necessary.”
Even though the severity of the problems in the DRC has reduced in magnitude, lives are still traumatised, ripped apart and lost every day. The country is trying to heal the wounds of the past and progress to a better future. Patricia Lokwa Servant, the founder of non-profit organization Congo Love, aims to help in this healing with her organization’s Lumumba Scholarship for Congolese students. It was named after the first Prime Minister of the DRC, Patrice Lumumba. “If you don’t know your history, you will repeat it,” said Lokwa Servant. “[O]ne of the focuses is learning where they come from and what their history is.” From 10 students in 2017, the program inaugural year, the Lumumba Scholarship helped 33 scholars attend university in the DRC in 2018. The ceaseless effort of grassroots organisations like Congo Love hopes to unlock the potential of the country’s 79 million citizens, but help needs to be targeted at more than just scholarships for education. During the panel, Lokwa Servant recounted her experiences trying to get activists in the Congo out of “torture camps,” as she calls them, and prison. On several instances, tweets and emails have kept prisoners alive as organisations like Amnesty International often intervened through advocation from Congo Love and other non-profit activists.
In view of the Congo Week, Pakhuis de Zwijger held the “Breaking the Silence,” an event in collaboration with the Landelijk Overleg Afrikanen Congolese Action Youth Platform and Congoweek, on Wednesday night.
A decade after the creation of the Congo Week, activists continue to organise events with the hope that they will raise awareness about this topic, and encourage people to take action against this ongoing conflict.