Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

Number_Slaves_Work_Products_I_Use_Children
Think about the last time uou made a call from your smartphone, or ate chocolate. Have you used any beauty products or worn cotton clothing lately? These seemingly harmless activities, may be contributing to human trafficking.

The likelihood that your smartphone has not been touched by a slave is low; it contains the mineral Coltan, and 64% of Coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,  are mined by enslaved children. Nearly 40% of the world’s cocoa beans are harvested by more than 200,000 children on the Ivory Coast alone. Every day, tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, a mineral found in makeup. And, 1.4 million children, more than the entire New York City public school system, are forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan fields; cotton that may have been used to make the shirts many of us wear every day.

There are at least 27 million slaves worldwide; roughly the population of Australia and New Zealand combined. And, although trafficking often brings to mind images of women or girls forced to participate in sexual acts against their will, there are other ways human beings are sold. A staggering amount of men, women and children are forced into long hours of hard labor for little to no pay. This type of trafficking is often supported by unsuspecting citizens who would never deliberately contribute to slavery. Nevertheless, an alarming number of otherwise upstanding citizens unknowingly do just that every day: help human trafficking; the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Human trafficking often uses legitimate businesses to conduct their operations. As a result, certain businesses, such as hotels, taxi services, airlines, rail companies, and advertisers like Craigslist may facilitate trafficking. Some businesses are aware of their involvement in these crimes, but are persuaded to turn the other cheek due to high profit potential. There are, however, cases where businesses are unaware of what is happening, or are unable to identify clients who may be participating in these illegal activities.

So what can you do to help? It’s simple: just be aware of the origin of your purchases, and avoid products from regions particularly affected by human trafficking or forced labor. Reducing the demand for cheap merchandise manufactured in sweatshops will deliver a significant blow to the human trafficking industry.

Find out how many slaves work for you by taking the slavery footprint survey at slaveryfootprint.org; the number will surprise you.

Dana Johnson

Sources: Pukaar Magazine, Polaris, CARITAS.org, Slavery Footprint
Photo: Photopin

Defection_flyers_LRA_weakened
The Lord’s Resistance Army is steadily weakening due to the growing weariness and disillusionment of its combatants, many of whom want to defect, according to a new report by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, a US-based advocacy group.

The factions are scattered across an area of central Africa about the size of California, and, despite LRA leader Joseph Kony’s integration of high-frequency radios, communication between factions is difficult. Morale is at a new low; at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants, which is at least 15 percent of the LRA’s core Ugandan fighting force, have defected since the beginning of 2012.

Months spent in remote rainforest villages have left the soldiers with little energy and enthusiasm, and the army’s new venture into new forms of crime, such as harvesting elephant ivory, have left many disenchanted and guilt-ridden. Recently, the army has also almost entirely failed to end conflicts with decisive victories leading to further weariness.

“The large majority of people in the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and most, including many Ugandans, want to defect,” the report says.

Pressure from the Ugandan, the US military in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are all contributing to the weakening of the LRA. Campaigns such as the “Come Home” campaign, a collaboration between the Ugandan and US militaries that uses helicopters to canvas sensitive areas with dropped leaflets and loudspeaker messages encouraging soldiers to defect, have been particularly effective. The authors suggest, however, that these campaigns should be more widespread and better able to target areas where the LRA are actually operating.

While the report admits that the rebel group will not be dismantled any time soon, it outlines the steps that can be taken by the Ugandan government, Congolese government, US government, African Union, and all involved peacekeepers and donors to best ensure the LRA’s ultimate demise. It is assumed by the initiative that the most effective way to weaken and ultimately wipeout the LRA is to encourage as many soldiers as possible to defect.

One of the suggestions listed in the report is for the Ugandan government to implement a “re-integration program” for defected soldiers to assimilate back into their communities. Often, it is extremely difficult for former members of the LRA to integrate themselves back into their old lives while facing the challenges of “rebuilding their livelihoods, overcoming trauma and community stigmatization with little support.” Often, the Ugandan government will force the returned soldiers to join the UPDF, which they had spent so many months fighting against. For obvious reasons, the report encourages the government to halt this activity.

“There is a need to continue to encourage and persuade the LRA members to defect. Let them abandon the rebellion and come back home. They are victims of circumstances,” retired bishop Baker Ochola, a member of Acholi Religious Peace Initiative (ALPI), told IRIN. “Let them leave LRA to Kony and his people who started it… Kony will remain alone and will not have support.”

– Kathryn Cassibry
Sources: IRIN, Red Pepper, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative

drc_opt
In a traditionally volatile region, violence has once again broken out. In the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two rebel groups have been engaging in fighting with the Congolese armed forces. M23, the most active of the rebel groups operating in the DRC, launched an assault on the army stationed around the city of Goma on July 14th. Prior to that though, the Allied Democratic Forces engaged the armed forces on July 11th. Caught in the crossfire of these separate engagements are tens of thousands of civilians, forced to flee as fighting erupted.

Many of these refugees fled across the border into Uganda where transit centers are quickly filling. In the first few days of the conflict 66,000 Congolese refugees crossed the border. And that was before violence erupted between M23 and the national forces. The situation is even more difficult in Uganda as the country is already playing host to more than 200,000 refugees – 60% of whom originate from the DRC – before this latest round of violence.

The UN Refugee Agency has an annual operating budget of $93.8 million for Uganda, but less than half of this has so far been funded. With the sudden influx of refugees from both Ugandan conflicts, a large portion of the extra burden is falling on Uganda. With transit centers near the borders rapidly filling, the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister pledged to begin registering refugees and relocating them to longer term refugee camps, where they will be supplied with plots of land to farm. This process, however, is time-consuming, and over-congestion in the transit camps, and the subsequent risk of disease as livestock and people live together in close quarters, has become a primary concern.

With the rebels, particularly M23 around Goma, refusing to back down, UN intervention may soon be seen. UN peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUSCO, had set a deadline of August 1st for rebel troops to hand in their weapons and demobilize. Leaders of the rebel group however dismissed the ultimatum as irrelevant. As a result, a UN intervention brigade, comprised of 3000 troops from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania – part of the 20,000 strong peacekeeping force – may soon engage rebel troops in an attempt to establish a “security zone” around the city of Goma.

– David M. Wilson
Sources: UNHCR, Times Live, IRIN News
Sources: Alissa Everett

Eastern_Congo_Conflict_Poverty
In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia