Capturing Congo

Gold, Guns, and Strife

News from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is usually grim. But it has been particularly so in recent weeks, as the M23 militia overran the town of Goma, the capital of the mineral-rich province of North Kivu. The militia has already started to withdraw, but reports of random killings and human rights abuses still abound. Meanwhile, parts of the city lack power, and garbage and human remains have been left to rot in the streets.

The violence in eastern DRC might look like the disruption of the fragile calm that followed the 2009 peace agreement between Congo and the M23's precursor, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). In truth, however, it is part of a continuum of chaos that has gripped the region for some 15 years. Reliable studies have shown that five million Congolese have died due to the fighting, many of them in eastern DRC, making the region home to one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II.

There is plenty of blame to spread around for the seemingly endless bloodshed and mayhem: countries in the region, the rebels, and the international community are all somewhat responsible. Although the history of the violence in the area is local, the international community has refused to intervene decisively as fighting has dragged on. In addition, and perhaps more ruinous, some halfhearted attempts to curb the conflict have exacerbated it. For example, the United States' effective ban on the purchase of so-called conflict minerals -- ores mined in war zones -- has made the region's fighters more desperate and thus more aggressive.

THE BIRTH OF THE M23

Today's conflict is rooted in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when the Hutu ethnic majority attempted to eradicate the Tutsis, the politically dominant minority ethnic group. The killing ended when the Tutsi army, led by the current Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and supported by Ugandan soldiers, drove the Hutu forces out of the country. After just three months, about 800,000 Rwandans were dead.

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