Refugees Blame DRC's Chronic Violence on Battle for Mineral Wealth
By Halima Athumani July 16, 2019
For decades, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo -- the Ituri and North Kivu provinces especially -- has endured ethnic violence leaving thousands dead and many more seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
Fifty-four-year-old Mwamoyo Shantal has lived in a Ugandan refugee settlement for six years now, after fleeing violence in Congo's North Kivu province.
When she arrived, Shantal found long lost family members who had fled the same region during what's known as the First Congo War in 1996 and 1997.
Shantal explains why she thinks fighting has persisted since the end of the 32-year rule of the late Mobutu Sese Seko.
"He held the country like he owned it all alone. During the fighting, it seems they discovered that Congo has minerals. So, everyone is now fighting for the wealth in Congo," she said.
DRC refugees continue to arrive at the Ugandan border by the boatload, across Lake Albert.
Refugee Joshua Oshaki says he lost contact with his wife during fighting in the DRC's Ituri region, but managed to escape with his two children.
"In the beginning the conflict was tribal. Different tribes would fight each other. The Hema and the Lendu would be joined by the Wangiti and other tribes. They would kill each other. Currently, the fighting has faces of government soldiers and civilians," he said.
Even as the DRC's people struggle to survive, the country is considered one of the richest in the world in mineral wealth.
Critics say few benefits are harnessed by the state for ordinary people, while mining companies and the elite become rich.
Dismas Nkunda is the executive director of the watchdog group Atrocities Watch Africa.
"Who supports the strong militiamen, the individuals who hold sway in the vast lands of controlling properties and areas? Who does that? So, certainly foreign powers are involved, certainly countries neighboring DRC are involved. All of them, they have interest in a DRC that is not as stable as it should be," he said.
Last week, Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, João Lourenço of Angola and Congo's President Félix Tshisekedi held a meeting in Luanda to discuss among other things, the security situation in the Great Lakes Region.
The three countries, plus Burundi and Eritrea, escalated the 1996 conflict in Congo - then known as Zaire - either by sending state forces or backing militia groups to defeat various rebel groups based in Congo.
It's not clear yet whether the presidential summit will yield any new effort to end the suffering of Congolese people who have to flee their homes.
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