Dissident Congolese Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda’s more than 3,000 loyal forces have carved out control of parts of North Kivu Province. The Congolese government has responded by realigning itself with the FDLR — a militia composed of more than 6,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels, many with links to the 1994 genocide in their home country — to fight Nkunda’s more effective force. This threatens to draw Rwanda back into Congo’s conflict, which would lead to rapid escalation and potentially plunge Congo back into regional war.
In recent weeks, fighting between the two sides has intensified, with increasing numbers of troops being deployed to the front line and more being forcibly recruited. Civilians inevitably are caught in the crossfire, and the prevailing climate of impunity allows all sides — Nkunda, the FDLR, the Congolese army and local militias — to exploit the local population without fear of consequences.
Not many people know that there is even a conflict happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Not many people have even heard of the DRC or the frightening linkages between the conflicts in Rwanda, Uganda, Darfur and the DRC. People flee from southern Sudan into Uganda, rebels chase them into Uganda intensifying the northern Ugandan conflict. Some then flee to the DRC. During the First and Second Congolese Wars, Rwanda and Uganda intervened to try to bring stability to the region. Rwanda had an interest in intervening because Mobutu, leader during the Second Congolese War, was in support of the Hutu rebel militia, which was responsible for the genocide in 1994. Theseinterlocked conflicts have fueled the continued conflict in the DRC. There are now many competing militias in the DRC and they are all looking to gain the upperhand. A relative peace had fallen over the region, but the ceasefire between the rebel forces and government forces has been abandoned. Rebel forces resumed fighting just this month saying that it was in response to government attacks.
As the intense fighting waged on, China jumped into the turmoil to grab up the riches of the DRC. Because of the extended conflict the infrastrucutre of the DRC is extremely poor and nearly non-existant. China is investing a large sum to help the DRC build infrastructure in exchange for access to the mineral wealth of the country. The BBC writes about a recent study that concluded that China’s main interest in Africa is to guarantee its supply of raw materials. No study is necessary to conclude, just read the news. China’s work in the DRC is its largest loan out to any African country. There are plans to build a road from Kisangani to the Zambian border and a major railway to connect the mineral rich provice of Katanga to the port city of Matadi. Other funds are set aside to rebuild the deteriorating mining infrastructure. But where is this loan money going, who is recieving the money to build the roads and buildings and railways? Answer: China. As well as being the biggest loan supplier, China also has the largest building company, China Road and Bridge Construction, owned by the Chinese government, with 29 projects in Africa (many financed by the World Bank or other lenders) and offices in 22 African countries. Chinese money for big projects is going back to Chinese government. China is losing nothing in the deal while African countries lose everything. When there is no longer raw materials and resources an infrastructure is irrelevent.
Chinese trade and investment has galvanised mineral production from South Africa (manganese) to Niger (uranium), and from Sudan to Angola (oil). Much of that activity reflects an intense appetite for the African resources needed to fuel China’s manufacturing sector, but big Chinese companies have quickly become formidable competitors in other sectors as well, particularly for big-ticket public works contracts, like the ones now proposed for DR Congo. Chinese workers are engaged in dozens of African road-building projects. China is building major new railroad lines in Nigeria and Angola, large dams in Sudan, airports in several countries, and new roads almost everywhere.
The DRC is a lush, beautiful green land, full of extended unprotected forests. Minerals may be a hot commodity, but timber is what may become the DRC’s biggest challenge. A BBC reporter called the forest a “sea of broccoli.” The Congo forest stretches across six countries, but in the DRC it is disappearing at an alarming rate – more likely than not, due to the country’s instability. A recent report showed that the majority of the timber is headed to China, 90% illegally. Logging companies set up in the DRC in what appears to be far off forest wonderlands. These wonderlands are inhabited by groups of people who traditionally lived on the land being cleared by logging. Much of the land has traditional and religious importance to the people. In an article written for the BBC, the story of one traditional village is told with a overtone of hope. The logging company is working with the people to make maps and document which sites are of significance and should not be disturbed. They use handheld satelitte machines to mark sacred spots and the people could not be happier. In a country where logging companies overrun traditional peoples and sacred lands without any regard, this is an instance of positive development.