King Leopold II did not die. His legacy is still alive and healthy. The Belgian butcher oversaw the killing of at least 10 million Africans in the most brutal circumstances but his evil is overlooked because African lives do not matter that much. Years later, the same principles that saved King Leopold from too much criticism are saving warlords in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 1998, more than 6 million Africans have been killed in the region but no one talks about it. Some scholars have argued that the number is a lot lower but no one believes it could have been lower than 1 million at the very least. Syria, which is considered to be a hotspot for conflict pales in comparison. Even more incensing is how relatively minor deaths in the West become worldwide trends and just about every leader condemns them. Does anyone remember Paris? Everyone does but no one remembers the Democratic Republic of Congo. Owen Jones for The Guardian is not wrong when he says, "Let’s be honest. We ignore Congo’s atrocities because it’s in Africa." African lives and deaths do not matter.
From 1998 to 2003, the majority of the 6 million were killed. It was a dark period for the DRC and yet the sun never set on the rest of the world. It was a toll rivaling the Holocaust but no one was moved except the two million Congolese civilians who were displaced. Millions of women and girls were raped because sexual domination was, as IBTimes puts it, used as "a weapon of war". In fact, IBTimes reports that in 2011, a study said 48 women were raped every hour and more than 1,000 each day. It was not just the women but the men too who were sexually molested. Bodia Bavuidi, an activist said of the rapes, "The women are raped in front of their fathers, they make the father rape his daughter, even three-month-old babies have been raped."
Reports in 2008 said 45,000 people were killed every month. Preventable diseases and starvation claimed millions. Nearly half of the deaths were of children and the International Rescue Committee says this was because "Children are particularly susceptible to these easily preventable and treatable conditions". Mbuti Pygmies were hunted, killed and eaten as they were considered subhuman.
Why the silence?
It has been argued that the DRC was simply not strategically important to the world as a whole. The Middle East conflicts get coverage because of its oil, so the argument goes. However, the weakness here is the ignorant lack of appreciation for the DRC's contribution to the global economy. The DRC has vast deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil. In fact, the country is so central to global history as its minerals were used in the Second World War, uranium from a mine in the country being used in the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is insulting to simply decide that the country is not important yet its wealth has historically been used to settle Western scores. The country is said to have an estimated $24 trillion of mineral deposits and it has a clear role to play in the future. There are just too many beneficiaries of the anarchy in the country and this creates inertia. Canadian mining companies, in 2002, were accused of pillaging the country while big Canadian mining firms have been accused of funding military operations in exchange for lucrative contracts.
As one Giunta Carrie says,
the largely femicidal war in Congo is tied to the huge appetite of the West for strategic minerals essential to the electronics and military industries...
Suffice to say, the West's hands are dripping of Congolese blood but it does not matter since the blood of Africans is thinner than water. In the global context, black deaths are inconsequential, and this is a lesson rooted in the slave trade and colonial era. Blacks are always the sacrificial lambs for profits.
Image Header: UNHCR