There is a chance you’ll be shocked at the sad state of the Congo. As bad as the media has presented it, it is much worse in reality. The physical and invisible conditions which its citizens are subject to are shared by a number of countries across the globe, but few have each and every one of them. There are a few root causes for the Congo’s dystopian daily life, but each of them can boil down to just a couple of historical events; one of the most egotistic people in the world and a particular Belgian King.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo may have the most problems of any country in the world. The silver lining is that some of the problems which they deal with aren’t quite as prominent as various media outlets would have you believe, some of the ones you never hear about are even more disturbing. From things as minor as poaching to warlords to worse, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a number of challenges in its path towards success.
The country is in complete and utter turmoil and many seem content to leave it that way. Humanitarian aid only goes so far, especially when it is on the proverbial backburner. The country can move on from the issues listed below, but a concerted effort will be needed from all involved parties.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the reasons why most people think of Africa as being poor; they are one of the most impoverished countries in the world. This has led to mass starvation and poor quality of education and housing, particularly when you move further away from the capital, Kinshasa. Power, roads, and access to basic medical care are functional luxuries which many Congolese are unable to afford. The country’s GDP per capita is just over $700 with a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots. This situation has caused a lot of issues inside the country. The rampant poverty is a major source for almost all of the country’s social ills.
The rampant poverty in the Congo makes it only preferable to only a handful of countries around the world. The only good news is that it’s slowly improving thanks to steadily rising foreign investment.
14. Forced Labor
Although it is recognized internationally as a crime against humanity, forced labor and enslavement are commonly practiced throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is perpetrated by not only rebel groups operating in the most remote parts of the country, but by the government, the military, and many private citizens. The Congo is rated as one of the worst places in the world for forced labor. Not only does it permeate throughout society, it is a huge portion of the economy!
Children are the primary victims of forced labor, particularly by rebels and private individuals. The reason that children are preferred to adults in many of these cases is simply that they are less likely to try and escape, and they are able to work in more enclosed environments. Coerced labor has served as the backbone of the mining industry in the country for many years, all the way back to the early Mobutu period; it is also how many roadways are built.
13. Human Trafficking
What is arguably the most horrifying part of this list, human trafficking is almost normal to the eastern and southern reaches of the country. For a nation dealing with massive problems regarding human trafficking, it is quite surprising to know that there are no laws which specifically outlaw the practice. The heartbreaking reality of this situation is that there seems to be a lack of willingness on the part of the central government to stop the sex and slave trade.
The main areas in which human trafficking takes place are in the Ituri, Kivu, and Katanga regions of the country. These areas have high rates of ethnic violence and are rife with separatist sentiments. The Kivu region has the worst instances of this. The only silver lining in this is that the government has taken some initiative in passing acts which criminalize sexual violence.
Although cannibalism is more prevalent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo than other African countries, it affects only a small percentage of the population. The main source of cannibalism in the Congo is in folk medicine and witchcraft. A belief which is shared among a number of people in the easternmost portions of the country is that albinos possess magical powers and that the consumption of their flesh will grant it to the consumer. That is pretty scary, but the scariest cannibal activities revolve around the Pygmies of North Kivu.
The Congo Pygmies are an ethnic group who are reviled by just about everyone in the region. They are subject to extreme harassment by the government and village forces and are hunted as animals by various armed militias. The most prominent of the “pygmy hunters” are Les Effaceurs, or “The Erasers,” and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo; the latter group is a part of the transitional government. The pygmy population is viewed as subhuman and little more than apes by many of the denizens of the region. Much like the albinos, they are sometimes believed to have magic in their flesh and bones.
Since the Congo is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, it is without any surprise that it has some of the largest concentrations of endangered species! Poaching is a severe blight on the country as it has a negative impact on both its economic and environmental health. Most people who engage in poaching do it because they need to get money for their families, villages, or rebel groups they belong to. The black market trade in exotic animals and animal skins has caused many species to go extinct.
The nature reserves in the country are where the largest share of the poaching takes place. The further east you go in the country, the more likely you are to find poachers. The rhinos and gorillas are the main victims of the poaching endemic to the country. Poaching also serves as a way to clear out dangers to illegal mining operations within the Congo.
10. Internally Displaced Persons
As a result of a long series of wars and government sponsored terror attacks, millions of people have been internally displaced. The largest wave of internal displacement in the country came about as a result of the Second Congo War when many regional armies and militias invaded the Congo. The extreme violence which has plagued the land for as long as memory holds has produced a problem with homelessness and shanty towns which cannot be fixed for some time.
The millions of internally displaced people in the Congo are subject to extreme victimization and have high rates of HIV/AIDS. The horrible conditions which they live in are major contributing factors to the slow advancement of the country. In many of the refugee camps and shanty towns near the cities, soldiers, gangs, and regular civilians take advantage of the people. They are often the subject of rape, theft, forced prostitution, and other social ills. Among the most ostracized groups are former child soldiers.
9. The Legacy Of Mobutu
There is a giant ghost which haunts the Congo, much like the boogeyman, and its name is Mobutu Sese Seko. The former US-backed dictator was one of the most brutal and extravagant to lead a country. His own megalomania was manifested in the name he took for himself, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which means “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”
The gargantuan ego of this man saw him steal billions upon billions of dollars from the country. His government based on theft and extortion helped to establish the country’s poverty. He had turned the military from one of the best in Africa to being little more than a highly organized gang. The exact extent of the damage that he caused to the country remains a mystery and his style of rule continues to be seen somewhat in the present administration’s attempts to strong arm dissenters.
8. Ethnic Conflict
There are two things you think about whenever you think of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the first is extreme poverty and the second is an ethnic conflict. The country has not had a single day of peace since the 1970s as some form of insurgency or war has gripped the country since then. The most infamous of these wars was the Second Congo War which was the deadliest one since World War II!
Presently, the main groups rebelling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are found in the Ituri and Kivu regions; most being ethnic Hutus. The present conflicts in the Congo are some of the last proxy wars of the previous century. The largest foreign supporter of any of the armed groups in the Congo is Rwanda, supporting ethnic Tutsi militias in the Kivus. There does not seem to be an end in sight to the bloodshed.
7. Arbitrary Arrest And Detention
The first rule in the Congo is “Do not even look like you broke a rule in the Congo!” That is pretty much how the police and military forces of the country operate. According to the Congolese Constitution, such activities are illegal; too bad the authorities don’t really care. For little more than simply not being liked by the local magistrate, you may find yourself locked in a cell with ten other guys.
In the Congolese context, this tends to be used against political opponents and for petty reasons. Police officials often times will use this as a way to extort money from locals and foreigners. Thanks to this being a major source of funding, many of those in law enforcement have turned blind eyes to the phenomenon.
The arrests and detention of people for little more than base suspicion has impeded justice from being carried out. With so many people being on the payroll of one official or another, a tremendous amount of innocent people may have been sentenced to many years at hard labor…or worse.
The Congo is a land rich in natural resources and wonders, and among those resources are its rainforests. Jungle wood is a popular commodity, particularly for furniture, and so the dense forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are quite attractive to international corporations. The jungles of the Congo are some of the most biodiverse in the world, especially thanks to the many rivers. The exotic jungle wood market is only one of the reasons why deforestation takes place.
The principle reason that deforestation takes place is growing populations and the need for farm and grazing land. People and livestock need to eat, so the forest has to go when push comes to shove. This is not something that is solely isolated to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but there are fewer regulations there than elsewhere. Poaching is another major issue which causes mass deforestation.
5. Privacy Is Not A Right
There is no right to privacy within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, something which is more than abhorrent to the majority of us. Mail, the Internet, and all manner of communications may be subject to extrajudicial surveillance at the behest of the local magistrates and law enforcement officers. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is rated as one of the worst places in the world for privacy for this reason.
The excuse that is generally given for this is that the country is having to deal with large rebel movements. That would make more sense in the regions of the Kivu, Ituri, or even Katanga, but throughout the rest of the country, it just seems to be terribly overreaching. The fact that there is not a guarantee to privacy serves as a means to support the rampant political corruption. There is a level of irony to this as there are no access restrictions placed on the internet within the Congo.
4. Child Soldiers
Home to the largest number of child soldiers in the world, the Congo has one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world. Throughout every conflict that has been fought in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, child soldiers have played a major role. From all three conflicts that Laurent-Désiré Kabila fought until the present Kivu Conflict, child soldiers have been a mainstay.
The most famous case of child soldiers being used in the DRC has been by Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. In all cases where children were used as combatants in the Congo, the same method of raising a village and kidnapping them has been followed. Not only have child soldiers been used by rebels, the actual government has utilized them!
Efforts have been implemented in an attempt to reintegrate a number of those kids into society. There has been resistance to this as many former child soldiers are ostracized and face retribution for what they were forced to do. The scars of their ordeal often go well beyond the violence of the battlefield.
The Congo is not only one of the poorest places in the world, but it has some of the highest rates of sexual violence and rape in particular. The problem is so bad in the province of Katanga, that it is sometimes referred to as the rape capital of the world. From what few reliable sources that exist on this subject, it appears that almost half of all women in Katanga have been subjected to rape or sexual violence of one form or another. Children and men are also victims of sexual violence as it is used as a weapon by both rebel groups and the Armed Forces alike.
One of the common victims of rape and sexual assault in the Congo are current and former child soldiers. They are treated as such because they are easy targets for predators, especially since they often feel ashamed of the things they have done. The United Nations has supported measures to eliminate the occurrence of the mass rape endemic in the country.
2. Extrajudicial Killings By Government Forces
Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not performed a state-sanctioned execution since 2003, military and police forces have taken it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner. The Congolese forces do this for a variety of reasons, mostly to keep people from rebelling or demoralize rebel forces. There have been numerous incidents in Ituri of Lendu villages being burnt to the ground by government forces or government-backed forces. This is one of the oldest tendencies of the various governments which have ruled in the Congo.
Although the number of killings remains extremely high, they are nowhere near as bad as those under Mobutu Sese Seko or under Leopold II. During the Mobutu period, the dictator sought to have any and all resistance to his personal regime eradicated like roaches. This saw an increase in the use of rape as a weapon of the state and the forced seizing of farm operations within the country. During the Congo Free State, under the absolute rule of the Belgian King Leopold II, at least 10 MILLION people were massacred. To some, it may be strange to think about but so many were killed during that period that it still has some effect on the country today.
1. Entrenched Corruption
Whenever people think of the Congo, images of untamed gorillas, vast jungle, civil war, and poverty come to mind. One of the darkest facts of life in the country is that it is rife with corruption. Corruption is found throughout every level of government in every corner of the country. It is so prevalent that it directly affects the livelihood of the vast majority of the people.
What is perhaps the most blatant expression of this despicable practice is the military selling their weapons to various rebel groups. The fact that you can buy an AK-47 in good condition in the Congo for as little as $25 is frighteningly evident of this. The selling of resources and business licenses in the Congo is exceedingly rampant. The political corruption within the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be seen at the consistent refusal of President Kabila to step down from the office.