Jeremy Bafalikike on a hidden war that has claimed more than five million lives Aws the world looked on in horror last week at the catastrophe in Bali, a ar that has laimed the lives of millions of people continued much closer to home.
Not many people know that the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has killed a staggering five million people over the past few years.
The Congo — known to most Westerners as a backdrop for Joseph Conrad's startling Heart of Darkness — has had a very turbulent history.
The tragedy began soon after the Belgian King Leopold II, s acquired it as his "personal" property following the Berlin Conference in 1885 and named it the "Congo Free State". The ivory and later the rubber boom, was cause of the worst bloodletting in the nineteenth century. King Leopold sent his agents to cut off the hands of the natives if they did not harvest enough rubber or collected enough ivory to meet the quota required him. Some 15 million Congolese were massacred then, the first genocide in the African soil.
Congo's independence in 1960 followed years of bitter and protracted struggle incarnated by one man — Patrice Lumumba. There is credible evidence to suggest that this man, known as the father of the Congolese nation, was killed by the CIA and Belgian secret services. His body and those of his two companions were chopped and completely dissolved in a barrel of acid. Congo's 42 years of independence have been marred by economic chaos, violence ethnic strife and rebellions. Now it is the target of a war of aggression waged by a Rwan dan-Ugandan-Burundian coalition, backed by well-known superpowers and multinationals.
A recent peace agreement stipulated that the invaders had a "90-day time span" to withdraw from the Congo in exchange for Kinshasa's demobilisation, disarmament and repatriation of thousands of Hutu militia accused of being responsible for the 1994 genocide.
According to Namanga Ngongi, the UN Secretary General's representative in the Congo, 15,000 foreign troops have withdrawn from the huge mineral-rich central African country.
Ngongi said that 10,233 Rwandans, 2,287 Ugandans, 700 Burundians and 2,092 Zimbabweans had pulled out already. "The way it looks, even Rwanda, which has the most troops of all the foreign armies in Congo, will be out by the end of the week," he was quoted as saying.
However, facts on the ground have shown that Ngong's optimism should be taken with pinch of salt, since he made it clear that the UN Mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, will not occupy the areas from which the foreign troops are withdrawing.
There is growing evidence that the withdrawal is more imagined than real. ASHADO, a Congolese human rights watchdog, claimed that Rwandan troops were withdrawing in the broad day light and coming back at night wearing the military uniforms of the RCD rebel movement which Rwanda had created and masterminded.
Elsewhere, MONUC has confirmed that Rwanda is not only pouring in fresh troops and Tutsi population into north and south Kivu, but also conquering all the territories that have supposedly been evacuated by Ugandan troops. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, in a letter to Paul Kagame denounced this forced implantation. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, Congo's allies, have now withdrawn all their troops from Congo. In the heart of darkness today, there are few signs of hope.