War in the Congo: Situating Mother Courage and Her Children

“The Congo defies idealists.” -Che Guevara

“The Congolese conflict resembles the European Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), in which looting was one of the fundamental activities of the contending armies.  Even when they are relatively efficiently used by the state, the combatants devise strategies of economic relevance that turn ‘war’ into something Western observers cannot recognize as the kind of ‘real military conflict’ we have been used to identify due to its extensive use in the past three hundred years.  Here economic predation, trafficking of all kinds, looting both at the individual and at the collective level become essential features of the conflict because they are essential means of financing it.  This has massive consequences on the way the war was fought.  Because civilians are the ones from whom the military can take its means of survival, armed violence is more often directed at civilians than at the enemy army.  Direct armed confrontation is often avoided, and straightforward military victory is only one of the various options in the field.  It is actually this non state, decentralized form of violence that makes the conflicts so murderous and so hard to stop.  Looting and its attendant calamities (arson, rape, torture) become routine operations for the combatants, who are soon more akin to vampires than to soldiers.” -from AFRICA’S WORLD WAR by Gerard Prunier

“There was good money to be made in the Congo. Westerners have become used to seeing war as exorbitantly expensive, money guzzling enterprises that are disastrous to the economy. But in central Africa, exactly the opposite was true: fighting  was relatively cheap, especially in light of the magnificent profits to be made from raw material. This was no high tech war. The over supply of light, second hand fire arms often from post communist regimes of Eastern Europe, pushed prices down, and child soldiers who were allowed to plunder their own salaries cost nothing at all. They kept the population cowering, while the ore was there for the taking. War, in other words, became a worthwhile economic alternative. Why would you want to call a halt to such a lucrative business?  Under pressure from the people themselves?  But that’s what guns were for, right?” The end phase of the war lasted so long because so many profited from it; not just the big multinationals far away, not just the slick traders in their climate controlled suites, not just the military leaders in the neighboring countries, but everyone at every level of the pyramid. The war had not begun with profit in mind, but now that so many were turning  one, it simply went on. Commerce and war held each other in a stranglehold.” -from CONGO by David Van Reybrouck

“In the Congo, in order to survive, we all have to be a bit corrupt, a bit ruthless.  That is the system here.  That’s just the reality of things.  If you don’t bribe a bit and play to people’s prejudices, someone else who does will replace you.  Even you, if you were thrown into this system, you would do the same or sink,” -a Congolese Worker

“Thee conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.  The wealth of the country is appealing and hard to resist in the son text of the lawlessness and the weakness of the central authority.” -U.N. Security Council Report “Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo”

“The Congo became a self-service country. The scramble for Africa was now being organized by Africans themselves with Coltan as its leading export.  oltan comprises Columbium (niobium) and tantalum, two elements that are adjacent in the periodic table. While niobium is used in the production of stainless steel for, among other things, body piercings, tantalum is a metal with an extremely high melting point, which renders it extremely well suited for superconductors in the aerospace industry and capacitors in electronic equipment like our cell phones, MP# players, DVD players, lap tops and Play stations.  Tear any of these apart and inside you will find a little green labyrinth , these drop shaped brightly colored beads are capacitors.  Break them open and you will be holding a bit of the Congo in your hand.”
-David Van Reybrouck

“Every time you use your cellphone or log onto your computer, you could be contributing to the death toll in the bloodiest, most violent region in the world:  the eastern Congo … The loss of life far exceeds deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  Yet this is not some distant tragedy, not just another African horror story.  The lives and deaths of these millions of Congolese are linked to us all.  The mines that scar the verdant hills and mountains of eastern Congo are critical to our modern lives.  Each time we use a mile phone, use a video game console, or open a tin can, we hold the lives and deaths of the eastern Congolese in our hands.” -from CONSUMING THE CONGO By Peter Eichstaedt

“The Congo problem is a World problem.” -Che Guevara