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  • Peter Lukau

Eastern DRC Crisis: A Case for Boycotting and Divesting

For many people around the world who have basic knowledge of central Africa’s geopolitical landscape, Rwanda, and to a lesser degree Uganda, may both appear as bastions of hope in an otherwise chaotic region. Western media has positioned both countries as models of stability with minor faults. Rwanda is portrayed as a developing nation emerging from severe tragedy a mere 25 years ago to becoming the shining light of central Africa as a result of a respect for human rights and economic tact. On the other hand is, Uganda, a country portrayed as another economic miracle born from of the ousting of a leader best described as a British hating cannibal, to one where western financial instiutions set up shop. However, these stories, like many others feel-good economic “miracles” purported by Western media outlets and their governments were sewn from the seeds of exploitation by Rwandan and Ugandan military forces and the violent militias they arm. Buttressed by targeted western propaganda and aid, which commits lies of omission by ignoring and misconstruing the East Congo Crisis; most egregiously in this case Rwanda and Uganda’s economic rise can be directly attributed to the theft of resources within the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These incursions, which are aided and embedded by Western powers, mainly the United Kingdom and the United States, only serve to fatten the pockets of capitalists in both countries and those in the West at the cost of the lives and the sovereignty of people in the DRC. The DRC like many other nations around the world currently faces attempted land theft, the annexation of resources at the cost of millions of lives making this one of the biggest humanitarian crises on the planet today.

“what can a Congolese movement fighting to preserve life and dignity learn from other movements in the global south who share similar circumstantial struggles of occupation and violence?”

The current war in the DRC has resulted in a catastrophic loss of life, according to mortality reports it has resulted in a daily loss of approximately 1,000 lives. The lack of proper infrastructure and constant armed conflicts occurring in the region has resulted in the deaths of millions by way of preventable diseases and starvation. Incursions from foreign military forces from Uganda – Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and Rwanda– Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) – serve the interests of those who exploit the mineral wealth. The result of these incursions are not only to line the pockets of multinational corporations in many western countries, but have also resulted in thousands of deaths in the Oriental Province, North Kivu, South Kivu, Kasai, and Katanga regions of Eastern Congo. Post Congolese Civil War these armies have remained and effectively occupy these regions within the DRC annexing resources and taking part in numerous human rights violations. According to a 2003 mapping report they now encroach over Oriental Province, North Kivu, South Kivu, Kasai, and Katanga. Competition (which in this case amounts to theft) for scarce resources, specifically, coltan, is a key factor in the UPDF and RPA’s western expansions. Coltan is one of many resources illegally mined and sold on western markets, with the profit going to invading armies, rebel forces, and the national economies of these occupying countries – this phenomenon of land theft alongside natural resource exploitation has been the main drive behind Uganda and Rwanda’s economic success at the expense of the DRC.

Similar cases involving exploitation and land occupation are, while not complicated, often result in the urge to ask for a cure-all solution. However, a solution for such a vast conflict in which multinational corporations and capitalists in the west have a vested interest in continued violence and exploitation would be disingenuous. Bringing attention to this conflict in many ways would serve as a crucial first step in creating a foundation for change. This begs the question, “what can a Congolese movement fighting to preserve life and dignity learn from other movements in the global south who share similar circumstantial struggles of occupation and violence?” A key example would be The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement – which works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. There are many superficial similarities between Rwanda, Uganda and Israel, however the main similarity they share at this current point in time is their violent incursion upon sovereign nations and the blatant distortion or non-coverage of these incursions by the international press either in the present or in the past. The diplomatic ties between the three nations cannot be understated as Rwandan President Paul Kagame was invited to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC Annual Congress in 2017. The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni went as far as to say that Israel is the biblical homeland of Christians such as himself. In addition, Israel has now gained observer status in the African Union as of July 22nd of this year by way of executive decision (made without the approval of 14 members; South Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Eritrea, Senegal, Tanzania, Niger, Comoros, Gabon, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Mali and Seychelles) one can only expect these ties to strengthen.

Reasons for Israel being granted observer status after decades of opposition by the AU and the preceding OAU are numerous – with Libya and Egypt serving as past powerful opposition to Israel’s acceptance. Present day opposition to Israel’s entry to the AU from current member states can be attributed to the organization’s support of the Palestinian cause. South Africa’s foreign ministry released a statement on July 28th stating, “Israel continues to occupy Palestine in complete defiance of its international obligations and relevant UN resolutions.” The current day conditions of Palestine under Israeli oppression are often compared to those of apartheid era South Africa. The response to settler colonialism from Palestinians and South Africans around the world was to fight back against oppression where seen fit, this included having a mechanism which served to hold those financially implicated in their oppressions accountable. The idea of accountability cannot be the only method of protest but it can serve the crucial purpose of making those individuals around the world aware of these human rights struggles. It is not a stretch to say that Rwanda seeks to model itself after Israel, with one former Rwandan general stating, “Israel was nothing but a desert when the Jews started building their homeland in the 1940s after their genocide. But they turned it into a beautiful garden… Here, we need to learn their [Israel’s] ways.” This admiration is emblematic of the Rwandan government’s view of Israel and is furthermore shown in the former’s domestic and foreign policy.

True to form, the suppression of political opposition from within Rwanda has only escalated as Kagame cemented his rule over the past 20 years – with post genocide extrajudicial retribution killings, the consistent imprisonment of his political opposition, and by creating an advanced network of state run propaganda that keeps Rwandese citizens fearful, silent, and ignorant to his crimes. Whilst in Uganda, President Museveni runs a similar western and corporate backed dictatorship where he has consistently neglected the human rights of Ugandan citizens. Most recently, he oversaw the complete blackout of Uganda’s communication services during a hotly contested election night, and in the past has massacred citizens protesting for fair elections. In scenarios where the oppressing nation emulates other oppressive nations, the oppressed should analyze how other oppressed people have responded. Congolese people have suffered for more than 2 decades now from foreign entities while the world has, for the most part, ignored or apathetically mischaracterized the situation. It is the job of the oppressed to outline who their oppressors are, how they’ve carried out the oppression, and more importantly to fight back.

"An ethical way to directly bring attention to the human rights abuses committed by both client states by targeting the foreign companies who do business in both countries."

The people of Eastern DRC should seek to emulate the current Palestinian BDS movements in the present and the South African boycott and divest movement of the past. These groups outlined their oppressors and their crimes, and specifically note what the crime is, a blatant violation of international law. They seek to hold accountable those who share in the crimes of the accused. In the DRC’s case, the oppressor as it stands, are Uganda and Rwanda, as both countries profit off the killing of Congolese people and steal resources from a sovereign nation while illegally occupying the regions where these resources are present. The most important question regarding a boycott and divest movement would ultimately be who is the intended party? What makes this situation unique from the aforementioned situations are unlike Palestine’s current ruling party, the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO, who recognizes Israel’s aggressions as violation of international law; the DRC’s elected officials ignore their conflict entirely. Furthermore, unlike Apartheid South Africa, the Congolese government is not currently run by Ugandan or Rwandan officials, and while it can be characterized as oppressive it has yet to enact genocidal violence against its oppressed citizens. Statistically, the percentage of people in Rwanda living in poverty is at 55% according to a World Bank study in 2017, while according the UN Uganda’s poverty rate is roughly 42%. Contrasted to Israel, who according to a quality-of-life report 2020, was found to only have about 21% of their population living below the poverty line. This contrast highlights the social and economic inequities that many Rwandan and Ugandan citizens face at the hands of their governments, which leaves lobbying for unethical sanctions off the table. An ethical way to directly bring attention to the human rights abuses committed by both client states by targeting the foreign companies who do business in both countries. The world should be made aware that companies like CITI Bank operate out of Uganda, while Goldman Sachs operates out of Rwanda, essentially acting as third-party leeches looking to profit off blood money; as do the number of corporations who seek to secure momentary profit by doing business in client states that do not respect the human rights or sovereignty of other nations. The change a movement such as this would seek to achieve would be obsolete without research, support, and organization. Organizing of people within the DRC and around the world who care about lives would not just bring attention to this issue but create a foundation for the numerous organizations and movements of people that exist and those yet to come to combat these atrocities. History will show how people who claim to care about the human rights of others acted in response to a boycott and divest movement on behalf of the DRC, but first we, as Congolese people, must take control of the narrative ourselves.

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