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Beheadings in the DRC fail to grab headlines


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Opinion | 2 April 2017

OPINION

The agony and despair of the Congo somehow escapes our collective consciences, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

 

If 43 people had been beheaded in South Africa over the past two weeks, it would have invoked shock and revulsion, dominating the headlines at home and abroad. When its in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is reported but fails to capture the headlines.

What is it about the Congo that makes people less shocked, less concerned and largely indifferent? Just consider that 5.4 million Congolese died in the civil war between 1997 and 2003 – almost as many as the Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.

The agony and despair of the Congo somehow escapes our collective consciences.

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A UN soldier searches a man on a bicycle in the streets of Bunia, DRC. A reduction of UN troops is hardly going to improve the situation in a country which has at least 70 armed groups operating on its territory, terrorising local communities and controlling weakly governed areas, says the writer. Picture: AP

It is the same indifference that accompanied news of millions of Congolese being killed under Belgium King Leopold’s II rule from 1885-1908. According to Adam Hochschild, it may have been as many as 10 million. There are hardly any museums or movies to remember those sons of Africa.

Even the Africa museum in Brussels which I visited some years ago presented this period from a shockingly colonial perspective. The museum was founded in 1898 at the initiative of King Leopold I, and it took the Belgians 118 years to implement the revision of the colonial narrative. So embarrassed were contemporary Belgian academics of African history it was given a complete overhaul between 2013 and 2016. 

So given that history of indifference, it should then not be surprising that 43 people were beheaded in the DRC over the past two weeks, and the world hardly blinked. Forty-two police officers who had been tasked with fighting the militia group, Kamuina Nsapu, in the eastern Kasai region were found beheaded a week ago.

This Wednesday, in the same region, the bodies of two UN experts – Michael Sharp from the US, and Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their translator Betu Tshintela were found. Catalan had been beheaded bringing the total to 43.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the UN experts lost their lives seeking to understand the causes of conflict and insecurity. The group had been kidnapped when travelling to Kasai to investigate reports of abuses after rebels took up arms. Said the UN, more than 400 people have been killed in recent violence, and it is concerned about the alleged existence of 17 mass graves in central and eastern Kasai.

On February 20, the DRC government had denied the requested mission of the UN experts that the UN High Commission for Human Rights had planned to send to Kasai to investigate three mass graves of victims of local security forces.

The Kasai region has been plagued by violence for more than six months between security forces and supporters of Kamwina Nsapu.

Unfortunately, the country’s security forces are part of the problem. In a report released last Wednesday in Kinshasa, it was revealed that 33 people were summarily executed and shot in the territory of Kabeya Kamuanga by soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) sent to the scene.

“The victims were buried, piled up like cattle in latrines with feet or hands outside in order to terrorise the rest of the population and prevent young people and children from joining the militia. Any bereavement organisation was formally banned under pain of suffering the same fate,” reported Rostin Manketa, the executive director of the NGO La Voix des sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless).

The VSV has also reported on entire villages being burnt and people buried in forests and bushes.

Five new videos implicating the FARDC in the shooting of civilians led to the arrest of seven soldiers for war crimes.

These atrocities point to a culture of impunity in the DRC, where the armed forces continue to operate with the same disregard for human rights as the militias do. This gave rise to the arguments of the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley, who argued this week that the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC – Monusco – is mandated to partner with a government that “preys on its people”.

This led to the US arguing for the reduction of peacekeeping forces in the DRC from 20 000 to 15 000.

But a reduction of UN troops is hardly going to improve the situation in a country which has at least 70 armed groups operating on its territory, terrorising local communities and controlling weakly governed areas.

It also will not assist in getting the DRC security forces to operate within the confines of international law.

All it will do is to assist in reducing the US foreign aid budget, in keeping with President Donald Trump’s America First approach.

If anything, the disregard of the international community for the Congo and its people only gets greater.

It seems not much has changed.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media&;s Foreign Editor.

The Sunday Independent

 

   


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