JUAN GONZALEZ: The so-called “forgotten war,” the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is threatening to explode once again, away from the glare of any international media attention. On Sunday, rebel commanders led by Laurent Nkunda seized an army base and the headquarters of Congo’s famous Virunga National Park.
The fighting between Nkunda’s forces and the Congolese army has increased since August, in part over the government’s alleged alliance with Hutu militias from Rwanda. Nkunda claims to be defending ethnic Tutsis in the area, and the Rwandan government has accused the DRC of supporting militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis. Rwanda has invaded the DRC three times in the past twelve years, twice sparking civil wars.
The latest round of fighting has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rapes, and some 200,000 people have been displaced since August, according to the World Food Program. That’s in addition to the nearly 1.5 million people already displaced from this part of the country since 2007.
AMY GOODMAN: Bringing attention to the dire situation in the Congo and the role of Western corporations in fueling the conflict was the focus of Congo Week, an awareness-raising week of events last week across the country on campuses.
Kambale Musavuli is a Congolese engineering student at North Carolina A&T University. He helped coordinate Congo Week with the group Friends of the Congo, joining us now from Washington, D.C.
What do you think is the most important issue for people in this country to understand, as you come out of Congo Week, a war that very few people in this country know about?
KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Yes, thank you for having me on the show. The really main important things that people should know that is the war in the Congo is directly connected to the United States, as far as resource exploitation is concerned. What we wanted to do, coming out of Congo Week and—is to show that connection, as well as be able to provide enough information to the world community and the US-based universities on how they can help support the Congolese to regain the sovereignty on the land, understanding that the conflict in the Congo is based on resource exploitation, which we’re seeing in the later years from the invasion of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the eastern part of the Congo.
JUAN GONZALEZ: When you say directly connected to the United States, what firms are in the Congo, and what are they doing to fuel the conflict?
KAMBALE MUSAVULI: There are numerous firms. I will go with the Dan Rather report that just came out last month about “All Mine.” Freeport-McMoRan, out of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, they are exploiting the copper out of the Congo. Dan Rather did a wonderful job showing how Freeport-McMoRan is doing so. Cabot Corporation out of Boston, Massachusetts, is another company that was mentioned in the UN report of 2001and 2003 on the exploitation of coltan, and coltan being a resources that’s found in virtually every electronic device, such as cell phones, laptop, DVD players.
And understanding that the root cause of the conflict in the Congo is the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources is what actually is making us, the youth of the Congo, to go out to the world and be able to connect with people a good way, of letting them know that the strife is not more so of an ethnic strife, but more so of the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of the epidemic of rapes in Congo?
KAMBALE MUSAVULI: The rapes are a direct result of the war. We’re seeing it—the latest spasm that we’re seeing right now has been going on since ’96. The rapes, the murders, they all are being done as a way of mass displacement, if you have to put it in the context. As one person is brutalized in a community, the people in the neighborhood will be afraid, and that will cause them to be displaced. As you mentioned, we have about 1.5 million people internally displaced in the Congo. As this strategy has been used in the eastern part, we’re seeing masses of people being displaced from the villages, from the cities, simply because they live in a area rich of minerals. Now we’re seeing it very clearly, The Virunga Park was taken over yesterday, simply because there are resources that Laurent Nkunda exploit into the Virunga Park.
So, to end the rape, you must end the conflict. And to end the conflict, you must stop the resource exploitation of the Congo, thus creating a platforms for the Congolese people to be sovereign and free. And a few prescriptions that I may mention would be to put pressure on Rwanda, because we do know that Rwanda is supporting proxy forces in the eastern part of the Congo. And we can use such people who have Kagame’s ear, such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Cindy McCain, Rick Warren, to put pressure on Kagame to make sure that not—we do not see another nearly six million people dying in the eastern part of the Congo simply because of a blessing of land. The people who are exploiting those resources are cursed, as they continue to create the conflict at the detriment of the Congolese people.
AMY GOODMAN: Kambale, we only have about thirty seconds, but you also organized a cell phone protest yesterday. Explain.
KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Yes. What we have asked people to do to show the connection with coltan is to turn off their cell phone last week on Wednesday, October 22nd, and change their voice mail, because we believe that people will call their phones still, and explaining why their phone is off during that day. Our aim, really, during the cell phone boycott, is to raise awareness about what’s happening in the Congo, and using the cell phone as a messaging tool was very, very successful. We had students in New Zealand, a high school in Avonside, that actually did that perfectly, getting the whole high school to participate in that. So, our aim into the cell out, as well as Congo Week, is basically to end the conflict and provide support to the Congolese people in their quest to regain sovereignty of their land.
AMY GOODMAN: Kambale Musavuli, I want to thank you very much for being with us. The coltan used in cell phones, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s an engineering student at North Carolina A&T State University, helped coordinate Congo Week.