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Do African lives in Congo matter to us?

Do African lives in Congo matter to us?

The war between Israel and Hamas has triggered great angst among many Africans. Many on social media platforms to which I belong have engaged in passionate debate about the horror in Gaza. Most have expressed sympathy with the Palestinians, and anger with the Israelis.  They are not alone in their reaction to the daily images of unimaginable death, destruction, and displacement of civilians in that tiny strip of land in which more than two million people are trapped.


Whereas I am as horrified by the war in Gaza as are other civilised people, I refuse to take sides in that conflict. I am as horrified by the death and suffering of Palestinians as I was horrified by the terrorist attack on innocent Israelis on October 7, 2023, that led to the retaliatory war we are witnessing. The lives of Israelis are as precious as those of Palestinians. The suffering of Israeli hostages in Gaza is no less than that of Palestinians on the run inside their little territory. The fear by the residents of Israel is no less than that of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank of the River Jordan. 


The tragedy of this war is compounded by the reality that Hamas and the current Israeli leaders are pursuing a course that will end exactly where it began. Hamas has declared that it will not release any more Israeli hostages until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. The likelihood of Israel accepting those demands is almost zero. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed those demands and has declared that Israel will accept nothing short of “total victory” and the safe release of all hostages. The cost of “total victory” will be unimaginable deaths and rivers of blood, and potential widening of the conflict with major international ramifications. There will be no winner in this war. 


Meanwhile, another war rages in the eastern Congo Free State, a few hundred kilometers from East Africa’s capital cities. It has not triggered as much interest among Africans as has the conflict in the Middle East. Last week alone, Save the Children Fund reported that 78,000 children fled their homes because of the escalation of the war between the Forces Armées de la République du Congo (FARDC) and the March 23 rebels (M23). The children are fleeing towards Goma, where their refuge will likely be disrupted when the fight is carried there by the rebels. More than 6 million people have been killed in Eastern Congo in the last thirty years. Nearly seven million people have been displaced by that war. 


Like most wars in the Congo Free State, this latest escalation seems to have remained under the radar of the same Africans who have devoted plenty of time and emotions to the war in Gaza. So far, I do not see much mention of the tragedy that millions of fellow Africans in Congo have endured for more than two decades. Is it because the lives of Congolese do not matter to us as much as the lives of Palestinians and Israelis? Is it because the images from this terrible war in Congo are not delivered to our television sets in our living rooms and to our handheld computers, keeping it invisible to all except the millions of nameless Congolese who live in their own “Gaza”? 


At their core, the wars in Gaza and Congo share common causes: greed, hatred, injustice, and ethnic intolerance. Foreign powers, bent of serving their own economic and other strategic interests, provide support to the combatants. Congo’s gold, diamonds, other minerals, timber, and other resources matter more than the expendable lives of people who are card-carrying members of the Wretched of the Earth.  The international community watches, issuing condemnatory statements and ritualistic appeals for peace. The combatants ignore them and continue their orgies of bloodletting. Most African intellectuals make no room for focused consideration of the fate of millions of our own people who are trapped in that hell in the Heart of Darkness.


For their part, the leaders of the warring groups are too ego-driven to yield to the reality that inter-ethnic wars are unwinnable. They refuse to blink even when history has shown that the great leaders are those who have chosen magnanimity over a macho stance. They seem oblivious to the truth that killing ethnic enemies creates new generations of enemies that will return the favour to your descendants, long after you are gone.  


The fact is that negotiated peace that considers the grievances of the opponents and provides grounds for justice and equality for all, offers a better chance of relief from the cycle of violence to which people in Israel, Palestine, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and other places seem to be condemned because of the short-sightedness of their temporary rulers and leaders.


I appeal to Africa’s intellectuals to apply their talents, knowledge, and experience to address the war in the Congo Free State. Whereas the Southern African Development Community Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) needs our support for its military intervention, the ideas of pan-Africanists that offer pathways to sustainable peace, freedom and development may, hopefully, find value among the rulers in Kinshasa and the 120 or so armed groups that are seeking the “liberation” of eastern Congo. Perhaps – just perhaps – the Congo Free State will eventually become a true Democratic Republic of Congo.

© Muniini K. Mulera

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