Monday, August 01, 2011

Congo, it's our war - Magan's World, Jan 2009

Sat 01 Jan 2009
Congo: it's our war

MAGAN'S WORLD:Manchán Magan's tales of a travel addict

IWROTE RECENTLY about arranging an outing to Congo for Go readers – a way for us to circumvent the fearmongers and doomsayers who claim this beautiful country will always be too chaotic and cut-throat for tourists.

I argued that although it might be a bit risky, the rewards of experiencing this astounding country would more than make up for any trouble. Its untrammelled fecundity is what’s most intoxicating – the whole country reeks of a heady lushness, a massive display of vaunting virility, with trees soaring into the sky to spread their seed as far as possible and flowers swelling to the size of umbrellas to ensure pollination.

The tone of my initial article and my suggestion of a holiday wavered between wide-eyed optimism and well-meaning intent. But within weeks of publication the Congo was at war once again, as if to prove the naivety of my suggestion. Nonetheless, I insist that the plan has merit and that it is inaccurate to portray the country as a snake’s nest of warring tribes. The truth of the matter is that the tribes are at war largely because of us – not just Europe’s past colonial misdeeds, but our current avaricious plundering of the Congo's resources. As aspiring world travellers we have a duty to inform ourselves about such things.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees revealed in the Financial Times last year that multinational corporations are inextricably linked to the deaths and rapes in the Congo. ‘The international community has systematically looted the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and we should not forget that."

The country has the misfortune of being the greatest source of minerals in the world - cobalt, coltan, tin, chromium, germanium, nickel, and uranium – most of which are needed in the production of cell phones, computers, children's video games, cars, airplanes, etc. This abundance should be the key to their success, but unfortunately the multinationals that extract these find it more profitable to do so in a war-torn country than a stable one which could impose taxes and oversee correct mining practises. From an accounting point of view funding warlords to keep the country in turmoil makes sense. King Leopold of Belgium realised the same when he was bleeding the place of ivory and rubber. It’s nothing personal, it’s just accounting.

Not only is the Congo teaming with these minerals, but it also has traditional resources such as gold, copper, silver and tropical hardwood which attract the mineral-poor neighbouring countries, Rwanda and Uganda, who send in their own militias to the Congo to carve out an area of control for themselves. These militias are indirectly funded by their governments who in turn receive funding from foreign governments. Ireland gave Uganda €44mil last year. So, in fact you and I are partly responsible for the tribal wars in Eastern Congo, wars that have killed 5 million people since 1998 (7 times that of the Rwandan genocide and equal to the deaths in the Jewish holocaust) and the rape of hundreds of thousands of women and children.

I’m not a politician or an economist, but as a traveller who’d like to visit the mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Virungas in Eastern Congo again, and to climb the brooding, sulphurous Nyiragongo volcano as I did just after my Leaving Cert, it’s worth being aware of these facts – that 1,200 people a day are dying there partly because of us.

And, there’s little point in looking to the UN for help. Their $1 billion annual budget for the region is pittance compared to what the mining and extraction companies can pay. These companies have direct links to governments in London, Washington and Pretoria, and they will always ensure the UN remain under-funded.

Tourism shouldn’t be so complicated, and yet . . .