To lose faith in humanity, one just has to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the past 20 years over 5 million people have died in from violence, hunger, and disease. The fighting in the Congo is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. An estimated 2.7 million people have been internally displaced from their homes because of violence. Systematic mass rape of women is common. At the height of the current conflict, it is estimated that 48 women were raped in the country every hour and a total of 12 percent of women had been raped at least once. One in ten soldiers in the country are child soldiers.
Most of the violence in the Congo occurs in the eastern region where there are up to 40 different armed factions. These factions are largely supported by Congo’s vast mineral wealth of copper, cobalt, and diamonds. The fighting over the past 20 years was brought on by the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which nearly 2 million people fled across the Congolese border to escape. In 2016 violence erupted in the Kasai region in the heart of the country.
Last August security forces killed a militia leader Kamuina Nsapu (“Black Ant”) in Kasai Central. His militia retaliated and in return the national government hit back even harder. Since August it is estimated that between 500 and 3000 people have been killed with around 1.4 million displaced. Many of the displaced are fleeing into Angola. There are allegations that government forces have slaughtered entire villages. Two United Nations investigators sent to the region to investigate were murdered in March.
Now the U.N. has found evidence that government “elements” are responsible for digging at least 42 mass graves. So far 80 mass graves have been found. The Congolese government maintains they are only for the military dead, but witness testimonies tell a different story. There are stories of newborn babies, elderly, and people with disabilities being slaughtered in their homes as soldiers and police officers took their valuable possessions. When attempts are made to inspect the graves to verify witness claims, government soldiers turn investigators away.
The Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a stronghold for opponents of the country’s leader, Joseph Kabila. President Kabila has been clinging to power and was originally due to leave office earlier this year having been barred by Congo’s constitution from running for another term. He has been the country’s leader since his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard 17 years ago. His tenure is characterized by misrule and unbelievable bloodshed.
The next few months are critical for the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Will Joseph Kabila peacefully transfer power or will the country continue backwards. The violence and apparent atrocities in the Kasai region is a bleak portent of the future. One-hundred-eighteen years after Joseph Conrad published the “Heart of Darkness,” the Congo still represents the worst of human nature and society.