Congo: Breaking the Cycle of Rape and Pillage

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: Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

September 1, 2007: UN peacekeepers have taken over the job of training the Congo's new "integrated brigades." However, the UN trainers can only do so much. The diplomatic corps is now looking for donor nations to sign "bilateral defense agreements" with the Congo. The hope is the donor nations will be able to help the Congolese Army improve. The army needs hardware, including new equipment, communications gear, and transport. It also needs maintenance help and money for fuel. It also needs "software" - better organization. The diplomats want donors to help improve the standard of living of Congolese soldiers. That means new living facilities, but it also means higher pay and better health care. The idea is that is the standard of living is raised the soldiers won't be as apt to resort to theft and corruption.

August 30, 2007: About 2,000 of warlord Laurent Nkunda's gunmen attacked an army camp in eastern Congo containing a thousand troops and a brigade headquarters. The soldiers managed to hold on to their camp. Nkunda is a Tutsi, and most of his troops are as well. The Congolese Tutsi see the rest of the country as hostile to them, and willing to tolerate violence against Tutsis.

August 28, 2007: The Congolese government is trying to attract investment capital but continued violence, instability, and corruption make the Congo an "iffy place" to put money - especially the eastern Congo. The Congolese government is caught in a bind. It's tough to make social and economic progress if there are no jobs. Congo has lots of natural resources which in the past have been a source of cash and jobs. Corruption limited the economic benefits to the population, but a good job in a mine or mining transport company paid well. The government wants international corporations to invest in coltan mining operations in the eastern Congo. For nearly a decade, raw materials like coltan have fueled the fighting. Congo has roughly 80 percent of the globe's known coltan reserves. During The Great Congo War several Congolese militias and a few interested outsiders (Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda) fought for control of coltan mines. The price of coltan rose significantly, in part due to the scarcity created by the war. At one time it sold for over $200 a pound. Coltan, however, isn't quick money anymore. As comparative peace has returned, the price has dropped to around $15 to $20 a pound. "Coltan" is short for "columbium-tantalite," and is sometimes simply called tantalite. When refined it becomes tantalum, a key ingredient for electronic components essential for mobile phones and other wireless communications devices.

 

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