By Julia Kline
Published: Monday, November 7, 2005
On Saturday, University professor Eyamba G. Bokamba delivered a speech on the crisis facing the inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The speech, the second in a series of dissertations concerning the natural resource wars in Africa's Great Lakes region, took place at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St.
The speech began with an explanation of the events leading up to the Congo's current climate of social and political turmoil.
According to sources cited by Bokamba, the 1994 assassination of the president of Rwanda escalated the general feeling of unrest between Rwanda's two political factions, the Tutsi and the Hutu. Many claimed that a top Tutsi military official had organized the assassination. The resulting feud between the two groups led to the mass genocide of more than 80,000 Rwandan people, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Many others fled across the border to the Congo. They settled in Goma in camps provided by the United Nations. Since then, the refugees in the Congo have led retaliatory attacks against the Rwandan government. Rwanda has responded by waging an ongoing war against the Congo. In his speech, Bokamba raised the controversial idea that some believe the United States has been covertly aiding Rwandan militants and facilitating the continuation of the war.
The war has left more dead in its wake than any war in African history. Many are killed in the continual fighting, but in the war-torn countries, the majority of the casualties are caused by treatable illnesses. 31,000 people die every month, nearly half of them under age five. This makes the crisis in the Congo the deadliest war since World War II and the deadliest Africa has ever seen.
One of the main points that Bokamba raised during his speech is that this war of such devastating proportions is receiving so little coverage in the mass media. University alumna and former resident of the Congo, Blandine Bawawana Bavwidinsi, explained the kind of hardship that her people face on an everyday basis.
"Women in the Congo are being raped in front of their families," Bavwidinsi said. "To know that my friends are facing this kind of thing, it's hard. That's what's happening in my country."
In addition to the staggering death toll, the war has spurred economic exploitation in this region of the Congo. The Congo is home to 80 percent of the world's supply of a valuable mineral known as coltan, which is a key component of such electronics as cell phones and computers. In the chaos caused by the war, international mining companies have been looting this resource from the Congo.
In addition to exposing the tragedy in the Congo, Bokamba also called for justice and an end to the devastation of both countries.
"It has to be stopped," Bokamba said. "Looting of the Congo's mineral fields must end, and the U.S. needs to withdraw any support it may be giving. Anyone who committed crimes should be brought to the International Court of Justice to answer for them."
When the speech had concluded, Bokamba opened the floor for discussion on the issues that had been addressed. Many individuals raised additional points or debated topics of controversy. In the end, however, the consensus was reached that not enough is being done to alleviate the suffering in Rwanda and the Congo.
Bosco Miller, a teacher from Springfield, said he believes that the first step toward helping the affected people is heightening awareness.
"I don't think the U.S. is aware that four million people have died, and no one pays attention," Miller said. "We need to let other people know what is going on and hopefully they can help."
Two more conferences continuing the discussion on the conflict in the Congo and Rwanda are scheduled within the next two months. The next will be held at the YMCA on Nov. 12.
Ken Salo, University professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, encouraged others to attend the conferences.
"The way the conference is structured as a series of continuing lectures is refreshingly different and allows a different focus on an in-depth topic," Salo said. "Students can benefit from the historical perspective of this forum. Usually the crisis is framed as a problem with people and culture, without looking at the history. This conference goes way beyond the surface to the underlying causes." http://www.dailyillini.com/media/paper736/news/2005/11/07/News/Conference.Sheds.Light.On.Struggle.In.Congo-1047794.shtml?page=1