Diamonds Remain One Source of Conflict in DRC

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Diamond rich  Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is gaining media attention this week ahead of its first democratic elections in more than 45 years. The United Nations is helping to organize the elections, set for July 30, 2006, and calls its DRC effort the largest election undertaking to date. The DRC covers a landmass of approximately the size of Western Europe and the United Nations has deployed troops to help maintain calm and order for some 50,000 ballot stations.

On July 24, UNICEF published a children’s alert from the DRC, claiming these elections are the only hope remaining for an estimated 58 million residents. As many as  600 children die each day due to violence, and more than 600 per day are displaced, sexually abused, and/or swept up into combat group camps. UNICEF concluded that rape and sexual assault is at epidemic proportions because combat groups deploy sexual violence as a weapon of war. Girls are singled out too for sexual crimes due to a popular myth that by engaging them sexually the act cures the perpetrator of HIV/AIDs.

More children under the age of 5 die every year in the DRC than in China — a country with 23 times the population.

UNICEF ambassador Martin Bell said it is easy to be overwhelmed by what has taken place in the DRC, but that the world owes it to the children to give them a future with the 2006 election process.

Thirty-three candidates are running for DRC president, 9,000 are running for legislative seats. 

According to a June 2006 Global Witness report, while armed conflicts have decreased in the DRC since 2002,  fighting between the national army and various rebel groups has continued in parts of the country, particularly in the east. Some of this fighting has centered around diamond mines and other areas rich in minerals and natural resources.

DRC’s official diamond exports have significantly increased in recent years, largely due to the DRC’s participation in the Kimberley Process.   However, the DRC still does not have a strong set of controls in place to track all diamonds from the mine to the point of exports, according to Global Witness.

About the DRC:
The DRC is three-times the size of Texas and borders  Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The population is more than 58 million and an estimated 25 million are registered to vote. There are more than  200 ethnic groups, about 70 percent are Christian, 10 percent Muslim, and the rest adherents of indigenous beliefs. French is the official language, but many local languages and dialects are used.

Diamonds, cobalt, copper, gold, silver, tin, coffee, rubber, palm oil, and coltan (ingredient of cell phones,) add up to make the DRC one of Africa’s most mineral rich nations.

The DRC gained independence from Belgium in 1960 after 75 years of colonial rule. Its first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated, and its first president, Joseph Kasavubu, was overthrown in 1965 by Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled for 32 years. Mobutu allowed for widespread corruption that ravaged the nation’s infrastructure until  rebel leader Laurent Kabila was propelled to power by Rwandan forces.
It was in 1998 that war broke out between  Rwandan-backed rebels and six other nations. Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph took over as president, ended the war in 2002, and negotiated a deal with all parties for which  reunited the country.

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