The war in DR Congo is one of the biggest and most brutal in the history of the world. It has been going on since 1998. A peace agreement was reached in 2003, but fighting is still continuing in the eastern parts of the country, which is home to the children you see here.
• Around 5.4 million people have died, either in the fighting or from disease and starvation as a direct result of the war.
• At its worst there were over 30,000 child soldiers in the country. Thousands of them have yet to be reunited with their families. The UN reports that 848 children were forced to be soldiers in 2009.
• Some 200,000 rapes have been reported since the war began, but many believe that a lot more women and girls have been exploited. In 2009, half of the victims were children.
• Over 1.5 million people in DR Congo are refugees.
• Over 5 million children in DR Congo do not go to school.
Mobile phones and computer games fuel war
DR Congo has enormous riches. For example gold and diamonds, but also tungsten and coltan. These are minerals that are used in the manufacture of mobile phones, computers, computer games and MP3 players all round the world. The war today is about who will have control over DR Congo’s mines and natural wealth.
The current conflict followed in the wake of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994, during which almost 1 million people from the Tutsi ethnic group were murdered. Thousands of the perpetrators fled to the forests of DR Congo, where they remained. Suspicion was rife and a struggle for power broke out between Rwanda and DR Congo, and soon seven countries were involved in one of the most brutal wars in the history of the world.
As recently as 2001, the UN accused Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of encouraging the fighting in order to gather as many riches as possible.
In 2008, the UN once again accused Rwanda of keeping the war going. In 2009, the organisation Global Witness revealed that fighting in DR Congo was now driven by European and Asian trade in the manufacture of mobile phones, computers, computer games and MP3 players. Companies from Belgium, the UK, Russia, Malaysia, China and India were identified because they bought minerals from various armed groups that were brutally violating children’s rights. Companies were keeping the war going by buying the minerals. The fact that politicians, businessmen and soldiers in Africa, Asia and the West are making huge amounts of money from the war in DR Congo makes it difficult to put a stop to it.
War against girls
Girls and women are often the ones who end up suffering the most in war. Some 200,000 rapes have been reported since the war began, but many believe that a lot more women and girls have been exploited. In 2009, half of the victims were children.
Those who survive the rapes often find it difficult to be accepted back into society as they are regarded as being ‘unclean’. Solidarity and love within families and villages is destroyed. Many of the victims are infected with the disease AIDS.
“Murhabazi took me to hospital at once for an examination and HIV test. I was extremely lucky, because I hadn't been infected while I was with the soldiers. But a lot of other girls at the home are HIV positive,” recalls Faida.
Text: Andreas Lönn
Photos: Bo Öhlén