Opera Philadelphia

Conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

By Brett Bailey

Low-intensity ethnic and territorial tensions were ignited in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when around a million Hutu refugees together with the perpetrators of the genocide fled across the border into the DRC and destabilized the region. The subsequent wars and ongoing violence have seen the deaths of around 5.4 million people – the largest number in conflict since World War II. Millions of people are displaced. Militias with ethnic and national affiliations fragment and realign themselves. Warlords arise and gather thugs and child soldiers around them and terrorize civilians. Rape and sex-slavery are epidemic. 

One of the prime causes of the continuing crisis is the extreme mineral wealth of the region. Rival militias battle each other for control of the mines. They force local men, women and children to work the mines at gunpoint. They tax them daily, leaving them barely enough to survive on. When a new militia group takes control of a mine, it massacres, maims, and rapes to assert its power. Orphaned children are conscripted into the mines or the armies. The taxes that are collected are used to sustain operations, and to buy arms and supplies.

This system is sustained by local and neighboring government officials, and by multinationals that draw the minerals out of the region, and make huge profits out of the various stages of production of electronic and industrial goods, and jewelry. They pour cash into the conflict zone, and have been known to facilitate the transfer of arms and ammunition to militia. They are aware of the atrocities being committed. They see the civilians fleeing. They see them being torn apart. But it is collateral damage. One cannot be sentimental when profit is at stake…


Brett Bailey is the director of Macbeth and Third World Bunfight.  

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