Dan Snow and the BBC’s World Vision program recently put together an excellent one hour special on the troubles that continue to afflict the Democratic Republic of Congo; a naturally wealthy country which has been beset by unceasing conflict and insecurity and violence.
A paragraphed summary really does no justice to the scale of the problems the DRC has faced; but in short, the region has been in a perpetual state of violent transition between tribal warfare, divide-and-rule colonialism, military dictatorship, cold war power games, inter-state conflict and genocide.
The Second Congo War (1998-2003) alone killed up to 5.4m people and intervention was left to a conglomerate of bordering African states who were directly affected by the ethnic makeup of the belligerents and cross-border conflicts arising from unrest in the DRC itself. While the genocides that have taken place have been condemned publicly by the West; no intervention has ever taken place despite the scale of the human tragedy.
That the West’s moral conscience is tweaked only when there are geostrategic imperatives for it is no great revelation to anyone who has lived through wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq – twice.
What is potentially interesting though is the way that while some resources are clearly “securitized”; considered important enough by Western nations to go to war over, such as oil, there has been no such geostrategic imperative to take advantage of the DRC’s vast natural resources, many of which are scarce, and necessary in the production of consumer electronics which Western markets require a steady production of.
The DR Congo produces 70% of the world’s Coltan, a metallic ore used in the production of cellular phones among other electronic devices. The civil wars have badly hampered Congo’s ability to properly mine, and export the substance in order to improve its own economy. But demand from the rest of the world has ensured that plundering of Coltan by local militias who sell it on the black market continues to this day, and hampers the Congolese government’s ability to successfully tax and control the export of Coltan. Many countries, especially China, have such a high demand for this material that they will import it by any means necessary.
This leads to the question – if foreign military intervention is usually primarily economic and self-interested, is it possible that in the future there could be intervention in the DR Congo under the guise of a humanitarian crisis that was designed to protect the supply to Western markets of precious minerals? If the oil industry can feed Western military-industrial complexes, is it possible that in future “big tech” could lobby Senators and politicians in a similar manner in favour of intervention to secure the supply of materials deemed essential to Western civilisation?
Notable by its absence in this discussion is any talk of the human or ethical cost of intervening and not intervening. This shouldn’t be taken as an amoral position, but rather a realist recognition that humanitarian intervention has been given such a bad name that in the foreseeable future, the only interventions will be those that directly affect Western interests. Only time will tell whether DR Congo will be the latest victim of this double-standard.