October 22nd, 2008
03:50 PM ET

Stop the 'vampires' in the Congo

Javier Bardem & John Prendergast

Editor's Note: Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem produced a documentary, "Invisibles," on suffering in the Congo and four other regions of the world. John Prendergast is co-chair of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and other crimes against humanity. Prendergast was director of African affairs at the National Security Council and special adviser at the Department of State during the second Clinton term. He has written eight books on Africa.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/22/art.congo2.jpg caption="A man sleeps on a mattress on the patio of a school near the Kibumba refugee camp, on October 19."]
Over the past decade, waves of violence have continuously crashed over eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the world's deadliest war.

A study by the International Rescue Committee says the war has led to the deaths of 5.4 million people.

The human wreckage that washes ashore in displaced settlements and shattered communities has few parallels in terms of pure suffering.

With the most recent escalation in the conflict during September and October, another tidal wave of destruction is hitting the embattled population of eastern Congo, with devastating consequences.

The perpetrators and orchestrators of this violence do so primarily in a mad scramble for one of the richest non-petroleum natural resource bases in the world.

All kinds of minerals are mined in the Congo that end up in our computers, cell phones, jewelry, and other luxury and essential items of everyday use. Because there is no rule of law in the Congolese war zone and no ethical code impacting the international supply and demand for these minerals, the result is that anything goes.

In Congo, this means the vampires are in charge.

Vampires take many forms in Congo. They are the militia leaders who control the mines, and who use mass rape as a means of intimidating local populations and driving people away from areas they want to control.

Vampires also include some of the middlemen based in neighboring countries who arrange for the purchase and resale of Congo's resources to international business interests, run by people who are often accomplices. They need to acquire minerals like tin and coltan to be able to satisfy the insatiable demand for these products in North America, Europe and Asia. It leads them to ask no questions about how the minerals end up in their hands.

Then there are innocent consumers like us - completely unaware that our purchases of cell phones, computers and other products are helping fuel a shockingly deadly war halfway around the world, not comprehending that our standard of living is in some ways based on the suffering of others.

The suffering of the people of the Congo is unnecessary. If there was a functioning government there, and the rule of law, the minerals could be mined in a legal and orderly way.

If there was a peace agreement involving the main armed groups, the use of sexual violence as a tool of war would end. If there was a cost for committing the kinds of atrocities that have become common in Congo, they would end.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360°
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Lilibeth

    Dear Javier and John, thank you for all of your efforts to stop the violence in the Congo. I went to the Enough website. I saw how we can all take action. There’s a link in there called “5 things you can do in 15 minutes.” They are easy and I’ll definitely do them. I encourage everyone to do the same. If we all do these simple things, we’ll have a huge voice collectively. I’d like to see this crisis end as soon as possible; it shouldn’t have happened and it’s gone on way too long. Thank you for all of your hard work.

    Edmonds, Washington

    October 22, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  2. Cindy

    Well if the corrupt government of the Congo would do their jobs and not turn their heads and allow these atrocities to happen then a lot could be changed. Nothing we do or anyone else does is going to stop it until their government decides to step up to the plate! We can send people there, talk until we are blue in the face and nothing will change until they want it to.


    October 22, 2008 at 4:14 pm |