600,000 children are on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations. 600,000 children. That should be a headline in every paper, every newscast, every day as long as this famine lasts. It won't be of course, because we've come to accept these catastrophes as somehow inevitable events that we can't do anything about until it's too late. That's not true of course, but it's the way many perceive it. It isn't until we see pictures of dying children that we feel compelled to take action. Sadly those pictures aren't hard to find in Somalia today.
Ask many Americans to name the bloodiest war since World War II and chances are that most would not know the answer. If you told them it was in Africa, they might guess Rwanda or the ongoing conflict in Sudan. They'd be wrong.
By far, the deadliest conflict was in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2003. Eight African nations participated in the fighting on Congolese soil, many hoping to seize control of its vast mineral wealth. Some 4 million Congolese died during the conflict and nearly another 1 million have died in the lawless aftermath from starvation, conflict and preventable disease. Tens of thousands of children were forced to become soldiers, and as many as two out of three women were victimized by rape and other forms of sexual violence.
This is still happening today.
Perhaps the lack of attention toward these atrocities explains the disconnect in Washington between the compassion felt for the people of eastern Congo and the nominal advancement of specific policies to bring sustainable change to the region. Fortunately, that began to change this summer with passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, which required reporting the origin of potential conflict minerals from Congo. I hope that the incoming Congress will continue the bipartisan movement for sustainable peace and prosperity in that region.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast. Sasha Lezhnev is Executive Director of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a nonprofit that aids former child soldiers. John Prendergast is co-founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress and co-author with Don Cheadle of the forthcoming book, "The Enough Moment."
Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast
Special to CNN
At a time when partisan politics are bitter, midterm election races are tight and almost every legislative effort is stalled, who would you expect to take the boldest step in years to address the deadliest war in the world, in the heart of Central Africa?
Congress, of course.
Quietly, over the past four presidential administrations, a powerful and deep bipartisan consensus has developed in Congress in support of a stronger U.S. policy toward Africa. The latest manifestation of this cooperation is a small but potent provision addressing Congo's "conflict minerals," folded into the recently passed Wall Street reform bill.
The trade in four conflict minerals - tin, tantalum, tungsten (the 3Ts), as well as gold - fuels the war in eastern Congo today. It's been the deadliest war in the world since World War II.
We regularly travel to eastern Congo, and on our last trip, we traced the minerals from the mines.
At the mines, we saw militiamen armed with AK-47 machine guns standing over miners and forcing them to work and pay bribes, including child miners as young as 11. We then crossed through army and rebel checkpoints, where smugglers paid off the commanders in U.S. dollars, and then witnessed how these same minerals were packed into barrels with Congolese flags on them and loaded onto planes and flown out of the country.
We've seen how armed groups on all sides of the conflict are reaping hundreds of millions of dollars per year by controlling mines and trading routes, selling minerals to international traders and smelters, which in turn sell them to electronics and jewelry companies.
By requiring that publicly listed manufacturers who use these minerals conduct independent audits of their supply chains, this legislation will help curb the conflict minerals trade.
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