DRC Death Toll Exceeds 5 Million & Almost No News Coverage?

In the past few weeks, conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has received extensive attention in western media, and understandably so. The death toll among Israelis stands at 6 and Palestinians a staggering 160, not to mention the number of injuries and damage of infrastructure. In a bit of a surprise, left-leaning western media has also given a smidgen of attention to ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a colossal conflict that has been happening since 1998. In this post, David Mayeda reviews Virgil Hawkins’s concept of “stealth conflicts,” which refers to those conflicts happening across the globe that are massive in scope but receive virtually no attention from mainstream media, academia, government, or the general public.

If someone were to ask you what has been the biggest global conflict of the past decade, what would you say? The war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria? None of those responses would be surprising given the amount of attention those conflicts receive from mainstream media. In fact, those are and have been serious conflicts. But what about any conflicts in parts of Africa? Could you even name one?

The reality is, the biggest conflict that our world has seen since World War II revolves around a country in central Africa called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict is an offshoot of sorts from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, though the violence raging across and around the DRC has festered into its own world war involving a total of nine African countries. Just how big is the conflict in and around the DRC? Since 1998, over FIVE MILLION people have died, many directly at the hands of soldiers and the use of small arms (i.e., guns, machetes). However, far more have died from being rendered internally displaced persons, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes and thus are heavily susceptible to death via disease and malnutrition.

In recent weeks, violence in the eastern part of the DRC has escalated as violent rebel forces known as M23 have overtaken the DRC’s eastern capitol of Goma. Ongoing conflict between M23 rebels and the Congolese military has led to the following:

“Those fleeing in terror find only overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in the poorly-supplied camps. ‘There is famine in the camp since last Sunday…. We received many displaced with nothing to eat. Even to find shelter for them is very difficult. We ask the international agencies to come to help these displaced people. The problem is food. People don’t have enough to eat.’”

M23 is a group of soldiers who mutinied, claiming the Congolese government failed to fulfill a 23 March 2009 peace agreement (see here). Most international reports suggest it is difficult to definitively ascertain which side is at fault or if any militaristic force best represents the interests of the largely peaceful citizenry. And in fact, this is one of many reasons this mammoth conflict is so under-reported in western media: the conflict is difficult to understand and does not have a simplistic narrative with a clear hero, villain, and victim.

While there are obvious and innumerable victims, the mainstream media will only present simplistic story lines for a public that wants clear “good” and “evil” parties. But in the DRC, a wide variety of governmental and rogue military forces have perpetrated mass forms of violecne, including sexual violence, against peaceful villagers. Furthermore, unlike the conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts in the DRC are not seen to have an immediate impact on western interests (i.e., they don’t have a perceived or real tie to terrorism or international diaspora). Consequently, western readers feel no social connection with the violence in and around the DRC.

Thing is, there is a connection – the DRC is rich in natural resources linked to products sold in high-income countries, of particular importance “conflict minerals” used in information technology. Notably, some official reports indicate that the M23 rebels are funded and led by the Rwandan military, who has interests in controlling the DRC’s slave-based mines. And as presented in the video, below, control of the mines follows a system characterized by horrific physical and sexual violence (assist to the Global Sociology Blog):

Not to minimize the tragedy of Gaza, but Virgil Hawkins reports the obvious contradiction. Since mid-November in the week leading up to the M23’s overtaking of Goma, the New York Times (print and online) presented 48,711 words in 60 articles dedicated to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but only 2,947 words in 5 articles dedicated to the DRC. And it’s not just the mainstream media’s fault. In accordance, academic social scientists essentially ignore violence in the DRC, as do governmental agencies and the general public. The result is a collective lack of awareness, compassion, humanitarian aid, and gumption to solve this monstrous global problem.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Conflicts across the Middle East garner widespread media attention. Why is this so?
  2. Strategically, how can western media be altered such that conflict in the DRC is given more attention?
  3. Academicians also pay little attention to the DRC and Africa in general. How might you try to change this?
  4. Why is it in big business’s best interests that the public is left unaware of violence happening across the DRC?

Highly Recommended Reading: “Stealth Conflicts: Africa’s World War in the DRC and International Consciousness” by Jonelle Lonergan (2004).

All screen shots taken by author on 23 November 2012.