The union movement can help bring peace to the Congo


This week marks Congo Week, a global event organised by Friends of the Congo which takes place each year on the third week of October, to raise awareness about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Since 1996, over six million people have lost their lives as a result of a war of aggression waged by US and UK allies Rwanda and Uganda combined with a mad corporate pursuit for minerals such as gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan (an essential mineral found in cell phones and a wide range of electronic devices), uranium, tin, iron and much more.

The International Red Cross says it is the world’s deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

Located in the heart of Africa, the DRC is the size of Western Europe with a population of about 70 million inhabitants. It is the second largest country in Africa in terms of land mass and the fourth largest in terms of population.

The DRC is home to the second largest rainforest in the world and is a land of remarkable diversity and beauty.

It is also one of the richest places on the planet in terms of natural resources. Some experts say it has an estimated US$24 trillion worth of natural wealth in its soil.

But since Congo’s modern founding at the Berlin Conference in 1885 where it was given to King Leopold II of Belgium as his own personal property, there has been a mad scramble for its strategic and precious minerals resulting in the death of millions of Congolese people.

Between 1885 and 1908, an estimated 10 to 15 million people perished in King Leopold’s brutal extraction of rubber and ivory from the country.

This terrible legacy continues today.

In spite of Congo’s spectacular wealth, the hyper-exploitation by multi-national corporations combined with bad governance has kept the overwhelming majority of the population in abject poverty.

The per capita income is US$200 per month while the country ranks at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index at joint 186 out of 187 countries.

Congo’s workers in both the industrial and artisanal sectors have suffered tremendously.

Artisanal mining is thought to be Congo’s largest sector of employment, but forced labour, exposure to radioactive materials, unsafe mine shafts, and coercion by armed groups and government soldiers are all challenges that local workers face in trying to secure a modicum of income.

In the industrial sector workers suffer from low wages, displacement from traditional lands, government corruption and environmental degradation.

Congo’s challenges are both internal and external.

Labour groups, faith groups, students, human rights groups and other supporters can play a crucial role in bringing an end to the conflict in the Congo by standing in solidarity with the Congolese people.

Labour unions, for example, can organise delegations to the Congo and invite Congolese labour leaders for tours in Europe, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere in Africa.

Unions can educate their members by screening Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth, a documentary which can be found online at

This year, Congo Week takes place between 20 -26 October, 2013.

Since 2008, over 60 countries and 400 communities have participated in Congo Week.

People across the world screen films, host teach-ins, organise fundraisers, hold rallies and take many other actions to commemorate the millions of lives lost in the conflict and to elevate the profile of the Congo.

Labour groups throughout the globe can play a seminal role in building a global consensus to help bring an end to the suffering in the Congo.

The global Congo movement is as important today as the anti-apartheid movement was yesterday.

Through Congo week, Friends of the Congo appeals to people of conscience to stand in solidarity with the Congolese people as they pursue peace, justice and human dignity in the heart of Africa.