photo essay

Congo’s Contradictory Superlatives

Continued chaos in the resource-rich eastern frontier

By WALTER ASTRADA | 1 February 2010

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO is best known for topping two categories. One: it is the richest country in Africa in terms of mineral wealth—gold, diamonds, cobalt, coltan (used in mobile phones), oil, copper, gas and chromium—and two: it boasts the highest death toll on earth since World War II. An estimated four to five million people have died in the region since 1996, most not even from fighting, but from preventable diseases contracted while hiding in the jungles.

Ever since Rwanda’s Tutsi government sent troops over the border to pursue fleeing Hutu militants responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the Congolese army, foreign-backed rebels and homegrown militias have all been fighting each other for control over eastern Congo’s pay dirt.

Much of the fighting has broken out in and around Goma, a city near the Rwandan border. Many citizens endure desperate conditions in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, and tens of thousands of women have been raped and tortured by the warring groups—proving not only that rape is being used as a weapon, but that our most precious resource, human life, is once again no match for mammon.

Walter Astrada is a freelance photographer based in Spain. He has won numerous prizes for his work, including awards from World Press Photo and the Columbia School of Journalism. He has worked in Latin America and covered unrest in Congo, Kenya and Madagascar.

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