In his dispatch from the frontline in eastern Congo this week, Ben Simon takes issue with Tim Butcher’s assessment of the crisis. Butcher (Prospect, December) claims that China’s grab for the region’s mineral wealth, rather than local tribal tensions, is to blame for the recent fighting in which over 100,000 people have died, and 250,000 have fled their homes. The rebels’ true endgame, Butcher says, is a slice of the $5bn worth of mining deals made between the Chinese and the Congolese government.
But ignoring the ethnic dimension of this conflict is a mistake, argues Ben, who has spent the past few months with the rebels, interviewing both high-ranking commanders and footsoldiers. Many say they are fighting simply because their families have been forced to live in refugee camps for years, banned from returning home by the Congolese government because they belong to the wrong “tribe.” While rebel leader Laurent Nkunda may well be in it to get rich, and may in time be bought off by the government, until there is a meaningful solution to this ongoing refugee crisis, and an end to the politics of tribalism, there will be no end to the chaos and bloodshed in this troubled region.