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Violence and persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

On Christmas Day 2021 a suicide bomber – a suspected member of Islamist group the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – killed seven people, including two children, celebrating Christmas at a restaurant in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

This was not the only example last year of anti-Christian, Islamist violence in the DRC. In June 2021 two women were severely injured when a bomb exploded at a Beni church. 

In May 2021 a church minister was among at least 55 people killed in ADF attacks on camps for internally displaced persons in both Irumu territory, Ituri province, and Tchabi, North Kivu province. The Islamists were targeting the Christian-majority Banyali Tchabi ethnic group (also known as the Nyali). Nyali people are regularly attacked because their lands are rich with gold deposits.   

Christian leaders in the DRC warn of a strategy by the ADF – which has suspected ties to the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) – to “kidnap and force victims to join the Islamic faith”.

A land of death and disease

The land now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo has never enjoyed peace since it was first colonised in the nineteenth century. The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 that divided African territories among the European powers awarded the land to King Leopold II of Belgium, who declared it his own private possession.

Leopold used what he named the Congo Free State for the production of valuable resources such as rubber, ivory and minerals, and enslaved the indigenous population.

The result was one of the most brutally repressive regimes in human history. Torture and amputation were used as punishments when quotas were not met; children were abducted from their families to provide slave labour; famine and disease were rampant. Conditions were so horrific that even the other colonial powers condemned them. From an estimated 20 million in 1880, the Congolese population was halved.

In 1908 Leopold was forced to give up his possession, which was sold to the Belgian government – but conditions in the newly renamed Belgian Congo scarcely improved.

On gaining independence in 1960 the DRC immediately dissolved into civil war, based in large part on ethnic and tribal divisions. In the 62 years since independence, conflict, disease and malnutrition are thought to have caused more than six million deaths. More than half of these deaths have been children under the age of five. 

Isidore Bakanja, Belgian Congo (1887-1909)

Tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian 

Isidore was about 18 when he gave his life to the Lord Jesus. His great love of Christ could be seen in his commitment to prayer and to evangelism. Isidore chose to leave his home village and move to a large town, hoping to find further opportunities for fellowship and sharing the Gospel. He found work with a Belgian company on the Ikili rubber plantation. 

The plantation manager Van Cauter, who hated Christianity, took a special dislike to Isidore because he always tried to preach to his fellow workers. Van Cauter said, “You’ll have the whole village praying and no one will want to work.” One day he flew into a rage when he saw Isidore praying during a rest period, and ordered him to be flogged with an elephant-hide whip that had nails protruding at the end. 

When Isidore’s skin was flayed from his back, the other workers refused to flog him anymore, but Van Cauter threatened their lives, so they continued, perhaps up to 250 lashes in all. Afterwards Isidore lay in a pool of blood, his back so lacerated that some bones were exposed. He was heard saying, “He did not want me to pray to God… He killed me because I said my prayers… I stole nothing from him… It’s because I was praying to God.” 

Isidore was given no medical help; rather, he was chained up and hidden away, suffering from his wounds. When a visiting  inspector was due, Isidore was thrown off the plantation, but was able to drag himself out of the forest to seek the inspector’s help. The horrified inspector took Isidore with him, hoping to help him to recover, but by then no medical help was any use. 

Isidore survived a further agonising six months, each day praying to God. He declared before his death that he had forgiven the man who treated him so brutally.

An abridged version of this story can be found in Heroes of Our Faith: Volume 2 (2021) by Patrick Sookhdeo – available from
www.barnabasfund.org/resources/books


 

Danger and violence in DRC’s mines

The DRC’s mineral resources remain a cause of hardship, not prosperity. Southern DRC is estimated to contain 3.4 million tonnes of cobalt deposits – almost half of all the world’s known deposits. Cobalt is highly valued as a necessary component of lithium-ion batteries, used in mobile phones, tablets and electric cars. 

In a country where three-quarters of the population live on less than $2 a day, the prospect of income from mining cobalt can become all-consuming. Informal mines are everywhere. Residents will dig under their own homes and, if they have them, gardens in the hope of finding precious metal. People will break into official mines in order to dig, lacking the necessary safety equipment and risking a severe beating if caught.

Child labour is common – of 255,000 miners in the DRC it is estimated that 40,000 are children. Those as young as three have been known to work in mines. Some spend up to a week at a time in the tunnels and mineshafts. They eat only infrequently. Even very young children quickly learn to assess the value of the stones and metals  they unearth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children, sometimes as young as three, are among those working in the DRC’s many brutal and hazardous mines [Image credit: Sylvain Liecht]

Even in official mines, conditions for all miners are dangerous, with cave-ins and other disasters a constant risk. The cobalt itself is hazardous, sometimes radioactive, and contains toxins that can be harmful to unborn children, increasing the risk of birth defects and stillbirths for pregnant women at work digging and mining.

The mines remain places of violence – church leaders who seek to minister to the miners face fearful reprisals if they are seen to disrupt work. Efforts to reform the sector have led to little if any change. Much prayer and help is needed for this impoverished, troubled and traumatised land.

Barnabas-funded food aid is distributed to hungry Congolese Christians

Barnabas Aid sends practical support to Christians in the DRC when there is opportunity, whether in the DRC itself or refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.
(Project PR1571 DRC General Fund)