Congo has the world's biggest deposits of gold, copper, diamonds, and tin. Its dramatic mountain landscapes once inspired Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn’s romantic saga in The African Queen.
But that was before Congo’s internal conflicts drove foreign investors and tourists out of the region, dramatically reducing economic output and government revenue.
In the last decade, more people have died in the DRC than in Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur combined. Political initiatives by Africa, the West and the UN — including the deployment of more UN peacekeeping troops than any other nation in the world — has failed to stop the fighting and protect the lives of Congolese civilians.
If there's a bright spot, it's that humanitarians are highlighting what UN officials call the "worst sexual violence in the world."
In the last ten years, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. But it received little recognition from the government and there were few prosecutions. Now, European aid agencies and the UN are spending millions of dollars building courthouses and prisons to punish rapists. Mobile courts are holding rape trials in the hard-to-reach villages. And the government is paying for Congolese investigators to travel to Europe to learn "CSI"-style forensic techniques.
The results are seen in towns like Bunia, where rape prosecutions have increased 600 percent in five years. There are organizations like Women for Women, which teaches rape survivors how to read and write, cook, make soap and other skills that could empower them to be financially independent. Grassroots campaigns are encouraging rape victims to speak out in open forums.
These signs provide some hope that amid Congo's chaos, there's at least a chance for positive change.