Despite an official peace treaty to end the devastating five year civil war, also known as the Second Congo War, in 2003 and a set of elections which didn't quite live up to expectations of fairness and transparency, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been languishing in the bottom spot of the UNDP's Human Development Index for some years. Most of its 68 million people can't expect to live beyond 48, not least because parts of the country have been plagued by violence and armed conflict between myriad armed groups fighting the national army and each other.
Though DR Congo's people are the second poorest in the world it is thought that the country is the world's richest in terms of natural resources, a fact not lost on domestic militia and armies from neighbouring countries who have historically helped themselves to anything worthwhile that can be dug out of the ground or cut down, taking advantage of a weak central government and wide-spread lawlessness.
Congo is also the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman, with catastrophically high rates of rape perpetrated by all sides. With over 200,000 women and girls in Eastern Congo thought to have been raped since 1998 and an estimated 22% of men also reporting sexual violence, Congo's ongoing conflict was an important factor in bringing about United Nations Resolution 1820 which concludes that 'rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime'.
The lengthy and chaotic Second Congo War, spawned by ethnic unrest in Eastern Congo in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide , prolonged by the die-hard kleptocracy of president Mobutu Sese Seko and sustained by the promise of booty for any comers ultimately drew in 7 African armies and 25 other armed groups fighting over the vast spoils. The war is thought to have caused some 5.4 million people, most from starvation and disease, making this war the deadliest since WWII yet all concentrated in one country.
Tens of thousands of children were forcibly recruited into the fighting and Congo is now dealing with a generation of young people completely lacking in basic education but filled with the horrors, fear and desperation of having fought in a war. Millions more have been displaced from their homes, seeking refuge abroad or in one of the many refugee camps dotting the landscape of Eastern Congo. The camps have bred their own internal conflicts and women are particularly at risk of sexual violence and exploitation despite the fact that the UN's over 19,000 peacekeepers in Congo are supposed to be protecting the civilian population.
None of this, however, has put off a swathe of private and state investors from pumping significants sums of money into the country to secure rights and markets for products as diverse as cigarettes, palm oil, beer and diamonds. Four of Denmark's largest pension funds have bought 10.6 million dollars worth of government bonds. For these funds, countries like Congo are considered 'emerging markets' experiencing rapid growth and thus offer risky, but worthwhile, investment opportunities.
Rampant corruption and clientelism means that the government and a small group of privileged individuals have their hand in much of the resource extraction and little attention is paid to official regulations and procedures.
Jaquemain Shabani, the deputy leader and spokesman of the Union pour la Democratie et la Progres Social (UDPS), one of DR Congo's main political parties, was recently detained by secret service agents at Kinshasa's international airport as he returned from a trip to Europe. During the next night he was systematically beaten and had his head held under water until he fainted. According to him, there is little difference between much discussed conflict diamonds and the bonds which foreign governments are prepared to buy from the Congolese government.
Mads Nissen travelled to Congo and came across the ubiquitous signs of a country struggling to mend the wounds of decades of brutal fighting and a general collapse of society.