Charlotte Powell reports from a Stand with Congo demonstration in Central London on 6 April where at least a hundred protestors gathered to highlight the situation in the eastern Congo, where conflict has escalated recently between the M23 militia and national security forces.

Outside the head Apple store in Oxford Circus, a fierce protest blocks the road, the crowd shouting out: ‘your profits are covered in Congolese blood’! A young woman gives a speech, saying:

‘Many of us have an iPhone or laptop made by Apple. But do you know where the resources come from to make these Macs and Iphones? They come from the eastern part of the DRC… and do you know how they take the resources? They use children miners. Guess how much they get paid? $1 a day.’

The protest, called by Congolese activists under the banner ‘Stand for Congo’, (LINK) had two main messages. One was about capitalist profiteering by tech giants like Apple, Google, Tesla, and others, fueling the conflict. These corporations work hand in glove with mining companies in DRC that exploit child labour to mine Coltan, Cobalt and other minerals necessary for batteries and other key components. As well as the modern day slavery conditions mentioned in the speech, chants and speeches at the protest highlighted the deaths of mostly child labourers in these mines. 

The other message of the protest focused on the conflict, which goes back decades and has seen widespread atrocities and rape. Speakers blamed Rwanda, Uganda, and their western backers for arming and supporting the M23 rebel group who moved to surround the major city of Goma in February.

M23 was briefly used by a previous president of DRC, Joseph Kabila, to violently put down protests in 2017 when he overstayed his presidential term of office.

Most articles reporting on the situation in DRC focus either on labour exploitation in the mines or the atrocities and sexual violence of the conflict in the eastern DRC. But at this protest the two things were clearly held up as part of one system. One woman gave a speech saying 

As we see the Forbes rich list growing and growing and we see tech billionaires gaining more and more billions, 12.5 million women have been raped in the DRC over the last 30 years for land grabs, for Coltan mines, to make the very electronic goods that Bill Gates and Elon Musk are making billions from.’

The role of the west

Britain and the US have both given significant military aid to Rwanda, bordering DRC to the east and accused of repeated attempts to gain control of the mineral-rich land where the current crisis is centred. The Tories’ plan to ‘offshore’ detention of asylum seekers to Rwanda, ruled unlawful by the UK supreme court in November 2023, would be an even closer tie between Britain and Rwanda if they manage to force it through. 

Recent protests in Kinshasa (the capital of the DRC) have taken place outside western embassies, as well as against the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, which claims several of its vehicles have been set on fire. 

MONUSCO, is the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world and has not stopped atrocities in the country, despite having up to 21,000 troops in DRC. In 2022 protests in Goma demanded withdrawal of MONUSCO from the country, and the force is planned to withdraw by the end of 2024.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a target of ‘Green Imperialism’. Countries in the global core ‘are seeking to position the Congolese economy as an exporter of low-cost, low-carbon metals and an open market for the entry of renewable energy finance and technologies’ writes Ben Radley in an essay published in the Review of African Political Economy.

Against the machine of imperialism

From the shop’s flagpole, a flag with the apple logo was hanging. Underneath it, Congolese flags, Palestinian keffiyehs, placards, and the fists of the crowd filled the street. The protest was small, but it was a powerful example of a diaspora community taking the lead and breaking the silence over the consequences of imperialism and modern capitalism. Profits flow to the global core from exploited countries, but solidarity can flow back, connecting movements and building the possibility to break down the machine.

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