Wednesday 17 December 2008

About the Democratic Republic of the Congo - A Second Attempt

The news that slowly trickle down from the Congo are just as grave as those that actually surface more and more from Zimbabwe (although the media hasn't decided yet whether the 18 000 or the 60 000 reported victims of Cholera are accurate - meanwhile, the new number is about 1000 who actually died from the infection).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is situated in Sub-Saharan Central Africa. The neighbouring countries are Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Angola, Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Currently, the country has about 62,6 million citizens and ranks No. 168 on the Human Development Index.
Congo became independent from Belgium in 1960 and the struggle for power was violent from the beginning. Only one year after independence, prime minister Lumumba was assassinated by political enemies and Belgian paratroops. The following years were marked by political instability and struggle. In 1965, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu staged a coup with the help of the United States (seeking to establish a "firewall against Communism"). He renamed the country Zaire in 1971 and ruled until 1997, when he was forced to flee the country. The following Civil Wars, connected to other regional conflicts like the genocide in Rwanda, with countries like Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia intervening, overshadowed the years after Mobutu's exile.
The current president Joseph Kabila came to power in 2001 after his father was assassinated in office and was elected in free (and according to neutral observers, fair) elections in 2006.
The current conflict (called "Kivu conflict") takes place in the eastern part of the country, near the border to Rwanda. The CNDP ("National Congress for the Defence of the People") under the lead of Laurent Nkunda sympathizes with ethnic Tutsis of the Rwandan government, while Congo-government forces are supported by the Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda, a Hutu rebel group with members who participated in the Rwanda genocide. It started in 2004 after the end of the Second Congo War when the inclusion of oppositional forces into one army failed miserably. A United Nations Mission was established in 2000 (the "Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo" or MONUC) and reinforced in 2004 as Nkunda started to occupy territory. In 2006, a European Union Force helped out during the elections.
The conflict started to escalate this Fall. Following rebel attacks on United Nations buildings, a resolution was signed to increase United Nations troop presence to about 20 000. Meanwhile, shocking reports of atrocities committed against civilians have surfaced, massacres the United Nations troops could not prevent. This is a quote from a New York Times article on a massacre in Kiwanja (you have to be a registered user to read it):
"In little more than 24 hours, at least 150 people would be dead, most of them young men, summarily executed by the rebels last month as they tightened their grip over parts of eastern Congo, according to witnesses and human-rights investigators.
And yet, as the killings took place, a contingent of about 100 United Nations peacekeepers was less than a mile away, struggling to understand what was happening outside the gates of its base. The peacekeepers were short of equipment and men, United Nations officials said, and they were focusing on evacuating frightened aid workers and searching for a foreign journalist who had been kidnapped. Already overwhelmed, officials said, they had no intelligence capabilities or even an interpreter who could speak the necessary languages."

NY Times: A Massacre in Congo, Despite Nearby Support, December 11, 2008
Another account of the massacre, but in French, in an article on Radio Okapi and on CongoPlanet. The full Human Rights Watch report is available as pdf here.

As African news sources report that human rights violations are "spiralling out of control" (CongoPlanet) and the Human Rights Council reports and condemns "acts of violence, human rights violations and abuses committed in Kivu, in particular sexual violence and the recruitment by the militias of child soldiers", the EU hesitates to send in troops to support MONUC (the summit in Brussels last Friday focused on the financial crisis).

HuffingtonPost: Congo-Kinshasa: The Never Ending War
UN News Center: DR Congo: UN deploys nearly all its 17,500 peacekeepers to strife-torn east
UN News Center: DR Congo: UN-mandated group finds evidence Rwanda, army aiding rival rebels
Mail&Guardian: UN peacekeepers 'dissatisfied' with DRC mission
Afrik: DR Congo: UK compromising UN peacekeeping?

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