The Bleak Calculus of Congo's War without End
"[...] For millions of Congolese, the brutality that plagues their daily lives is all too real -- even if almost everyone else would just as soon forget about a conflict so devastating that some call it 'Africa's world war.' With a death toll surpassing that of Iraq and Afghanistan combined, it is one of the bloodiest and longest-running struggles anywhere. Nobody knows how many people have died since the latest fighting erupted, but estimates range as high as 5 million, including those who have died from the illness and hunger it has caused. As well, hundreds of thousands of women, many of them still girls, have been raped; soldiers on all sides use sexual violence like a weapon. The United Nations' largest active peacekeeping force -- 20,000 soldiers from dozens of countries -- has failed to halt the atrocities. In fact, there are those who argue that the peacekeepers sometimes make things worse. A year ago, hope for peace soared when the government of President Joseph Kabila signed a pact with a key rebel group. Yet the lush green hills and forests of this starkly beautiful land are still in turmoil -- caught up in an endless scramble for the vast mineral wealth that in little more than a decade has attracted invaders from seven nearby countries. Despite the continued fighting, the government is trying to shut the refugee camps scattered across Congo's eastern provinces, where 1.4 million are homeless, including 900,000 displaced in the past year alone. But most people are too fearful to go home -- with good reason. Human Rights Watch has reported that at least 1,400 civilians, including many women and children, were killed in 'horrendous abuses' by both government and rebel forces. In some cases, the attackers 'slit their throats like chickens' or gang-raped them so viciously that they bled to death from their injuries. Those who survive are often abducted as forced labour. And now there are fears that the situation will get worse. Not only is President Kabila trying to close the refugee camps, but June 30 will mark the 50th anniversary of Congo's independence -- an occasion he wants to observe with the UN's blue helmets, if not gone, packing their bags. [...]"
[n.b. Photo by James Aken/Reuters]