Sunday, December 16, 2012

Democratic Republic of the Congo

"A member of the Congolese M23 rebel group slept in the back of a truck as the rebels waited to withdraw on Dec. 1 from Goma, in eastern Congo." (Phil Moore/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
The World's Worst War
By Jeffrey Gettleman
The New York Times, December 15, 2012
"[...] Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight. I didn't always feel this way. During my first trip, in July 2006, Congo was brimming with optimism. It was about to hold its first truly democratic elections, and the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, were festooned with campaign banners and pulsating with liquid Lingala music that seemed to automatically sway people's hips as they waited in line to vote. There was this electricity in the air in a city that usually doesn't have much electricity. In poor, downtrodden countries accustomed to sordid rule, there is something incredibly empowering about the simple act of scratching an X next to the candidate of your choice and having a reasonable hope that your vote will be counted. That's how the Congolese felt. But the euphoria didn't last -- for me or the country. [...]
Later in 2007, I returned to write about a rape epidemic. In eastern Congo, which is savaged by dozens of armed groups, many of them scrambling for a piece of Congo's delicious mineral pie, it is as if the real battlefields are women's bodies. Out here, hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically assaulted in recent years, leading the United Nations to call Congo 'the rape capital of the world.' Many of these rapes have been marked by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place rived by civil war and haunted by warlords and drugged-up child soldiers. What's the strategic purpose of putting an AK-47 assault rifle inside a woman and pulling the trigger? Or cutting out a woman's fetus and making her friends eat it? [...] For years Tutsi-led Rwanda has tried to carve out a zone of influence in eastern Congo, using ethnic Tutsi militias and Tutsi businessmen inside Congo to do its bidding. Rwanda has a very disciplined, patriotic army that punches above its weight -- the Israel of Africa. It was Rwanda's invasion in 1996 that sent Congo into a tailspin it has yet to recover from. For years, the United States and Rwanda's other Western friends turned a blind eye to this meddling. Again, like Israel, Rwanda has succeeded in leveraging the guilt that other countries feel for not intervening in its genocide -- in which almost a million people were killed when Hutu militias targeted Tutsis in 1994 -- to blunt criticism of itself. But recently the United States and Britain have been presented with such a mountain of allegations about how Rwanda funneled arms into Congo and even directed the recent capture of Goma that they had no choice but to change tack. So the Western powers recently slashed aid to Rwanda because of Congo, sending a simple but forceful message: Get out. But it's unfair to blame Rwanda for all of Congo's ills. Congo's core is so mushy and rotten from decades of titanic misrule that this country has become a dumping ground for armed groups from all over the place that exploit its porous borders and feed off its ambient chaos. [...]"

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