Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Conflict in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a sorry sight at the moment. A country whose chequered history is replete with rebellion, civil conflicts, rapacious exploitation of its abundant natural resources, gross human suffering and wholesale deaths now hosts, yet again, sordid experiences. Only concerted efforts by the international community can halt the deadly slide by a country that has clearly lost the ability to save itself.
The unfolding tragedy is sad, both in its origin and prosecution. Government forces are up against the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group led by General Laurent Nkunda, over differences that are partly traceable to the unprecedented Rwandan genocide of 1994. The rebels, backed by the government of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, have sought to control the eastern part of Congo. Kiwanja and the areas surrounding the North Kivu Provincial Capital of Goma now bear the morbid footsteps of the rampaging CNDP soldiers. The ceasefire that was declared by Nkunda last week only proved to be a ploy for reinforcement as his men have - against war conventions -turned on the civilian population in the affected areas, killing, looting and raping - the same crimes they accused Congolese soldiers of committing which had partly triggered off the war. Now, the fate of the several hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and the others in the region hangs in the balance.
That should not be allowed to remain so for long as the consequences would be too grave and constitute yet another scar on the conscience of the world. The events that led to the massacre 14 years ago are too fresh in the minds of the civilised world. The Security Council and the African Union have key roles to play in this regard. They should compel Kagame and President Joseph Kabila of the DRC to honour the spirit of the November 2007 Nairobi Accord which both of them had assented to. That pact derived its strength from Congo's pledge to disarm the Hutu militias within its territory who have remained a threat to the Kagame government. Rwanda's Tutsi – dominated regime had also agreed to fortify its borders to deny Nkunda's mostly Tutsi fighters access to assistance. Any step towards resolving the crisis that omits this basic strategy will hardly succeed as the predicament of the Congo-Rwanda axis is largely ethnic.
But that approach is not exhaustive, as economic considerations have fed the predatory instincts of Congo's leaders and other interests for too long. At a point, one of its former presidents, Mobutu Sese Seko, was richer than his own country through a deliberate process of mineral exploitation. Nkunda and his gang are in fact apprehensive of the present president's perceived design to corruptly enrich himself that way. Those fears should be adequately addressed as world and African leaders attempt to find a lasting solution to the perennial problems of that nation. The penury that the bulk of the 60 million Congolese dwell in despite their country's generous endowment, therefore, makes the issue of wealth distribution inevitable. For a resource rich country like Congo, the level of poverty portrayed in the footage of people fleeing Goma is unacceptable.
The arbiters should boldly put it on the table this time if a more permanent remedy is to be found. The Congolese should also come to terms with the desirability of restructuring the geo-political profile of their vast country. That would make for better accessibility, supervision and good governance. Too much power is concentrated at the centre, which has proven too weak to control the nation. Whatever would be mutually agreeable to the parties should be tried and then thoroughly monitored by the UN and AU.
On a final note, the world community must rise up before it becomes too late. Since the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force - its largest mission anywhere - has so far failed to contain the self-inflicted calamities that periodically engulf Congo, it simply means that much more should be done, and urgently too, especially by wealthier, stronger nations.
The world must not be taken through the painful process of negligence, aloofness, reluctance and then the mass slaughter of innocent people over again.