What follows is a piece from the U.N. News Service about the chaos currently gripping central Africa. I’m not sure why I’m posting it – perhaps I’m protesting the fact that no one else seems to give a shit. Is there a moral to be drawn from it? Three things come to mind:
a) Much of this chaos is a result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The genocide played a major role in destabalizing the entire region. The roots of the current conflict are complex, of course, and I don’t want to oversimplify things. Still, every time I read about the millions who have perished in the fighting over the last few years, I am reinforced in my belief that never in history did the West have a chance to save more lives with fewer resources than 1994. If the West had acted, it could very probably have taken the edge off the worst. That’s not to say that central Africa would be a nice place now, but chances are it wouldn’t be hell on earth.
b) Pleas for help with the conflict have been issuing from the UN for a few weeks now. As far as I can tell, they’ve been met with nearly complete silence. I suppose I can understand the reluctance to intervene in a complex and perhaps intractable conflict. Still, would it hurt to report the conflict? There’s virtually nothing in the papers about this. Surely the sheer scale of human suffering warrants more mention than it’s now getting.
c) Western companies have profitted from this chaos. Central Africa is rich in resources, and the resources have played an important role in prolonging the conflict. Conflict diamonds are only the start of a long sordid tale of profit from misery. The current outrage, especially prevalent among conservatives, at French companies who did business with the former Iraqi regime would be far more convincing if the same group of outraged critics could bring themselves to condemn the Western companies currently doing business in central Africa.
AS FIGHTING CONTINUES IN BUNIA, DR OF CONGO, UN FEARS HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE
New York, May 14 2003 5:00PM
As heavy fighting continues to rage in the town of Bunia in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a top United Nations relief official today voiced fear of a looming humanitarian disaster in the area and warned of ethnic tensions that conjured up “shades of Rwanda in 1994.”
The situation on the ground in Bunia continues to be “extremely difficult and volatile,” with intense fighting going on between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias in the town itself, as well as around the airport, according to a UN spokesman. The local headquarters of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) is wedged in the area between the two groups.
Carolyn McAskie, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and the ethnic tensions in Bunia conjured up “shades of Rwanda in 1994,” where men, women and children rose up and attacked their neighbours.
Whole villages in and around Bunia were slaughtering each other – a deeply disturbing aspect of the hostilities that Ms. McAskie feared was “Rwanda-like,” although “nothing could match the scale of Rwanda.” Still, there had been hundreds of casualties “that we know of” in the last few weeks or so, she added, stressing that the humanitarian situation was “extremely dangerous, even desperate; the focus was on very basic life-saving interventions.”
The dire security situation – where a “rather nasty cocktail” of rebel groups and dissatisfaction with local authorities was playing on ethnic hatreds – meant that relief agencies were “down to the minimum in terms of providing the most basic human needs” such as plastic sheeting for shelter and high-protein biscuits.
Ms. McAskie noted there were just eight humanitarian personnel on the ground right now – including a surgeon, nutrition specialist, and water and sanitation expert -doing what they could. Despite the evacuations, she and others, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), were trying to keep a core group in place. Other teams and supplies were on standby, but needed a more secure environment in which to operate. Supplies were being moved up from Goma, but incoming flights tended to be sporadic. The first priority was to find a way to stop the fighting.
Asked how large a force would be needed to suppress the fighting, Ms. McAskie said Ugandan troops had been “keeping a lid on it”. They had anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 troops. “We have 800 personnel now, and estimates of what was needed were some three times that,” she said.
Joining Ms. McAskie at the briefing was Margaret Carey of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. She said that the new troops would have to be able to use force. The Mission was a peacekeeping operation and, therefore, lightly armed. It was basically comprised of guard units. What was needed now was the rapid deployment of well-equipped, well-trained troops, under a mandate that permitted the use of force. In terms of the total numbers needed, she thought the key was enforcement power and capacity.
Meanwhile, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said a shell landed in the UN Mission’s compound, killing one person and wounding 13 others. “I can now confirm the reports on the wires yesterday that one woman was killed yesterday while inside the UN Mission’s Bunia headquarters” he said, adding that a civilian was in fact killed by a stray bullet while she was in the compound, and one mortar shell also landed in the compound.
MONUC has also reported that two UN military observers have been missing since 11:00 a.m. local time Tuesday from Mongbwalu, five kilometres north of Bunia. “All attempts are being made to locate them,” Mr. Eckhard said.
There has also been an increase in the number of internally displaced persons seeking shelter at the Mission’s Bunia headquarters, and a makeshift medical clinic has been organized there to deal with the situation.