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At this critical juncture in the 21st century, all eyes are affixed on the financial crisis that both developed and developing economies are currently grappling with. Consequently, very little global attention is being paid to a rapidly deteriorating socio-political atmosphere in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a situation which may well be termed as Darfur – II. This humanitarian crisis, however, may have seriously disastrous repercussions, far worse from those hitherto seen before.
Massive armed conflict between Government militia and Congolese rebels had broken out earlier this year, resulting in the displacement of atleast 250,000 civilians. The rebels, led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda claim to protect the ethnic Tutsis from the migrant Hutu community who had fled Rwanda after the genocide in ’94. Gen. Nkunda believes that the Hutu militia, key personnel of which are accused in the Rwandan Genocide, pose a grave threat to the Congolese Tutsis. The rebels have sought to take up arms against the Government under President Joseph Kabila, and the ensuing conflict has torn the country’s social fabric apart. The rebels accuse the Government for its reticence and inefficiency in stopping Hutu militia from using its territory. For its part, the Government has condemned such violent upsurge, seeking military aid to curb the rebels.
We might not be in a position to evaluate the true nature of claims raised by the belligerents but what is very clear is the conflict’s devastating impact. Over 250,000 (BBC, UN Official Figures) civilians have been displaced from the country’s heartland where heavy fighting is the norm. Reports of inhuman atrocities, like mass killings and rape by parties from both sides, continue to pour in. Rebels seem to be recruiting young school-going children from various corners of the country; those who refused have reportedly, been shot. Amidst such plunder, the displaced thousands are dying of hunger and the prevalence of diseases is acute. The absence of any coordinated relief effort is apparent and the exigency mandates quick measures.
Lobby group Global Witness states that the Government soldiers stand as accomplices to the rebels, primarily to exploit the vast resources of gold and tin in this mineral-rich country. The situation is grave indeed, with little or no viable solution in sight. A ceasefire agreement which came into force later this year has been recently breached and negotiators are finding it tough to settle the ongoing dispute.
The UN has deployed a massive Peacekeeping force in the region, it largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation to date. Nonetheless, many believe that the Blue Berets stand no chance as they are outnumbered a 1000 to 1 in conflict zones. The UN Force is currently 16,500 in number and India is the largest contributor with 4000 personnel; however, the mere deployment of such peacekeeping forces cannot facilitate a solution to this humanitarian crisis. To quote the BBC, “Creating a robust force from the disparate elements of the UN contingent is not proving easy…”.
Military involvement of the UN cannot be the world’s knee-jerk reaction to a crisis of such magnitude. Developed and developing nations have a huge, consensual role to play in mitigating the harsh human conditions in Congo; our pursuit of economic might is futile if social conditions of fellow men and women are pitifully dismal.