Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will The War in Central Africa Ever End?

Rebels have seized "the key town of Goma" in eastern Congo, deep in the heart of Africa. Refugees by the thousands are fleeing the fighting, which is described as "intense." The Guardian's article says that in the past two months as many as 200,000 people may have been displaced as fears of a "full-scale" war grow. The war officially ended in 2003, but -- as is painfully obvious -- peace has never taken hold.

Well armed Tutsi rebels have driven the government soldiers out of their base near Goma, where UN peacekeepers are already stationed. In fact, there are 17,000 peacekeepers in the country -- it is the largest such mission on the planet. Nonetheless, frustrated Congolese non-combatants have attacked the local UN mission, which is powerless to stop fighting, protect the population at large, or even distribute food to hungry refugees. Because the situation in the countryside is so fluid, aid missions are bottled up in Goma itself.

Citing personal reasons, the top commander of UN forces has recently resigned.

In every story I have read about the war in the Congo, whether it be a journalist reprising Conrad, an academic attempting to impose a conceptual framework on the chaos, or a wire service news report just stating the facts, the author seems to be at a loss to contextualize the violence. It is a fair problem: where does one start to explain the chain of events that have brought us here? Colonialism? Patrice Lumumba's assassination? That would begin to explain how post-colonial Western governments in Belgium and the U.S. fought proxy wars with the Soviets which stirred up animosities that have yet to settle. Or is it more to the point to begin with Mobutu's overthrow, in which tribalism itself was the source of conflict? A new BBC overview draws the line at the Rwandan Genocide.

But there seems to be a peculiarly intractable character to the violence that name-and-date history is at a loss to explain.

Thank you to The Mwamba Family Foundation for this incredible image of a Child Soldier in Bunia.