Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Congolese Conundrum

The Congo is the most chronic of numerous festering sores on the sick man of Earth, Africa.  The civil war there seems to have been going on for generations, but it erupted in ernest in 1996-97.  Since that time, campaigns (a rather civilized name for the actual barbarity) have been assigned different names but always with the same end; savage genocide.

With fully 6 million dead between '98-07 alone, and presently 3 million refugees, it's the most costly conflict, in terms of human life, since World War II.  It's estimated that the conflict is claiming 45,000 lives every month, and, as has been the case in this region, brutal killings are oft accomplished with machetes with the bodies left to rot.

I came across an excellent, though disturbing and heart-wrenching, piece in The New York Times (December, 2012) regarding the conflict by a writer who has knowledge and history in the region- I'd highly recommend it.  In part:

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. The election returned Mr. Kabila to power and nothing changed. I came back less than a year later and hired a dugout canoe to take me up the mighty Congo River, where I saw 100-foot-tall stalks of bamboo and spiders the size of baseballs. In the middle of the country, I came to appreciate how shambolic the state of Congo’s infrastructure really is. Rusty barges that used to ply the river now lie on the riverbanks with weeds shooting up through their ribs. The national railway, which used to haul away all the coffee and cotton and bananas that this country produces, is all but shuttered. 
I met a pair of soldiers who had chained a chimpanzee to a corroded railway tie, leaving the animal in a pile of its own feces, staring up at us with rheumy eyes as the soldiers howled with laughter. CONGO IS ESTIMATED TO POSSESS $24 TRILLION OF MINERAL RESOURCES. Its soil is so productive that a trip through the countryside, past all the banana, orange, papaya, guava and mango trees virtually scraping the windshield, is like driving through a fruit salad. But without any functioning infrastructure, all this agricultural potential is moot. “How will you get anything to the market?” one local official asked me. “There’s only so much you can carry on your head.”
Note that last paragraph and imprint it in your mind as you consider Africa in general and Congo in specific, that's trillion, with a "T".  The Congo wars are a confluence of aching ignorance, seeming desensitization as a result of decades of hideous barbarism, and blood lust and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.  They're a continent in desperate need of development, both social and economic.
Anyone with a shred of civilization in their soul must weep at this situation, but the real question is, what would be our best, if any, course of action?  The fecklessness, incompetence and serial impotence of the UN is a given, but as the dominant superpower on the planet, what should be our role in ending the human misery that defines this country/region?
The age-old debate as to whether the U.S. should be the world's "policeman" has been renewed of late with regard to the Syrian Civil War with the "nays" getting a lot of votes, and I think the "nays" would be dominant even without the Muslim factor.  That said, if there was ever a situation that bespoke the need for a "world policeman", the Congo conflict is it.  That said, arming a particular side would seem to just exacerbate the bloodshed and sending in troops or a full-scale invasion would seem a fool's errand.
Add to the mix that Africa has proven to be fertile ground for Islamic expansionism, then keep rolling that "$24 Trillion" figure around in your head.  Sometimes, humanitarianism and strategic necessity find common ground and Africa may just be that ground.
Conundrum, indeed.