Thursday, May 17, 2007

"The White Man's Burden"

Here is the Wikipedia entry for "Second Congo War:"

The Second Congo War was a conflict that took place largely in the territory of Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). The war began in 1998 and officially ended in 2003 when a Transitional Government took power. The widest interstate war in modern African history, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as about 25 armed groups, and earned the epithet of "Africa's World War" and the "Great War of Africa." An estimated 3.8 million people died, mostly from starvation and disease brought about by one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II. Millions more were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries. [1]

Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former belligerents to create a government of national unity, the state remains weak and much of the eastern region continues to suffer from violent conflict. In 2004, an estimated 1,000 people died every day from violence and disruptions to basic social services and food supply. Sporadic outbreaks of fighting continue to lead to large scale forced migration.

Thus, reports that both fighting and ethnic massacres continue in DR Congo do not constitute news, nor do reports of the continued atrocities of the Interahamwe:

The Interahamwe (Kinyarwanda meaning "Those who stand together" or "Those who work together") is a Hutu paramilitary organization. The militia enjoyed the backing of the Hutu-led government leading up to and after during the Rwandan Genocide. A majority of the killings were perpetrated by the Interahamwe and ragtag portions of the militias that joined during the war.

The BBC reports that 10,000 of the 70,000 armed militia still fighting in DR Congo are Interahamwe, who have been there since 1994.

While this information is not timely, the BBC decided to revisit the story on this morning's Newshour; and their feature included an interview with Roméo Dallaire, whose experiences with a peacekeeping force in Rwanda should have provided many valuable lessons to the United Nations. Unfortunately, these lessons still have not be learned; and, while some of us may be sadder, none of us appear to be any wiser. What was memorable about the interview, however, was Dallaire's account of a meeting with one of the Interahamwe leaders, at which Dallaire bluntly put the question, "How can you do all these ghastly things?"

The answer was equally blunt. The Hutu's immediate response was, "Who are you to talk?" He then cited the history of the colonial presence in Congolese Africa as a chronology of atrocities meted out by foreigners on the natives. Having made his point about the bloody hands of colonialism, he concluded by asking Dallaire, "How many Africans died in the Holocaust?"

We were thus reminded that no social group, ethnic, national, ideological, or otherwise, has a monopoly on atrocity, whether it figures in breaking eggs for the omelet or playing "the great game of diplomacy." Most likely, Dallaire's informant was well aware of Kipling's injunction to "take up the white man's burden;" but it almost seemed as if his grasp of both the text and the context of Kipling's poem was even more acute than Kipling's own. Congolese Africa embodies the legacy of "Western civilization" at its worst; and now it stands as yet another problem that no one appears to have the will to confront, let alone solve.

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