Thursday, 7 February 2008

DR Congo and other people's problems

There was an earthquake in eastern DR Congo last weekend, and there is an ongoing outbreak of cholera. There are major problems for the whole country in healthcare and economic development. Sorting these problems out would be so much easier if there were not foreign supported militias running around the east of country stealing, raping and killing when the urge takes them.

The most visible of these militias is from Rwanda, having fled after the Rwandan genocide. They are opposed by the group affiliated to another rebel soldier who is allegedly supported by the current Rwanda government, although the rebel's group also fights against the national government. The group should not be confused with any group allegedly funded by the Ugandan government (groups who have also fought the Congolese government), nor rebels from Burundi taking part in cross-border raids. They are also distinct from regular armies from those countries, and from Angola, the Central African Republic, and Zimbabwe, who now have all left DR Congo, at least for the moment. And please don't mistake them for the main Sudanese rebel group who (reportedly) left a few days ago.

DR Congo's internal security problems are frankly larger than those of any of its neighbours, and more people have died in its last war than in recent wars in its neighbours. The mean-spirited cry in western countries that too many foreigners are bringing their problems to them is not mean-spirited in DR Congo; foreigners in DR Congo are using it as a playground to fight bigger battles and inflict more suffering for longer than they could at home.

Rebel groups and former refugees should be the problem of their own countries, not DR Congo. The transfer of responsibility can begin with the Rwandans who were formerly refugees but who now have no business in DR Congo. The international community should work with the Rwandan government to assist their prompt repatriation, and fair treatment there. Yes, it is an administrative burden and may create tensions in Rwanda, but that is the problem of Rwanda with international assistance if they will. There will be a rump of Rwandans who are afraid of return because of their actions in Rwanda or DR Congo, but their status is clarified by their decision, and confronting them will be easier if they cannot hide in and feed on refugee populations. If their rebel opponents are not pacified by this action, their status locally and internationally is also clarified as foreign-aligned criminals.

National solidarity is important, but development in western Congo should not be given a low priority because of the conflict in the East. Growth - high, explosive growth - can occur in one part of the country while another isolated part fights, as Uganda and other countries have shown. Poverty in western Congo is a humanitarian disaster and should be treated as such, in the same way as a disease is treated despite a war going on around the doctors. Kinshasa is la belle - the beautiful - not Kinshasa la poubelle - dustbin - of all the region's problems. Western Congo has the geographical, economic, and human skill advantages of a Ghana, and there is no reason why it should not be as pleasant and successful as the West African state. Western prosperity could fund peacekeeping and provide an example in the East.

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