x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The forgotten war

"A massacre on a scale that has probably never been seen in Africa is happening virtually before our eyes," warns the French foreign minister. The war in the Congo has already taken 5.4 million lives. The conflict is being fueled and financed by the sale of minerals that end up in electronic products used around the globe. America's next president will have just 11 weeks to prepare to take office while a global financial crisis and worsening situation in Afghanistan demand urgent attention.

"The deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe is starting again - and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket," wrote Johann Hari. "When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichÈs of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a 'tribal conflict' in 'the Heart of Darkness'. It isn't. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by 'armies of business' to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you." The Associated Press said: "The conflict in eastern Congo is being fueled and funded by a tussle for mineral resources that end up in cell phones, laptops and other electronics - deepening the stakes in a war that sprung out of festering hatreds from the Rwandan genocide. "Rebel militias and Congolese army troops are fighting each other for control of mineral-rich land. They can then sell the raw materials they mine and use the proceeds to fund their activities and arms - which prolongs the conflict. " 'The links are very clear between the mining activity going to finance these groups, and these armed groups we know have been benefiting financially from the mining areas,' said Lizzie Parsons, a member of the Congo team at London-based Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation that investigates natural resource exploitation." The Times reported that Britain's foreign minister: "David Miliband faced the toughest diplomatic challenge of his career yesterday as he departed on an emergency Anglo-French peace mission to end the violence in eastern Congo. "Mr Miliband and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, flew to Congo and Rwanda at just a few hours notice as warnings grew of a 'humanitarian catastrophe' with tens of thousands of civilians fleeing fighting, looting and raping by armed groups. " 'The situation is catastrophic, there is no other word,' Pierre Emmauel Ducre, the Red Crossí spokesman in the Democratic Republic of Congo said as fresh reports emerged that Rwandan-backed Tutsi rebels had forced 50,000 civilians from the camps where they had taken refugee and burned them to the ground. "The rebel offensive towards the regional capital, Goma, has created tens of thousands more internal refugees, swelling the ranks of the quarter million already displaced by the conflict since August. The envoys will see for themselves the scale of the humanitarian fall-out when they visit the besieged city on their way to neighbouring Rwanda." The Independent said: "In all, an estimated one million people out of a population of six million are thought to be displaced in the eastern province of North Kivu. The UN force, which has been unable to do much to protect civilians, is scrambling to find reinforcements, fearful that Mr Nkunda's forces may decide to seize Goma, despite his promises not to. His troops are positioned on the outskirts. "As the standoff continued, a diplomatic effort was under way to find a political solution, although the European Union last night ruled out sending troop reinforcements. Mr Miliband and Mr Kouchner, are due in Kinshasa today before going to Goma. The pair are expected to call for talks between Congo's President, Joseph Kabila, and Rwanda's Paul Kagame. "Rwanda is accused of giving support to Mr Nkunda's Tutsi-dominated forces, the CNDP. Rwanda accuses Congo of supporting the Hutu group, the FDLR, which is mainly made up of former Interahamwe members, the group responsible for atrocities carried out during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Oxfam, which is providing water to 65,000 people in camps near Goma, said additional international troops were needed. " 'We need a major change in the world's political engagement in the conflict in Congo. In the last 10 years we have had peace agreements and peacekeeping troops but none have had sufficient, consistent international support,' said Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo." Johann Hari said: "This war was launched by nations that sensed - rightly - that our desire for coltan and diamonds and gold far outweighed our concern for the lives of black people. They knew that we would keep on buying, long after the UN had told us time and again that people were dying to provide our mobiles and games consoles and a girl's best friend. Today, we still buy, and the British Government - along with the rest of the democratic world - obstructs any attempt to introduce legally enforceable regulations to stop corporations trading in Congolese blood. They ignore the UN's warnings that: 'Without the wealth generated by the illegal exploitation of natural resources arms cannot be bought, hence the conflict cannot be perpetuated,' and insist that voluntary regulations - asking corporations to be nice to Africans - is 'the most effective route'." For CNN, Javier Bardem and John Prendergast wrote: "Over a century ago, tens of thousands of people across the world joined together in what would be the 20th century's first great international human rights movement to protest the bloody reign of Belgium's King Leopold II over the Congo. "In a murderous effort to exploit the central African nation's vast natural resources, half of the Congo's population would be decimated by King Leopold's personal rule - an estimated 8 million people. The resulting public outcry helped curb the worst abuses of that period. A century later, the people of the Congo need a new popular movement to end the atrocities once and for all." In The Guardian, William Gumede added: "The west's ideological backing of Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (a so-called pillar of its fight against communism) rather than democratic movements, is partly the reason why the country has been in such a intractable mess. Depressingly, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis western and eastern rivalries over commodities in countries like Congo are likely to get worse. "Right now there is also a vacuum in African continental leadership. The African Union is rudderless. The tenuous peace that ended the previous Congo conflict in 2003 held because it was underpinned by active support from the major countries in the region, led by South Africa and to a lesser extent Nigeria, under the auspices of the African Union. Now, both countries have internal leadership problems. Unless the UN sends more peacekeepers to Congo, things will get worse."

"Two weeks ago, senior Bush administration officials gathered in secret with Afghanistan experts from Nato and the United Nations at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The group was there to deliver a grim message: the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse," The New York Times reported. "Their audience: advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama. "Over two days, according to participants in the discussions, the experts laid bare Afghanistan's most pressing issues. They sought to make clear that the next president needed to have a plan for Afghanistan before he took office on Jan 20. Otherwise, they said, it could be too late. "With American casualties on the rise and Taliban militias gaining new strength, experts on Afghanistan say the next president will need to decide swiftly if he intends to send more troops there, because even after deployment orders are issued, it could take weeks or months for American forces to arrive." In an editorial, The Financial Times said: "The new president will not be inaugurated until Jan 20, 11 weeks after the election. Moreover, the US system calls for the entire executive branch to be purged several layers deep when a new chief executive takes over: there is no permanent senior civil service after the British fashion. This vast reshuffle typically takes months. In some cases, if Congress is reluctant to co-operate in confirming appointments, it is never concluded. "A John McCain administration could better afford to take its time, of course, since Republican appointees already occupy the top jobs. On the other hand, it would face a Congress that would give 'reluctant to co-operate' a whole new meaning. If Barack Obama wins on Tuesday, which seems most likely, the new administration could be less than fully manned for months, and the new president's attention will constantly be drawn to issues of personnel management, when it is urgently needed elsewhere. "At a time when parallels with the 1930s are all too apt, one recalls the paralysis that followed Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932. He and his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, were profoundly at odds over how to revive the economy. They found it impossible to co-operate after the November election, and Roosevelt chose to stand aside until taking office the following March. At a critical moment, when clear direction was desperately needed, the country drifted. As a result, the economy sank further and faster, and the rest of that terrible decade was a worse calamity than it need have been." As it appears increasingly likely that Americans are for the first time about to elect a black president, The New York Times reported on the impact this is having on African-American voters. "Growing up in St Louis in the 1950s and '60s, Deddrick Battle came to believe that the political process was not for people like him - a struggling black man whose vote, he was convinced, surely would not count for much of anything. The thought became ingrained as an adult, almost like common sense. And that partly explains why, at age 55, he just registered to vote for the first time a month ago. "The other part of the reason is Senator Barack Obama. " 'This is huge,' Mr Battle, a janitor, said after his overnight shift cleaning a movie theater. 'This is bigger than life itself. When I was coming up, I always thought they put in who they wanted to put in. I didn't think my vote mattered. But I don't think that anymore.' "Across the country, black men and women like Mr Battle who have long been disaffected, apolitical, discouraged or just plain bored with politics say they have snapped to attention this year, according to dozens of interviews conducted in the last several days in six states. They are people like Percy Matthews of the South Side of Chicago, a 25-year-old who did vote once but whose experience was so forgettable that he cannot recall with certainty whom he cast a ballot for or even what year it was. Now an enthusiastic Democrat, he says the old days are gone. "And Shandell Wilcox, 29, who registered to vote in Jacksonville, Florida, when she was 18, then proceeded to ignore every election other than the current one. She voted for the first time on Wednesday. "Over and again, first-time and relatively new voters like Mr Matthews and Ms Wilcox, far past the legal voting age, said they were inspired by the singularity of the 2008 election and the power of Mr Obama's magnetism. Many also said they were loath to miss out on their part in writing what could be a new chapter of American history - the chance to vote for a black president." In The Washington Post, Donna Britt wrote: "It's one thing to believe that you aren't prejudiced. It's another to exercise your largely untested tolerance through your vote for the world's most important job. "We shouldn't pretend that such choices are easy. Doing so dishonours the hard work it can take to transcend being raised in homes, communities and a nation where racism was actively asserted, subtly suggested or bubbled beneath the surface. As a black American, I should have easily rejected the whispers that suggested that I, and nearly everyone I loved and admired while growing up, was inferior. Yet for years, I worried that my hair, skin color, body type, speech, intelligence, loyalty, morals - all the things I worked to perfect as a girl, student, daughter and citizen - were deemed less worthy because I was a Negro. "If I could absorb such self-limiting claptrap; if the mother who adored me could describe my slightly kinky hair as 'not nearly as bad' as her own; if one of my sons could say at age 4 that he disliked his terrific day-care center because 'there are too many black people there'; and if the blond best friend of another son could tell his mother that he didn't like black people and that his buddy Darrell just couldn't be black - how could I doubt racism's subtle insinuations in everybody's psyche? "Traces of intolerance, it seems, are in the water we drink, the air we breathe. One can't just stop drinking or breathing. "But if you're white, whom do you tell that you're struggling with voting for Obama not because of rants about 'socialism' but because of deeply rooted fears that are difficult to examine, let alone admit? "If you're black, do you allow this unforeseen turn of events to challenge your assumptions - and allow that racism may be less intractable, and people more open-minded, than your experience suggested?"

pwoodward@thenational.ae