Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 13 November 2008

Who can help the Congolese People?


By Steve Paterno

November 12, 2008 — The people of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are experiencing one of the worse and tragic times in recent history. The country is on the record to have experienced the largest population killed in conflict for a single nation since World War II. The war in Congo started in 1996; for apparent reasons, had drawn scores of bordering and far-off countries to get engross in. These foreign interest groups come in and loot the country natural resources. As they leave, the same conflict subsequently spread out beyond the Congolese territory with devastating regional consequences. Moreover, there is a major concern, because the conflict is establishing Congo as a main scene of genocide, rape, loot, and utter destructions.

Following the bloody and vicious conflict, which started in mid 1990s, Congo finally had a defacto government in place in 2006 as a result of a mock election. Alas, the mocked election was supervised and approved by UN and hailed to be fair and free. In that election, an incompetent, corrupt, and weak Joseph Kabila was confirmed as president. His deputy was an internationally indicted criminal, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is currently languishing in jail at the Hague, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic (CAR). The current president, Joseph Kabila has no stature, temperament or quality of a leader other than the fact that he happened to share the same last name with one brutal Congolese warlord and President who was assassinated, but happened to be Joseph’s father. Intrinsically, Joseph Kabila ascended to power by hereditarily; the privileged son of the warlord.

Since the affirmation of Kabila’s presidency in 2006, the country never drifted away from its tragic path. Congo became a safe haven for Congolese warlords and foreign rebels groups. They roam the vast and naturally resourceful country, freely. They often never fail to inflict brutality to the innocent population with impunity. In recent years, Congo becomes ground for International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Majority of ICC indicted suspects are either from Congo or hiding in Congo. These suspected war criminals include the likes of Jean-Pierre Bemba, who ostensibly was the elected Vice President of that country. This leaves many to wonder that if the Vice President is internationally indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, who knows what the president will be indicted for. Other ICC suspects in Congo are the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose entire leadership was indicted, including its chief Joseph Kony who finds safety in Congo. He reigns in areas under his control in Congo at will and frequently makes forays in Southern Sudan and Central Africa Republic, making him a true regional threat that many fear will emerge from the region.

The Congolese situation has even gotten worse, with the recent renewed conflict in the eastern part of the country, which raises fear of all-out war that can engulf the entire country and can bring back the foreign troops to loot just like they did before. The Tutsi led rebellion backed by Rwanda in the eastern part of the country is poised to overrun the country. The rebel already controlled much of the eastern province. After the rebel threats to take over the lakeside town and provincial capital of Goma, reports indicate that the rebels were only advised by Rwandese President Paul Kagame not to do so. For now, the town holds, though the rebel leader, General Laurent Nkunda vows to press on across Congo and into the capital if Kinshasa does not heed to his demands. He also issued ultimatum to fight anyone, including the peacekeepers, if they are on the wrong side of the battle. Angolan troops have already joined in the fray along side Kinshasa. Southern African regional leaders are discussing to join the fight as well, and in due course other countries could join or be provoked to join the battle. Tens of thousands of people are said to be trapped in crossfire—beyond reach of humanitarian assistance—with unaccounted number of innocent death. The retreating Congolese soldiers, not surprisingly, are accused of pillaging, raping and looting the civil population, while running away without actual face-off with the rebels but panicked on hearing mere rumors of looming rebels’ advancement.

The UN in New York, as usual far from the real carnage, is still debating on what course of action to take on such dire situation. In so far as the UN peacekeeping mission is concerned, the largest of its peacekeeping operation is in none other than Congo, with a contingent of about 17, 000-weak force that has no real mandate to protect civilians and stretched out of limits. A talk by the UN Security Council to approve 3,000 peacekeepers as reinforcement will not make any difference on the worsening situation. The fact is that the presence of the UN peacekeeping in Congo is proven to hurt the Congolese more than helping them. Of late, the UN peacekeepers become part of the gang rape culture that plagued the country for years. Some of the reported UN peacekeepers’ victims of rape are minors; young girls as 12 year-old. It is an established fact that some UN staffers profited through sexual exploitations of Congolese women by making pornographic films of their minor victims of rape to be sold in Western World of pornography. Whatever the UN will do or not, these are the horrific memories the world body permanently instills in the minds of the Congolese people through its peace mission operation.

Left in limbo in all these are the innocent Congolese people who bear all the calamities of the tragedies and devastations the conflict brought upon them. Who will help them? Perhaps only God knows.

Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at stevepaterno@yahoo.com

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