Congo…The Forgotten War
OK, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Formerly known as Zaire or the Belgian Congo, Africa’s third largest country is located in central Africa. And in Congo bloody wars have been raging on and off since 1994, leaving as many as four million dead and millions more driven from their homes. Most of the dead however have died as a result of starvation and other disruption caused by the fighting, rather than a is a direct result of violence. Still, dead is dead, this is a human tragedy that is going on almost unnoticed in the west.
Why has this war gone unnoticed in the west? My preliminary research leads to one conclusion…it’s such a complicated mess that the average reporter has no clue what is going on, let alone what to write about it. It’s actually three or more overlapping wars with dozens of factions, not to mention troops from several nearby countries involved. Understanding what is going on in Iraq is simple compare to the ongoing mess in the Congo.
I wrote that six months ago. I’m going to take a stab at it today. Basically, the Congo is a fake country. Its borders were carved out of Africa over 100 years ago by Europeans colonizers. There are over 200 ethnic groups in Congo, none of them being a majority. This also means there are dozens of languages, including four “national” languages. In other words, there is no such thing as a Congolese people, ethnicity, language, or culture. As a nation-state Congo is nothing more than a fiction.
It was run by Belgium for much of the 20th century. They built a fine western style infrastructure that facilitated the removal of the country’s resources, but otherwise left the population more or less in powerless poverty. The uranium for the atom bombs dropped on Japan was mined in the Congo for example. In 1960 Congo was granted its independence, and it’s pretty much been downhill since then. Fighting between various ethnic groups began almost immediately, and for all practical purposes never stopped.
In the late 1990s full scale civil war broke out and as many as nine neighbouring nations sent troops into Congo to help out their faction. Millions of people died, millions of people were displaced, this was the bloodiest conflict since World War Two. There was no clear winner, and while things have calmed down some for all practical purposes the country is divided into various armed camps. For the nitty gritty of all the various players in this bloody mess, try this article. Some break it into two wars, the First Congo War (1996-1997) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003.) So while the war is officially over, it is at best a very unstable peace and a third war is a possibility at any time.
Fortunately through it all, every single one of these factions was perfectly happy to exploit Congo’s resources at the behest of western interests, so while the occasional diplomatic crocodile tear was shed over the situation in the Congo, the west otherwise was unconcerned. Which in a nutshell pretty much not only explains the west’s indifference to the Congo, it explains pretty much all western diplomacy in the so called “post colonial” era.
To whit: If an area’s resources are open to unfettered exploitation by the west, we don’t give a rat’s ass who is in charge or how many people are dying or how much “democracy” there is. The Congo is just the most egregious example of this policy in action. The various factions fighting in Congo are all armed and supported by western interests, and while efforts continue to be made to set up a “central government” on European style lines, there seem little chance a functional nation state will be formed out of hundreds of disparate ethnic groups.
At best this is an example of how poorly suited this part of the world was to simply creating a western style state out of whole cloth (has that ever worked anywhere?) and just how destabilizing foreign meddling and intervention can be. To some extent the problems in Congo were spillovers from the catastrophes in neighbouring states, notably Rwanda, but whatever their reason for being in your country, uninvited foreign troops usually make things worse, not better.
Currently fighting has broken out between various factions and efforts are being made to prevent a return to the full scale violence of the Second Congo War. What a mess, it’s situations like this that make one skeptical about the future of the human race. This also shows how easy it is to inspire ethnic violence, and what a mess much of Africa still is today. If this is the end result of benevolent European colonialism, we’re doing something wrong.
(The above Congo map is from the CIA World Factbook. Everything from the Factbook may be copied freely except for the Official Seal of the CIA.)