From the Editor

Band-Aids for an African Hemorrhage

Where is Congo’s coalition of the willing? The question arises as I view pictures of atrocities, mass graves, and terror-stricken children whose eyes speak volumes of the horrors they have witnessed. As haunting as any images I have seen, they are largely absent from the U.S. media and thus are not on Americans’ minds.

Last year, a WPR cover story proclaimed that the community of nations had begun “moving Africa off the back burner” of concern. Western and regional initiatives for economic and political reform signaled the possibility of solving grievous systemic problems.

Since then, the war on terror, the nuclear crisis in northeast Asia, the worsening Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, above all, the run-up to the Iraq war, followed by the war itself, combined to divert world attention from Africa’s chronic and acute ailments. American children may now pinpoint Iraq on a map. But how many can find Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, or Zimbabwe, or know about the sub-Saharan famine?

At a time when talk of international intervention echoes in the halls of the United Nations, at NATO and G-8 summits, and in U.S. foreign policy rhetoric, how do we account for the unwillingness of the international community to give priority to the carnage raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a huge, mineral rich, blood-soaked country in the heart of Africa?

The United Nations has not been blind to D.R.C.’s suffering. U.N. troops have been on the scene since 1999, when MONUC, the U.N. mission to Congo, was set up to monitor a cease-fire in the ongoing civil war. But while the U.N. hasn’t been entirely sightless in Congo, it has certainly been toothless. While MONUC could protect U.N. facilities and personnel, it had no mandate to stop the bloodletting.

Congo’s neighbors have also been involved in what is known as Africa’s world war—in something akin to a coalition of the predacious. Rebels from Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda have for years escaped into Congo’s remote regions, wreaking havoc on the defenseless population. The leaders of these and other countries have also had a hand in perpetuating the rule of the gun in D.R.C. that has resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 3.3 million to 4.7 million civilians during nearly five years.

In early June, the U.N. Security Council sent a 1,400-person French-led European force to Bunia, capital of Ituri province, the locus of the latest deadly clashes between tribal militias. Its mission: to “reassure and protect” Bunia’s population but not to disarm the fighters. And since the force is to exit by Sept. 1, its ability even to secure the city is questionable. While no one can discount the value of ending the suffering in Bunia, it is hard to understand why the response to a long, complex war remains sporadic and ad hoc. 

Politics play a major part in the fate of any expanded or sustained role for an international force in D.R.C. France has taken the initiative in recent efforts to intervene in D.R.C. and in West Africa. Britain—where the press kept intense focus on atrocities in Congo—has agreed to send troops. The United States, in contrast, has declined to join the Congo force, although this and the previous administration have expressed contrition for U.S. inaction during the genocidal war in Rwanda.

While leaders nurse post-Iraq-war grudges, D.R.C.’s agony endures. Seven-year-old Malosi Zale appeared at Bunia’s Red Cross hospital on June 8—two days after the first French soldiers arrived—with half her face blown off. Malosi was the lucky one: The day before, Lendu militias in Katoto killed her mother and five siblings. Still, Malosi’s liberators are nowhere in sight.