Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

U.N. must act in Congo

The Congo’s civil war nightmares of the past are coming back to haunt it. A current crisis that has been brewing–– or, more appropriately, is always brewing –– since roughly 2004, erupted at the end of last month in the eastern Congolese city of Goma between the political limbs of the ever-at-odds Tutsi and Hutu regional ethnic groups.

The violent Tutsi-Hutu divide was present well throughout the Congo’s colonial period under Belgian rule and persists today as peace treaties and ceasefires seem to go out the window not long after they are reached. Indeed, October’s flare-up is owed to the collapse of a United Nations-brokered peace deal between Laurent Nkunda’s rebels and the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila merely a week before the hostilities.

Roughly 250,000 displaced people later –– bringing the total since 2002 to 2 million –– an all out war between the rebels, who only total some 8,000 strong, and the government forces, who total upwards of 20,000, seems almost inevitable.

Three variables –– Angola, Rwanda and the U.N. –– will determine whether a war materializes.   History apparently repeats itself often. Angola, summoned by the Kabila government, sent in troops to Goma in an effort to support the government’s effort in warding off Nkuda’s rebels. The same occurred in 1998 when Angola sent forces in to aid the government against a Tutsi coalition (including Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda).

Angola’s intervention was as crucial then as it will be now.

Rwanda is the big question mark. Though it is obvious that Rwanda allies itself with Nkunda’s rebels, it is hard to tell whether he will intervene this time, as he has during both of the previous Congolese wars that began as civil wars but became Central African wars.

Though their ties with Rwanda have progressively gotten worse lately, Europe has the tools necessary to barter for peace with its Central African counterparts.

A French plane carrying former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down, killing all its passengers, in 1994 as it approached the capital city of Kigali. The French and Rwandan’s have since disputed incessantly over whom is to blame for the crash. Last week, Rose Kabuye, senior aide to Rwandan president and Tutsi rebel supporter Paul Kagame, was arrested under a French warrant on charges related to the ’94 crash.

Because of the arrest, it now seems almost certain that Kagame will strongly support rebel movement with not only armament, but combatants.

It would be prudent for the French to come to an agreement with the Rwandan president and rebel leader which would see the former drop the charges and release Ms. Kabuye and the rebels agree to move out of Goma and reach the peace agreement that almost transpired in October (technically, a cease-fire was agreed to in early November, but that alone should not be anyone’s goal). The E.U. has some leverage over the future of this conflict; they would be wise to use it.

Finally, the United Nations Security Council must act. So far it has done just enough. They have sent an envoy, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, and humanitarian aid –– 50,000 people’s worth of humanitarian aid. But as of the writing of this article, they have yet to send in the extra 3,000 troops –– which may be far too little –– needed and they have yet to put any sort of pressure on either the government or the rebels to come to some sort of an agreement.

It is not entirely the U.N.’s fault that international pressure has not been put on both sides. Only if the African Union (or many African leaders), the United States and China, who has recently become a major regional investor, join forces with the U.N., will any sort of talks, let alone deals, take place. In the meantime, the Security Council must push more peacekeepers into the region before the cease-fire cracks at its fragile seams once again.

The world promised the Congolese people that a conflict like the 1994 Rwandan
Genocide, whose profundity was aptly captured cinematographically in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” would not happen again on its watch. I hope we have not forgotten this promise.

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