Friday, July 28, 2006

The Congo

On Sunday the Democratic Republic of Congo is supposed to hold an election. This is not a small matter. This most troubled of African countries has not had a legitimate election in four decades and during that entire time period the barely-functioning country has served as the apodictic example of kleptocracy, anarchy, and chaos as governing strategy. The bulk of this epoch was spent under Mobutu Sese Seku, the American-supported thief who oversaw a domain of murder and disruption in this vast Central African country.

If one wants to look for a starting point for Congo's plight, American Cold War policies would make a good starting point. But as with any argument that begins with the disruptions of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and clientelism, matters quickly move beyond that. Mobutu continued his rapaciousness well after the Cold War, and thus his use to a string of American administrations, expired, and his successor-by-force Laurent Kabila was no better and by most measures oversaw a more overtly thuggish regime. His death-by-coup eventually led to the succession of his son, Joseph. Perhaps Sunday will end this era of strife and chaos. The wars in the Congo have cost, directly and indirectly, some 3.5 million lives, more than any other conflist or set of conflists since World War II (though this is contested territory -- depending on the accounting, one might stake these dubious honors for Sudan).

In today's New York Times Adrian Hartley looks at the Congo, taking aim at a troubled country's most troubled region, the chaotic, wild and seemingly uncontrollable east, where an April massacre shed slight on the destructiveness of Congo's military, the ineffectualness and even complicity of UN peacekeepers in the area, and the isolation that means that the uncontrollable east (dys)functions without the world having a clue. the subtext? veteran Africa hand hartley has a hard time believing that these elections, welcome as they may be, will provide any sort of panacea for Congo and its weary, blood-soaked people.

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