You won’t find this in your world history text.
Events in Congo trouble at so many levels. Reports in The New York Times and other places document unspeakable violence: 27,000 sexual assaults in South Kivu Province in 2006, just a fraction of the total number across the nation of 66 million people. The assaults are brutal. Women assaulted are often left so badly injured internally, they may never heal.
- Map of Congo, highlighting province of Bukavu where violence against women is epidemic, from New York Times
Genocide you say? Many assaults appear to be spillover from the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in next-door Rwanda. But assaults by husbands on wives also are epidemic. Result of civil war? Then how to explain the “Rasta” gang, dreadlocked fugitives who live in the forest, wear tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys, and who commit unspeakable crimes against women and children? What nation are they from, and against whom do they fight, if anyone — and for what?
The facts cry out for action:
- Nightly rapes of women and girls. The violence appears to be a problem across the nation.
- Huge chunks of Congo have no effective government to even contend against the violence.
- Killers with experience in genocide in their native Rwanda moved into Congo; they live by kidnapping women for ransom. The women are assaulted while held captive. Sometimes husbands do not take back their wives.
- The oldest rape victim recorded by one Congo physician is 75; the youngest, 3.
Surely intervention by an international group would help, no? However
- Congo hosts the largest single peacekeeping mission of the United Nations right now, with 17,000 troops. Congo is a big nation, bordered by nine other nations. How many troops would it take to secure the entire nation, or the entire border? No one knows.
- 2006 saw an election that was supposed to remake history, end the violence and start Congo on the road to recovery; but was the $500 million it cost enough to change Congo’s history of a string of bad governments?
- International attention focuses on other crises: Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Darfur, Iran, Korea, Chechnya, Turkey and the Kurds, Palestine and Israel. Congo, constantly roiling since the 1960s, is way down the list of world concerns, no matter how bad the violence.
Americans looking for a quick resolution to the situation in Iraq might do well to study Congo. At Congo’s independence in the 1960s, there was hope of prosperity and greater peace. Foreign intervention, including meddling from the U.S., regional civil wars, bad government and long international neglect, ate up the hope. Achieving what a nation could be is difficult, when so many forces align to prevent it from being anything other than a violent backwater. Pandora’s box resists attempts to shut it. Quick resolution is unlikely.
So the violence in Congo continues. In this world, when is the “never” in “never again?”
How many other such cases fall outside our textbooks, and off the state tests?
- Nicholas Kristof’s blog at the New York Times website seeks solutions for Congo, with a focus on “what you can do.”
- Congo war crimes suspect in custody, at the Hague (NY Times)
- Letters on the issue, including one from the founders of “V-Day,” an international drive against sexual violence
- Guardian Unlimited, “UN probes 10 years of Congo slaughter”
- Guardian Unlimited Special Report: Congo
- “Why the Congo matters,” from Friends of the Congo (a solid report from a non-governmental organization that leans to the left, some say — see Patrice Lumumba in the banner)
- AllAfrica.com – news from Congo
- 7th anniversary of the UN resolution, “Women, Peace and Security,” UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with UN CONGO
- Travel guide to the Congo
- University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center, page on Congo
- Wikipedia entry on Congo
- Coltan (columbite-tantalite), the ore from which tantalum is refined, a substance important to computer chips manufacturing
- Blood diamonds