Let's face it. "Do-gooders," whether they are journalists, novelists, scientists, human rights workers, doctors, lawyers or Mwami tribal chiefs, will be unable to save the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are a lot of good people who care about Congo, individuals who have absolutely no power whatsoever to change anything. If you are so inclined, undertake a year end review of humankind's ability to perpetrate evil. Spend a few minutes at the web address of Human Rights Watch, or even the BIG News Congo page of the Huffington Post. I tried, but could not bear yet another glimpse into the bowels of hell and, even worse, have run out of words that could express outrage that might get the point across to people in power.
Hunched over the computer on Christmas night, I tried to come up with a summary of the year 2009 in Congo. It was impossible to face, so I made the conscious choice to be one of the "people with good intentions" who choose to do nothing, and chanced a drive through a Midwest blizzard to take my daughter to the movies. Serendipity provided the framework upon which to hang a discussion of atrocity and the malfeasance of people in power who choose to do nothing.
Here's hoping the road to hell is not paved with good intentions.
Image: Congolese Dispossessed G. Nienaber
Let's suspend disbelief and suggest that what Congo needs is an AVATAR. This suggestion is not made lightly. The world will never dispatch a savior who, like the paraplegic marine Jake in the James Cameron epic, will damn self-serving interests to hell and decide to protect a unique world and complicated society-- a society he learns to value because of its inimitable qualities. The only real "unobtanium" in Congo is peace and a stable government that holds the interests of the Congolese close to its heart--not the contraband a spiritually and resource bereft world obtains from raping the land and the people. That is, if governments are capable of acting in altruistic terms.
There are plenty of bad people and international special interests swarming all over Congo. They include American mercenaries who smuggle weapons on airlines, such as the Congolese airline Wimbi Dira (the CEO is an American) , from Spain, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Libya, China, Belgium, Tanzania, the British Virgin Islands and others. Roman Catholic networks supplying money to a murderous Rwandan rebel group (FDLR), and exploitation of natural resources by just about every country on the planet, including China, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, round out the lists of the biggest of the bad guys.
Not to be left off the year-end worst list is the President of DRC, Joseph Kabila, who is allowing wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda to set up his own de-facto administration in eastern Congo. Ntaganda controls the mines and smuggling routes, aids and abets murder and torture of the innocent and, if investigations pan out, is in bed with big oil exploration in Virunga Park. Couple all of this with the United Nations' documentation of a clear linkage between the exploitation of natural resources and the financing of illegal armed groups, and it makes one wonder if the script for Avatar was taken directly from UN reports.
Surprisingly, to some, the bad guys list also includes scientists, conservationists, non-governmental organizations, doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals and just about anyone who stands to make a buck off of the suffering. As one local Congolese activist told me, "rape is big business in Congo these days."
So, what would happen if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made good on her expressions of solidarity with the Congolese, and actually used her power to do something? She cried real tears and expressed sincere outrage when she met with women victims of rape and HIV/AIDS at Heal Africa while visiting the DRC as part of her seven-nation trip to Africa in August. Perhaps she needs to spend three months in a Congolese village, preferably one near the border with Rwanda. The transformation from cultural observer to participant in hell might cause her to dash aboard her State Department Boeing 757 and use it like Avatar Jake Scully used his magnificent Toruk bird of prey to establish authority and leadership.
Clinton announced more than 17 million dollars in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC, and she promised the deployment of a team of civilian experts, medical personnel and military engineers to assess how the US could further assist survivors of sexual violence. On top of that, Clinton promised a 3,000 member strong female police force to help empower women. None of this has materialized. Perhaps it is because Hillary, like Diogenes, is looking for one honest NGO in DRC to which she can direct funding.
The international press had barely left the country before Dr. Lyn Lusi of Heal Africa took to the UN airways and castigated Clinton, because Lusi felt that Heal Africa deserved the lion's share of funding.
Curious that Heal Africa would want to bite the hand that could possibly feed it.
SOUNDBITE (English) Lyn Lusi, Founder, 'Heal Africa:'
"Let me tell you on record that we are terribly disappointed. Yeah, when you come to a hospital you say in the hospital which is considered a center of excellence, 'we are going to build a center of excellence in North Kivu, I mean what more insulting thing could anybody say to you."- Advertisement -
Perhaps it is because Heal Africa, like many powerful non-governmental institutions in third world countries, is running rough-shod over grass-roots organizations. The big players have access and power that does not necessarily translate to an improved life for dispossessed Congolese. What good does it do to patch up fistula victims and send them back their villages where they risk being brutalized yet again? This cycle must stop. Perhaps SOS Clinton realizes this and that explains why she is keeping close tabs on the money. I would guess that Lusi's rant did not endear Heal Africa to the State Department.
If you don't believe that international "aid" and conservation organizations can do wrong, consider this well-circulated 2004 essay by Mac Chapin of World Watch. Chapin asks: "Can we protect natural habitats without abusing the people who live in them?"
Discussion of "natural" alliances between conservationists and indigenous peoples and the need to work closely with local communities, common just a few years ago, has largely disappeared. It has been displaced, in the biggest conservationist NGOs, by talk of changed priorities, with a new focus on large-scale conservation strategies and the importance of science, rather than social realities, in determining their agendas...coupled to all of this has been the partnering of conservationist organizations with multinational corporations--particularly in the businesses of gas and oil, pharmaceuticals, and mining--that are directly involved in pillaging and destroying forest areas owned by indigenous peoples. Complaints against the activities of the Big Three conservation NGOs have now been heard from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Papua New Guinea, and the Congo Basin, among others.