One of my favorite commenters is Nonny Mouse. I've seen her referred to as the "voice of reason" at C&L, and I think that is a perfect description of her measured prose and reasoned posts. I ran across this article on Monday and the tone struck me as almost schizophrenic, but I also knew that my own skills would not do it as much justice as Nonny would, so Nonny graciously agreed to write up the following post:
Knight the bellman stands erect and proud, waiting to carry bags. He is dressed in a crisp brown uniform, obediently manning his post next to the front door in the air-conditioned, marble lobby of the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa, Congo. He flashes a beaming smile when approached by those who seek his services.
His work is noble and steeped in the history of his continent. His is the tradition of willing, strong men, who in ages past picked up heavy steamer trunks, balanced them on their heads, and trekked untold miles through the thick and steamy Congolese jungle searching for Dr. Livingston.
Sounds like something out of a Victorian travelogue, dunnit? Back in those pleasant days of Empire when proper colonial gentlemen wore handlebar mustaches and safari helmets, and women and darkies and the lower classes all knew their place. Except it was published this week, by Eric Shawn, a FOX News correspondent and the author of the "fair and balanced" The U.N. Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World.
For those whose familiarity with the Congo is limited to what they've seen on previous episodes of ‘ER', a quick potted history of the last decade: After Mobutu's overthrow in 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was devasted by the Second Congo War, involving nine African nations with twenty different armed factions. It killed between 3.4 and 4.4 million people, according to surveys by the International Rescue Committee, most of these deaths from starvation and easily treated diseases. Nearly as many millions more were displaced, leading to large scale forced migrations for those seeking asylum in neighbouring countries of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
This was the world's deadliest conflict since World War II. Bar none, including Iraq. As well as one of the most under-reported.
The impact on the wildlife has been devastating - By 2005, the hippopotamus population had fallen from 29,000 thirty years ago to less than 900 animals (World Wide Fund for Nature), poached both for meat as well as black market ivory. Half the world's wild mountain gorillas and all of the world's bonobos live in the Congo, as well as the okapi, native just to the Ituri forests situated in the north east of the DRC. With malnutrition still affecting 2/3rds of the DRC's population, many of these animals have ended up as ‘bush meat'.
While the war may have been officially declared over in July, 2003, the eastern region is still locked in bloody civil conflict and systematic looting and violence by neighbouring countries. The Congo has a long way yet to go.
Nonetheless, signs of improvement - however tenuous - are visible. On July 30th, 2006, the DRC held its first democratic elections, and yesterday, the International Criminal Court in the Hague ruled there was enough evidence against a Congolese militia leader to launch the new court's first trial - a major landmark for the ICC.
But besides being a humanitarian's heartache, the Congo is a capitalist's motherlode - a country rich in vast natural resources, many of them sold during the conflict on the black market to finance the war. The DRC exports 8% of the world's diamonds, including the now famous flawless D-colour 200 carat Millennium Star - discovered in the Congo and sold to De Beers during the height of the war. In other words, that sparkly stone on your fiancee's finger may just have helped Thomas Lubanga to buy machine pistols for 11-year-old children to kill other warrior children.
The UN Security Council set up MONUC in 1999, to maintain a liaison with all the parties concerned in signing the Lusaka Ceasefire, and some 40,000 uniformed personnel, military observers, police, international civilian personnel, local civilian staff and United Nations volunteers have worked hard to keep the peace in the Congo - all from 58 different countries... but the United States is not one of them.
That doesn't seem to bother Mr Shawn. His is the rightwing dream of an imperialist New World Order that persists, along with an unrelenting denigration of the UN for - ahem - ‘sabotaging' America's security and ‘failing' the world. While Mr Shawn lauds the heroic work the 18,000 plus UN peacekeepers are doing in one of the worst hellholes on earth, he just can't resist mentioning in the very next breath allegations of UN peacekeepers trading bananas and candy for sex with 12-year-old children. Or that, as Shawn exults the new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, calling for transparency and anti-corruption in the Congo government, he gets in the little dig that the UN has rejected independent accountants to audit all UN spending, relying on the same ‘pencil pushers' who overlooked the Oil for Food scandal and ‘other transgressions', or that Kofi Annan has refused to release his personal financial records.
There is also the continuing unrest in Somalia, with the victories over the Islamists, which must continue. Will a combined African Union and U.N. peacekeeping forces eventually stop the mass killings in Darfur, when the Security Council has not even sufficiently punished al-Bashir's regime? Can the U.N.'s claimed achievements in the Congo be replicated in Darfur and Somalia?
It seems Eric Shawn's computer sez no...