Michael Kavanagh writes a disturbing piece some weeks ago about the crisis in Congo. It concludes:
“When will the world pay attention?” is the question the IRC poses in its report. It would be nice to answer by saying, “There’s always hope.” But instead I find myself thinking of a quote from Hotel Rwanda‘s Col. Oliver, Nick Nolte’s Romeo Dallaire-inspired character. In the first weeks of the genocide, when Rusesabagina suggests that the international peacekeepers will fly into Rwanda and save them, the colonel rebukes him: “We think you’re dirt,” he says. “You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”
This was the conclusion many Rwandans came to after 1994. Looking at the situation in eastern Congo 10 years later, there’s still little to disabuse them of this notion.
The human catastrophe of Eastern Congo is, for visitors, a bundle of numbness and raw nerves. In September, at the invitation of a British think-tank, I visited the unstable region to assess the causes of ongoing violence against civilians. With close to 15,000 peacekeepers on the ground, a transitional government anticipating national elections in six months, and well-funded efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate combatants into civilian life—the “DDR process”—why are civilians still being killed with such impunity? Scores of interviews with humanitarian actors, UN staff, and Congolese revealed the usual suspects: predatory governance, uncontrolled armed groups, endemic impunity, and the inaccessibility of civilian populations due to ongoing combat.
None of these factors is particularly well understood by outsiders; this opacity keeps the “heart of darkness” myth alive. For insiders, Africa remains a Dark Continent by sole virtue of its ability to generate degrees of suffering that surpass human comprehension. Unfettered anarchy it is not. Recent African crises have birthed a new truism: “If it looks like anarchy, then you don’t understand what you see.” Eastern Congo fits the adage well: “chaos” and “senseless tragedy” are the inevitable, indelible impressions etched on any visitor’s memory. But behind the barrage of extreme scarcity, mute agony, and feverish suspicion is a clear pursuit of economic interest, a highly dexterous application of disorder as political instrument.