The news from Central Africa

Various news, almost all of it bad, from Central Africa:

Hilary Andersson of the BBC has an update on the slow-motion genocide in Sudan. Andersson writes about 400 children in a refugee camp so severly malnourished that they are no longer able to eat. Their deaths are almost guaranteed, and their parents can do little other than watch them die.

As the rains begin in Darfur, it will be increasingly difficult to get food to refugees. And since there are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, many of whom have had homes and crops destroyed by government-armed militias, these folks are likely to die as well. USAID’s Andrew Natsios told a donor conference that a third of a million people will likely die even if we can get aid into the region immediately – closer to a million will die if we cannot.

The UN (as well as the UK, US, and the EU) still haven’t found the political will to put peacekeepers in the region to protect refugee camps and allow food aid to be delivered. Nor have governments met the UN’s challenge to provide aid to the region – donor commitments are almost $100m short. It seems likely that the wider world will be in the position of those refugee parents, watching a million people die. If the media bothers to watch.

Of course, peacekeepers can introduce their own problems. The Uruguayan and Morroccan UN peacekeepers in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being accused of trading food for sex with refugees in bordering camps. Young women – teenage girls – who have been raped by armed rebels are finding that their families reject them for becoming pregnant (at gunpoint) out of wedlock. The refugee camps reject them because they are designed to provide services to families. (If they didn’t, older children might show up to claim an extra share of food as the heads of families…) So girls who’ve been rejected by their families have no access to food within the camps. They trade sexual favors to soldiers in exchange for food to feed themselves and their babies. The UN’s spokesman promises a “full and thorough investigation…” Perhaps that will help explain why the UN stationed peacekeepers directly next to a refugee camp, a location that all refugee best practices suggest you avoid to prevent situations like this one from happening.

The UN, criticism aside, is doing more than its fair share to mediate conflicts on the continent. Glyn Davies of the US State Department has announced that the US will train 50,000 peacekeepers to complement UN forces for peacekeeping missions in Africa. On the one hand, this is great news – there’s an enormous need for peacekeeping in the region and the US generally points to other conflicts (you know, the ones we started) as reasons it can’t contribute to international peacekeeping efforts. On the other hand, this looks like an extension of the US’s “go it alone”, anti-UN strategy… and it’s hard to believe that there will be much support amongst the US public for the money and human cost of these missions.

The next place many more peacekeepers will likely be needed is in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Tutsi rebels – who may or may not be backed by Rwanda, have been seizing towns in the East, including the major city of Bukavu. The commander in charge of the rebels, Colonel Jules Mutebutsi, claimed that his men were intervening to prevent a genocide, then admitted that no genocide was taking place.

While the Kinshasa government struggled to regain control of cities in the region, it experiened a coup. Presidential guards briefly seized the television station. Unfortunately for them, it was 3am and the station wasn’t transmitting, so no one knew they’d “taken over”. President Kabila appeared the next morning, wearing military fatigues and assured people that everything was okay.

Depending on which gossip you listen to, the coup was either supported by Kagame in Rwanda as part of a bid for Rwanda to annex southeastern Congo and the mineral wealth associated with it, or was staged by Kabila loyalists to help strengthen his party as the country heads into transitional elections. Whoever you believe, increasingly, it’s looking like DRC may have a real challenge staying as a single nation.

Sorry, that’s a lot of misery in a single post, but it’s been an unusually bad week or two in the region.

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