Thursday, May 29, 2003

A report from the Congo - The Economist

This article makes for some pretty grim reading. If there is one thing that this and other conflicts in Africa are making ever clearer, it is that most African countries simply weren't viable entities from their very independence. Hardly any of them possessed the recquisite institutions, educated manpower or infrastructure to function as modern states, and even were all these things present, the artificiality and arbitrariness of the borders of the new states, cutting as they did across pre-existing ethnic boundaries, would have guaranteed that they would fall into strife sooner or later. I suppose one might even say that the miracle is that as little conflict has occurred as there has been.

How is this mess in the Congo to be resolved? I am convinced that the only real way out is to impose a United Nations mandate on the Congo, in the manner of the old League of Nations mandates, and to send in Western troops to forcibly occupy the country and disarm the various factions.

Those who are honest will acknowledge that the Congo simply isn't in any kind of state to govern itself, and that there is no point pretending that it is; but given the state of the Congo's neighbors, none of them are in any sort of shape to play the role of benovelent overlords either. All this points to one inescapable solution - the Western powers must take responsibility for the Congo, and that means more than just sending in a few soldiers to do a bit of firefighting, only to leave things to unravel again afterwards. If Iraq needs an interim American administration, as it surely does, why doesn't the Congo need something of the sort imposed from outside? The reality is that no Congolese government conceivable in the near future will have the power, the competence or the rectitude to do anything to better the lives of that country's citizens.

If it is human suffering we are truly concerned about, rather than mere sloganeering, then all talk of "neoimperialism" or "neocolonialism" must simply be brushed aside, and something along the lines of a 15 to 20 year mandate imposed, charging the administrators with the tasks of creating the institutions and infrastructure required for a viable state to exist on the administrators' departure. Where this would differ from the old colonial reality would be that this time the rulers would be held accountable for actually fulfilling the terms of their trusteeship.

I know that these proposals will not prove popular to most westerners, concerned as they are about the likely cost in terms of their soldiers' lives and their national wealth, but I think such concerns are both short-sighted and unwarranted. The invisible costs to western taxpayers of the ongoing slaughter are much greater than they like to imagine; established epidemics like AIDS and future threats like Ebola stem from the Congo, and who knows what else might emerge in the future? Then there are Congo's uranium reserves to consider - where better for terrorists to go looking for what they need? Finally, a prosperous, stable Congo would make a much better market for western goods than the war-torn hellhole that it currently is.