Leading article: We must be realistic about our power to help the Congo

Share
Related Topics

Imperial rivalry has been the ruin of Africa. For that reason alone, the visit to Central Africa by the foreign ministers of France and Britain is freighted with a high degree of symbolism. At last, the two countries historically at the centre of the colonial Race for Africa are presenting a welcome united front to the crisis around the Great Lakes.

That aside, there is a danger that David Miliband's and Bernard Kouchner's mission to calm the furies around Goma and prevent a Rwandan-backed rebel army from overrunning the city may raise unrealistic expectations. It is, for example, unlikely that Britain's overstretched army is going to be in any position any time soon to deploy in any significant presence. As for the French, they would heighten tensions since the Rwandan government – the real force behind the rebels in eastern Congo – views the country as an enemy, given its complicity in the 1995 genocide.

So where might the extra peacekeeping troops that the two ministers have called for come from? Their answer would seem to be the United Nations. But this is unconvincing, given that the danger to Goma is imminent, while to boost the UN forces would take months, even assuming countries are willing to contribute. And while it has become modish to talk of African solutions to African problems, this notion can hardly be considered vindicated in Darfur or Somalia, where the deployment of African Union peacekeepers has been ineffective.

The problem in eastern Congo is especially complex. The borders – drawn up by the reviled former Belgian overlords – took no heed of ethnic or tribal considerations. In consequence, Hutus and Tutsis live side by side on both sides of the Congo-Rwanda frontier and in a state of endemic conflict.

Moreover, the West's bungled response to the Rwanda genocide included allowing the defeated Hutu perpetrators of this slaughter to slip into the UN refugee camps in Goma and become part of the warp and weft of local society. Add to that the lure of Congo's vast mineral riches and you have two principal factors – money and revenge – forcing the pace of the rebel army's advance.

None of this is an argument for ignoring the plight of the innocent refugees trapped in Goma, victims of a Tutsi-led settling of accounts. But Western countries must be clear eyed if and when they decide to become more directly involved in eastern Congo. If Rwanda suspects an Anglo-French condominium is throwing a shield around the Hutu war criminals ensconced there, all hope of a lasting peace in the region can be abandoned.

The crisis also underlines the discomforting feeling that Western responses to Africa have an arbitrary quality to them, the dynamic too often driven by the incidental concentration of articulate Western charities. This is certainly the case here. There have been far worse atrocities elsewhere in this vast nation, but they are buried deep in regions made inaccessible by the decay of infrastructure or by the violence of rampaging gangs. It also helps to explain why the horrors of Somalia, a virtual no-go zone for Western charities, are more or less ignored.

There is a danger that Goma will become just another photo opportunity for concerned Western ministers and aid groups desperate for funds. After decades of war, rape and pillage, the people of the Congo deserve more. Goma's crisis must be put into the context of a region being torn apart by outside interests. Our actions must support long-term solutions, based on a realistic assessment of what we can do to remedy a situation that – at least partly – is of our own making.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas