With this Hutu mass migration, the genocidal civil war begun by the Hutus bled into an Africa-wide conflagration. Kabila, however, had allies with vested interests in his survival: forces dispatched by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe swept into the DRC to counter the Rwandan and Ugandan designs. Starting in , the combatants of the Second Congo War fought for five long years over territory and minerals inside the defunct quasi-state.
To finance their armed campaigns, the insurgents battled to control areas known for their natural bounty of gold, diamonds, and coltan a valuable metallic ore used in a wide range of electronic devices, including laptops and mobile phones. After President Kabila was assassinated in January , a series of peace talks from Gabarone in August to Pretoria in December led to a formal end to the conflict the following summer. Yet there was little joy in the suspension of hostilities.
At least three million lives had been lost to mass violence, starvation, and disease.
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For the shattered survivors, desolation was the order of the day. In the early s, the cataclysm in central Africa mattered little to those living in other parts of the world. As the United States, the United Kingdom, and their reluctant allies mounted a quixotically disastrous campaign to bring stability and democracy to Iraq, low-level but high-intensity fighting continued in the eastern Congo between Hutus and Tutsis, despite the conclusion of numerous peace agreements.
Indeed, the resentments and memories of the Rwandan Genocide of a decade earlier continued to lead men to commit unspeakable acts of brutality against innocent civilians. Late at night in November in the town of Minova in South Kivu, DRC, a group of women, wartime rape victims who had congregated on a farm settlement for social, emotional, and economic support, were suddenly besieged by armed marauders.
The attackers — members of the Tutsi-led M23 militia — raped many of the women again. For the soldiers who carried out these war crimes, their actions were sometimes justified through the barbarous logic of their superior officers. After losing ground on the battlefield or the setback of a failed campaign, commanders often condoned and even encouraged their units to seize women in order to boost morale.
In a remarkable interview , one M23 soldier equated the rape and murder of innocent women to a form of liberation. The M23 militia, an organization composed of former members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, had been formed in to oppose Hutu control in the region.
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A analysis by U. Few people noticed or cared. The headlines in the Atlantic world shouted about the European debt crisis, the still-lagging U.
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Human beings are, if nothing else, remarkably resilient when faced with desperation, despair, and death. Beyond the unquenchable desire for self-preservation, we survive the hardest times on an article of faith encapsulated in a single word: hope. Hope is the dream of a waking man. So it is in central Africa. After generation of life and death since the genocide, Rwanda has been socially reconstructed from top to bottom. Instead of the rigid and divisive distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi, Rwandans have deemphasized ethnic and clan-based designations for a more inclusive society.
The transformation of Rwanda from a culture of resentment to one of respect and dignity is owed primarily to a once neglected group: women. Rather than men, it was women, including a large number of single mothers , who scratched, survived, and demanded equal rights for both their sons and daughters. It was an opportune moment for the women of Rwanda to fill the leadership vacuum, and they did. Today, they participate and lead at nearly every level of society.
House of Representatives, more than Swedish or Danish or Canadian legislatures. The fires of national hope have been rekindled. After years of strife, a modicum of stability has returned to the DRC. Although rebel activity still exists in the far eastern region, the battlefield successes of the Congolese army in late decimated the ranks of M23, forcing its leaders to sue for peace in December. All, however, is not bleak: between local and national leaders and a number of nongovernmental organizations, investment dollars are beginning to pour into the country to the benefit of impoverished communities.
Indeed, the recent decision by Starbucks to begin buying coffee in mass quantities from the DRC has already significantly raised the incomes of coffee farmers in the coffee-rich nation. A reprieve has come to the Congo, and the dream of a peaceful future has returned. In failing to halt the Rwandan Genocide, the First and Second Congo Wars, and years of postwar conflict in central Africa, the world watched as at least 5 million people perished and hundreds of thousands of women, children, and men were raped — sometimes repeatedly — over more than a decade.
Although nothing will atone for the blind eye that the world turned to the recent plights of Rwanda and the DRC, the international community can and must now contribute to the ongoing social reconciliation and economic revitalization efforts in both countries. Anything less would be a crime against hope — and humanity. Saint William; Lao Chritine.
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