Jonathan Brun

Hope in the DRC

I am very pleased to see Rwanda has captured rebel leader Nkunda in the DRC (BBC Article). Though this is far from the end, it is promising.

Last summer, I was in Zanzibar where I met a UN observer who was embedded with the DRC troops. To put it mildly, this guy was a crazy russian. As a UN military observer, his job was to fill out reports and send them on to headquarters, he could not intervene in any way. He told stories of rape, murder and burning villages. I can’t even begin to imagine such horrors.

The Eastern Congo truly is the most dangerous place on the planet and well over a million people have died there over the past fifteen years. There are many reasons for the ongoing violence, notably the belgium dictatorship followed promptly by that of the US backed Joseph Mobutu, but the shear size, ethnic variety and rich mineral resources makes it ripe for becoming a conflict zone. Even Rwanda has profited handsomely from the conflict – exporting over 250 million dollars worth of Coltan, a substance used in our cellphones and computers. That being said, the news of Nkunda’s arrest in conjunction with the war crimes investigation of ex-congolese leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is a ray of a hope in an otherwise dismal picture. What lessons can we learn from this conflict?

During my recent flurry of posts on the Israeli-Gaza situation, I was criticized for singling out Israel which has arguably done less ‘evil’ than other nations. When I suggested a boycott of Israeli products, I was asked, “Why don’t you boycott Rwanda for their support of DRC rebels?”. Some of reasons a boycott of Rwandan coffee would be ineffective include the level of poverty, development and history in the region; however, ultimately I think Rwanda is already on the right path. Israel, I fear, is not. For a poor country in a remote area of the world, the Rwandans’ ability to compromise has deeply impressed me; their decision to crack down on this rebel and former ally reinforced my hope of Rwandan development.

The Rwandans, though far from perfect, were able to see that after the genocide in the 90s, any sort of “revenge” or “communal punishment” on the Hutus would backfire. Much like the Nazis, the Rwandan government prosecuted the serious criminals and pardonned most of the low level thugs who partook in the massacres. This was largely done without foreign aid and despite remaining tribal rivalries.

It would have been easy to seek revenge and lay blame, but they saw beyond that. This small lonely country, surrounded by instability and violence, lost a million citizens to tribal warfare; and yet, they forgave and compromised. Israel could learn something from this remote, poor, African nation.

Published on January 26, 2009