Cross your fingers for DR Congo election July 30 - Rwanda's Shadow, From Darfur to Congo (NYT Lydia Polgreen)
On 30 July 30 2006 one of the largest countries of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is due to hold what should be its first free presidential election. The country has known mostly dictatorship or war for more than a century, first under colonial rule and then under African rule.Please note, the New York Times report here below, relates to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) not Republic of Congo (Brazzaville).
Democratic Republic of Congo: A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the centre of what could be termed Africa's world war. This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis. The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war remains.Most of the posts at this blog relate to DR Congo.
Congo (Brazzaville): Brazzaville, the political capital of Congo, is routinely appended to the country's name so as to distinguish it from the much larger Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) next door.
Photo: Neena Ngosi, 3 months old, in a looted hospital with her mother, Ngava. They were displaced by the rampant fighting in Congo (Lynsey Addario NYT)
Rwanda' Shadow, From Darfur to Congo by Lydia Polgreen New York Times July 23 2006. Excerpt:
The crisis in Darfur, long neglected, finally burst into the world's consciousness. Congo remains largely forgotten. It is hard to understand why. Four million people have died in Congo since 1998, half of them children under 5, according to the International Rescue Committee. Though the war in Congo officially ended in 2002, its deadly legacy of violence and decay will kill twice as many people this year as have died in the entire Darfur conflict, which began in 2003.- - -
But such numerical comparisons belie a deeper truth. Darfur holds the world's gaze because of that magic word, genocide. The word, implying that there are clear criminals and clear victims, has been perhaps the single greatest attention-getter for efforts, however feeble, to end the fighting and organize relief efforts, even though the fighting has lately turned in directions that indicate the situation was never so clear-cut.
The conflict in Congo, by contrast, long ago descended into a free-for-all with many sides. Instead of Darfur's seeming moral clarity, it offers a mind-numbing collection of combatants known by a jumble of acronyms. And that has been a particularly cruel fate, since the long-lasting war there in fact had its roots in the greatest mass killing since the Holocaust - the unambiguous genocide of 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda in the spring of 1994.
After Rwanda's civil war ended, Hutus who had carried out the genocide fled into Zaire, as Congo was then known, followed by their Rwandan enemies, bent on revenge. The rest of the world, wracked by guilt because it stood by as Rwanda bled, did not intervene in Rwanda's Congolese conquests. This fighting touched off the next decade of killing. Rwandan military leaders, with help from Uganda, decided to enrich themselves at Congo's expense, and rival home-grown militias soon joined the fray.
"A lot of the killings and horrors were in large part overlooked, either deliberately or not," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch for Congo. "The Rwandan genocide was initially why there was limited criticism of Rwanda and Uganda coming in."
Nearly a decade later, the memory of how little the world did to stop the slaughter has been invoked in efforts to end the newest atrocities, in Darfur.
Darfur seemed to present a clear moral choice. The crisis began in 2003 with a rebellion that sought to end the marginalization of non-Arab tribes by the Arab-dominated government. The Sudanese government's brutal military response, aided by murderous Arab militias, turned into a campaign that killed more than 200,000 people and drove millions from their homes.
In taking up the cause, many activists and politicians made the conflict into a morality play -- a clear example of genocide in which one group, the Arabs, was determined to slaughter another, Africans. The Bush administration, which had already intervened to end the Muslim-led government's suppression of Christians, describes the killings in Darfur as genocide. 
On July 30, Congo will hold an election, the first real chance for the people to choose their own leaders since 1965. The world hopes this event will finally draw a line between the tragic past and an unknown future. The journey from mass murder to peace, by way of a gruesome civil war, has been long and deadly.
See Mar 18 2005 The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination