Saturday, January 15, 2005

Strike over DR Congo poll delay - UN says about 1,000 people are dying every day in DR Congo

According to a report from the BBC today, the UN's humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, says about 1,000 people are dying every day in DR Congo - many from disease and malnutrition.

Alos, a strike has brought the Democratic Republic of Congo capital, Kinshasa, to a standstill, with shops closed and bus drivers not working. The following is an excerpt from the BBC report:

The strike was called to commemorate the deaths of four people killed in protests at hints that elections due in June might be postponed. Pamphlets have been circulated, calling the dead "martyrs of democracy".

A 2002 deal to end five years of war set June as the deadline for elections, while allowing for limited delays. However, elections chief Apollinaire Malu Malu last week indicated the poll will probably take place in October, before heavy rains make parts of the country inaccessible.

But the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says that Congolese, who have not elected their leader since independence in 1960, do not want any delay. He says that the strike is reminiscent of attempts by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi to put pressure on former ruler Mobutu Sese Seko to introduce democratic reforms.

Like in the old days, the government provided free transport to the population in an attempt to break the protest but it has not worked, our correspondent says.

Mr Tshisekedi's party denies calling the strike but those trying to enforce the strike called on people to vote for him.

A five-year civil war in the huge country left nearly three million people dead from hunger and disease.

The war is supposed to have ended in 2002 but fighting has persisted in the east, involving soldiers who were once rebels backed by Rwanda.

Under the peace deal signed by all the main factions at the end of the war, a power-sharing government was tasked with organising elections.

However it does allow for two delays of up to six months each, if approved by parliament.

Logistical problems

In a New Year's Eve address, President Joseph Kabila said he was determined to hold the election this year. "Only credible elections will bring about political stability in our country," he said.

The UN has expressed concerns about the logistics of holding an election in such a large country which lacks basic infrastructure, such as roads and railways.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Congo wonders about world's priorities

Copied here below is an Associated Press report by Bryan Mealer published in The Washington Times, 9 January, 2005. One line in the article sums up one of the reasons why countries like Uganda and Congo receive less money from the general public than the victims of the Asian tsunami that affected eleven countries. Here's the line:

"No one gives Congo any money, because every time they do, the government just steals it."

As Africa has such a long standing reputation for terrible corruption, it seems (to me anyway) Africa cannot be helped in a meaningful and lasting way until it has leaders who are educated and intelligent. Africa needs proper leaders who can govern competently, fairly and command admiration and respect, not leaders who are thugs stealing power through brute force and murder. When psychos steal countries through the barrel of a gun and then proceed to build armies to rape, kill and starve its people along with stealing their money and natural resources, the rest of the world needs to band together and deliver a way out for such sociopaths who mistakingly believe themselves to be fit to govern. Money can't solve everything.

Here's looking forward to news of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, and the long awaited publication of the commission's first report due next month.

KINSHASA, Congo — Even now, as thousands of children die each week from drinking dirty water and not having enough food, and the people of once-thriving communities hide like the hunted in the forests, the Congolese expect little from the world's big spenders.

But as Congo watches the global scramble to raise billions in aid for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, many here wonder why Asian suffering stirs action while African suffering is greeted largely with apathy.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee says nearly 4 million people have been killed in Congo since the start of war in 1998, most from war-induced disease and starvation. Fighting persists in the county's east — the epicenter of the war — and 1,000 are dying each day, half of them younger than 5.

The Asian tsunami, in comparison, has killed over 150,000. The disaster was a sudden scourge of nature, while Congo's toll has accumulated slowly, at the hands of man.

"Over the last six years, millions of people have died here from this war," said Kudura Kasongo, spokesman for President Joseph Kabila. "In Asia, they're dying too, and getting money. Why is this?"

"In Asia, Westerners are also dying alongside them, perhaps that's why," Mr. Kasongo said.

Led by $810 million from Australia, the victims of the Indian Ocean tragedy have received a total of nearly $4 billion in pledges.

According to the IRC, international humanitarian aid for Congo was $188 million — roughly $3 per person — in 2004.

"Asia's crisis is temporary, but here we have a permanent catastrophe," said Ingele Ifoto, a government minister who recently headed a program to return 32,000 displaced people from Congo's dense northern Equateur province. Many were found roaming naked through the wilds, their clothing rotted off.

On Thursday, British Treasury chief Gordon Brown called on the world's richest nations to contribute an additional $50 billion to the world's poorest countries, particularly in Africa.

The same day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the dire humanitarian situation in Africa as "the equivalent of a man-made, preventable tsunami every week."

"Outside of the tsunami areas, I would say Congo is the one area in the world where most people die of neglect and lack of attention and lack of presence of the international community," U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said.

In Congo's hardscrabble capital, Kinshasa, decades of government corruption and broken promises have taught its people a thing or two.

"I'll tell you why no one gives Congo any money," said Ponce Mondano, a mason at a market near the Congo River. "Because every time they do, the government just steals it."

Africa has had its share of the world's sympathy.

In 1984, Live Aid brought significant attention to victims of Ethiopia's famine, and world leaders have recently spoken out on behalf of Sudan's western Darfur region, where ethnic conflict has displaced an estimated 2 million people since early 2003 and killed tens of thousands. The world response to Ethiopia helped prompt long-term improvements in famine-warning and food-reserve systems, international officials say.

The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $54 million on Congo in 2004. The request for 2005 is $32 million. The decline mostly reflects an elimination of food aid.