Stephen Lewis and Eve Ensler's work to bring the desperate and horrific condition of Congo's women to light is commendable, yet their efforts should be wholly unnecessary as the Congo crisis is arguably the world's worst ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. Given the almost complete news blackout of the situation, their frustration and anger is wholly understandable. Indeed, this absence of coverage or concern reveals a very real heart of darkness in the West's selective outrage and failure to mobilize.
This fact is perhaps facilitated by Congo's tragic post-independence history, which has been largely dictated by Western interests. Indeed, the UN and indeed the leading Western powers have been willfully negligent about the situation in Congo for decades. Even before the engineered assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the installation of Mobutu Sese Seko, the UN forces in Congo engaged in controversial actions, failing to support Lumumba but intervening in support of Mobutu, who had by then set up the foundations for what would later become the world's greatest kleptocracy. In the decades that followed, Mobutu's Zaire continued to enjoy Western patronage, despite the wholesale plunder and pillage of his own country.
The civil war that followed the overthrow of Mobutu has likewise demonstrated the UN's subservience to Western indifference. While the West has focused almost exclusively on Darfur (fitting their own trope of a civilization war between Arabs and black Africans, which actually falsifies the conditions on the ground), the far graver conflict and humanitarian catastrophe in the Congo has been almost completely ignored by the press. This is even with the regional war claiming 5.4 million lives, the most of any conflict since World War II. The fact that multinationals are deeply implicated in the violence due to their scramble for Congo's natural resources may have played a role in maintaining this unusual silence, but the immense human suffering should be impossible to ignore. Surprising, the terrible ecological price and possible extinction of Lowland Gorillas have also failed to animate Western sympathies.
After Rwanda, it has happened all over again. Congo--the people and the land--have been ravaged anew in an ongoing nightmare. It would surprise people to know that the ubiquity of electronic gadgets has fueled this conflict, as a key component of every cell phone, media player, game console, and computer derives from the mineral Coltan that originates from Congo. It would further horrify people to realize that these new technologies have played the very same bloody role as King Leopold who butchered 10 million Congolese for the same ends. Perhaps it is King Leopold's own ghost that resides in the machine.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Apr 19 2008 - 8:09pm