UN Admits Failure in DR Congo

November 26, 2009

The UN is admitting failure in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A new report even claims that UN forces have aggravated the conflict in North and South Kivu provinces with the UN trained Congolese Army and the rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Richard Dowden of The Guardian writes, “There have been signs that elements of the UN force are going local and also taking to trading minerals and abusing local people.”

But not everyone agrees with the findings.  Reuters South Africa reported Information Minister Lambert Mende as saying such accusations are “really what we can call an exaggeration. If the situation is now worse, what is that based on? How many people were dying before this operation? How many are dying today? he asked, arguing there could have been many more victims of fighting if the offensive had not taken place.”

The FDLR, an ethnic Hutu militia that relocated to the Congo after the 1994 genocide from the neighboring country of Rwanda, continue to wreak havoc in the region.  They have been accused of such crimes as murder, rape, pillaging, and taking advantage of the natural resources of the Congo including smuggling gold.  According to Sky News “Congolese records show only a few kilos of gold are exported legally every year, but the country’s own senate estimates that in reality 40 tonnes a year – worth £743m – gets out.”

It is a troubling problem that continues to fund and fuel the trouble in Central Africa from an international network of buyers from dozens of countries, including the United States and Europe, according to the UN.

The New York Times predicts the new UN report will force the US government to do more, including  “urging Congress to pass legislation that would bar American companies from buying Congo’s “conflict minerals,” which include gold, tin and coltan, a metallic ore used in many cellphones and laptop computers.”

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The Coke Coast

November 19, 2009

Historically, the countries of West Africa have fallen victim to exploitation from international explorers, colonizers, or businessmen, wanting everything from goods to slaves. And now, little seems to have changed as the countries of West Africa, most notably Guinea-Bissau, begin their fight against a new industry: cocaine, an industry with a global price tag of $70-billion.

South American drug cartels are now using West Africa as a stop over for drugs on their way to Europe after finding it difficult to find direct routes.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that an average $7 billion worth of cocaine has been trafficked through this region of the world since 2005, more than the country’s GDP.

And the country of Guinea-Bissau seems to be the main target for drug traffickers.

In an interview with TIME in Bissau in 2007, a high-ranking West African military officer who asked not to be named said Guinea-Bissau’s government and military allowed drug traffickers to operate “not because of a lack of resources but a lack of political will.”

Earlier this year the president was murdered in a coup, leaving the country in a power vacuum that seems to fueling the lucrative cocaine industry.

“Rivalries over control of narcotics trafficking may be at the heart of the schism between military and the presidency,” said Jonas Horner, Africa Associate of the Eurasia Group in Washington in a statement also published in the same TIME’s article.

The U.N. launched a $50-million effort this year to train and outfit West African police, beginning with Sierra Leone, but in an article by the Los Angeles Times, Rudolfo Landeros, the senior police advisor to the U.N. in Sierra Leone, said,

“You’re never going to stop the drug flow through West Africa.  But we have to take a stand somewhere….”

And according to one U.N. report he might be right.

“West Africa has everything criminals need: resources, a strategic location, weak governance, and an endless source of foot soldiers who see few viable alternatives to a life of crime.”

And as Al- Jazeera English points out, even if the drug traffickers are arrested or convicted there is nowhere to put them.

“The country’s only jail was destroyed during the civil war about 10 years ago and an official from the justice ministry takes Al Jazeera to a run-down house that now serves as a prison.  About 20 men live here in cramped, filthy conditions, sharing a single toilet and sleeping on the dirty floors. The house is in the centre of Bissau, with very little security, so escapes are common.”

While little of the drug actually stays in the country, it is already having far reaching effects for the community.

The Global Post states,

“The consequences stretch as well to the slums of Guinea-Bissau, where crack-fueled prostitution is driving a new AIDS epidemic in a region where even basic health care is beyond the reach of many — and where young people turning to the drug trade become the unwitting soldiers of organized crime.”

African leaders are hoping major progress will be made during the UN’s climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15) which is scheduled to begin December 7.  Many believe the conference will be crucial in fighting world hunger.

As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there could be “no food security without climate security.”

Food security is an obvious problem for many developing countries who are already wielding from the current economic situation.  However, they may be disappointed to hear that U.S. President Barack Obama along with other world leaders will most likely opt out of signing any legally binding climate pact until at least next year, according to African Reuters.  But, they also reported that European negotiators have said the move did not imply weaker action.

Still, human rights activist and international executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, stated in an article for BBC that leaders need to take serious action now.  Arguing that

“Nature does not negotiate.  It will not wait for our political leaders to set aside their petty differences and short term self interest. It will not wait for civil society to join in common cause.”

In a video address, Archbishop Desmond Tutu winner stated that 185,000,000 Africans will die this century as a direct result of climate change.  He goes on to say,

“As I speak, famine is increasing.  Flooding is increasing. As is disease and insecurity globally because of water scarcity.  It is the countries which are the least responsible for causing climate change that are paying the heaviest price.”

Salifou Sawadogo, Burkina Faso’s environment minister, was quoted in October as saying Africa would need $65 billion to cope with the effects of global warming and along with other African leaders have asked to set up a global fund for the continent’s developing countries.

The Global Post reports that “moves to keep global warming down to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius could cost developing countries $140 billion to $675 billion a year, according to the World Bank. Adapting to global warming — as opposed to trying to stem it — could cost $75 billion a year.”

On a blog hosted by Cop15.dk, chairman of Malian NGO MFC Nyetaa Ibrahim Togola said,

“If the world leaders fail to understand this signal by not having an agreement in Copenhagen, then we should expect more displacement of people from one area to another and increase conflicts that could be critical for democracy and security in the World.”