the drc and its war of attrition

Last week the government of the Democratic Rep. of Congo (DRC) belatedly announced that it had captured Mushake, a rebel held town in the Eastern fringes of Africa’s second largest country. This was seen by many as a sign of government commitment to winning the war (now that the rebels seem not to care about negotiations) and finally restoring peace to the region. It therefore came as a surprise when it emerged that the government had lost the town again to the rebels.

The DRC is a country that has never known peace; going back to the days when it was personal property of King Leopold of Belgium. Even after independence, the secessionist attempts by Katanga (South Eastern region), the assassination of Lumumba and Mobutu’s kleptocratic and murderous rule did not make things better. When Mobutu died there was hope that the elder Kabila would bring peace and a sense of nationhood. But this was not to be; Kabila was assassinated by his own men and succeeded by his son. The younger Kabila has tried to make peace, first with the Bemba led opposition and then with the Eastern rebels, but without much success.

The recent loss of Mushake is a sign of government ineptitude in fighting this war. It is clear that the rebels and their sponsors in Rwanda and Uganda do not want peace and will do anything to keep the embers burning because this way they will have unregulated, tax free access to the minerals in the Eastern region. The Kinshasa government cannot afford a war of attrition with the rebels as this will distract it from its main objectives of providing public goods for all its citizens, not to mention the long term effects such a war will have. The sooner Kabila gets his act together and wins this war, the better it is going to be not only for the Congolese but also for the entire great lakes region.

The African Union and other regional bodies should support the government in making sure that the rebels are defeated and punished for their criminal adventures. Although the Kinshasa government is not the best government the DRC could ever have, secessionist wars are not the best way to deal with this problem. The rebels should know that in this day and age there are better ways of expressing one’s grievances; ways that do not contribute to unwarranted human suffering and wastage of scarce resources.

piracy off the somali coast

If you thought piracy belonged to the 19th century, think again. This year alone there have been at least 26 attacks by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The latest incident involves a Japanese ship (the Golden Nori) that had 23 crew and tens of thousands of tons of inflammable benzene.

The pirates are demanding a $ 1 million ransom or else they will kill the crew of the ship.The situation has been further complicated by the fact that according to a 1992 UN resolution establishing an arms embargo, foreign troops are not allowed to enter Somali waters.The UN regulations have made it difficult for the US navy and Kenyan authorities to fully police this region of the Indian ocean and end the piracy.

Keeping Somalia’s lawlessness within its borders has always been tricky. In the past the many fundamentalist thugs running around in the country mainly dealt in illegal arms and smuggled goods across the region but lately they seem have found a new lucrative business – piracy and kidnapping of foreigners for ransom.

As negotiations go on for the release of the hostages it has become apparent that the Somali problem cannot be ignored for long if peace and stability is to be achieved in the horn of Africa. And with the US keen to win the global assault on terror, the last thing it needs is a failed stage occupied by these extremist thugs.