Monday, July 07, 2003

In my high school World Geography class, part of our unit on Africa involved debating the economic viability of each region. West Africa, rich in minerals and undeveloped land, won the debate. It was an interesting lesson, forcing us to look very closely at climate patterns, infant mortality, population etc. and make a decision divorced from history, bias, and emotion. It was a very interesting lesson. It was also exactly the wrong way to look at Africa.

The crisis in the Congo is allowed to go on because of exactly this approach of cold-eyed pragmatism, among other things. The wealth of the country has become its death. It creates complacency which creates reluctancy to disrupt the flow of riches.

The history of the Congo -- richer in mineral resources than any other country in Africa -- is one of bloody exploitation. Gold, diamonds, rubber and ivory have flowed to Europe and the Americas for a century from the area known first as the Belgian Congo, then as Zaire, under the West-backed regime of Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 to 1997. The present conflict started in 1998, after Laurent Kabila took power, renaming the country again as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Iraq gives us a handy excuse not to interfere. It also highlights the great lie of this administration's newfound committment to humantarian aid and nation building. Where are those compassionate voices now, so recently crying out against crimes against humanity in Iraq?

Today Bush goes to Africa, having grudgingly sent peace keeping troups to Liberia. He goes to show off is grand $15 billion AIDs package. I envy people like him, who so easily shut out reality in favor of their own sunnier worlds. I wonder how easy that will be when he sees the sick, the poor, the dead. I wonder if he will even see them.

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