THE SPINE MAY 30, 2010
On Friday, John Heilprin of the AP reported that the Security Council voted unanimously (!) to “withdraw up to 2,000 peacekeeping troops [from the Congo] and redefine the remaining force as a ‘stabilization’ mission to coincide with [the celebration of the state’s] 50th anniversary of independence.” What there is to celebrate, it is hard to discern. And, as it happens, there isn’t much to stabilize either.
The meaning of the unanimous vote, however, is very clear, despite the long and bitter behind-the-scenes argument that preceded it. Or, rather, because of it.
Some of it is the sheer vanity of the president Joseph Kabila who, at 29, succeeded his father nearly a decade ago. The presence of foreign troops is a rebuke to the effectiveness of the government, and one of the indices of its effectiveness is its failure to curb rape. In one province alone, the rape rate seems to be 160 per week.
And, as Jeffrey Gettleman pointed out in The New York Times, “Congo’s army is widely known to be corrupt and ineffective, and has been accused of murder, rape and other human rights abuses against civilians.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo, as it is pompously known, “is still haunted by countless armed groups, and a new rebellion recently erupted in the middle of the country.” Nonetheless, “Congolese officials see the United Nations presence as a violation of their sovereignty.” A withdrawal of 2,000 “peacekeepers” would leave some 18,000 in place. But not for long, observers say.
As it happens, while the Afrocentric press (like Agencia Angola Press) characterized the dispute in political formalities, others saw one reality—and the most concrete reality—as the future of rape in the country. So the Africanists emphasized the Mickey Mouse of renaming the U.N. mission (to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and the realists put the stakes as rape and random murder.
Almost ten months ago, secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited seven African states in ten days on a mission against rape. The very same Times reporter, Jeffrey Gettleman, chronicled her voyage and began with a searing dispatch from Goma in eastern Congo:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came face to face with the consequences of the brutality in eastern Congo on Tuesday afternoon when she met a Congolese woman who had been gang-raped while she was eight months pregnant.
The fetus died, Mrs. Clinton said, the woman was gravely injured and since there was no hospital nearby, villagers stuffed the woman’s wound to keep her from bleeding to death.
“I’ve been in a lot of very difficult and terrible settings,” Mrs. Clinton said later. “And I was just overwhelmed by what I saw.”
“It is almost impossible to describe the level of suffering,” she said. Eastern Congo’s rape epidemic, she added, ‘is just horrific.”
Mrs. Clinton used her unprecedented visit—she is the first secretary of state to venture into the war zone here—to unveil a $17 million plan to fight Congo’s stunning levels of sexual violence, a problem she called “evil in its basest form.”
She announced that the American government would train doctors, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence, send American military engineers to build facilities and train Congolese police officers, especially female police officers, to crack down on rapists.
Blah, blah, blah! I expressed skepticism in The Spine about this grandiose program when the missus first launched it oratorically last August. I wondered whether she recalled her trip when, on Friday, the American emissary to the U.N. (was it portentous Susan Rice, one great Africanist herself, who cast that terrible vote?) raised her hand to withdraw the 2,000 troops from the brutalizing tyranny and chaos of Congo.
This was a vote for rape and violence against the millions of innocents of Kabila’s Congo and its phony territorial integrity. This is what the U.N. stands for. It is a fraud to which the Obama administration is not at all alert. As I look at this last sentence, I’m not sure it’s correct. It is a fraud which the Obama administration has gone a long way to perpetrate.