What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!


The DR Congo, MONUC and Joseph Kabila.

MONUC, the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will sadly soon be coming near an end, even though the country is arguably home to one of the most deadly and violent humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. In December 2oo9, the UN extended their mission to run until May 2010 and have spent this time discussing plans for withdrawal. Recent talks suggest the troops will most likely stay past Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s hopeful June 30, 2010 deadline until the least devastating exit strategy can be fully devised. This will probably delay a full withdrawal until at least 2011.  The UN troop’s effectiveness and the necessity of their continuation in the country has been hotly debated. Congolese President Joseph Kabila calls for their immediate departure. Human Rights Watch has accused MONUC of complicity in massive abuses against the local population. Locals protest the UN headquarters, tell rumors of lizard-eating UN troops, and the abandonment of many bastard children parented by MONUC workers should they pull out of the country. Yet there is an obvious necessity for some stability as the local population is in desperate need of protection from wide-spread violence and an incredibly corrupt government system.

President Kabila has been asking the troops to leave now for years, claiming things are getting better and that the government can manage on their own, however the poor human rights record in the DRC would suggest otherwise. The atrocities happening in the DRC rival any crisis and brutality our planet has ever seen, yet seems hidden in the media behind violence in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Sudan. The DRC has been wracked with war for more than a decade, pushed to the brink after colonial independence, decades of poor despotic governance, enormous global theft of resources, and the violent militias fueled by ethnic hatreds spilling into the country following the Rwandan genocide. It is still enraged in severe violence with as many as 45,000 people dying each month from war or war related causes.  The violence has not diminished over these last few years. In fact, if anything, it seems to be increasing. According to OSCHA (the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian affairs), violent incidents against aid workers increased 26% in the first six months of 2009 compared to 2008. They also report that security incidents in Goma were up 44% and up 63% in North Kivu over the past year. People are still dying at alarming rates, with mass violent atrocities regular, daily occurrences. One would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t been personally affected by violence in the country. Yet, it seems to drop from our view here in North America so easily.

The UN mission in the Congo is the largest and most expensive in history with now more than 20,000 personnel on the ground. 150 UN personnel have lost their lives since the mission’s inception in 1999.   These troops have been accused of atrocities ranging from rape and murder, to assisting local militias and rebel groups in their massacres and have faced protests at the UN doorstep in extreme anger and frustration by local populations who feel they are not being fully protected. We cannot forget that despite all this negativity these troops have also been credited with protecting thousands of local Congolese on a daily basis who would surely die if not for their presence and assistance; they have also had their hands essentially tied by vague mandate and lack of funding. Millions and millions of locals have died (at least 5.6 million in the past decade and probably much more than that), millions more have been displaced, many tens of thousands have been raped (if not more) and these atrocities still continue daily in the most brutal fashion. More than half of the remaining 55 million people in the country are children who are vulnerable to recruitment into fighting factions, are subject to a lack of access to education, malnutrition, or other major human rights abuses, which makes long-term peace increasingly difficult. If these children grow up in constant violence and war, how can they ever know peace?

The peacekeepers’ are under a Chapter VII mandate which allows them to take “necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its infantry battalions and as it deems it within its capabilities, to protect United Nations and co-located JMC personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel, and protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Their role on paper is essentially to provide stability, security and protection in the country while monitoring human rights abuses and assisting in disarmament, demobilization, resettlement and reintegration of rebel troops. The mission is clearly flawed as violence keeps increasing around them. By supporting the Congolese government, the UN peacekeepers are routinely found being complicit in operations that could be construed as war crimes. Peacekeeping is not enough for this mission. The corrupt government, police and army systems meant to protect are often accused of raid, rape, abuse and murder and the communities propagandized to continual vengeance by rumors that separate and demonize entire ethnic populations. Peacemaking, peacebuilding and regulation of government systems are a necessity on top of the peacekeeping force if any semblance of peace within the country is to be established.

President Joseph Kabila has been a controversial leader of the DRC since 2001. Taking control after his father’s assassination, he was elected as president three years later. His history (including even his age) is highly debated and the subject of great rumor. His lineage and parentage are also debated. Many local rumors claim he is the son of a Rwandan who was adopted by Laurent Kabila after his marriage to Joseph’s mother (Laurent was said to have as many as 13 wives and more than 25 children). There are also many claims of Joseph’s relation to and alliance to Rwandan forces, as he is feared as a puppet of Rwandan President Paul Kagame with an eventual plan to occupy and annex the eastern Kivu provinces from the Congo. Joseph spent many years of his life in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, making his life even more of a mystery to many Congolese citizens. He was commonly known as the commander of the famous army of kadogos (child soldiers) in his father’s campaign to oust the Mobutu regime. Kabila is also said to have studied at the Makerere University in Uganda and the PLA National Defense University in China. He had to change the Congolese constitution in 2006, lowering the eligibility age for elections from 35 to 30 so that he could himself run for office legally. His government troops have been accused of mass atrocities and continuing violence that seem to go unpunished. Despite this violence and lack of accountability, his government continues to receive extensive funding and assistance from many foreign sources.

The IMF has loaned over $502 million to the government of the Congo, requiring with it a roll-back of government services that have had some devastating effects. The World Bank and many other agencies continually supply the Congolese government with financial assistance, despite claims of massive human rights abuses by governmental parties. The DRC currently owes billions in debt from Mobutu’s dictatorial period with interest payments consuming more than 10% of the government budget each year, although talks are currently underway to try to reduce this debt. CIDA, Canada’s international development agency funnels over $30 million per year to “political and economic governance” programs with little accountability and transparency of where this funding actually goes. Natural resource wealth is the prime fuel for much of the violence including that earned from uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold, copper, tin, zinc, diamonds, and tantalite often found in many electronics products or packaging for products such as cans. Rebel and government groups battle it out for control of resources; a single mine able to provide them with upwards of $20 million per month in profit, enough to fund more weapons, power and control. The Chinese, Belgians, French, Canadians and Americans (among others) all have a vested monetary interest in the country and often take the opportunity to politically maneuver the government for their own interests.

Refugees returning to the Kivus are adding to the tensions as local politicians and rumor say the returnees are not Congolese Tutsi but rather Rwandans who have never even lived in the Congo. They are accused of throwing locals off their land, fueling further ethnic tensions and hatred in the region. Armed militias for several different ethnic groups who claim to “provide protection” for local and refugees populations are themselves accused of mass rape, murder, forced recruitment of soldiers (including child soldiers), and using slaves to illegally exploit minerals. There is little place to really turn for protection. The intense violence has caused dwindling humanitarian services (see also here, here, here, and here) that will surely diminish even further if the UN does withdrawal.

Something must be done to stop this violence. Proper oversight of natural resources is an absolute necessity combined with awareness in consuming nations to pressure the change within North American, Chinese and European consumption and lending habits. UN withdrawal will only bring more devastation, murder and abuse to the civilian population and must be avoided at all costs.

Please speak out against these crimes to anyone who will listen and be aware of what you purchase as you may be much more connected to this war than you might think. If you would like to read more about conflict resources in the Congo, please read about my quest for a conflict free laptop.

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Some hope for the future.

In Canada:

Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries

In the US:

Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

In the EU:

Global Witness pushes for legislation

Some of the corporations:

Congo tracking project aims to end IT industry’s use of “blood tin”

Supply chains unite to start iTSCi mineral traceability project in DRC

Global e-Sustainability Initiative

2009 Yearbook on Peace Processes

I just came across this document and thought I would pass it along because it is a fairly thorough report on 70 different global conflicts and analysis of the peace processes in place. Please take a look!


Until you have lived it, it’s hard to really understand the full complexities of this war (or any war for that matter). People read or are told all kinds of untruths about this war and seem keen on spreading them further, with such anger and hate in their voices. There are MANY guilty parties in this war, who have committed tremendous wrongs against other human beings. It is no longer a matter of who started what. Deciding blame is no longer an option. This war needs to stop and some sort of peace must begin to be built. The major human rights abuses need to stop.

What I find so frustrating about the whole situation is the veil of propaganda that surrounds this war, and the way cultural violence is like gasoline on the fire to an extent that atrocities are spinned to be some sort of a positive.

The civilians living in this area, whether Palestinian or Israeli (and others), should not have to live in fear. They should not have to endure bombings or terror attacks or the denying of any human right. These atrocities need to stop.

I feel that I have to say that I was very nervous printing our first Middle East Issue of A Peace of Conflict. It’s not that I don’t really know about the conflict. I have read extensively on the subject for many years now and visited the region, and know some of the destruction that is capable with my own eyes. As a Canadian, it shocked me beyong belief to see the bullet holes and bombed out bulidings on my first arrival. In Canada, I had always lived a peaceful existence, and war was this distant thing I had only really read about or watched on tv. So I asked Heather, my co-editor if she would write the Israel-Palestine briefing for the issue, because I was sure that in the 200 words alloted that I would have trouble staying neutral, which is something we try to do in the country briefings. And I was also very afraid.

I was afraid to write a piece about the conflict directly, because where do you begin? And how do you avoid the angry backlash that always seems to follow any words about this conflict? How do you avoid spreading propaganda, and how do you keep from hurting others with your statements?

I felt it’s necessary to discuss the fear that I feel in writing about the issue, because that’s part of the cultural violence. It stems dialogue. It stops relationships. It closes minds. It needs to stop.

Cultural violence surrounds the people living in this region. It is ensuring the conflict continues. The people face it in the media, at home, at work, at school, on the streets. It propagates and angers and creates hate. Many Israeli and Palestinians are trying to demand more peaceful solutions to this conflict, and their voices must be heard. Our government must listen to their needs and assist them in developing a peacebuilding solution that can be lasting. Transformation processes must be done to simmer the conflict that rages on between the Israeli state and Hamas.

Peace in the Middle East!

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Evolutions of peacekeeping: The UN’s constraints to global conflict resolution.

The UN’s peacekeeping role in global conflicts has evolved since the first mission in 1948. Since World War Two there has been a reported rapid decline in traditional interstate conflict, which seems to have been replaced by a rise in intrastate conflict (Yilmaz, 2005: 13). There has also been an increased tendency to describe the conflicts occurring after the 1980s as “ethnically-based” (Gilley, 2004: 1155), changing the way collective security forces respond to disputes. This change from interstate political wars to “ethnic civil wars” makes it natural for many outside parties to assume that the warring country will settle the conflict itself, as it is seen as their own concern and business, and based on long-standing hatreds . However, uncontrolled escalations, and psychological components such as increased tensions, lack of trust, suspicion, and biased communication, makes those disputing unable design a solution since they are the least equipped to stop the fighting. A third party, in this situation can be the difference. The UN has increasingly been this party, as the “grand guardian” of international peace and security in the world (Yilmaz, 2005: 14). The lack of success in many UN peacekeeping missions is based on a variety of factors which hinders its capability to fully act and transform the conflict into non-violent solutions. The UN’s evolving medley of structures is currently incapable of dealing with the roots of global violence and must be re-designed to reflect the current realities, focusing on transforming the UN itself and the sources of global dispute into non-violent structures.

The international community expects more from the UN than any other party in solving disputes, even though member states so often ignore their role in keeping this institution alive. Despite these intense expectations and UN involvement in over 60 peacekeeping operations so far, the term “peacekeeping” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the UN Charter, making the actual concept incredibly ambiguous within the organization. Peacekeeping evolved as a pragmatic solution in the early years of the organization, and is often referred to at the UN as “Chapter 6-and-a-half” since it falls between Chapter 6 of the UN Charter (on Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and Chapter 7 (on Action with Respect to Threats of Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) and is not specifically outlined or defined anywhere (Yilmaz, 2005: 15). Peacekeeping evolved as a non-coercive instrument at a time when Cold War constraints prohibited the use of more forceful steps permitted by the Charter. Peacekeeping without combat connotations emerged. This called for trained military personnel not to wage war, but to prevent fighting between warring parties, ensure the maintenance of cease-fires, and to provide some stability while negotiations are conducted (Nambiar, 1999).

The non-use of force has been central to UN peacekeeping for many years, with more than half of operations prior to 1988 consisting of only unarmed military observers who were allowed to use force only in cases of self-defense. The non-use of force has been critiqued as making peacekeeping ineffective, but has also been seen as essential to ensuring the legitimacy and credibility of the organization. For example, in Cyprus in 1974 and Lebanon in 1982 the presence of UN peacekeeping troops could not prevent the breakdown of order and the subsequent foreign invasions that resulted in tremendous violence because of their non-use of force left them powerless (Yilmaz, 2005: 16). To keep legitimacy and credibility, peacekeeping at the UN has always been based on a triad of principles: the consent of the parties to the conflict, the impartiality of the peacekeepers and the use of force by lightly armed peacekeepers only in self defense. The reality of meeting these principles in violent conflict is remote. Consent by warring parties to be restrained by the UN is only really possible if there are already negotiations going on and relative peace to keep between the parties. By their very nature, enforcement actions are subjective and biased towards one side. Peace enforcement is no different. Many believe that force must be met with force, and the only way for peacekeepers to keep peace is through intense enforcement and military solutions (Nambiar, 1999).

Certain international actors often feel that the UN’s non-use of force mandate prevents it from making any real progress towards peace. Individual nations have instead taken on military action themselves with the alleged intention of stopping violence, often even with Security Council authorization (for example, Korea in 1950 and Persian Gulf War in 1990). The end of the Cold War saw a removal of the perceived major obstacle to implementing collective security; the end of hostile relations between the United States and the Soviet Union (Clark, 1995: 238-9). The end of the Cold war also resulted in a decline of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council (Yilmaz, 2005: 17), which has in the past few years again started to increase (Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). Some states have been reluctant to trust the UN to act (especially in cases that affect their own interests), and so are increasingly more likely to take matters into their own hands (Clark, 1995: 238-9), as has been the case for the US.

The veto privilege held by 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) works against the UN’s aim to be legitimate and credible. The veto privilege allows these members to stop any action of the UNSC (responsible for global peace and security, economic sanctioning, trusteeship functions and UN peacekeeping initiatives) by exercising their veto. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France, and 6 by China. Among the actions vetoed were potential peacekeeping operations, such as the vetoes by the US in 2001, 2004, and 2006 that prevented the UN from demanding a cessation of violence in the Gaza strip and the establishment of a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians. Lebanon’s complaints against Israeli violence (1986, 1988); Nicaragua’s complaints against US violence (1984-86); complaints against South Africa of violence by Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (1981, 1986); Libya’s complaint against US attack (1989); Grenada’s complaint against invasion by US troops (1983); and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1980) were all ignored by the UN because they were vetoed in the UNSC. The veto privilege also resulted in full out war being ignored on several occasions by the UN (in Lebanon, Panama, occupied Palestine, Namibia, Nicaragua to name a few; Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). This has resulted in inequitable structures in a body that is meant to be impartial in maintaining global peace and security. Peace and security is clearly only maintained for some.

The deployment of UN peace enforcement and peacekeeping forces has been moderately successful at resolving disputes between larger players and may be essential to terminate these types of conflict. It is currently not sufficient, however, for the local disputes, long term recovery of a conflict or for addressing the root cause of the conflict. In order for long term recovery to happen, intense DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants), civilian policing programs, judicial programs, law reform programs and conflict transformation programs must be in place to help re-order society and instill some sense of stability and rule-of-law. Sadly, these programs often receive comparatively meager funding next to other initiatives, such as running “democratic” elections (Global Policy Forum, 2004). The “democratic” push has also had the effect of calling into question the impartiality and motive of the UN and international structures, as the implementation of market democracy through aid programs is often seen as “western” and almost colonial, leading to increased ethnic tension and global insecurity (Chua, 2003).

Inequitable structures that fail to provide basic political and civic freedoms are most often the cause of “ethnic conflict”, which has been on the rise globally since the end of the Cold War (Gilley, 2004: 1162). In the Congo, for example, ancient ethnic hatreds are often cited as the reason for conflict in the region. Colonial and political choices that favored arbitrary groups of people over other groups cemented divisions along “ethnic” lines and ensured one group’s access to resources, opportunities and services over the others. This fueled tensions and led to conflict (Jackson, 2007). Ethnic groups in the Congo lived (and continue to live) in mostly intermixed communities and are not completely homogenous and static (Pottier, 2008). Ancient ethnic hatreds are seen as almost natural and inevitable; making action to stop them unlikely. Rarely are the underlying roots of the conflict (the colonial or political choices, access to resources, etc.) addressed, making continual conflict inevitable. The focus on ethnicity has prevented the UN from taking action in many cases.

When the UN peacekeeping forces are not inhibited by vetoes, ethnicity or other factors and decide to act to keep the peace; they are still incredibly restrained in their capabilities. Member States are important for support, financially, logistically and in troop commitment. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. These millions of owed dollars prevent the UN from being able to properly implement its missions (Global Policy Forum, November, 2008). Dues for peacekeeping missions are collected separately, allowing for each member state to reject funding for individual projects as they choose (Yilmaz, 2005: 24).Calls for troop support are commonly ignored by international players who are over committed to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, with priorities of defending “terrorist actions” (Yilmaz, 2005: 21-2). Without its Member States support, the UN is virtually useless to act and prevent violence.

The genocide in Rwanda and massacre in Srebrenica and the failure of the UN to prevent these atrocities, led in 1999 to the Brahimi Report, recommending a funding minimum and personnel requirements for UN peacekeeping missions. New peacekeeping missions grew by almost 50% in the summer of 2006, stretching the peacekeeping resources of the UN to the extreme. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for peacekeeping reform and re-structuring of the UN peacekeeping structures in February of 2007, was at first rejected by the General Assembly. In July of 2007, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was restructured to focus on operations, leaving management and logistics to the newly created Department of Field Support (Pelz and Lehmann, 2007). This restructuring ignored the other problems faced by the DPKO and left it still incapable of addressing root causes of conflict.

If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.

The current state of the UN is inequitable. How can the UN possibly inspire positive peace, if its own structures are so incredibly unjust? The current international peacekeeping strategy is based on an evolution of changing ideologies and as such, is incapable of truly handling conflict. It must be restructured to address the political choices, colonial legacies, and continuing inequitable structures that enhance tensions and ensure continual conflict. It must also be restructured to address financing and troop support issues. It is time to learn from past mistakes and create a new structure that tackles all of the inequities of the former structures. Without this, there can be no possibility for peace in the near future.

1) Chua, Amy. 2003. World on fire: How exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability. Doubleday. Random House. 329 pages.
2) Clark, Mark T. Spring 1995. The trouble with collective security. Orbis. Vol. 39, No.2. pp. 237- 258.
3) Gilley, Bruce. 2004. Against the concept of ethnic conflict. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 6. Pp. 1155-1166.
4) Global Policy Forum. December 4, 2004. UN panel on reforming UN peacekeeping recommends a new peacebuilding commission. Citizens for Global Solutions.
5) Global Policy Forum. October 7, 2008. Subjects of UN Security Council Vetoes. Global Policy Forum.
6) Global Policy Forum. November, 2008. Debt of 15 largest payers to the peacekeeping budget 2008. Global Policy Forum. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from
7) Jackson, Stephen. November, 2007. Of ‘doubtful nationality’: Political manipulation of citizenship in the DR Congo. Citizenship Studies. Vol. 11, Issue 5; 481-500.
8) Nambiar, Lt. Gen. Satish. March 17-19, 1999. UN peacekeeping operations: Problems and prospects. Embassy of India.
9) Pelz, Timo and Lehmann, Volker. November 2007. The evolution of UN peacekeeping (2): Reforming DPKO. Dialogue on Globalization. Friedrich Ebert Foundation. New York.
10) Pottier, Johan. 2008. Displacement and ethnic reintegration in Ituri, DR Congo: Challenges ahead. Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 46, Issue 3; 427-450.
11) Yilmaz, Muzaffer Ercan. June 2005. UN peacekeeping in the post-cold war era. International Journal on World Peace. Vol. XXII, No. 2.

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Africa- the violent continent???

So often I hear people talk about Africa and usually the conversation involves fear and propaganda. Many people seem to think that Africans are somehow hardwired for violence and that conflict rages on while animist heathens dwell in poverty in the background. That we shouldn’t bother to send more peacekeeping troops because there is little point. That these civil conflicts will never be resolved.

The problem with this thinking is that it is severely flawed and missing some very important details. Firstly, the tendency to label conflicts as “civil wars” is quite worrisome. These conflicts are not civil.  For example, the conflict that is raging on in the DRC is connected to the conflicts in Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda (and many other regional and international bodies). This is not a civil conflict– it is a regional and international one. And that being said, it requires a regional solution with international structures to back it up and cut off foreign incentives.

Why do we continue to label conflicts as “civil wars”?  Simply, because this label gives the international leaders freedom to ignore the violence. A regional or international war requires intervention to stop its spread. The international government has learned their lesson from wars of the past and made structures to stop atrocities, didn’t they? It would seem not. These wars are spreading– rapidly. They cross over into neighboring countries, as inadequate peacekeeping forces are unable to properly secure the areas or implement lasting peacebuilding structures.  So often these structures are based on only one tiny aspect of the overall problem in one country and not the underlying and intensive regional and international dynamics that also play their roles. Sending in peacekeepers is only one piece of the puzzle necessary. We must attack the disease and not just its symptoms. We must address the roots of the conflict, the fire that ensures it continues.

Secondly, Africans are not hard-wired for violence and do not all live an unhappy, impoverished life. There is poverty in many areas, but there is also a lot of hope and happiness, and the possibility of peace. The violence that rages on in many of the African countries is directly related to colonial influence or international pressures. The average person here is not naturally violent. Violence is cyclical. If a child is exposed to constant violence, they are more likely to be violent themselves. If a child is exposed to war and the culture of war– the will be more likely to support war. They will be more likely to be abducted or persuaded into war. If they are constantly exposed to injustice, some will rage. If they are living in poverty, some will steal to survive. Some will steal to thrive. This is the culture of war and injustice.

Colonial powers arbitrarily decided ethnicity in many parts of Africa and gave administrative advantage to those ethnic groups they deemed “superior”. Many of the government structures in these areas still reflect the ethnic advantages bestowed by the colonial powers, or the attempt to overthrow the unbalance after independence. A dominant majority of the population that is subservient to a powerful minority becomes frustrated at the injustice, often leading to conflict, uprising and hatred. Especially when some are denied even basic human rights. Creating more equitable and balanced governments is imperative to peace in this region, overthrowing the colonial shackles of the status quo. Creating just laws that are actually enforced and more equitable systems will only help to build the social trust. Engaging the population in dialogue will not erase the past, but can help in healing.

International powers bestow political advantage and power to certain leaders who have proven themselves time and again majorly corrupt and human rights abusing. The international powers allow these leaders to receive benefits for stolen resources, loans and other incentives with little accountability. Leaders such as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (and he is definitely not alone), receive extensive loan packages that have been proven to go almost entirely to violence. The loaning institutions have reports that their loan to Uganda is helping to fund a leader who interned an entire portion of the population. This population is interned in what is called “displacement camps” where they are denied basic health, water, and freedoms and subjected to continual raids and massacres by rebels and government parties. Yet we continue to supply this leader, who would purposely displace almost an entire ethnic group of his country into death camps, with money, supplies and power. Why are we letting this go on? Maybe we cannot stop the war entirely, but we can certainly stop feeding it.

Africa is no more violent than North America; the only difference is that in North America we hide away our violence and make our wars on foreign soil. We contribute to it through our policies, our lending, and our spending– but distance ourselves just enough to label ourselves as non-violent and democratic.

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The other side of assistance: The neoliberal agenda in Uganda

Uganda has been hailed as an economic success story and the “development darling” of Africa by many international donors. Despite successes in certain sectors and the adoption of an official Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) sponsored by the World Bank (WB), the poorest of the poor in Uganda have not necessarily experienced ‘poverty eradication’. Sustained growth in the country has averaged 7.8% since 2000, and official World Bank statistics say that as a result of this economic growth, poverty declined from 56% in 1992 to 31% in 2006 (WB, Country Brief, 2008). Positive statistics are so often used by the international financial institutions (IFIs) to inflate their current projects and to play up the successes of neoliberal reforms to serve their own gain. The focus on economic growth and its ‘success’ in Uganda has resulted in ignoring massive human rights violations being committed by the Ugandan government on its own people (with development overtaking peacebuilding) and the impact that conditional aid has actually had on the poorest of the poor. Loan debts will be paid by the poor and not the human rights abusing government who borrowed it through structural adjustment programs that guarantee the international community will continue to have a hand in Uganda for decades to come.

            Uganda has been embroiled in conflict with regional parties and the cult-like rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army for decades. The 1960s were years of euphoria as Africa experienced its so-called “decade of independence” from colonial rule. A series of successive dictatorships (including Idi Amin and Milton Obote) and their quest for power prompted periods of political instability and insecurity, causing the economy to go into a tailspin. Structural adjustment reforms were first implemented under Obote, who prioritized the external logic of the global markets over the long-term developmental needs of the national economy (Kiiza et al., 2003; 5). Comprehensive pro-market economic reforms were implemented in the late 1980s under Museveni, reducing the onerous taxes and economic restrictions that were in effect (Selassie, 2004; 5).

Uganda experienced declines in industrial production and agricultural output by the mid 1980s as a result of economic mismanagement and the pursuit of interventionist policies that were ill-suited to the level of existing state capacity, skill and political instability (Pitcher, 2004;383). Museveni took over the country in 1985 after a successful coup, and immediately launched an economic recovery program which included a comprehensive package of currency devaluation, control over inflation and spending and a reduction of state intervention in the economy. The Ugandan government haggled over the conditions attached to the loans, reluctant to push ahead with reforms they felt were not designed by them but the IMF. By 1992, the Ugandan government began “owning” its reforms, controlling inflation to achieve higher growth rates and to attract private sector investment[1]. By 1998 the government had mostly privatized its assets, crafting an intense ideological message that emphasized the gains of privatization to improve the perception of the policies among the public. The government even went so far as to hire a drama group and public relations firm to do this (Pitcher, 2004; 385).

The Usefulness of Debt Relief

            Since the 1960s, the WB has made more than $4.8 billion in loans and credits and about $600 million in grants to the government of Uganda (WB, Country Brief, 2008). This aid was often conditional on the implementation of certain structural adjustment programs by the Ugandan government, which involve two main components: macroeconomic reforms and institutional reforms. Macroeconomic reforms include the removal of trade restrictions, the devaluation of local currency, reduced subsidies and public sector wage freezes. The institutional reforms involve the privatization of public enterprises, the trimming of the civil service, and the promotion of export through incentives. Uganda qualified under the WB’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 1997, making it eligible to try and reduce its debt to a sustainable level. The conditions of the HIPC involved implementing structural adjustment for three years non-stop, at which point debt would be reduced by 67%. The debt payments remained unsustainable, making Uganda then eligible to enter stage two of the HIPC, where it faced another 3 years of structural adjustment. At the end of this adjustment, the debt was then to be reduced by 80%. Uganda at this point was still overwhelmed with debt, making it eligible for the Enhanced HIPC initiative offered by the WB in February of 2000 (WB, Country Briefing, 2008).

After facing criticism from many parties the World Bank revamped its initiatives to be more reflexive of the poverty faced by the supported populations and to include poverty reduction strategies in their plans. The Enhanced HIPC initiative insisted that eligible countries develop a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), a plan showing exactly what the country planned to do with its savings with the poorest of the poor allegedly in mind. The PRSP is mandated to be country-driven, results oriented, comprehensive, partnership oriented and based on the long term perspective of poverty reduction. The PRSP prescribes four broad goals and transformations involved in eradicating poverty: creating an enabling environment for sustainable economic growth and transformation, promoting good governance and security, directly increasing the ability of the poor to raise their incomes, and directly increasing the quality of life of the poor (Nyamugasira and Rowden, 2002). Uganda also received the supplement to the HIPC initiative, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) in 2006, aimed at providing 100% debt relief by the WB, the IMF, and the International Development Association (IDA) to help Uganda attain its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In reality this 100% debt relief, meant only for loans contracted prior to 2005, left Uganda with an estimated debt service payment of over a million dollar a month that is only steadily climbing with time (WB, Estimated Debt Service Payments, 2008).

The PRSP is flawed, and there seems to be little institutional learning from evaluations of previous SAPs in new policy designs. The PRSP supports major privatization and deregulatory reforms in health, education, water and sanitation sectors, arguably the most important sectors to poverty reduction. New loans extended by the WB and IMF neglected the impact of privatization of water on people’s access to clean water. Privatization led to increased prices of water for individuals, reducing their access, and undermining the health-related poverty-reduction goals of the PRSP. The trade sector was also conflicting as the WB and the IMF lending policies contradicted external processes and institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). For example, IMF and WB loans insisted that Uganda must privatize key utilities and markets stipulating that regulation “will eventually follow”. WTO rules, which Uganda is subject to, do not permit Uganda to develop the adequate regulation prescribed by the IMF and WB (Nyamugasira and Rowden, 2002).

            Structural adjustment resulted in the IFIs having a permanent hand in the running of the country. The extent of the IMF and WB’s involvement in Uganda went so far as pushing the Ugandan government to refuse program funding from the Global Fund for HIV/AIDs, Malaria and Tuberculosis (Ambrose, 2004). The rationale for refusing funding for a major health epidemic (when at least 6% of the population is still infected by HIV/AIDs, and malaria rates are as high as 396 cases per 100,000 people; Reuters, 2008), is that raising government expenditures on healthcare is thought (by the IMF) to distort internal markets, possibly leading to inflation (Ambrose, 2004). Health care and education declines[2], while the inflation rate has remained below 8% since 1994 (dropping from inflation rates of several hundred percent in the late 1980s). So why has the quest for actual poverty reduction been sidelined for economic growth and the “trickle down” effect usually attributed to this growth? Were the IFIs serious in their claim to want to reduce the poverty in the world, or were fancy schemes made to try to silence the international resistance and continue on with “business as usual”?

A Neoliberal Success Story?

            The government revels in the chance to flaunt certain aspects of its record, such as the increase in primary education enrollment rates from 62.3% in 2000 to 91.4% in 2007, the reduction in the prevalence of HIV/AIDs from 19% (in 1992) to around 6.4% (in 2000; which has since remained stagnant or possibly increased[3]), and the robust growth rate averaging at close to 7% over the 1990s (WB, Country Brief, 2008). In fact, the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network (SAPRIN) which studied the effect of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) implemented in Uganda through PRSP and PRGF (a line of credit to write the PRSP) reforms found otherwise. This study shows that access to affordable quality of services did not improve, and in fact, had actually worsened under SAPs (Nyamugasira and Rowden, 2002).

Privatization reforms mandated by the SAPs exacerbated inequality and failed to contribute to macroeconomic efficiency since the sale of state assets under privatization was marred by corruption. No property-owning middle class was created, as had been anticipated and large shares of former state properties were now in the hands of foreigners. Workers that were laid off during the privatization process suffered from inadequate compensation and retraining, resulting in greater job insecurity and income inequality (Nyamugasira and Rowden, 2002). In spite of improvement in coverage of health care facilities and an increased number of doctors and nurses (which still remains incredibly low and concentrated in organizations caring for ‘popular’ issues such as HIV/AIDs and Malaria to the detriment of general health initiatives; Garrett, 2007;26-8), less than 50% of children aged 1-2 years has been immunized. The current HIV program remains completely unsustainable since more than 94% of costs are covered by floating international donors (Nakkazi, 2005).

Concerns about the public involvement in PRSP policy writing contradicted the PRSP mandate to be country-driven. Ugandan NGOs complain that they were invited to provide input on the development of poverty-reduction goals, but not to discuss the nature of the policies necessary to achieve these goals or to be present during the writing of policies. The actual policies attached to loans were determined by IMF and WB representatives in consultation with small technical teams within the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Uganda. NGOs felt they hadn’t been heard although the IMF had promised that all macroeconomic policies would be “subject to public consultation” (Nyamugasira and Rowden, 2002).

 The proportion of Ugandans living below the $1 per day benchmark for extreme poverty has remained mostly constant (Nakkazi, 2005), even though the WB says poverty has declined (WB, Country Brief, 2008). A high level of population growth (3.2%) means that even though poverty may have declined statistically, the number of people living in extreme poverty has remained relatively unchanged (Nakkazi, 2005).  The provision of teachers and educational facilities has not kept pace with the nearly doubling of students (62.3% enrollment in primary education in 2000 to 91.4% in 2007; WB, Country Brief, 2008), resulting in a decline in the quality of education. Poor completion rates in education are attributed to the introduction of fees for certain services implemented under the SAPs (Nakkazi, 2005).

Privatization, implemented through SAPS, was used by Ugandan government officials to build constituencies of supporters for state policies and to dispense patronage (Pitcher, 2004; 381). Economic elites and political insiders with connections to the state have controlled the entire privatization process, gaining massive advantages for themselves. Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) used the economic restructuring as a chance to distance themselves from past regimes, removing political elites who were entrenched in state enterprises through civil sector layoffs prescribed by the SAPs. In 1996 about 7,000 Asians returned to Uganda injecting over $500 million into the economy. Museveni agreed to return the assets taken from the Asians under the Amin regime in the late 1970s, also favoring them for several large privatization deals to gain personal advantage (Pitcher, 2004; 387).

The Situation in Northern Uganda

The focus on the economic situation by the government, international donors and aid agencies ignores the continuing conflict in the north of the country where close to a million people have been displaced by violence. This continued violence costs the Ugandan economy a minimum of $100 million per year in lost production alone and is preventing sustainable growth. The conflict was entirely ignored by the World Bank Country Brief who referred to the “situation in Northern Uganda” only in passing (Yanacopulos, 2004; 7-9). Museveni and the government of Uganda are guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity with their campaign of murder, torture, threats, bombing and burning down villages which interned of an entire section of the population (mostly Acholi) into displacement camps for “their own protection”. These camps lack even the basic necessities and are constantly terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who has abducted more than 25,000 children to be used as soldiers, workers and sex slaves from these camps. More than a quarter of all children in the northern area do not attend school at all because of violence (McCormack, 2006). The WB and IMF are guilty of complicity to these crimes by supporting Museveni and by not recognizing this interned population, and instead hiding the reasons for displacement. Aid comes in to conveniently labeled internally displaced persons (IDPs), instead of condemning the government for its massive human rights violations (Branch, 2008).


            As a land-locked resource scarce country what possibilities does Uganda have for poverty reduction in combination with sustained economic growth in the future? Paul Collier stresses that land-locked resource scarce countries such as Uganda should look to specialize in regional trade, giving priorities to policies on rural development (Selassie, 2008; 6). Conflicts in neighboring Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have so far not caused significant negative spillovers to economic growth in Uganda; but they have had the effect of limiting regional trade suggested by Collier. Regional alliances also threaten to disrupt trade. Compared to sustainable economic “success” stories (mostly in Asia), Uganda has a per capita income on average 2 ½ times less (Selassie, 2008; 9) at only $370 per year (WB, Country Brief, 2008), limiting its chances for success. The growth rates in the Asian countries have also been significantly higher than Uganda’s, and the level of industrialization in Uganda (up from 12% in 1990/1 to 24% in 2005/6) is still much lower than countries like Chile and China (at around 35%). Urbanization also presents a problem to sustained success in Uganda. Urbanization in Uganda is low at around 12% of the population, not increasing much over the past 20 years despite industrialization (compared to around 40% urbanization in successful Asian economies). The underdeveloped financial sector shows financial liabilities to GDP at around a third of the level observed in successful Asian economies, and private sector credit (the ratio of private sector credit to GDP) stands at one-eighth the level of the Asian economies (Selassie, 2008; 9). These numbers suggest that while Uganda has had reasonable success for an African country, it is hardly to be touted as a “success” quite yet.

            While Uganda has been reasonably successful in sustaining a relatively high level of growth, especially compared to other African nations, it has completely failed in its quest for poverty reduction. The poorest of the poor are little better off than they were decades ago, and although loan forgiveness has been granted; loan repayments remain unsustainable. The government of Uganda is reliant on international donors for about 40% of its budget (Nakkazi, 2005), making sustainability questionable. The lack of concern by the IFIs for human rights abuses by aid-receiving governments is appalling, as the government of Uganda has gained considerable strength from these monies and ensured for themselves and their followers, positions of power and wealth. The debts owed by these loans will be paid on the backs of the poor, and not those who borrowed it or decided how it should be spent. The IFIs’ attempt at ‘poverty reduction’ is laughable, since clearly this is not their main priority. These institutions should be condemned for their lack of concern for their people, and their continual disregard for studies that contradict their desired image. Human rights abuses in Uganda will continue as long as the international community looks the other way and continues to support the government, making long-term poverty reduction and sustainable growth unrealistic.







Works Cited:

1)      Ambrose, Soren. April, 2004. Resisting market fundamentalism! Ending the reign of extremist neo-liberalism. Economic Justice News Online. Vol. 7, No. 2.

2)      Branch, Adam. June 8, 2008. Uganda’s interned victims living in wretched squalor. Enough. The Center for American Progress.

3)      Garrett, Laurie. January/February 2007. Do no harm. The global health challenge. Foreign Affairs. Vol. 86, No. 1; 14-38.

4)      International Monetary Fund (IMF). October 31, 2008. Uganda: Financial position in the Fund. Finance Department.

5)      Kiiza, Julius; Mubazi, John; Kibikyo, D.L. and Kigongo, Aloysius. February 27 2003. Understanding economic and institutional reforms in Uganda. Global Development Network. 

6)      McCormack, Pete. 2006. Uganda Rising. Canadian Independent Firm and Video Fund. Mindset Media. (Film).

7)      Nakkaz, Esther. 2005. Millennium Development Goals in Uganda. OneWorld Uganda Guide. 

8)      Nyamugasira, Warren and Rowden, Rick. April 2002. New strategies, old loan conditions: Do the new IMF and WB loans support countries’ poverty reduction strategies? The case of Uganda. African Action. 

9)      Pitcher, Anne. July 2004. Conditions, commitments, and the politics of restructuring in Africa. Comparative Politics. Vol. 36, No. 4, p. 379-398.

10)  Selassie, Abede Aemro. September 2008. Beyond macroeconomic stability: The quest for industrialization in Uganda. IMF Working Paper. 

11)  World Bank. September 2008. Country Brief. Development Results.

12)  World Bank. September 30, 2008. Uganda: Estimated Debt Service Payments Summary.

13)  Yanacopulos, Helen. March 17-20, 2004. A think piece in dilemmas in conflict and development: The Uganda Case. International Studies Association Conference. Montreal, Canada

[1] Private investment as a percentage of GDP went from 5.4% in 1986-7 to 13% in 1998-9 (Pitcher, 2004; 383)

[2] Health and education spending accounted for only 2% of WB lending. The other lending went to energy/road development (57%), the agricultural sector (13%), the financial sector (10%), the private and public sector (shared 10%), local governance structures (10%), and social protection (8% ; WB, Country Brief, 2008).

[3] A recent country report on the MDGs warns that there are anecdotal indications of an apparent increase in HIV prevalence and incidence during the last few years despite claims of reducing the rate. American donor presence pushed leaders in 2005 to promote the ABC approach to sex (Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condom use). This placed a greater emphasis on abstinence and restricted the distribution of condoms and has been attributed to the increase in prevalence of HIV/AIDs in recent years (Nakkazi, 2005).

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The “ethnic” side of conflict in the Caucaus.


This summer brought to light complicated global hostilities and the probability of continued conflict in the Caucasus region. Russia has sent a clear message to the West, who has been trying to lure away countries on Russia’s western border and turn them democratic and market-oriented, that it will not tolerate excessive signs of independence from its neighbours.


For many months preceding the war, Russia imposed heavy sanctions on Georgia and rounded up Georgians in Moscow for deportation. In revenge for Kosovo’s independence, Prime Minister Putin established legal ties with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Georgia’s northern borders, two regions who have broken away from the Georgian territory. In early July, Russia staged a massive military exercise on the border with South Ossetia, and many Russian jets flew over the region, increasing tensions. In August, Georgia and South Ossetian separatists exchanged fire and explosive attacks. Expected peace talks were halted, after the Russia diplomat in charge of facilitating the process blew off the meetings. Russia then claimed that Georgia broke the unilateral ceasefire by ordering a massive “ethnic cleansing” offensive in South Ossetian villages. According to Georgia, the ceasefire was broken by the South Ossetians. Georgia then began to shell and invade South Ossetia, leaving the Russian army (who was conveniently nearby after its military exercises) to move in to “protect” the South Ossetians.


Blood is clearly on all hands. Civilians are caught in the cross-fire. Thousands have been displaced, hundreds have died, and although a ceasefire has been signed, peace is far from a reality.


The region has been struggling to rebuild itself for the past twenty years. Nationalism flourished after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and began dividing the region ethnically and ideologically. Factions that lived in relative peace for centuries, were suddenly ideological enemies, and displaced to their new ethnically fixed territorial regions. Conflicting histories plague the peace process as claims to land are ‘legitimized’ by different regional versions. Massive ethnic cleansing of regions (including forced displacement and relocation) has left pockets of clashing ethnicities eager to slit each others’ throats.


The tendency since the Cold War to describe all conflicts as “ethnic” conflicts has left many wondering if these are in fact “ethnic” conflicts at all. If the tensions are a product of ancient ethnic hatreds, then this would assume that there is something inherently conflictual about ethnicity, making conflict increasingly inevitable since we live in such an ethnically diverse world. We often forget that ethnicities are not some homogenous group, but are in fact constantly changing and fluid. The problems have more to do with access to raw materials and political choices that have pitted one group against another.

Separating ethnicities into homogenous enclaves is a dangerous game.


Academics claim that the more ethnically diverse a society, the less its propensity towards conflict. In fact the chance for conflict increases the more ethnically singular an area is, especially if the society is ranked. Ethnicities need to be recognized and the rights of all peoples, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, background, etc. need to be enforced.


Violent conflict is always avoidable. There are many ways to transform conflict through non-violent means. Diplomacy must begin to work, and to do this we must demand it work. Our governments must sanction aggressors to the full extent, and ensure that the do not get away with violence. We must write letters, stage protests, and make our voices heard. Violence has no need to continue, but the only way it will ever stop is if we make it stop through international sanctioning, pressures and peace building initiatives. We can transform war into peace, but only through intense solidified effort. We must all work together.

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Why is the UN failing in many of its missions?

The United Nations is only as powerful as its Member states. It can call on its Members for support: financially, logistically or in troops and hope that they answer the call. If this call goes unanswered (as is currently the situation), what powers does the UN have to ensure enforcement or support?


The structures of the International Court of Justice, the UN’s principle judicial organ, are only meant to settle legal disputes between states, and rely on local enforcement structures to arrest and detain crime suspects. The International Criminal Court, which tries crimes against humanity and war crimes, is also reliant on local enforcement structures, which prevents it from trying many international criminals because of a lack of cooperation or capabilities of local enforcement.


Five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) enjoy a veto privilege, which means they can stop any action of the UNSC by exercising their veto. The UNSC is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, investigating disputes, recommending methods to solve disputes, regulating armaments, determining the existence of threats to peace or acts of aggression, recommending what actions are to be taken, applying economic sanctions and other measures to prevent or stop aggression, taking action against an aggressor, recommending admission of new Members to the UN, overseeing trusteeship functions of the UN, and recommending the appointment of the Secretary-General to the UN and Judges of International Court of Justice. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France and 6 by China. These vetoes have included subjects such as condemning the violence by the government of Zimbabwe against civilians following the elections in 2008 (vetoed by China and Russia), stopping Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2004 and 2006 (vetoed by the US), on taking action against the killing by Israeli forces of several UN employees and the destruction of the World Food Programme warehouse in 2002 (vetoed by the US), on establishing a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians in 2001 (vetoed by the US)[1]. Many others operations are never even brought to the table, since the veto will ensure the action cannot happen.


It is structures like these that allow major criminals to evade justice and limits the power of the UN. Combine this with incredible budget arrears owed to the UN by its Member states. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern, especially considering that peacekeeping support is so desperately needed in many areas of the world. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. The hypocrisy that these countries all sponsor intense humanitarian aid (and state loans) to conflict zones, yet cannot manage to pay their promised share of peacekeeping debt should not go unnoticed. Requests for troop support to areas are also frequently ignored by the international community.


If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. That being said, it is time the UN lived up to its original purpose, and created some means of enforcing its own legalities. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.

[1] A full list of vetoes can be found at


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