- A new Oxford University study has found that a beta-blocker drug may possibly reduce “subconscious” racism. The drug is thought to work by clocking activation of the peripheral autonomic nervous system and in areas of the brain involved with formulating emotional responses, including fear.
- The Transitional Justice Institute announced its 5th annual Summer School on Transitional Justice on the theme of Gender, Conflict and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Ulster, Northern Ireland from June 25th-29th. Deadline for applications is May 4th, 2012.
- I’m not sure if this is actually newsworthy or merely conspiracy, and haven’t had a chance to look into it in any great depth, but it appears that there are mass resignations from world banks, investment houses and money funds; reportedly 320 in the last 4 months alone. The latest wrote a scathing resignation letter against Goldman Sachs in the New York Times.
- The Center for International Peace Operations released a new report on partnerships in peace operations around the world.
- The competition for the Presidency of the World Bank is heating up, as the current President ends his term on July 1st. For the first time, a normally behind-the-scenes election was shaken up after economist Jeffrey Sachs decided to shatter the ancient taboo and campaign openly for the job.
- Oxfam released a new report discussing the progress in promoting local participation and empowerment in humanitarian responses, particularly in light of the Sphere Project, the Red Cross, and the Humanitarian Accountability Project.
- The OECD released a new report warning that pollution will become the biggest cause of premature death, killing an estimated 3.6 million people a year by 2050 and overtaking such mass killers as poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water.
- Brandeis University in Massachusetts is offering a Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict with several scholarship opportunities. The program is geared towards professionals.
- The Summer Peacebuilding Institute in Harrisonburg, Virginia is still open for the 2012 year. The institute offers courses in development, humanitarian assistance, monitoring awareness, restorative justice, social movements, community organizing, trauma awareness, mediation and many others from May 7th– June 15th.
- The Italian branch of the hacking collective Anonymous reportedly took down the Vatican website on Wednesday in retaliation for the “corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It was revealed this week that a leader hacker with the Anonymous-linked LulzSec allegedly agreed to work with the American FBI after pleading to 12 charges of computer hacking last August.
- Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs announced his intention to be the next president of the World Bank as the current head is near the end of his term. Sachs hopes to change the mistakes of the past and provide a leadership of development experts instead of Wall Street, bankers and politicians. On Wednesday, an insider in the Obama administration said that former American White House adviser Lawrence Summers, diplomat Susan Rice and PepsiCo Inc CEO Indra Nooyi are on a “short list” of possible American candidates to head the World Bank.
- Several Muslim and African countries reportedly walked out of a Human Rights Council panel set up to tackle the issue of murder and violence against gays and lesbians around the world.
- The German Chancellor announced on Tuesday that she had received assurances from the Brazilian President that Brazil would take part in a recapitalization of the International Monetary Fund. Brazil has urged Europe to stabilize the euro before the IMF can boost its own capital and release more funds for struggling euro zone states like Greece.
- The UN Development Programme released a report on the need to strengthen justice and security for peace around the world.
- UNICEF and the World Health Organization released a report on Tuesday that claimed that the world had met the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, well in advance of the 2015 deadlines.
- New psychological research at Cornell University suggests that people don’t always have the capacity to recognize the best political candidate or policy idea, especially if they incompetent in the subject, which results in democratic elections that produce mediocre leadership and policies.
- In the wake of March 10th‘s International Women’s Day, many sites reminded us of statistics showing how the gender imbalance is still alive and thriving, particularly in the aid sector; while the US State Department chose 10 honorees for the 2012 International Women of Courage ceremony. Top UN officials proposed a UN global conference on women for 2015, 20 years after the last women’s summit in Beijing.
- The UN cultural agency UNESCO voted on Thursday to remove the name of Equatorial Guinea’s President from the Obiang Prize for science and replace it with that of his country, bowing to pressure over his human rights record.
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the world has been able to meet some of the UN goals of reducing poverty and raising living standards in developing nations, though some regions are not reaping many benefits.
- The United Nations unveiled new guidelines on Friday to help mediators address the problem of sexual violence in conflict by placing the issue high on the agenda when brokering peace agreements and ceasefires.
- Judge Song was reportedly re-elected as President of the International Criminal Court and judges Monageng and Tarfusser elected as First and Second VPs. Several other new judges were sworn in as well, after being elected last December.
- A new report by the UN warns that a “radical new approach” to managing the world’s water resources is needed to mitigate increasing scarcity. The report was issued to coincide with the opening of the World Water Forum in France, held every three years.
- AidData released a report recently discussing how foreign aid affects armed conflict. The report suggests that aid can affect the likelihood of violent armed conflict by influencing a state’s ability to credibly commit to an agreement that averts war at present and into the future.
- TRANSCEND Peace University has opened its online courses in peace and conflict studies for the upcoming spring semester. TRANSCEND was founded by Dr. Johan Galtung, widely known as the father of peace studies.
- NATO announced on Wednesday that it will buy five US-made unmanned drone aircraft capable of countering Afghan insurgents, hunting pirates off Somalia or monitoring arms embargos. The drones will be part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) project) set to begin between 2015 and 2017.
- TransConflict established a Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation comprised of organizations from over forty organizations from a variety of countries that are committed to upholding the principles of conflict transformation.
- Bill Clinton is being forwarded as one of the names to replace Robert Zoellick as the head of the World Bank. Other candidates are speculated to be Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched a new map that tracks cases of threatened bloggers around the world. The Foundation also helps bloggers understand their legal rights.
- Park University’s Centre for Global Peace Journalism has launched a new semi-annual publication highlighting peace and conflict sensitive journalism called The Peace Journalist. They are currently seeking submissions of summaries of a length of one to two pages of upcoming peace/conflict sensitive journalism projects, as well as research/academic papers.
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called upon all countries to move towards realizing the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world on Friday and especially on those who have not yet endorsed the global treaty to ban nuclear testing, to do so without delay. These words came on the 15th anniversary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.
- The Centre for International Peace Operations released a new report on the role of elections in peace processes, when and how they advance stability or exacerbate conflicts.
- The International Peace Institute released a new report on Security Sector Reform. The report focuses on how practitioners and academics can move from policy of SSR to implementation.
- The German Institute for International and Security Affairs released a report on the partnership of NATO and the UN.
- Kazakhstan addressed the UN General Assembly on Saturday to repeat its idea of the creation of a global currency under UN control that would significantly decrease the odds of a future financial crisis. The Minister said he believed “all the world’s economic problems are rooted in the inefficiency of the existing world monetary system, which no one controls and is not democratic.”
- The World Bank (WB) recently released it much anticipated report on farmland grabbing, which has been in controversy since 2008 because it threatens global food security. Governments and corporations are accused of buying up mass amounts of farmland (often illegally) in other countries to grow their own food or simply to make money. Critics have denounced the report as flawed and corrupted by the fact that the Bank’s commercial investment arm is a major investor in numerous private equity firms that are buying up rights to farmland while its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency is providing land grab projects with political risk insurance.
- The UN refugee agency announced on Friday that they would be revising their policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Recent surveys highlighted the dangers and prejudice faced by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees.
- A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia’s government earlier this year has walked out of the Somali government. The group has accused the administration of planning to abolish the power sharing deal signed in March. On Sunday, an unidentified helicopter fired on houses of al-Shabab commanders. In an unprecedented agreement Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats. Gunmen killed one man and kidnapped three others in Somaliland on Wednesday, while another 11 (mostly civilians) were killed in an artillery battle in the main Bakara Market by Somali government backed by AU forces in Mogadishu.
- Political violence in Ghana has increased this past week, as riots and minor clashes rock the country following Parliamentary by-elections. Political analysts are concerned for the upcoming 2012 elections.
- Sudan’s vice president urged UN member states to forgive their debts in an effort to strengthen prospects for peace. The IMF has said that Sudan has nearly $38 billion in external debts. Sudanese officials from both the north and the south accused each other of deploying troops along their joint border amidst mounting tensions in the build-up to a referendum on southern independence. Both sides dismissed the other’s allegations. South Sudan has said they will provide community militia groups with weapons to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, as the mainstream armed forces are already stretched to thin. North Sudan’s dominant party has threatened to reject the results of a southern Independence referendum unless the south withdraws its troops from disputed areas and allows free campaigning in the vote. A central Sudanese tribe has also warned it would fight anyone who prevented its member from voting in the referendum. Darfur rebels accused Sudan’s army of killing 27 people in a week-long campaign of air and ground assaults this week, although the Sudanese army dismissed the accusation.
- 15 children were hijacked on a school bus in Nigeria by gunmen on Tuesday. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom from the school in the amount of 20 million naira. The children were said to have been released on Friday, with no ransom paid and no physical injuries. Also on Friday, the 50th anniversary of Nigerian Independence from Britain, three bombs killed at least eight people. The attackers sent emails threats about the devices approximately an hour before they were detonated.
- There has been increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community meetings leading up to the constitutional referendum, including new arrests of civil society activists. The violence and intimidation has been mainly done by supporters of the ZANU-PF, the former sole ruling party.
- Eritrea criticized the UN General Assembly for continuing to ignore Ethiopia’s failure to comply with the international commission ruling that delineated the border between the two countries following the 1998-2000 war.
- The UN Security Council deployed 500 additional troops to Cote D’Ivoire in advance of the end of October elections. The elections had been repeatedly delayed in the past. Concerns over election violence have been elevated in the past several weeks, after several militia leaders have spoken out against demobilization payments made to former rebels, claiming that their members, who fought to protect the government deserve equal treatment and even taking over a government building to demand the same demobilization payment as the rebels. The UN mission in Cote D’Ivoire has asked the Security Council to lift the arms embargo on the country so that crowd control equipment can be bought for the upcoming elections. The opposition is concerned of how this equipment will be used.
- The UN Security Council lifted its 12 year arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone on Wednesday. The Council also decided to extend their mandate of the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) for another year until September 15, 2011.
- The Tunisian government ratified the international treaty banning cluster munitions on Tuesday, becoming the first country in the Middle East or North Africa to do so. Tunisia is the 42nd country to ratify the convention which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
- Uganda has warned that the UN report implicating it, and several other countries’ armies in war crimes in the DRC, jeopardizes its commitment to regional peace missions and demanded that it not be published. Rwanda had previously warned the UN about its possible withdrawal from peacekeeping missions if the report was not changed, and later announced that it had the right to review future engagements with the UN. The report was released on Friday amid much criticism from some of the implicated countries.
- Two NATO soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Saturday, and another two on Sunday, while 70 insurgents died in separate clashes with coalition troops. Local residents complained that civilians were among the victims. A suicide attack on Tuesday killed a provincial deputy governor and five others in the east of the country. A NATO raid in the east killed four children and wounded three adults on Wednesday. A suicide bomber reportedly targeted a NATO military convoy near Kandahar, killing and injuring several civilians on Thursday. Four Georgian soldiers were said to be killed in the attack. Afghan and NATO forces began attacking Taliban strongholds on Saturday in Kandahar in a bid to bolster control of the area. Afghani election officials have ordered a partial recount of votes from seven of the country’s 34 provinces following countless complaints of fraud during last week’s elections. A former top-ranking UN official called upon the UN to investigate into alleged war crimes happening in Afghanistan to identify and prosecute individuals responsible. Three former Australian soldiers will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of six civilians during a military operation in Afghanistan last year. On Monday, A US court began its trial of American soldiers accused of murder during an Afghani killing spree. Afghan President has announced the formation of a 70-member negotiation council that will push for peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which the Taliban subsequently rejected.
- The Indian government decided on a major policy shift in Kashmir on Saturday, calling for the release of jailed student protesters, easing security strictures in major cities, reopening schools and universities, and offering financial compensation to the families of more than 100 civilians killed in protests in June. They were hoping the concerns would address the concerns of the protesting Kashmiris, however, the separatist leaders later rejected the shift. On Wednesday, authorities in Indian Kashmir said they will free jailed protesters and reduce the number of checkpoints in the main city, but put off a decision over whether to limit the scope of a hated security law used by the Indian military in the Muslim-majority region to curb the persistent unrest. Indian security forces killed 8 militants on Friday in two separate gunbattles.
- Pakistan’s minister for defense production has resigned after the PM summoned him to explain why he criticized Pakistan’s military. The move comes just after the PM had canceled its trip to Europe amid media speculation about a possible change of government. There is speculation that the military could remove the civilian government. On Friday, Pakistan’s army chief handed a list of corrupt or allegedly incompetent ministers to the President, demanding their removal. An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothing has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistan soldiers. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants, although CIA intelligence suggests otherwise. Pakistan was furious with NATO-led troops upon learning that US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants. Pakistan’s foreign ministry called the incursions a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate” and suggested that Pakistan may consider response options. At least 30 militants were killed in the attack. On Thursday, Pakistan blocked a vital supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and on Friday suspected militants set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in retaliation.
- North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has promoted his youngest son to military general, which analysts are calling a clear sign that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader. The ruling Workers’ Party held a rare meeting on Tuesday stating that a new supreme leadership body would be elected. The two Koreas held military talks on Thursday, which ended without progress as the North rejected the South’s demands for an apology over the sinking of a South Korean ship. North Korea also vowed to bolster its nuclear deterrent in response to the threat posed by the US, but promised to never use its atomic arsenal to attack or threaten any nation.
- New Delhi, India has cleared out the city’s poor in an effort to ensure visitors to the upcoming Commonwealth Games remember the games and not the poverty surrounding it. Three Indian judges ruled on Thursday that the disputed religious site in Ayodhya, claimed by both Muslims and Hindus, should be shared by both communities. Authorities have ramped up security measures over the week for fear of escalating violence over the decision, although it appears to have been taken relatively peacefully in the Hindu community and with non-violent rallies among the Muslim community.
- Indonesia sent an army battalion and hundreds of paramilitary police into Borneo on Wednesday to quell an ethnic clash in an eastern province that has killed at least three people. Offices in the area have been closed, and some houses burned as local people armed with machetes and spears searched for an immigrant ethnic group. An international film festival celebrating gay cinema was targeted by masked Islamic hardliners in Jakarta on Tuesday. The protesters chanted homophobic slogans and accused organizers of blasphemy, threatening to burn down the venue if the screenings were not halted.
- Thailand has lifted its state of emergency in some parts of the country, with the exception of the capital. The laws included bans on public gatherings of more than 5 people and gave security forces the right to detain suspects for 30 days without charge and were introduced in April amid mass anti-government rallies by the “Red Shirt” movement.
- A bomb blast rocked a rural Myanmar/Burmese election commission office on Friday, stirring fears of violence during the first election to be run in two decades. The election is to happen next month and is largely criticized as a “sham” to create a military-dominated system run by generals and their proxies with little change in the status quo.
Central and North America
- A mayor in a small Mexican town was found stoned to death on Monday in the third attack on a public official in less than a week. It was not made clear whether the killings were yet related to drug violence.
- More than one in four US veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars say they have suffered service-related head injuries and two-thirds reported depression. Experts assert that real numbers may be significantly higher as many are afraid to admit suffering PTSD because they are afraid it would keep them from their families or hurt their careers.
- The Obama administration is said to be drafting a bill that would require online communications services to be “technically capable of complying” with a wiretap order. The bill is said to make it easier for the US government to spy on Internet communications. The US has also announced unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran, aimed at punishing 8 Iranian officials for human rights abuses in the country. The sanctions ban Americans from doing business with certain officials, and freezes and US assets held by them. The Pentagon has also announced that the US are going to be resuming military contacts with China that were cut off earlier this year.
- Canada’s House of Commons ruled on Wednesday that Iraqi war resisters from the US will not be allowed shelter in Canada. More than three dozen Americans moved to Canada to avoid military duty in Iraq and sought to stay on humanitarian grounds.
- Unrest erupted in Ecuador on Thursday as soldiers took control of the main airport, police protested in the streets and looting the capital while the President considered dissolving a deadlocked Congress. The President denounced what he called “a coup attempt”, and was allegedly hospitalized due to the effect of tear gas. He was later said to being held hostage there by police. The following day, the President vowed to punish protesters who rebelled saying there would be ‘no forgiving nor forgetting’. The police chief quit his post on Friday after failing to stop the rebellion by his officers.
- The winner of Iraq’s March elections has ruled out participating in any new government that would be led by the current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad has come under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks in recent weeks. A senior American military commander suggested that Iranian-backed militias were responsible. Officials say three police officers were killed in late night attacks in two northern Iraqi cities, and that a car bomb on Tuesday night killed another 2 officers. An American serviceman is being held in Iraq in connection with the shooting of two soldiers last week. A roadside bomb near Baghdad on Friday killed 3 people and wounded another seven at a checkpoint.
- Israel announced on Monday it would not extend the 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank to the disappointment of world leaders. The Palestinians who previously vowed to quit peace talks if the moratorium was not extended have expressed desire to remain in the talks. An Israeli strike in Gaza strip on Monday killed 3 gunmen belong to an Islamic Jihad group. The Israeli navy boarded a yacht carrying 10 Jewish activists who were attempting to break the sea blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted the vessel to the nearby port of Ashdod. Five of the activists were released from police custody on Wednesday, and five others are set to be deported. The Israeli PM has distanced himself from the foreign minister’s speech at the UN this week after the minister told the General Assembly that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would take decades and dismissed the current talks as unrealistic. The UN Human Rights Council endorsed last week’s critical report on Israel’s raid of the May aid flotilla, but stopped short of pressing for an international criminal inquiry. The report also highlighted that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five other Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos in the raid.
- Two Iranian doctors were mysteriously killed outside their workplaces this month. Critics suspect that at least one was linked to a politically motivated cover-up of prisoner abuses last summer following Iran’s disputed presidential elections. President Ahmadinejad’s closest aide has called for more rights for Iran’s “oppressed” women in an interview with the semi-official ILNA news agency, in a move thought likely to fuel controversy.
- Syria has said it is willing to resume peace talks with Israel if they are geared towards Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights this week. Israel has said it will not enter into any talks with Syria that have pre-conditions.
- Yemen has stepped up a crackdown on the media that is said to have created the worst climate for press freedom in decades. Some new legislative proposals would set prohibitive financial barriers for broadcast and online news outlets, expand the definition of criminal defamation to include virtually any form of criticism of the President and increase prison terms.
- At least 2 Islamist insurgents were killed and 42 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Daghestan on Saturday. Russian security forces said they killed 15 suspected rebels in clashes on Wednesday, and another 17 policemen are said to have been injured after explosives rocked their convoy. Russia claimed to have found and defused a car bomb on Thursday in the North Caucasus.
- Angry protesters took to the streets in Iceland’s capital on Friday, forcing MPs to run away from those they represent. The protests were sparked due to renewed anger about the impact of the financial crisis. Demonstrations also happened in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Lithuania.
- The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey extended its unilateral ceasefire by one more month on Thursday. The militants’ jailed leader has been in talks with Turkish officials and encouraged the group to continue the ceasefire.
- The UK has awarded 12 million pounds in “special payments” including compensation to asylum seekers who were traumatized after being locked up in detention centres in the UK. Asylum seekers are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 14, and the European Union’s Charter article 63 CE.
- France is now seeking to crack down on the Cirque Romanes, or the “Gypsy Circus” in the latest case of Roma discrimination. French authorities have refused to validate work permits for musicians crucial to the performances. The European Commission ordered France to comply with an EU directive on the free movement of European Union citizens or face legal action over its expulsion of thousands of Roma on Wednesday.
- The UN Refugee Agency has expressed concern over the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe over the last two months. The deportations are in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for handling Iraqi asylum applications.
- Eta, the Basque separatist group has said it is willing to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire with the Spanish government in a bid to settle its long-running conflict. The group did not specify its conditions.
- The President of Kosovo resigned on Monday after a court ruled he cannot serve as head of state as well as leader of a political party. Analysts are concerned that the resignation could delay peace talks with Serbia, which are expected to start in October.
- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Moscow’s longtime mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday, citing a lack of presidential confidence. The two had been feuding for some time, with the Russian government commissioning a series of negative TV documentaries about Luzhkov. Luzhkov retaliated by accusing the President of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era and is said to be ready to challenge the dismissal.
- US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies claim to have foiled a plot to launch “commando-style” attacks on Britain, France and Germany through done attacks on militants based in Pakistan. One has to wonder whether this claim would help “justify” the controversial attacks on Pakistan, which have been increasingly protested.
- Workers from around Europe held rallies and strikes this week to protest the tight austerity programs being implemented by several EU countries. Marches in Belgium were relatively peaceful, whereas the Spanish general strike erupted into clashes between strikers, non-strikers and police. In Ireland, a man was arrested after ramming a cement truck into the gates of Irish Parliament in protest of an expensive bank bailout. Protests in Germany over the Stuttgart 21 rail project also turned violent with more than 100 injuries after their attempts to protect trees were broken up by police with water cannons and teargas.
- A Croatian parliament deputy who fled Bosnia last year was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Bosnian court for war crimes. Branimir Glavas was the first senior Croatian official convicted of war crimes committed against the Serbs.
- Serbia has announced it will end conscription to the military starting January 1st next year. The move is part of a 2004 strategy aimed at a gradual introduction of a professional army capable of tackling insurgencies and peacekeeping missions abroad.
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.
Some hope for the future.
In the US:
In the EU:
Some of the corporations:
Economic development and growth is basically the prime goal of every nation on the planet. Billions and billions of dollars are been spent annually on economic growth projects worldwide.
In some development circles, there is a thought that if the economy is doing well– the lives of those living in the economy will be better. This is often referred to as the “trickle-down effect”. That prosperity will trickle down to those less fortunate.
Unfortunately, this is not a reliable nor sustainable way to ensure that basic needs are being met or any real indication of anything other than the ability to yield high market value for the goods and services produced.
If the goal is to be ever-increasing– where does it ever end? When do we stop increasing our economies, or does it ever stop? Are we doomed to a never-ending race for the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?
Some of the countries with the fastest growing GDPs are still experiencing tremendous poverty among their poorest inhabitants and the increase in GDP does not appear to correlate with any increase in human rights protection or poverty reduction or any semblance of general well-being. Within the top ten countries with the fastest growing GDP sit Macau, Angola, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea, Anguilla, Republic of Congo, Solomon Islands, Mongolia, China, Armenia, Liberia and Peru. Afghanistan currently sits as the 16th fastest growing economy if that gives you any indication of how much economic growth translates into poverty reduction, respect for human rights or general well-being of the population.
So maybe economic growth doesn’t translate into well-being, but what about having a large GDP? Among the countries with the largest GDPs sit China, Russia, and India. Poverty is still a massive problem in all three areas, and human rights violations frequent occurrences. Clearly then, a large GDP doesn’t in and of itself cause the trickle down of development.
So if the ultimate goal is ever-increasing GDP or ever-increasing market value of goods and services produced; who will be the ones consuming this ever-increasing amount, where will the waste go, and where will the raw materials come from to supply this ever-increasing amount of productivity?
Why is the measure of how much can be produced the number one goal of almost every country and enforced as a primary goal in the poorer nations through global development programs by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank? Wouldn’t the measure of general well-being, or respect for human rights, or lack of poverty, or even the level of democracy rank higher than production?
So why don’t governments change this goal to something more sustainable in the long-term?
Mike Nickerson, who founded the Sustainability Project, suggests a different goal for governments; one of long-term well-being.
To get there our activities must:
“1) Use materials in continuous cycles.
2) Use continuously reliable sources of energy.
3) Come mainly from the qualities of being human (ie. creativity, communication, coordination, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development).”
*** To which I add 4) Respect the human rights of all affected populations.
“Long-term well-being is diminished when activities:
4) Require continual inputs of non-renewable resources.
5) Use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal.
6) Cause cumulative degradation of the environment.
7) Require resources in quantities that undermine other people’s well being.
8) Lead to the extinction of other life forms.”
I like to think of it as respecting the human rights of all those on the planet, as well those who will be here in the future. It’s not about global warming, or native rights, or some isolated issue. It is a holistic issue involving all our rights. If one of our nationals within our country’s rights are infringed upon, then all our rights have been infringed upon. We need to act together, no matter who we are. If we don’t speak up for the rights of others, who will speak for us when our rights are trampled on?
If our air is polluted, our rights are being infringed upon. If our water is polluted, our rights are being infringed upon. This is a global issue. Our actions affect the world, and their actions affect us.
Until our goals become to respect human rights and to have long-term well-being– we will not progress as humans. We will just become more efficient at producing crap that we don’t even really need or want that will in the end just kill us all.
“Working for a World Free of Poverty”- The World Bank
“The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 185 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”- The International Monetary Fund
The world is so lucky to have such caring institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. If you can’t tell, that last statement was said in sarcasm. If one were to read these institution’s own boasting they would believe that world poverty has been reduced because of their influence, rather than partially created and continued by them. These institutions, commonly referred to in international development circles as the Bretton Woods institutions or International Financial Institutions (IFIs), have helped to ensure that many countries will remain in poverty through their loans and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) for years to come.
The World Bank and the IMF are responsible for supporting the economic and financial order between governments. They were developed in the 1940s as a way of financing economic development for war-torn Western Europe. Over time, they have extended outside of Europe to any poor or war-torn nations, lending over $330 billion since their inception.
The OPEC oil crisis of the 1970s caused major worldwide inflation, significantly raising the price of gas and increasing the cost of goods produced in the richer nations. Many economies of the poorer nations of the world could no longer afford to pay for their imports and began to run on major deficits, resulting in a significant balance of payment deficit. Due to deteriorating terms of trade, these economies needed to look for more resources to pay for their imports; because essentially they were receiving much less for their products, and paying much higher costs for any manufacturing.
Prior to the oil crisis, the IFIs had “assisted” many of the poorer nation’s economies by offering loans to their governments originally borrowed at minimal interest rates of about 1-2%. By the 1980s these loan’s interest rates had climbed to about 16%, and many of the countries were taking on increasing loans to help pass them through the crisis. The rise in the use of synthetics and new agricultural techniques during this time reduced the need for many of the raw materials and agricultural products; an economic staple of many of the world’s poorer nations. During the early 1970s, more than 80% of these nation’s external revenues were created by the exportation of raw materials, dropping to only 34% by 1993.
Many of the richer nation’s banks were required by the IFIs to open lines of credit for the poorer nations that were in distress, and these commercial banks began giving out more money in loans than they actually had. Many of the poorer countries were now left with extreme debt that was growing larger and larger each day as the interest compounded. Many countries owed millions of dollars per month in interest; money that they could sorely afford and in some cases amounts that surpassed the nation’s earnings. These payments were only touching the interest on the loans and barely cracking the surface of the actual debt, ensuring these countries would owe for the long-term.
By 1985, many Latin American countries were suggesting that they were going to default on their loans and just disown their debts. Scrambling to not bankrupt the richer countries’ commercial banks and cause a massive economic meltdown, the “generous” IFIs decided on a plan to help reduce the poorer nations’ debt; on the condition of structural adjustment. The debtor nations would be required to implement stabilization packages supervised by the IMF, that would dictate their government’s spending.
Several plans were implemented to help reduce debts, and failed miserably; leaving many nations with still massive and overwhelming debt. Interestingly, with all the debt reduction projects during this period, the debt of the poorer nation’s between 1984 and 1994 had not been reduced at all, and was in fact only steadily increasing. It was soon decided by those at the IFIs that state-run services in the debtor countries were the reason for the economic crises and that the solution was to be found in removing all state intervention and socialist/communist approaches to government in these nations. The IFIs began demanding packages of fiscal disipline, trade liberalization, exchange rate adjustments and privatization of state services in the debtor nations as a way to stop the crises.
The removal of trade restrictions, including import licenses, quotas, and tariffs in the debtor nations, allowed the lending nations’ governments to fix their prices and dominate the global markets. The IFIs insisted on the devaluation of the local currency in the debtor nations as an incentive for local producers to produce more export commodities. Massive public sector layoffs ensued, as the governments were required to reduce their spending. All public enterprises were to be sold off and export was to be promoted through incentives such as easier access to foreign exchange.
Many of these loans were (and are still to this day) granted to nations ruled by authoritarian depots who use much of the monies to secure their own position of power or build their armies. Overall inflation in many of the nations was reduced by the SAPs and the nation’s earning increased; reducing their debt to earning ratio. The social costs of these economic changes however, had a devastating effect on the populations. All public services were now gone, or were pay-for-use services. The number of people living in poverty in these debtor nations dramatically increased, as did unemployment.
After much world-wide protest, the IFIs decided they must try to reduce the debts to more sustainable levels and focus more on the poverty and social costs that their decisions were having. Several countries qualified for loan reduction initiatives to help reduce these social costs. A number of initiatives were tried and failed, and all now included a poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP), a plan that would detail what the nations would do with the money they were now “saving” from loan payments. This allowed the richer nations to have a large say in the running of debtor nation’s governments. Many nations, including many of the world’s poorest, found they could not qualify for the loan forgiveness programs and so remained completely devastated with debt payments and running further and further into absolute poverty.
The debt initiatives had the effect of reducing some of the total stock of debt from the qualifying nations, however, it also resulted in successful litigation by commercial and bilateral creditors who sued some of these governments for their debt, despite their promised forgiveness by the IFIs. So the IFIs came up with new and even “better” plans, that would involve mandated country-driven and specific programs that were implemented with the purpose of benefiting the poor. In reality, the nations were often given little say into what programs would actually be implemented and were forced to democratize in a western way and create capitalist economies that would serve the richer nations. It had the desired effect. “Democracy” spread from 27.5% of the globe in 1974 to cover 61.3% of the world’s nations in 1995. By the late 1980s, the IFIs had decided that “good governance” was now to become a condition of any loan and much aid, institutionalizing the rule of law and democracy in debtor nations. Elections became staged affairs in order to meet conditions, often held in the face of intense structural and direct violence that suppressed any and all opposition.
Loans continue to be made, and debt forgiveness of only a handful of nations has had little effect on reducing the overall poverty experienced in these nations. The originally mandate and purpose of these financial organizations has been completely lost, as they are creating more devastation than they are repairing. The poorest populations are those who suffer the most. Many who once had governmentally funded education, water and extensive health services are now reliant on international aid and NGOs for even basic necessities. They are left with nothing and no hope for the future.
The colonial grips have changed. Instead of being held in servitude by imperial powers, regions are now being controlled by the IFIs and are forced to go along with the lender nation’s political agenda. The richer, more powerful nations continue to extract the resources of the poorer nations at a tremendous discount for themselves because of their financial situation, ensuring the poorer nations will always be their cheap supplier and be willing to bend to their demands for many years to come.
Distributing international aid can prove to be a problematic process if background situations and local considerations are not thoroughly regarded. International intervention within the post-socialist Russian health care system was fraught with difficulties stemming from misconceptions, flawed perceptions and a lack of coordination between locals, international NGO workers and the state. The legacy of the socialist period cast itself on the future of development assistance, as public prejudices regarding expectations were transferred from communism’s failure to the failure of capitalism. How has international intervention and aid to the Russian health care system shaped the relationships between citizens, civil society, and the state; and how has this changing shape been affected by the socialist legacy? How have the concepts of public and private spheres in the socialist context affected the way aid is being received? What are the problems facing international health care aid to this region and what is the best way to overcome these problems?
This paper will explore the transformation of health care services in Russia from the Soviet period to the post-socialist era, detailing the realities of the health care situation on the ground. It will attempt to describe the changing perceptions of public and private space and the expectations that coincide with these spaces, recounting the growing dominance of one space over the other under socialism, and later its repackaged continuance under capitalism. It will then turn to the emergence of international intervention (in the form of NGOs and development assistance) that were focused on transforming the socialist state into a market democracy, and how this assistance was misinterpreted and perceived by many as insulting, damaging the possibilities for overall success. The difficulties facing the depoliticizing of aid are explored, as well as the misconceptions precipitated by the Cold War ideologies. Pro-natalist agendas are discussed as shifting the perceptions and institutionalizing moral responsibilities, a practice that was continued in the delivery of international assistance. The devaluation of Russian skills and knowledge (by Westerners) as a mechanism for change is explored, as well as the disregard and disrespect for Russian input which resulted in the marginalization of the local. The paper will then describe Western attempts at ‘democratizing’ the health care system from the ground up, and how this was limited because of vertical hierarchies in existence. It then details how the perceptions of the socialist state cast themselves on the perception of international aid and intervention, and prevented it from succeeding. The example of Uryupinsk is then described as a type of home-grown “civil society” that is able to meet the needs of its population, followed by recommendations for strengthening the health care system and ensuring aid is better received in the future.
Health Care in Russia
During the socialist period in Russia, there were two phases of health care, the first taking place during the 1920s. This first period was dominated by the Marxist perception that illness within society was primarily the product of sickness (inequality and capitalism) in society and that the “cure” to problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution would be socialism. This phase deemphasized the value of scientific and clinical approaches to health care and instead narrowed in on socio-economic factors. Beginning in the next decade, the second phase saw more scientific approaches to care exhibiting a belief that work force capacity was dependent on the health of its workers (Bar and Field, 1996). Poorly managed and poorly funded programs that left physicians without pay, resulted in fees-for-service, extending hospital stays and providing unnecessary treatments as money-making ventures (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:86). After the fall of socialism, a third phase occurred and involved reigning in already minimal payments by the government to the healthcare system and reducing the hospitalization rates and lengths of stay of patients as a means of limiting spending and becoming more “cost-effective” and “efficient” (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 89).
During the Soviet period, education, healthcare and child care were to be provided by the state at no cost to the citizenry. The health services in particular however, were often under-resourced and segregated based on the person’s position within the Communist Party, their access to extensive personal networks and their ability to pay the increasingly expected fees and tips for supposedly free services. The government publicly prioritized the training and recruitment of doctors and provided large numbers of hospital beds, but often neglected the quality of the personnel or facilities being offered as the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare services plummeted (Bar and Field, 1996).
Professional associations for physicians were outlawed during the Soviet period. This resulted in the removal of an important system for monitoring the quality of care and the chance for physicians to lobby for better working conditions and rights. Claims of bribery, corruption and network favoritism cast shadows on the admission and graduation processes of many physicians, causing their skills to be considered extremely sub-par or non-existent by Western standards. Doctor’s wages came last among state spending, many receiving lower salaries than factory workers, leaving them with little choice but to charge their patients fees in order to survive. Pharmaceuticals and supply shortages lead to a reliance on gray and black markets for the provision of basic materials. Many hospitals lacked even adequate plumbing or sanitation systems, and electricity or the equipment necessary to run basic tests (Bar and Field, 1996). Patients were asked in some cases to provide their own bed sheets, nourishment and even blood for transfusions brought from home if having an operation while in the hospital (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:87) The dissolution of the state after the fall of communism led to a further erosion of these already abysmal services (Hemment, 2004, Spring). The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) restructured loan payments with the government, and advocated for the state to eliminate promises of universally free healthcare and to reign in their health spending, exacerbating the underlying problems and compromising patient care (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 87-9).
The Changing Relationships between the State, Civil Society and the Individual
Radical economic and social reforms enacted by the new governments, who were under World Bank and IMF pressure, failed to install more equitable socio-economic structures. Rising unemployment, withheld wages, and hyperinflation forced the already poor and desperate to rely on personal networks in order to obtain the social security that the government was failing to provide (Hemment, 2004, Spring). Janine Wedel (1998:3) comments that many Westerners were and still are “naïve to the realities of the Eastern world and the political skills it took just to survive” on a daily basis. The changing relationships between the individual and the state and the growing institutionalization of the private sphere exacerbated the citizen’s distrust for the state. This distrust was later projected from the state onto Western aid and interventions (which will be discussed in a later section).
The public sphere is traditionally regarded as an inclusive space where private individuals could come together as a public to debate issues of public authority such as governance. The private sphere complemented this sphere as an area traditionally outside of the reach of the government or public institutions (Habermas, 1989:27). Civil society was seen to occupy the space between the state, the market and the private; and conventionally consisted of NGOs, associations, community groups, trade unions and social movements (Centre for Civil Society, 2004). The public, private and civil society spheres have been referred to as the legs on a “three-legged stool”, with a separate but equal balance existing between all three legs. In reality, the situation is slightly more complicated as balance is not necessarily equitable, and the legs are not entirely separate. A common neoliberal assumption asserts that there should be a distinct separation between the private, civil society and the state. This assumption neglects to realize that the boundaries between these entities are not always clear (Drue, 2002: 187-200).
Modern housing made available after the fall of communism allowed many citizens their first access to a truly “private” sphere, a location reserved specifically for families that could be closed to neighbours and other uninvited visitors previously forced onto the private sphere by institutionalized situations such as communal apartments during the Soviet era. The “official” or “public” sphere (that being controlled by the Communist party) became increasingly dominant in daily life under socialism, as housing was communalized, and a wide array of topics became too dangerous to be discussed in “public” spaces, which were now extended to sometimes include areas within people’s own homes such as shared kitchens, hallways and bathrooms (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004).
The state privileged the public over the private sphere. Increasing productive and reproductive duties were nationalized and incorporated as individual moral responsibilities making once private issues public concern (Einhorn, 1993:31-3). This private and public tension was further exacerbated by the secularization process undertaken by the state during socialism that strove to limit private influence in the public sphere (Richardson, unpublished, 2008). Destined for disaster, the state increasingly took on more responsibility by broadening its political reach into the private realms, overburdening and overstretching its already thin capacity. The state lacked equitable distribution capabilities, dooming it to be resented by the people whose needs were increasingly being ignored. The increasing control of the private sphere where individual responsibilities became public responsibilities only intensified the already deep resentment towards the state for its distributional failures. The fact that the state lacked the structural capabilities to fulfill its existing promises without taking on increasing responsibilities, made these private intrusions all the more hated (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004).
Gal and Kligman (2000: 39) suggest that the private and public spheres are not mutually exclusive and are more like a nested set of ideologies that are overlapping and malleable, sometimes permitting the private within the public and vice versa. The exact distinction between public and private is completely relative to the interactional situation to which it is applied. Civil society often appears as a sort of public within the private sphere, or as a private interaction between individuals and the state existing usually in public space. During the Soviet era, “civil society” in the western sense was almost non-existent, as its functions were being primarily met or excluded by the state. Thus civil society came to be known as anything not being determined or offered by the Communist Party (Hemment, 2004 Spring). International foundations in the post-socialist context presented civil society as the antidote to the state, which was characterized as corrupt and obsolete in Russia even though the state was needed for these NGOs to gain recognition, practice legally and distribute resources (Drue, 2002: 183).
The growing distrust for all things public, stemming mostly from a lack of adequate resource distribution, favoritism and corruption amongst unequal hierarchies, increased estrangement from the state or public sphere and induced a withdrawal of many citizens from the routinization, institutionalization and standardization that socialism was providing. The boundary between public and private was blurred and permeated by the resource-attaining practice of blat, a collection of personal networks that transcended the private sphere while attempting to obtain public goods (Oswald and Voronkov, 2004). Public space became increasingly masculinized after the fall of communism, as competition for jobs forced many women from public roles and back into the home, leaving little space for female involvement outside the private sphere. These women, barred from the traditional public sphere, often became increasingly active within civil society, organizing associations and NGOs and leading to a feminization of the civil society sector (Hemment, 2004, Spring).
International NGOs Combating Communism
International aid and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) entered the former USSR upon its collapse, with the original intention of combating communism and transforming the state from communism to capitalism (Wedel, 1998). Expanding civil society was seen as instrumental to the development of free markets and democratic ideals (Hemment, 2004, Spring). The main categories of aid and NGO work being supplied internationally to Russia were interested in privatizing former state services, developing the private sector (including private property reform), democratization and basic humanitarian assistance such as health care. A disconnect between the West and the East facilitated by the Cold War ideologies however, prevented this work from being fully effective (Wedel, 1998: 4). NGOs were painted in opposition to the state, as inherently “good” and representing everything the state could not provide in a less bureaucratized, and more efficient manner that was able to reach local populations more effectively than centralized resource distribution (Fisher, 1997).
The West was originally regarded with suspicion, but also lauded as a potential savior whose eventual assistance was never really in question since it was perceived as fully capable of distributing resources. The East considered the West as a kind of rich Soviet Union able to furnish the vast array of products and services not being supplied under communist rule (Wedel, 1998: 22). The West lumped most of the former states of the USSR into the category of “undeveloped”, akin to the Third World, as they began providing aid, NGOs and development schemes to ease the transition from communism to capitalism in the region. This was interpreted by Russians as insulting since many saw themselves as being more or equally “civilized” and “cultured” as the West, needing institutional and social changes instead of economic growth and handouts (Wedel, 1998: 20). The problems in the post-socialist era were difficult to address as Hemment (2004) explains in her example of a highly educated woman with graduate degrees, who lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with no hot water, her family of five and her in-laws. The socialist situation was comprised of a highly educated population living in extreme poverty, with few rights and unable to make a living, and differed greatly from the Third World situations.
International anti-communist, pro-natalists intent on transitioning Russia towards capitalism after 1989, were accused by Russians of working to strategically depopulate the country due to their push for abstinence and individual moral changes in the face of existing East-West tensions, perceptions and suspicions (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 215). Applying pre-existing and inappropriate models of aid in the Russian context had the reverse effect of transference to capitalism by solidifying support for the socialist parties and strengthening “mafia-style” networks that were clinging to resource possibilities and the power vacuum created upon the state’s retreat. The lack of transparency along the aid-distribution channels intensified the connection between the realities of the former socialist state and the realities of capitalism, as Western aid, untracked, was assumed to be in the pockets of the elites, much as under socialism. Many Western aid officials were assumed to be spies sent by the West to evaluate the potential competition of the Eastern producers, with as much as two-thirds of the Russian population believing that the US had a calculated anti-Russian foreign policy (Wedel and Creed, 1997).
Depoliticizing the Political
Perceptions can shape the success or failure of any aid mission, and to be most successful aid must be apolitical, not operating within the standard political debate (Creed and Wedel, 1997). The depoliticization of aid became nearly impossible in Eastern Europe as the socialist legacy ensured the economy was completely controlled by the political apparatus. Personalistic connections were required for the NGOs and associations to distribute, arrange and acquire resources, lending legitimacy to the existing inequalities and undermining attempts at institutional and social reform. Many sectors, such as health care and agriculture were highly politicized. Collectivized farms, for example, were seen as the biggest threat to capitalism, with Communist support being saturated mostly in rural areas. Attempts to decollectivize were promoted as the best way to defeat the remaining Communist influence that was primarily in control of the collective farms, essentially restricting the possibility of production to non-collective means, eliminating a way of life for many and hailing capitalist production as the only possible way (Creed and Wedel, 1997).
In health care during the socialist period, the state largely ignored its purported responsibilities to its citizenry by blaming “low levels of culture” (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:91) and an “underdeveloped sense of individual character” for ill health. It began targeting the individual for moral transformations instead of examining the possibility of structural or policy reforms. This essentially privatized perceptions and shifted the blame from state to individual. The widespread use of abortion during the socialist period offers a prime example of this politicization. The Soviet pro-natalist and state-production agenda originally passed restrictions on abortion, focusing on the size and quality of the population as being most important to national production and essentially making the issue one of national security (Rivkin-Fish, 2005:4-5).
Abortion was later institutionalized as the most accessible means of fertility control with all other choices being almost non-existent. As a result, abortion rates more than doubled the live-birth rate and the population began to decline. Official policies institutionalized the focus onto the individual as potentially antisocial and degenerate, changing health education to conform to standards of ‘proper’ hygiene and sexual restraint and making the problems individual moral problems as opposed to state structural ones such as growing inequality, poverty and the decline in universal services (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 93-4).
Reinforcing Social Inequalities and Hierarchies
International aid officials decided they had seen the problems of the Russian health care system before and applied inappropriate and existing models from the Third World to ‘fix’ them. They were critiqued as not listening to Russian input or promoting cooperation and sharing of ideas between the East and the West; instead lecturing and devaluing the professionals in existence even though they claimed to be working in a democratic fashion in collaboration with the locals. They assumed total Russian ignorance and ignored the scientific and research opportunities in the socialist context that gave many Russians knowledge and abilities equal to or surpassing Western knowledge and abilities. Aid officials attempted to make appeals to change more receptive to the Russian audience by entirely disregarding their knowledge and former modes of care (Creed and Wedel, 1997). Westerners also completely ignored Russian priorities while claiming to be promoting them. Russian officials in the early nineties placed low priority on the health care system instead focusing on socio-economic and ecological causes of disease, while the WHO (professing to be following the priorities of the Russians) prioritized sanitation and maternal and infant health as the most pressing issue (Bar and Field, 1996).
An anthropologist noted the disrespect offered by many international organizations to local organizations at local-run events. This disrespect was evidenced in their sending low level workers with little decision-making capability that “dressed in blue jeans”, “appeared bored” and were unable to comprehend the language or situation at hand (Drue, 2002: 192). Drue (2002: 205) also illustrated the marginalization of local groups who had to account for their lives and convince sponsors of their social worth in order to receive funding or acknowledgement. This was compounded further by a complete lack of attention from the government and media even after receiving extensive NGO training in media and governmental relations by international parties and attempting to implement this generic training in the Russian context.
Convinced that the Russian health care system was akin to medical practices in the West in the 1960s and 70s, the international community emphasized the Russian’s problems as being “familiar” or “behavioural” and not technological or induced by systemic poverty. They moved away from the original focus of maternal mortality to narrow in on issues such as changing the practice of separating mother and child at birth, promoting breastfeeding over scheduled feedings; allowing companionship during birth, removing the “dehumanized” nature of practices and changing the emphasis from institutional demands to consumer wants and needs. This characterization of “dehumanized care” led the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote the reorganization of post-natal care from concentrating on biomedical expertise to the individual needs and demands of the patients. This essentially recontextualized the original issue of maternal health into a women’s social issue that ignored the local cultural norms and standards. It blamed the physicians while ignoring the role of the state attempting to be apolitical. What the aid officials didn’t realize is that the political was already thoroughly intertwined in the health care system through the unequal hierarchies (where physicians received low status against the powerful state), and the blurred boundaries that existed between public and private spaces that allowed for state control on almost all levels (Rivkin-Fish, 2000: 79-80).
‘Democratizing’ Clinical Practices
The Russian physicians blamed their problems on a lack of proper supplies, equipment, communication and financing from national sources, and placed little value on the institutionalized and medicalized nature of their health system. The WHO’s focus on eliminating embarrassing (by Western standards) procedures such as the forced provision of enemas and pubic shaving, routine in Russian birthing practices, reflected a lack of local cultural understanding of the body and its care in this region as Russians saw this to be an unimportant issue. Westerners assumed the medicalization of health care practices during childbirth equated to the subordination of women as a need for physicians to assert their power, much as doctors had in the West in the 1960s and 70s (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 60-90).
International bodies assumed that the Russian physicians’ resistance to change was induced by a self-interested quest for power, much as in the West, due to their prestige and position as a physician and the lack of knowledge of their patients. They neglected to realize however, that physicians in Russia were not afforded the same status as in the West. In fact, the deep investment in the ideology of biomedicine, which stressed technology, knowledge and research in medical practices, was rooted in the need for physicians to achieve professional efficacy in a hopeless socio-political environment. Little chance for advancement of material or symbolic power due to low wages and poor status as a physician resulted in many clinging to their knowledge over their patients as a way to express their social dominance and experience social power that was otherwise missing from their lives. In fact, the feminization of the position was seen as caused by declining wages and low political socio-economic status, resulting in more than seventy percent of doctors in Russia being female. The West’s assumption that the Russian present was the same as their past neglected to address the low status to which doctors were afforded in Russia, and prevented the Russians from heeding the advice to individualize and humanize care (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 60-72).
The international aid community failed to acknowledge the undemocratic position that physicians were accorded due to their limited access to state communication, policy direction and financing. Instead, they plowed along promoting a ‘democratic’ clinic setting hoping it would vertically transcend the hierarchies in existence, but not realizing the physicians didn’t have the technical, political or financial means to make it happen. By “throwing out ideas” at the individual level and hoping that they “plant seeds” into larger structures, the international community essentially commoditized these ideas, making them “seemingly available for any individual to choose according to their desire and whim” and un-attaching them from the structural positions in which they are embedded (Rivkin-Fish, 2005: 61).
The perception of international aid as being able to actually distribute resources and make changes quickly faded, casting it in much the same light as the former Communist state that was also unable to equitably distribute. The promises of change and lack of actual structural transformations brought about by the promises, only further isolated the population from the hierarchal structures of aid, and made them continue to be reliant on their own networks for survival. Individual blame and expectations of personal change as a way of achieving democracy, with no demands on institutional or structural changes, angered the population into resistance and reminded them of the public intrusions by the state into their personal affairs. The lacking levels of transparency and use of blat networks to distribute resources also painted international assistance in much the same light as the state. These perceptions and associations determined the fate of international intervention and prevented it from being a true success.
Hope for the Future
Is it possible for international aid and intervention into this region to be successful? Is international intervention even necessary and what can be done to ensure that this intervention is not reinforcing current hierarchies? The example of Uryupinsk, a city in the Volgograd region, demonstrates the ability of the community to strengthen itself without international intervention.
Uryupinsk has an incredibly active population with a strong sense of community and incredibly proud citizenry whose needs are being primarily met through local initiatives. The local cell of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) has taken on the role of civil society within the community and has been able to provide quality services for its citizenry. Since the KPRF is no longer the party in charge, it is able to play the role of intermediary between the population and the state. Zhensovets (women’s councils), trade unions and street committees are extremely active and powerful and are being fully promoted and funded by the KPRF.
The street committees are the most power organization at the grassroots level, and are able to deal with about half of the problems, conflicts, sanitary and welfare conditions of its population without using any state judicial or structural authority, literally reaching everyone in the community. They have also been described however, as the political machine of the mayor, as they use his access to networks and resources to negotiate supplying the population with their needs and desires in return for votes in the elections. The people who lead the street committees are actually neither directly imposed on from the state or criminal groups, and are able to use negotiation with these groups to provide for the welfare of their community. Their primary responsibility remains to the population (Kurilla, 2002).
If this is the case, it would seem a local form of ‘democratic’ structure has taken root here, sprung from the communist remains. The politicians are providing the citizens with their needs in return for votes. If the politicians failed to meet their promises, the citizenry could choose to change their votes in the next election, and find other ways to meet their needs. This example shows that the Russians are able to meet the needs of their population by themselves and use the existing networks to negotiate change. It is not without difficulties and problems, but shows that collaborative efforts created specifically for the Russian context by Russians have the ability to work and need to be encouraged.
International intervention would best be served as a two-way, collaborative effort between East and West as opposed to an imposition directly led by the West. Russians should direct their own priorities and be given the voice to strengthen their own structures. The international community would be best to address the issues of socio-economic inequality in the light of structural hierarchies that exist instead of focusing on individual changes to achieve democracy. The Russians have the ability, knowledge and passion to change their own future, but are being denied this possibility because of structural and institutional problems. Changing the role of the state sphere so that it doesn’t interfere into personal freedoms would be the first step for the Russians to attain balance and respect within their own system. International financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF should promote the strengthening of certain state structures, such as the health care and education systems, so that they are functional on at least a basic level instead of trying to privatize all enterprises, to ensure the population is able to be productive and thus pay back their loans.
The governments need to prioritize their spending so that the basic needs of their citizens are being met, and restructure their system to allow for public input and opposition. The individuals need to be empowered by the state to take on this role, so that they are directing the services and in charge of their own future. The state must be supported by the international community in its efforts to be more transparent and accountable to its population. Specific sanctioning and provision of aid given on the conditionality of being as transparent as possible could help push the state towards this goal and help to ensure that aid is being received where it is needed. Investment into proper facilities, wages and equipment within the health care system is necessary for adequate levels of care. The encouragement of physician’s associations who can lobby for better conditions, education and services by the state and international officials, could help to strengthen the health care services and provide the physicians back their sense of pride and status. Most importantly, the Russians should decide how their systems should run, and all initiatives should be on a thoroughly collaborative, Russian-directed and specific basis.
This paper has demonstrated the state’s intrusion into the private sphere under socialism and how this intrusion led to resentment and withdrawal by the citizenry. It has shown that Western intervention and aid was received in this context, using these structures and reinforcing them in the way it structured and provided its assistance. It described the attempts of international officials to remain apolitical in a highly politicized environment and how this reinforced the structural hierarchies and prevented success. It detailed the crumbling health care system in Russia and how the undemocratic structure within the system left physicians with little power to make change. International intervention placed their emphasis for change upon these individual physicians while ignoring the larger structural problems that were preventing actual change. The need for a balancing of public, private and civil society was addressed as well as the importance of cultural specificity in the design, implementation and delivery of aid.
The Russians are fully capable of directing their own systems, and are in the most appropriate position to design programs that will exact positive change within their region. Aid supplied in non-specific, and unaccountable ways will only further exacerbate the underlying problems and provide temporary solutions to short-term needs. The international community would be best to provide assistance in the form of knowledge sharing, technological transfers, promoting localized solutions to problems and the restructuring of the state so that it is able to meet the needs of its population. It cannot do this without transparency in the face of clouded cultural perceptions. The international community needs to learn to work in collaboration with populations, governments and local organizations, in a more secondary or assistive and not authoritative and superior manner.
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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. 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, 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), 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.
1) Ambrose, Soren. April, 2004. Resisting market fundamentalism! Ending the reign of extremist neo-liberalism. Economic Justice News Online. Vol. 7, No. 2. http://www.50years.org/cms/ejn/story/61.
2) Branch, Adam. June 8, 2008. Uganda’s interned victims living in wretched squalor. Enough. The Center for American Progress. http://www.enoughproject.org/node/1050.
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. http://go.worldbank.org/8XKQR04V10.
12) World Bank. September 30, 2008. Uganda: Estimated Debt Service Payments Summary. http://go.worldbank.org/UOAA1W6AH2.
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
 Private investment as a percentage of GDP went from 5.4% in 1986-7 to 13% in 1998-9 (Pitcher, 2004; 383)
 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).
 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).
This is an essay I wrote for a class last year that talked about the conflict in the DRC. It discusses the human rights abuses happening, the main parties involved, and the complicit governments and companies who have a hand in ensuring the abuses continue.
“The deadliest war since [WW2] is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo… the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you. …These resources were not being stolen for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered.” – Johan Hari, commentator at The Independent (Uhururadio.com, 2008)
The massive human rights violations happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being perpetuated by a variety of complex and inter-weaving actors both locally and internationally. Multiple militias, armies, and security forces roam the country, wreaking havoc on villages and innocents as they pass. Calculating the exact numbers of victims is currently nearly impossible as many people are simply missing, probably decomposing in the forest, or in mass graves, with no surviving family members left to miss them, and incomplete national registration processes that didn’t even know they existed in the first place. The continual conflict and insecurity also makes it next to impossible for monitoring missions or human rights observers to do their job. As many as 45,000 people are dying per month of war-related causes. These deaths include not only direct violence, but also disease, starvation, and malnutrition (among other things) brought upon by the violence. These statistics do not even begin to address the psychological abuses, physical abuses, sexual violence, tortures, displacements and destruction of property, let alone the severe and lasting political, social and economic effects that the continued violence has on the country itself.
The DRC is in desperate need of intervention, security, regulation, mediation, negotiations, assistance and structures to help it to stabilize itself before more people are endangered. Too many of the population have been living in constant fear, terror and frustration, in the face of daily bloodshed, destruction and death. They have lived in a virtual hell for over a decade, mostly ignored by the outside world. We as Canadians are helping to ensure this conflict continues, despite the outward veneer of philanthropy our government and our media would have us believe. The individuals of the world need to wake up and realize the connection that exists between their own lives and the rest of humanity. The media of the “global north” mostly ignore the cries of Africa, and most definitely ignore the connections Canadians have to the bloodshed. Resistance to these atrocities does exist, in the form of certain media, academic scholarship, human rights organizations, awareness campaigns, and individual actions. The possibility for peace in the DRC exists, but it will take an intense combined international and local acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, the complex institutions that reinforce it, and the support and effort necessary to stop it.
Several former militia leaders have been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in the DRC and have warrants out for their arrest (ICC, 2004). The charges include massacres of civilians, systematic rape, torture, murder of UN peacekeepers; along with multiple other war crimes and crimes against humanity including enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to actively participate in hostilities. Among those charged are Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former VP of the transitional government of the DRC), Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots), General Laurent Nkunda (former leader of the Rally for Congolese Democracy), Bosco Ntaganda (military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of People), Germain Katanga (leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri), and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu (of the National Integrationist Front). Many other regional parties, such as Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are also guilty of war crimes in the DRC (Faul, 2008). Many leaders of the LRA have also been charged by the ICC, but not in connection to crimes committed in the DRC. Although these parties are guilty of numerous atrocities and wanted by the international community, the lack of enforcement capabilities at the ICC means that many of these criminals may remain elusive for years to come (Allen, 2006; 4-9).
The government in the case of the DRC is also guilty, as is its army and its president Joseph Kabila. Although not yet (and probably never to be) charged by the ICC for mostly political reasons, Kabila, his army and his government have been accused of rampant human rights abuses. These include the presence of children in the ranks of the DRC armed forces, the new recruitment of child soldiers, abuses against street children, as well as sexual violence, torture, disappearances, mass murders, abuse of civilians, and the arbitrary arrest and detention without charge of children allegedly associated with armed opposition groups (HRW, August 22, 2008). Many of these abuses are in strict contradiction to The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHCR, 1989) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948); and are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past 3 months alone, the government has been charged with the murder of at least 20 civilians, including 5 children (HRW, November 7, 2008), and wounding at least 50 civilians by direct violence (HRW, November 7, October 30, 2008). In this same time period, they have been accused of numerous rapes, robberies, as well as the arbitrary detention and subsequent torture of at least 40 Tutsi and other alleged sympathizers of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda (HRW, October 30, 2008). Roadblocks set up by the government have prevented many fleeing citizens from escaping the violence, often forcing them to pay a “tax” or bribe or give up their electoral (and identity) cards to pass through (HRW, September 25, 2008). The government has circumvented the Rome Statute and its obligations to arrest and surrender four leaders of the LRA, instead sending them into the Sudan (which refuses to cooperate with the ICC) where they are sure to evade justice (Clifford, 2007). The government has also been accused of colluding with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda or FDLR (a rebel militia), most notably over the control of the lucrative mineral trade in North Kivu (The Economist, Oct 18, 2008; 57).
More than 20 militias roam the DRC, bringing with them intense violence and destruction. The Hutu Interhamwe militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda have mostly transformed into the FDLR now fighting in the northeastern DRC. The FDLR is guilty of mass human-rights violations, ranging from mass murder, to public gang raping and sexual violence, torture, disappearances, destruction of property (burning entire villages to the ground), and other abuses against the civilian population in the DRC. In only the past 3 months, at least 100 civilians have been killed and more than 200 have been wounded by the direct violence of rebel forces (HRW, November 7, 2008). Nkunda’s forces also encouraged the town of Rutshuru on October 28th, 2008 to dismantle displacement camps where more than 26,000 people had sought refuge (HRW, November 7, 2008). The FDLR was accused of deliberately killing at least 20 civilians and wounding another 33 in Kiwanja on November 4th, 2008 during a battle for the town and the “cleanup” operations that followed. The rebels ordered the population of some 30,000 inhabitants to leave the town, while systematically seeking out and killing particularly men, who they accused of supporting their enemies (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Congolese government was supposed to have disarmed the FDLR according to a 2008 peace agreement, but has made no effort to do so thus far (HRW, Oct, 30, 2008).
The Mai Mai, a group of traditional Congolese local security forces that operate inside the DRC, support the government by working as guerillas inside territory held by antigovernment forces. They have also been accused of similar atrocities on the civilian population (Ware, 2001), including recruiting at least 37 children into militias in the last week of October 2008 (HRW, November 7, 2008), and deliberately killing at least 6 civilians in Kiwanja on November 4-5, 2008 (HRW, November 6, 2008). Many of the neighboring African governments (including the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) are guilty of crimes within the borders of the DRC. They claim to be protecting their borders from invasion by DRC-based armed groups which legitimizes (in their minds) sending troops to these locations (Essick, 2001). The list of atrocities committed by all parties is incredibly extensive and entirely incomplete, as the war has raged on for over a decade and the almost non-existent infrastructure makes proper investigating of crimes almost impossible. War-related deaths make it even harder to establish direct guilt of parties. If these numbers were included as specific crimes by individuals, as many as 45,000 people are dying each month because of direct violence, or disease, malnutrition, and starvation brought on by dislocation because of violence (Reuters, 2008). Reports come from a variety of sources including the millions of surviving victims who were first-hand witnesses; the UN’s monitoring mission, human rights organizations, official government reports, NGOs and other organizations, radio, blogs, and newspaper accounts.
The DRC’s conflict is intimately connected to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda’s post-war Tutsi government invaded the Congo (then named Zaire) in 1996 to pursue extremist Hutu militias and helped to overthrow leader Mobutu Sese Seko from his thirty two year rule. The Rwandans installed rebel leader Laurent Kabilla, only to later turn against him when he was accused of stirring hatred towards Tutsis in the Congo. Rwanda intervened to try and remove him from power with the help of the Ugandans, and ignited a new regional conflict as Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe joined forces with Kabilla to fight off the Rwandans. Laurent Kabilla was assassinated in January of 2001, and replaced by his son Joseph Kabilla, who set up a power-sharing government and began “negotiating peace” with some of the parties. He was eventually elected as President in 2006 (Reuters, 2008).
The DRC’s infrastructure is in shambles. At least 5.4 million people are dead since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease, and at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped (although the actual number is probably significantly higher than this; Reuters, 2008). This conflict has been called the worst humanitarian crisis ever, with armies and militias increasingly recruiting children for their fighting. A January 2008 peace deal signed between the government and 22 of the rebel groups (but clearly excluding others such as the FDLR; The Economist, October 18th, 2008; 57) has not been able to contain the violence (Reuters, 2008).
Push for Democracy
The first “post-war” elections in the DRC were delayed six times in two years, eventually happening in July of 2006 (Clark, 2007; 30). Much of the violence in North and South Kivu during that period was attributed to Nkunda’s rebel forces trying to increase military and political power. Nkunda represents the minority Tutsi (ethnic group) population in the DRC and his attacks have helped to increase anti-Tutsi sentiment while increasing support for Kabila across the country. The elections process was fraught with difficulty as over 26 million voters had to be registered, in an area with very little infrastructure or government capability. The 2006 elections were the most expensive in history with the UN and the European Union (EU) providing almost 500 million US dollars for logistics. The voter turnout was around 75%, and international observers reported only isolated cases of voting irregularities and violence near polling stations. The elections were proclaimed an incredible success, despite the fact that many of the electoral candidates were rebel leaders still involved in violence across the country (Clark, 2007; 32). Joseph Kabila won the elections, but without the majority, requiring a runoff election in October. The runoff occurred between Kabila and his closest rival, Bemba, who was accused by the ICC a year later for crimes against humanity. Two days after the first round of elections, the forces of Bemba and Kabila fought in the streets (Clark, 2007; 33), as if nothing had changed. The war raged on, despite this new found “democracy”, even though the world subsequently forgot about the people of the Congo. The elections processes seem to have been more meaningful to the “western” world who still like to describe them as a “success” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57) than to local actors who know the truth.
Trade, Investment and Debt
The World Bank (WB) has classified the DRC under its Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), making it eligible (according to the WB) to reduce the constraints on economic growth and poverty reduction imposed by the DRC’s debt-services burdens (WB, 2006). In reality, the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are providing the human-rights abusing government of the Congo with a continual supply of funding that will eventually be extracted from the people (and not the borrowing government) through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One of the conditions of SAPs require the roll-back of state services, such as health care, education, etc. to generate funds to begin repaying debt. The continued financial support for a proven corrupt and human-rights abusing government by the WB and IMF is appalling, especially since it will be the poor and marginalized and not the borrowing government who will be the ones to suffer the effects. Stabilization and welfare spending targets required by the IMF were completely ignored by the Congolese government because of their need for increased military spending (EN, 2008). This internationally funded money then was used to finance the atrocities of the Congolese government instead of its proposed aim to help the people. The IMF and the WB have continued funding, despite receiving reports on the Congolese government’s misspending, and so are complicit in the crimes (EN, 2008). The effect of the WB and IMF’s policy has been said to be “legaliz(ing) the corporate looting of the Congo” with “foreign companies pay(ing) nothing to the government for lucrative mining concessions” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)
The Congo has fallen on the Inward FDI Potential Index, which ranks countries by how they do in attracting inward direct investment, from 73rd (out of 140 economies) in 1988 to 139th (out of 141 economies) in 2006 (UNCTAD, 2006). The lack of basic infrastructure such as roads or railways combined with continual conflict make investment and trades a difficult venture for many local and international corporations despite the fact that the DRC does have a major deep-water port that is currently not being utilized and is abundant in natural resources. The Congo was ranked 175th out of 178 countries on the Doing Business report of 2007. The institutional environment is not conducive to business, with the country’s financial sector completely underdeveloped. Real growth in trade of goods and services declined significantly in 2007 from 11.1% in 2005-6 to only 0.7% in 2007, giving the DRC the rank of 151st out of 160 countries in terms of real growth in trade (WB, 2008).
The governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are all accused of supporting rebel groups that fight within the DRC. The government of Rwanda refuses to allow the FDLR’s demands to return to Rwanda and transform themselves into a legitimate political party, and also refuses to negotiate or participate in peace talks with the group. The UN and other governments who backed a January 2008 peace deal addressed Nkunda’s rebellion, but offered no forum for talks with the FDLR, ignoring one of the key actors in the crisis and ensuring the conflict’s continuation (The Economist, October 18, 2008; 57).
The governments of Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan, Namibia, China, Canada, the United States and several other countries are complicit in their support for the human-rights abusing Congolese government. The United States, along with supporting the human-rights abusing DRC government, paints the war in the Congo as a French issue, refusing to send troops or support the mission in the Congo until France does something about Iraq (Cowan, 2005). Owing over a billion dollars (or 68% of the regular budget arrears) to the UN, the United States’ lack of financial commitment means fewer troops and support for UN missions, which could help alleviate the suffering of the people of the DRC (Global Policy Forum, 2008). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2005 pleaded with member states for assistance to stop escalating violence in northeastern DRC. Only Uruguay responded, with 750 troops to replace over 5,000 departing Ugandans (Cowan, 2005). Departing a few years later, the Uruguayans were eventually replaced by an Indian contingent of 4,500, only after the Senegalese refused to move in (IANS, 2008). The international community has failed to prevent these atrocities by their continual inaction and lack of full support for peace processes and so is complicit in the atrocities (Cowan, 2005).
Several other international governments are also guilty of complicity in the crimes of the DRC. The government of Libya provides arms and logistical support to Congolese government forces, while North Korea sent advisors to train government troops. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all have supported the government of DRC, financially, logistically and in arms (Ware, 2001). The government of China made a deal with the Congolese government worth $9 billion to get access to several of Congo’s minerals in return for building a highway and a railroad in the Congo (Faul, November 3, 2008). The international community has failed to properly respond to the crisis. International humanitarian aid to the Congo was $188 million or only $3.23 per person in 2004 (with a death toll of about 5.4 million people). Contrast this to the aid received for the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (with a death toll of about 150,000) which netted over $2 billion in humanitarian aid from the international community (IRC, 2004). International humanitarian aid has been controversial. In fact, the massive influx of humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in the Congo following the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been cited as actually strengthening or starting many militias who are now committing atrocities in the DRC (Clark, 2007)
Perhaps surprisingly, Canadians are among these guilty actors. Many Canadians are guilty for purchasing or using products that have components that were possibly sourced in the war zones of the DRC and obtained through illegal or unethical means that support human-rights violating actors who are ensuring the war continues in this region. The retail companies which sell these products are guilty of complicity, along with the individual buyers, buyer companies, distributors and marketers who buy, sell, advertise or use these products.
The DRC is home to 80% of the world’s supply of coltan (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore that is processed into tantalite and used in many electronic devices (Dizolele, 2007), and currently supplies at least 15% of the world’s coltan needs (Essick et al., 2001). The world’s largest supply of cobalt is also found and mined in the DRC (Cobalt Development Institute, 2008) along with wolframite, tungsten ore, tin, and several other minerals (Nolen, 2008). Human Rights Watch researchers claim “there is a direct link between human rights abuses and the exploitation of resources in areas in the DRC occupied by Rwanda and Uganda” (Essick, 2001). Rebels strategically attack coltan-rich villages in the North, causing environmental destruction in the Congo’s protected national parks that have nearly decimated the gorilla populations, and whose profits fund rebel and government projects that are responsible for mass murder, rape, torture, and a plethora of other atrocities in the DRC (Essick, 2001).
Many of these minerals are smuggled out of the Congo into neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to export onto the global market. This is indicated by the increase in official statistics on the export of coltan for these countries following their occupation in northeastern Congo (Essick, 2001), and their official export statistics which include minerals not found natively in these countries (Nolen, 2008). Profits from smuggling often go directly into the pockets of warring parties. Officials and miners would seem to corroborate these accounts, with statements such as, “The armed groups are all involved in mining – even our Congolese armed forces,” and “The FDLR are the ones controlling the coltan mines and they are very strong”. The mining ministry claims that the FDLR controls at least 20 percent of mining in the eastern area of the country (Nolen, 2008). Rebel groups often use forced labor, illegal monopolies and civilian murder to extract these resources, earning up to $20 million a month in profits, making continued war to ensure access to resources incredibly lucrative (Essick, 2001).
The Congolese government and armed forces also serve to profit. Along with taking bribes at numerous military and police checkpoints that allow smuggled minerals through, the government has also been accused of using “taxation” of minerals to line their own pockets. The armed forces have even been accused of forcing the local population to mine its cassiterite mine at Bisie, as essentially slave labor (Nolen, 2008). This contravenes Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that no one shall be held in slavery (UN, 1948). The profits from mining, either through bribery or “taxation” of the trade means there is little incentive to move against the rebels and actually stop the war. The cost to bribe a border guard (who are rarely paid their official $40 a month salary) to smuggle a shipment of minerals across the borders is about $350, in contrast to the government’s “taxation” on minerals which makes legal exportation of minerals cost upwards of $17,000 per shipment. Occupation of land by the army is more “acceptable” under war, so mines are simply taken over and exploited. The governments then, along with individual soldiers often serve to profit from continuing conflict. Businesses dealing with the smuggled goods also have little incentive to stop, with statements such as, “it’s not as easy as, ‘get out of the business and wait.’ There’s a huge investment here: half a million dollars” (Nolen, 2008).
Although many of these companies claim to have “ethical business practices”, they are complicit in the war crimes in the DRC by not insisting on regulations that prevent using war-related minerals in their business practices. Tracing the supply chain for coltan is deemed by the mining industry as nearly impossible, as most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ends up in electronic devices (Essick, 2001). This is interesting considering the Kimberly process was able to overcome this to make regulations in the diamond industry to prevent many violence-related diamonds from entering the marketplace (Kimberly Process, 2008). Most mining in the DRC is done by peasants attracted to the possibility of making a few dollars a day, including children with estimates that suggest that 30 percent of schoolchildren in northeastern Congo have forgone schooling to dig for coltan. This ore is collected by local traders (often rebels), who sell to regional traders located in Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda alone, more than 20 international mineral trading companies have been reported by the UN as importing minerals from the Congo. These import companies sell to companies such as AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, Kemet, NEC and Vishay, which manufacture capacitors. These capacitors then go into products manufactured by Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia and Solectron, to name a few. Many of the companies claimed to have asked their suppliers whether the minerals supplied to them were mined in the DRC, but the CEO of AVX, Dick Rosen says they “don’t have an idea where (the metal) comes from. There’s no way to tell. I don’t know how to control it”. Epcos denies using conflict resources, despite the fact that their own suppliers A&M Minerals and Metals claim they “couldn’t tell you for 100 percent that this material (from Uganda) didn’t come from the Congo. It could have been smuggled across the border” (Essick, 2001).
At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the DRC by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo” (UNSC, 2002) and have yet to be further investigated or punished for these crimes. Anvil Mining, a Canadian copper mining company working in the DRC, was accused of providing logistics to troops in the massacre of close to 100 people; a charge that they vehemently argue was accidental, unknown at the time and forced upon them by local legalities (Anvil Mining, 2008). All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some were even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources. Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining business, is supplied by and partnered with Adastra mining, which received a one billion dollar deal for control of mines in the Congo at Kolwezi (for cobalt) and Kipushi (for zinc) from Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (ADFL) before they were officially in power and in legal control of said resources (Snow and Barouski, 2006).
The Canadian government is guilty for supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF. They are also guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws (NRC, 2008) and for not further investigating and punishing those implicated in the UN report. The Canadian government is also guilty of refusing the UN’s request for peacekeeping assistance and aid, and instead funneling these resources for the continued illegal war in Afghanistan. Canada has all but abandoned its peacekeeping missions (with less than 56 troops worldwide), despite the fact that peacekeeping was recognized as a strong defining Canadian value by 69% of Canadians in a national survey (Staples, 2006). Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo to help stop the human rights abuses, but the responsibilities to the international community are being ignored by the current Canadian government.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada’s lead agency for development assistance abroad, committed $33 million for projects and initiatives in the DRC in 2006-7. These projects focused mostly on political and economic governance and access to primary health care (CIDA, 2008), and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “(Reuters, 2008). The situation has gotten so bad in recent weeks that thousands of local Congolese demonstrators have taken to physically attacking the UN compound in Goma for what they say is the UN’s failure to protect them against rebel attacks and provide them with the basic necessities of life (AP, 2008). The UN says its first priority is re-supplying clinics that have been looted by retreating government troops. Unfortunately, this means that refugees who haven’t eaten for days are met with shipments of soap and jerry cans (to prevent disease) while they wait for death by starvation. These refugees have recently taken up with the demonstrators in violently attacking anything identified with the UN (Faul, November 3, 2008).
The Silence of the Media
The mainstream media has largely ignored the Congolese conflict, instead favoring to spotlight more “popular” conflicts and issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur. Stories about the DRC are mostly relegated to a small column (of less than 1,000 words) in the middle of the paper, or a quick blurb on the news, that is shorter than the laptop commercial that follows it. None of the stories collected during the past 3 months about the Congo appeared on the front page of the paper, even though the Congo is arguably the most violent conflict and largest humanitarian crisis currently happening in the world. In three major Canadian newspapers (The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Toronto Star) the conflict in the Congo was reported only about half as much as the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq, despite the fact that the death tolls are considerably higher in the Congo (several hundred thousand in Afghanistan and Iraq versus the 5.4 million deaths in the DRC). The Congo has just recently started to become the “issue of the moment” and is receiving slightly more press than normal, but still nowhere near the amount that stories about Iraq or Afghanistan receive in the mainstream media. Most of this press focuses on the victims, projects, aid or organizations working to make a difference, or the “tribal” or “ethnic” components fueling the crimes and not the resource extraction or international complicity in the crimes. During the chaotic month of August 2008, the DRC began descending into the highest level of violence it had seen in many years. Despite this fact, the Economist, the Globe and Mail and the National Post did not even mention the fighting in the Congo once during this period, except to mention mineral extraction projects and the profits they were earning (Globe and Mail, August 12, 2008).
The media keeps highlighting the “successful elections” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), talking about the DRC with almost surprise that peace has not yet been found despite its new “democracy”. The journalists predict that things will soon get worse “fear(ing) that huge, frightening massacres could start again…”. This despite the fact that hundreds of people had been slaughtered, assaulted or dislocated in singular events during that same month, which many would consider to be massacres (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Economist reported that more than one hundred thousand people were forced to flee their homes since mid-August of 2008 because of escalating violence (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), even though they themselves had not reported a single thing about this violence until October.
Almost surprisingly, the Globe and Mail seems to portray rebel leader Nkunda as almost caring in contrast to incapable UN troops. Statements such as “(Nkunda) declared he was opening a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to get through and refugees to get home. To ease food shortages, rebels… allowed farmers to reach Goma in trucks packed with (food)” and “rebels seem to be holding a self-imposed ceasefire” (Faul, November 3, 2008) are found in the same article which criticizes the UN’s inability to secure food for refugees. Nothing was mentioned of the UN member states’ lack of financial or troop support, the main reason for the food shortages among the refugees. Most of the Globe and Mail articles completely ignored the resource components to the war, or mentioned them only in passing, such as “(the peace process) threatened to cut off warlords and neighboring-country governments from their access to the illegal mineral trade” (Nolen, October 18, 2008). The majority of columns that did mention the resource component mentioned only the warlords or neighboring government’s role and not that of international companies or governments that are also guilty. One article was even titled “How Rebels Profit From Blood and Soil” (Nolen, October 29, 2008; emphasis added), entirely ignoring the international component. Often, the “festering hatreds left over from the 1994 Rwandan genocide” are cited as fueling the conflict (Faul, October 30, 2008), ignoring the intense structural or economic components that clearly play a role. Few editorials about the Congo have been written in the past year. For example, in the Toronto Star, only 2 op-eds that mention the Congo have been published in the past year; one in March, and one in November (Dallaire, 2008; Goar, 2008). Dallaire’s editorial mentioned the Congo only in passing, saying “We did not intervene to stop the slaughter in the Congo”, and even then only in the past tense, as if the fighting had already stopped.
Mfuni Kazadi, Secretary-General of the group the Coalition for the Cancellation of the Illegitimate Debts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, opposes the WB’s demand that the Congo pay debts accumulated by Mobutu. Kazadi has said,
“The Rwandans were used by the US as puppets to fight for American interests. When the war started, there were American ships that gathered all the communications for Rwanda’s and Uganda’s armies. US authorities said that the Congo is too big and must be divided into four countries. The resistance of the Congolese to this partition has led to the death of (more than) four million people.” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)
The enduring resistance of the Congolese to the balkanization desired by the US is cited by Kazadi as the real reasons for the continued war (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007). Other local scholars, such as Felix Ulombe Kaputu who was wrongly jailed and tortured by the Congolese government, have also spoken out against the continuing violence (Anderson, 2007). Local resistance seemed to be voiced only from afar, by refugees living in new countries and not by locals still enduring the conflict. Local resistance forces were incredibly difficult to locate, possibly because it is too dangerous for them to speak out in their current situation.
Some international resistance has been incredibly vocal. Uhuru radio, an “online voice of international African revolution” has been one critic of the international role in the Congo’s conflict (Uhurunews.com, 2008). Many organizations exist with the intention of bringing awareness or support to the plight of the Congolese, most of them based in the “global North” (such as Friends of the Congo; Congo Global Action; Breaking the Silence; Congo Vision; Resistance Congo; Congo Church Association; Ambassador Girls Scholarship Program; among many others). It is in the “western” media, the Socialist Review, that the connection between the peace deals signed and rushed by international governments and the exploitation of resources from the Congo is mentioned. Third World Report reporter Leo Zeilig tells us that the peace deal “triggered two important processes (in the Congo). The first saw the return of some multinational companies…The second process… (saw) rebel commanders responsible for much of the killing and slaughter in the war were incorporated into the Congolese army” (Zeilig, 2006). Sixty-six international humanitarian agencies currently work in the Congo (Reuters, Who works where, 2008). These range from hunger programs to medical assistance, mostly based in the “global North”. The United Nations has sent in over 17,000 troops to help stop the violence (MONUC, 2008). They have also appointed a Special Rapporteur to do a report on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC (APIC, 1999). Resistance is mostly informal, in the form of blogs, or “leftist” newspapers.
One of the most frustrating parts of the whole situation in the Congo is separating out those who claim to be helping from those who are complicit in the crimes; often one and the same group or individual. The contradiction of the international community, which on the one hand, sends aid and support to the Congo, and, on the other, exploits its resources and ensures continuing conflict, is staggering. Congo is very much a modern-day colony of the “western” world, used and abused for what it can offer the “west”, and regarded as a backwards place beyond assistance. The “west” will keep “helping”, as long as it serves their interests; and the conflict in the Congo will keep being painted as an indigenous problem in the heart of Africa. This conflict is not an issue of ethnicities, militias or rebellions. It is a continuation of the colonial project that was started by invading Europeans so long ago. It is about extracting resources, gaining profit and power. This war continues because the truth remains shrouded in propaganda, and because the international community is ignoring the underlying causes of the conflict. This conflict must stop, and justice must begin to emerge in the DRC. Too long have these people lived in hell, and too long has the international community ignored our fellow humans’ cries for help.
1) Allen, Tim. 2006. Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Zen Books. London and New York.
2) Anderson, Stacy. September 23, 2007. Professor who survived persecution in Congo is teaching at Purchase. The Journal News. Scholars at Risk Network. http://scholarsatrisk.nyu.edu/News/Article_Detail.php?art_id=582.
3) Anvil Mining. 2008. Sustainability. The DRC: Working in an Emerging Democracy. http://sustainability.anvilmining.com/go/sustainability/the-drc-working-in-an-emerging-democracy.
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18) Faul, Michelle. November 8, 2008. Angolans join Congolese soldiers to battle rebels. The Globe and Mail. A20.
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20) Global Policy Forum. 2008. UN Finance. http://www.globalpolicy.org/finance/index.htm.
21) The Globe and Mail. August 12, 2008. First Quantum Profit Jumps. Report on Business.
22) Human Rights Watch (HRW). August 22, 2008. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for Period Review of the DRC. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/22/congo19671.htm.
23) Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 7, 2008. DR Congo: Civilians Under Attack Need Urgent Protection. Human Rigths News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/07/congo20158.htm.
24) Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 6, 2008. DR Congo: New Attacks on Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/06/congo20150.htm.
25) Human Rights Watch (HRW). October 30, 2008. DR Congo: International Leaders Should Act Now to Protect Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/30/congo20107.htm.
26) Human Rights Watch (HRW). September 25, 2008. DR Congo: Humanitarian Crisis Deepens as Peace Process Falters. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/09/24/congo19881.htm.
27) IANS. October 30, 2008. Army concerned at attacks on Indian peacekeepers in Congo. Thaindian News. http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/army-concerned-at-attacks-on-indian-peacekeepers-in-congo_100113201.html.
28) International Criminal Court (ICC). January 2004. Situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo. http://www.icc-cpi.int/cases/RDC.html.
29) International Rescue Committee (IRC). December 9, 2004. IRC Study Reveals 31,000 Die Monthly in Congo Conflict and 3.8 Million Died in Past Six Years. When Will the World Pay Attention? http://www.theirc.org/news/irc_study_reveals_31000_die_monthly_in_congo_conflict_and_38_million_died_in_past_six_years_when_will_the_world_pay_attention.html.
30) Ismi, Asad and Schwartz, Kristin. April 2007. The World Social Forum in Nairobi: African Activists Lead Resistance to Western Plundering and Imperialism. CCPA Monitor. www.policyalternatives.ca.
31) Kimberly Process. 2008. What is the Kimberly Process? http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/.
32) MONUC. 2008. Democratic Republic of the Congo- MONUC-Facts and Figures. UN DPKO. http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/monuc/facts.html.
33) Natural Resources Canada (NRC). 2008. Mining-Specific Tax Provisions. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/miningtax/d_inv_2d2_taxcredit2000.htm.
34) Nolen, Stephanie. October 18, 2008. Rape again rampant in Congo. The Globe and Mail. A22.
35) Nolen, Stephanie. October 29, 2008. How rebels profit from blood and soil. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081024.wcongo1025/BNStory/International/
36) Reuters. 2008. Who works where. Thomson Reuters Foundation. Alert Net. http://www.alertnet.org/thepeople/whowhatwhere.htm?fb_emergencycodes=ZR_CON&fb_membnetcombocodes=all&fb_countrycodes=214383&x=37&y=11.
37) Reuters. June 11, 2008. Congo (DR) Conflict. Thomson Reuters Foundation. AlertNet. http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/ZR_CON.htm.
38) Snow, Keith Harmon and Barouski, David. March 1, 2006. Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Africa/Congo_BehindNumbers.html.
39) Staples, Steven. October 2006. Marching Orders: How Canada abandoned peacekeeping- and why the UN needs us now more than ever. The Council of Canadians. http://www.canadians.org/peace/issues/Marching_Orders/index.html.
40) Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (TIC). “Coltan”, 2007, found at: http://www.tanb.org/tantalum1.html.
41) Transparency International. 2008. Corruption Perceptions Index. http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2008/cpi2008/cpi_2008_table.
42) UhuruRadio.com. November 1, 2008. African Students Demand an End to Imperialst-Driven War in the Congo. Indymedia. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/11/01/18547873.php.
43) Uhurunews.com. 2008. Online Voice of the International African Revolution. Burning Spear Publications. http://uhurunews.com/.
44) UN. December 10, 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III). http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.
45) UNHCR- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. November 20, 1989 .Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.
46) United Nations Security Council. 2002. Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo. http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/DRC%20S%202002%201146.pdf.
47) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2006. FDI Indices. http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=2468&lang=1.
48) Ware, Natalie D. December, 2001. Congo War and the Role of Coltan. Inventory of Conflict and Environment (ICE) Case Studies. http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/congo-coltan.htm.
49) World Bank (WB). March 9, 2006. Republic of Congo Reaches Decision Point Under the Enhanced HIPC Debt Relief Initiative. Press Release Number 2006/301/AFR. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTDEBTDEPT/0,,contentMDK:20847652~menuPK:64166657~pagePK:64166689~piPK:64166646~theSitePK:469043,00.html.
50) World Bank (WB). April 2008. The Republic of Congo: Trade Brief. World Trade Indicators 2008. http://info.worldbank.org/etools/wti2008/docs/brief45.pdf.
51) Winter, Mark. 2008. Uses of Cobalt. WebElements. http://www.webelements.com/cobalt/uses.html.
 I use this term lightly, since I believe Joseph Kabila was only trying to secure more voters and power for himself and not actually interested in peace. This is the term Reuters used to describe the events.
 For example there are less than 500 km of paved roads in the DRC (Clark, 2007; 32). The DRC is also home to an incredibly corrupt government and civil service, with a corruption perceptions index ranking of 171st out of 180 countries in the world (Transparency International, 2008).
 This includes laptop computers, cellular phones, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, X-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, game consoles such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, video cameras, digital still cameras, sputtering targets, chemical process equipment, cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks, prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer, suture clips, corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, high temperature furnace parts, high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines, gas turbine parts, and strong permanent magnets. It is also used as a pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paints, varnishes and printing inks, among other things. It also includes anything with the alloy alnico, or Cobalt 60, which is a commercial source of high energy radiation used to destroy tissue or detect flaws in metal parts (TIC, 2007; Winter, 2008).
 Over a 90 day period, there were 118 stories about the Congo and more than 200 stories each about Iraq and Afghanistan in the Globe and Mail. There were 87 stories about the Congo while there were more than 500 each for Iraq and Afghanistan in the National Post. There were 37 stories about the Congo, 141 stories about Afghanistan, and 88 stories about Iraq in The Toronto Star. This was replicated in major international publications such as the Economist, which had only 28 stories about the Congo, 144 stories about Iraq, and 91 stories about Afghanistan for the same period (The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Star, The Economist, August- November 2008).