Bad Medicine for the Congo
THE SOURCE: “Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences” by Séverine Autesserre, in African Affairs, April 2012.
Multilateral interventions rarely go as planned. The one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where nine years of war beginning in 1994 left millions dead, is no exception. The Congo is the largest sub-Saharan African country by area, and its 74 million people belong to more than 200 ethnic groups. Despite the odds, UN peacekeepers—in concert with the African Union and other organizations—arrived in 1999 and eventually brought a measure of security to most of the country. In 2006, they oversaw multiparty elections. Yet Séverine Autesserre, a political scientist at Columbia University, contends that the outsiders have made life worse for many Congolese.
The interveners, particularly Westerners, erroneously believed that nefarious warlords profiting from the country’s rich mineral deposits (principally gold and diamonds, as well as coltan, a metallic ore) were responsible for the violence. Their solution was straightforward: to expand the fragile Congolese state’s power into the country’s troubled eastern region, and to ban mining that benefited armed groups.
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