Saturday, November 22, 2008

Africa ignored

The Morning Star Online, Nov 4, 2008

JEREMY CORBYN on what the crisis in the Congo says of the West.

THE tragedy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) goes on. The most marginalised people on Earth continue to suffer as a result.

Over five million people have already died from the fighting and its fallout over the past decade, yet this tragedy is barely reported by most of the media.

Even at the height of fighting around Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province, the BBC was still leading with the nonsense surrounding Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s prank phone calls. The following day, with the honourable exception of the Morning Star, every daily paper splashed on this BBC navel-gazing.

The media’s treatment of the Congolese is a stark reminder of the way in which Africa is ignored and sends a clear signal that, in the eyes of Western broadcasters, Africans are less valuable than Europeans or US citizens.

But responsibility for much of the current situation lies in the West.
The DRC was a creation of colonial greed in the 19th century and mining, logging and mineral interests continue to create huge wealth globally.

In 1884, the country became the personal colony of Belgian King Leopold.
It gained independence in 1961, but iconic prime minister Patrice Lumumba was assassinated within two years. Successive dictatorships then took over, before the election of President Joseph Kabila and a national assembly two years ago raised hopes of peace.

But this remained elusive and the corruption-ridden army has proven itself incapable of controlling the situation in the east. The tragedy of poverty, rape and murder continues.

North Kivu province contains huge mineral wealth. Mines run on technology that would have been out of date in Europe 200 years ago, extracting coltan and other valuable metals which are eventually sold on to metal dealers and finally exported to the rest of the world to be used in the manufacturing of mobile phones and high-tech equipment.

These mines are run by militias or the Congolese army and are sustained by money from the West, underlining the direct link between the killing of thousands of civilians and the “respectable” metal exchanges of western Europe and north America.

Western countries have also happily sold arms and military equipment to Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Nkunda’s forces are relatively well equipped and have proved to be more than a match for the Congolese army. The UN has managed to broker a temporary ceasefire, but nothing more.

So, millions continue to live in fear and poverty amid massive potential wealth.

The DRC manages to provide education for only half of its children and minimal health care. The streets of the capital Kinshasa are dominated by disabled victims of the years of fighting and thousands of orphan children simply trying to survive.

Thousands of men have been killed in fighting and large numbers of women have been raped and mutilated as a weapon of war.

A refugee camp that I visited there last April was completely ravaged by forces loyal to Nkunda last week. The tens of thousands of people that lived in it have fled to the hills and forests, where there is little food and no medicine. Without urgent aid, these people will die.

The absolute and immediate priority must be ensuring that the UN can get sufficient food, medicine and water purification facilities through to the former inhabitants of the refugee camps and the displaced. But the eventual solution has to be political.

It is essential to create a stable society where militia members do not believe that their security lies in continued civil war.

The appointment of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo as the UN mediator for the region must be followed up by sustained economic aid and help so that the crisis of the last three weeks does not return in a few months.

And it’s about time that the world’s media rethought its news agenda and started looking at the lives of people in Africa.

Channel 4 News has produced some excellent reports on on the Congo. The BBC, though, needs to look very carefully at its own output.
Learning it the hard way

THE Prime Minister and Chancellor Alistair Darling are finding out the hard way that, despite investing £37 billion of public money in the major banks, these institutions are refusing to change their behaviour, pass on interest rate cuts or restart mortgage lending.

Mysteriously, the Treasury has now announced plans to set up an independent holding company to manage its massive level of public investment in the banks along private-sector lines.

Public investment is meant to be for the public good, yet Brown and Darling appear to have decided that the priority is to save the banking system in its existing form rather than forcing it to refocus on social priorities.
There is an urgent case for introducing socialist principles into government policy.

The Tories offer nothing more than a return to 1980s Thatcherism. Now is the golden opportunity for Labour to embark on an era of true social justice.

GORDON Brown had a strange weekend. He spent it travelling around the Gulf states trying to persuade them to put money into the IMF to bail out the European economy. It appears that the needs of the world’s poor majority are being ignored as the IMF refocuses itself on bailing out the West.

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North. He can be contacted at corbynj@parliament.uk
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