Letters

U.S. apathy and the bloody chaos in the Congo: Readers respond to "Millions Die, Bush Is Silent," by Laura McClure.


Salon Staff
July 10, 2003 12:55AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

While Salon grapples with what the United States ought to be doing to stop the bloodletting in Congo, I have had an altogether different reaction while traveling the country over the past few months.

Much can be made of the West's involvement in Congo's woes, beginning with the support it gave to the corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Indeed, your well-intentioned writer dutifully details the West's sins, and suggests President Bush ought to tackle this problem. I, too, could find more than a few things that the West could do better -- more diplomatic pressure, keener news coverage, etc. And I am loath to give any government an excuse to ignore human suffering of the sort I have seen in Congo. But at some point, the responsibility of the Congolese for their own situation must be acknowledged.

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For every alleged sin of the West vis-à-vis Congo, there have always been plenty of Congolese willing to participate, provided they could take a percentage of whatever shady deal was in the making. The current feasting on Congo's mineral resources (an affair of many nations) is actively aided and abetted by Congolese. The ethnic violence in Ituri, Congo's northeastern province, has been fomented above all by Congolese who see it as a steppingstone to greater power.

These folks frequently call themselves patriots, including the armed group pictured in the Salon article, the "Union of Congolese Patriots." They are nothing of the sort. And until a new generation of Congolese leaders chooses country over self, no amount of attention from the West can arrest Congo's agony.

-- Carter Dougherty

I can't thank Laura McClure enough for being one of the few to actually write about what has been going on in the Congo for the past six years. They have been suffering 9/11 a thousandfold for some time and so few even know about it, let alone care. Thanks for helping open more eyes to this horrible atrocity.

-- Greg Houle

Congo's problems are complex in nature, but the American dismissal of the human tragedy occurring there is less so. When blacks rape and murder other blacks, whites say nothing, afraid of appearing judgmental (though undoubtedly having certain views reinforced by said actions). American blacks, more accustomed to a narrative whereby whites are the victimizers and blacks the victims, are uncomfortable with the situation and do not want to focus too much attention on it. Who, then, will broach the subject of the terror in Congo?

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President Bush will likely mouth some stock platitudes about the Congo, and that will be that. Realistically, there is nothing he can do to alleviate the suffering of the Congolese. That is the responsibility of Joseph Kabila and the numerous other tin-pot warlords who are hell-bent on wrecking a country with almost unlimited potential -- perhaps taking their cues from Robert Mugabe.

-- Carl Beatty

I do not believe Western apathy toward Africa stems from racism. Might I suggest that after decades of incessant pleas for money to be sent to this or that famine, this or that natural disaster, to help refugees from this or that war, donor fatigue is the main culprit? It was for much the same reason that isolationism grew in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, when Americans were tired of Europe's incessant wars.

I also question the inclusion of money given to Israel in the end of the article, which points a finger at strong pro-Israel lobbying in the U.S. (Some might read this as "cabal"). Egypt is given the same amount ($3 billion per year is my understanding), and for the same reasons, including the purchase of military weapons. Egypt also happens to be in Africa.

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Congo, much like Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia before it, is indeed tragic. The question that ultimately plagues world leaders, though, is whether anything practical and useful can be accomplished by intervention. What many really believe is necessary is a type of nation building that in reality would not be so different from what preceded it: colonialism. Given the array of crises that more directly affect U.S. interests, one must also realize there are only 24 hours in a day.

One other interesting note: Capital flight from Africa is equal to 145 percent of the African debt. Restoring stability to Africa would perhaps result in not only the return of this money but also new investment.

-- Brian Asmus

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Thanks for Laura McClure's important article about the world war happening in Africa involving the Congo.

The conveniently rotating justifications for attacking Iraq by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Powell about human rights and "liberating the Iraqi people," can now be seen for what they were in comparison to the deafening silence over Congo -- hot air. We're happy to dress up our intelligence when our national oil addiction is under another country's sand, but let's not lift a finger for 3.3 million dead and untold ravaged. Samantha Power at Harvard, author of the Pulitzer-winning "A Problem From Hell," which discusses our government's active lobbying against responding in Rwanda, now has an easy sequel to write.

Apparently, we have $70 billion (and $2 billion per month ongoing) to test all our whiz-bang smart bombs, high-tech weaponry, and wireless battlefield gear on a bunch of Iraqi street militia with 20-year-old rifles and RPGs, but we only have $0.062 billion worth of reduced "aid" for Congo? Meanwhile, we let our military families on the homefront live on credit cards while daddy's still in Kabul or Baghdad wondering why we don't say OK to the U.N. helping us do peacekeeping. We also let a country like Liberia descend into hell. What does it take for us to act? Does anybody in the White House or Congress watch the BBC or "Nightline," or read Salon? Are we proud of our elected officials making these kinds of non-choices in our name from a $2 trillion annual budget?

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-- Kamalesh Thakker

Anyone sitting at a word processor suggesting American sons should be sent to Congo or Liberia or wherever, better have "I speak for God" tattooed on both ass cheeks and be able to part the Red Sea.

"Go here and save these. Go there and save those." I've never seen so many journalists ready to play Patton with young men's lives, and I don't buy it.

-- Daniel Jereb

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The Congo has major problems, having recently been occupied by Namibia, Zimbabwe, and other countries in the region, and having had its natural resources divvied up by the foreigners. Africa has many problems that could use U.S. help, but throwing cash at these problems in the past hasn't helped the average African -- it's just enriched those in power. Donate medicine, food and volunteers with know-how: Peace Corps Africa has always been a good idea in practice.

-- Ed Cunion


Salon Staff

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