Calming the Congo


A VOTE by the United Nations Security Council to send combat troops to Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should bring an end to the deadly warfare between the Lendu and the Hema peoples there, at least while the U.N. troops remain in residence.

Unfortunately, the slaughter that has taken place in Bunia is only one small piece of the endemic problems that plague the country - the onetime Belgian Congo later known as Zaire - and, to a degree, all of Central Africa, including the Republic of the Congo (formerly the French Congo), the Central African Republic, Rwanda, and Burundi.

In Bunia, a longtime antagonism between the Lendu and Hema peoples, based to some extent on the fact that the Lendu are farmers and the Hema are cattle raisers, turned several months ago into deadly warfare, waged with machetes and hoes as well as with the many, more modern weapons that have flooded the Central African region in the past two decades as states broke down or fought each other.

Last Friday the Security Council voted 15-0 to authorize a new French-led force to use “all necessary measures” to restore the peace. Ironically enough, there was already a U.N. force present in Bunia - several hundred Uruguayans, operating under a U.N. peacekeeping mandate.

The problem with putting French forces into Bunia is that they make the current, Tutsi-run Rwandan regime across the border nervous, having served as the mainstay of the previous Hutu-run Rwandan regime that carried out genocide against the Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

Local peace in Bunia would be a positive development. The real problem, however, is that the Congo itself has collapsed as a country. It has a population estimated at 55 million, with an estimated 200-plus tribes. Its area is as big as the United States east of the Mississippi.

It has, in effect, four governments, although a new “national unity” central administration was set up recently. Its infrastructure is gone, the roads, railroads and waterways more or less reclaimed by nature. Its economy largely no longer functions.

To put the Congo back together as a functioning country would require up to 200,000 troops and many billions of aid dollars. That is not going to happen. Thus the gamble is that the Congo will not become a Taliban-type Afghanistan, or a Saddam-type Iraq, posing a threat beyond Central Africa. That wager has in fact succeeded for the world since 1997.

The Congolese have only destroyed their country and each other so far, but that is small consolation for the people of the Congo.

So how long does this go on?