Saturday, November 01, 2008

We are killing Africa

I know it is incredibly dangerous to base an opinion on one article. It is dangerous and I do not care!

In this instance it's important not to equivocate and prevaricate about the political bush. It is time we as a collective society, regardless of race, nationality or creed say something, do something, make something happen that is beautiful for the millions (no exaggeration unfortunately), of people suffering the most god-awful hour upon hour of their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The conflict on the eastern border between the DRC and Rwanda has been on and off since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The United Nations currently has one of its largest peace-keeping forces ever established in a post-war region. 17,000+ blue helmets are ostensibly there to protect the people, regardless of their tribal affiliations. It's clearly not working.

The backstory is complex and requires some understanding of tribal culture within African society. Hutu's and Tutsi's aside, there is a massive grab by various militia warlords for territorial wealth in securing the DRC's rich deposits of natural ores and minerals.

The collateral damage that stems from this greedy avarice is a convoluted and astonishing abrogation by Rwandan and DRC Governments in Human rights for their citizens. It doesn't matter which side is which, the fact is the UN is pretty much handcuffed by the Charter of the United Nations established just after the Second World War. In Article 2 of the charter, there is the unequivocal statement that states will not interfere in another states affairs except in instances of self-defence. Period. That's it! No coming to whip the bad boys over the knuckles even if they're raping and pillaging their own peoples!

In the time since Rwanda, much has been discussed about the use of force by the international community to secure ordinary citizens against human rights abuses.

The wealthy 'North' are twiddling their holier-than-thou thumbs over notions of propriety in regards to words written nearly 70 years ago, while the African people die of starvation, thirst, rape and rampant violence.

When does a genocide not become a genocide anymore?

And how are we implicated in this astonishing spectacle of dysfunctional humanity?

When we buy ourselves a new mobile phone or rave over new technologies invented to assist in the pursuit of our happiness and ease, we are blithely unaware that the very minerals used in the manufacture of these devices come from the ground currently being bathed in African blood.

We are guilty of innocence perhaps; we can remain guilty no longer. As the article I cited at the beginning says, it is time collective humanity demanded that companies which exploit human life in the pursuit of profit are brought to an end.

It may be almost impossible to purchase any new device with the demand that it is made with materials sourced from places that showed the best of humanitarian intentions. Impossible right now but it should no longer be impossible! We demand to know what is in the food we eat. We are even beginning to become more aware of Fair trade foods where employees are paid a decent wage and have working conditions well above that of mere slavery. If human devastation such as we are seeing in the DRC, is to be prevented, then we can expect no less from our hardware as we do our food. I want to know that my next mobile phone has...genuinely... not been made from product provided through the genocidal influence of warlords (no matter if they're a political leader of a country or not), wielding weapons with glee against his countryman all for the promise of incredible wealth.

Now, I realise that all this is a simplistic and naive view on the tangled web of machiavellian intrigue that makes up African culture and politics, but this is not about politics anymore. This is also about whether we are beholden to our neighbours when they're in trouble. This is about if we are our brothers keeper or not.

If the boot was on the other foot and it was us being raped and made to flee a refugee camp as it was burned to the ground by rebel forces (a complete breach of International law I might add), would we want someone to come to our aid and thump the bullies for six over the back fence?

I'm not preaching a war. Heaven forbid we seek another war. It is a very fine line though. What does it take to protect people from an out of control bunch of stupid idiots who care nothing for human lives except their own? When does it behoove us to say "War is, in this instance, a just war!"? How many innocent can we afford to lose before we finally say enough is enough?

Tough questions, which I am sure are right now being debated, hotly, in the back rooms of the United Nations itself. Pussy-footing about just because its Africa and not a wealthy "North" country makes us all as guilty as the Nkunda's of the world. Africa may be suspicious of the "North" given our arrogant colonialism of the continent in times past, but aren't we just as guilty if we stand back and leave them to it?

I ask again, when does a Genocide not become a genocide anymore?

This week, I had a job interview for a mobile phone company to sell mobile phones. That was before I saw read the above article and learned more of the backstory to the crisis in the DRC. I've not heard if I have the job. A part of me is at war now. I "need" the income this position would provide. It is a "good" job; stable, interesting, and would suit my strengths and abilities very well. Now, however, I'm bombarded with concerns as to the ethics of selling these products enmasse, very nearly all of which are manufactured in China, the world's largest consumer of Congolese coltan.

How did I become implicated in the current crisis in that region? I am already very implicated as I use a mobile phone. No longer can I remain apathetic to the plight of strangers in a foreign land for I am living my kind of life on the back of their contribution. If I'm to make that a Fair trade, then I will need to seriously question how I can ethically sell large numbers of mobile phones, should I get the job. It may mean saying "No" to selling them despite being broke and unemployed. I've yet to think it through further and find ethical counter-balances to the concept. Right now, I cannot in good conscience, be hard-nosed and so pragmatic as to ignore the plight of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children currently being savaged to the death, all over a mineral their piece of the planet harbours and which I am the end-user thereof.

When do we care enough to stop our planet from imploding with greed?

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