North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Democratic Republic of Congo holds election

A very large election is taking place in one of the largest countries in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo has over 11 candidates running for President, and more than 18,000 candidates running for its 500 member Parliament. The voting will take place Monday, and counting over several days will follow. The election itself is the only the second Presidential election in more than forty years due to a decades-long rule by Mobutu Sese Seko during the 60s -90s.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, and earlier as the Belgian Congo colony, has a sad and suffering past and a challenging future.

With a marginal road infrastructure, over 60 helicopters and 20 planes are being used to distribute 4400 tons of ballots around the country. Kinsasha, the capital city is producing a voting pamphlet highlighting over 1500 candidates alone. There has been election violence already, with at least three people killed in the capitol on Saturday.

Supporters of the main presidential rivals, 79yr-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and 40yr-old incumbent President Joseph Kabila, gathered for rallies that had been scheduled near to each other. Scuffles erupted and police fired tear gas and live ammunition to break up the crowds. Police later delayed Mr Tshisekedi at Kinshasa's airport until late on Saturday forcing him to miss his final rally.

The European Union observer mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo criticized both the police and the various candidates over the pre-election violence. "The mission deplores the chaotic and improvised management of the last political meetings by many presidential candidates, and by the Kinshasa authorities which restrained freedom of opinion, meetings and demonstrations," it added.

The United Nations too, criticized the security forces. "The security forces should refrain from any acts that could heighten tensions and create any difficulties on the eve of elections," Mr Tshisekedi, in turn, accused the head of the UN 20,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo, American diplomat Roger Meece, of favoring the Kabila government.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is nearly two thirds the size of Western Europe, the 2nd largest country in Africa, and with 71 million citizens, the 4th most populous on the continent. From Wikipedia, "Despite the country's size, transport infrastructure is very poor. Of 153,497km of roads, only 2,794km are paved. There are around 4,000 km of railways but much is narrow-gauge track and in poor condition. Waterways are vital to transport goods but journeys can take months to complete. Overcrowded boats frequently capsize, while DR Congo has more plane crashes than any other country."

The diversity within and history of the DRC is jaw dropping. Kinsasha, its capitol, has a population of over 10 million. Moving away from its urban centre, much of the rest of the countryside is isolated and rural. The country holds vast mineral wealth and numerous mining operations, while at the same time, its rainforests are home to Pygmies and gorillas.

Much of the country's population lives a rural village lifestyle, albeit with a higher than average setting of insecurity and violence

Walking and carrying on a personal scale. Distinctive dress.

The country was first made famous by the famous explorers Dr Livingstone and Sir Stanley ("Dr Livingstone I presume ...")and was the jungle setting for Joseph Conrad's book, "Heart of Darkness." The US CIA was implicated in behind the scenes maneuvering which resulted in the country's first popularly elected president, Patrice Lumumba, being removed from power in the early sixties.

Lumumba believed that the Belgian government was intent on maintaining its access to rich Congolese mines, and that secessionist violence erupting in the south was related. Concerned that the United Nations force sent to help restore order was not helping to crush the secessionists, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for assistance, receiving massive military aid and about a thousand Soviet technical advisers in six weeks. The U.S. government saw the Soviet activity as a maneuver to spread communist influence in Central Africa.

Within general chaos, Lumumba lost control of of the majority of his armed forces, and fled into the countryside. However, he was eventually captured by the military, which was led by Mobutu Sese Seko, and then executed.

The country's first short-lived president, Patrice Lumumba

The notorious Mobutu Sese Seko, the second president of the country

After a few years of continued unrest, Mobutu solidified control of the country, enjoying the support of Western democracies because of his staunch opposition to Communism. Western powers believed him to be a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa, but Mobutu of course, in the decades following, became synonymous with corruption, nepotism, and excess. Mobutu's legacy was the ransacking the country for personal wealth, while simultaneously depriving the nation of any sense of self governance, unifying institutions or infrastructure. When the Cold War between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-1991, the West's tolerance of Mobutu also disappeared. Mobutu was cornered into power-sharing, and Zaire itself descended into a multitude of armed factions and instability.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, hundreds of thousands of Hutus fleeing that small country in fear of retribution moved into Eastern Zaire. When Mobutu's government issued an order in November 1996 forcing Rwandan Tutsis to leave Zaire on penalty of death, the ethnic Tutsis in Zaire rebelled. From eastern Zaire, the rebels and foreign government forces under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and the Rwandan leader Paul Kagame launched an offensive to overthrow Mobutu,and marched west toward Kinshasa. Laurent Kabila, a Zairean Tutsi, led the actual armed forces to victory, declared himself Zaire's new President, and changed the country's name.

The newly named DRC soon became engulfed in what is referred to as the "Second Congo War." It spread quickly from 1998 on, devastated the country, and at its peak involved nine African nations and some twenty armed groups. Laurent Kabila was himself assassinated in 2001, but his son Joseph (the current president) took over the office at that time. The war is the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people since 1998. The vast majority died from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. (And one of the least reported wars among the Western media ever ... Teatree.)

Current DRC President Joseph Kabila

While the Second Congo War has significantly diminished today, conflict in the east of the country still takes its toll. Over 123,000 people alone were internally displaced in early 2011 due to sporadic fighting, and these people are hoping the elections this time will also increase the likelihood that they can return home under more peaceful conditions.

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A refugee camp in eastern DRC for internally displaced people.

Tomorrow's election is the first occasion after the "formal" end of the large scale internal fighting of the Second Congo War, and if there is a Christmas wish to offer, it should be that whoever wins, he embarks on a sincere effort to stabilize and develop the country for the general good of its citizens.

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