November 2, 2007

This Week in Africa: Troubled Countries Edition

The week started on a depressing note as Darfur peace talks in Libya broke down over boycotts from key rebel factions. Unlike the seemingly successful (though now in tatters) deal brokered between Khartoum and John Garang's rebel forces in South Sudan in 2005, there's no central command to even begin to treat with.

In an unholy mess reminiscent of DR Congo's wars from 1998-2003, rebels are turning on each other, an ineffectual international force is seen as a puppet of the central government and the ruling regime is using all the confusion to carry on its treachery. Let's hope that it doesn't take 4 million dead to bring everyone to the table.

Speaking of Africa's other troubled megalith, Big (since it really isn't all that democratic) Congo is still trying to sort out Hutu-Tutsi friction caused by the fallout of the Rwandan Genocide, some 13 years on. Renegade general Laurent Nkunda claims he's protecting the Congolese Tutsi minority in North Kivu from Hutu extremists, some of which are Interahamwe still kicking around since their 1994 exile from neighbouring Rwanda.

Joseph Kabila's government, a world away in Kinshasa, accuses Nkunda's men of war crimes and has sent in a force to disarm him after he defected from Congo's national army. With general's positions currently being pounded with artillery, 350,000 have fled the area as the Great Lakes region faces yet another humanitarian crisis.

Am I the only one wondering how over-sized polities like DR Congo and Sudan are going to manage not to split up in the longer-term?

Meanwhile, across Stanley Pool in Smaller Congo (Brazzaville), authorities have reacted to the other big story from Africa this week - the row over Zoe's Ark and the 100 or so Chadian children they dubiously planned to export to Europe as as 'orphans.' The Congolese have suspended all international adoptions in the wake of the emerging scandal.

While the facts emerge, hopefully the incident acts as a touchstone for a wider debate on adoption processes and human trafficking, and not just knee-jerk reactions to accusations of brazen kidnapping. The nature of human trafficking in Africa - where children or siblings are often quite willingly sent abroad into indentured situations with the hope of remittances and a better life - is as fascinating as it is disturbing. Adoption procedures, mired in the hopeless bureaucracy of African governments, are understandably short-cut in the name of efficiency.

It will be interesting to see how much the children's 'parents' knew about the removal of the children and what Zoe's Ark (an unfortunate name: two children of every kind?) planned to do with the them once in Europe. The might not have been orphaned per se, but they also might not have been taken against their (parents') will. We'll see.

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