Thursday, July 13, 2006

# Posted 4:37 PM by Taylor Owen  

LIVING CIVIL WAR: While I am in full support of all of the proper attention – if not action – that has been paid to Darfur over the past two years, the conflicts in Congo and Northern Uganda, despite horrific humanitarian costs, have received markedly less attention. I’ll return to Northern Uganda in a later post, but for a number of reasons, it is worth noting a recent, and in my view superb, article on the Congo in April’s Harpers (sorry not online).

Bryan Mealer, until recently, the Congo correspondent for the AP, writes a raw piece that quite brilliantly captures what I perceive to be the reality of living amongst the brutality of contemporary African civil war. I have no doubt that other wars, ongoing and past, have overlapping elements, but there seems to be something particular about the mix of truly dire poverty, humanitarian crisis, and brutal civil war, that distinguishes certain African conflicts from all others.

I have never lived in such a war zone, but my friends who have are changed. They see the world in a fundamentally different way. In a way that makes me feel removed, isolated, artificially sheltered, and naïve.

It is this feeling that I got from ‘Congo’s Daily Blood’. Not because it details particularly unique brutality, although it describes horrors. Not because the problem seems insurmountable, although there is a sense of exacerbated desperation in the authors voice. Not because I/the world know so shamefully little about a conflict that has taken 4 million lives over the past 5 years and continues to kill 1200 a day, although that implication/condemnation marbles the article.

It effected me I think, for amongst others, three interrelated reasons, all of which come to the fore in this very emotional article.

First, because such massive disasters are a shock to ones sense of the world's interconnectedness. I am ashamed that we do not devote the prescience, resources or attention necessary to ensure that this does not happen in our world. Or when it does, that we do not react with the attention required. I do not buy the human nature argument and I firmly believe that orders of magnitude more can be done to prevent, alleviate, and help rebuild from these disasters. We do not adequately value doing it, so we don’t.

Second, having said that, I am not naïve to the tremendous complexities underlying humanitarian disasters, pernicious underdevelopment and civil war. However, when one spends their time studying international institutions, national foreign/development policies and analytic tools, it is necessary, but jarring, to be brought back to reality. This piece did that. (This point does not in any way negate the first)

Third, on a more personal level, how can one study civil war, as on some levels I claim to do, without having lived in this horror? I am not sure that one can. Living in the developing/southern world on numerous occasions has dramatically effected my view of the world. I am certain that experiencing a truly war-torn country would do so in orders of magnitude. First person accounts of this transformation are a stark reminder of this.

In any case, the article, as well as Mealer’s 2004 Harpers piece, also on the Congo, are very much worth reading.
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