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October 15, 2019

Forgotten war

Opinion

October 15, 2019

A new report, ‘Congo, Forgotten: The Numbers Behind Africa’s Longest Humanitarian Crisis’ by Human Rights Watch and the New York University-based Congo Research Group, finds that between June 1, 2017 and June 26, 2019, there were at least 3,015 violent incidents – including killings, mass rapes, and kidnappings – involving 6,555 victims in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu.

An average of 8.38 civilians were killed per 100,000 people in those two provinces alone, a number that exceeds even the 2018 death rate of 6.87 civilians in Borno, Nigeria, the state most affected by the terror group Boko Haram. It’s more than double the rate – 4.13 – in all of civil-war-torn Yemen, where Houthi rebels and civilians have, for years, been under a relentless assault by a US-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

“The fighting in recent years shows that peace and stability in eastern Congo are elusive,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group. “A comprehensive approach is needed, including an invigorated demobilization program and deep-seated reforms at every level of the state to counter impunity.”

The chances of that happening anytime soon are, however, remote. Violence has stalked the Congo’s far east since at least the nineteenth century, when slave raiders plied their trade here and local mutineers from a Belgian colonial expedition rampaged through the region. And since the end of the last century, North Kivu has been an epicenter of conflict.

For its part, Goma – home to two million people – has been called “cursed,” labeled a “magnet of misery,” and identified as “the most dangerous city in the world.” While it might not sit directly over hell, beneath the volcano that looms over it, Mount Nyiragongo, is a burning lake of lava – an estimated 2.3 billion gallons worth.

At the same time, Lake Kivu, the body of water on whose shores Goma sits, could potentially asphyxiate millions in the event of an earthquake, thanks to gases building up beneath its surface. Then again, Lake Kivu itself might just explode – as it does about once every thousand years.

Goma is, to put it mildly, a tough town and, in recent times, it’s endured some genuine tough luck as well. In 1977, Mount Nyiragongo erupted, sending lava racing through the outskirts of the city at the fastest rate ever recorded, around 62 miles per hour, just shy of the speed of a cheetah running at full tilt. Several outlying villages were obliterated and almost 300 people burned alive.

In 1994, after the overthrow of a Hutu-led regime that had committed a genocide on the Tutsis of neighboring Rwanda, more than a million refugees, mostly Hutus, swamped Goma, prompting aid agencies to set up camps for them. Those camps became bases for the ousted genocidaires to launch cross-border raids into Rwanda. In addition, cholera ravaged those refugee camps and Tutsis who had also fled the genocide were soon being attacked in Goma just as they had been in their native Rwanda.

Excerpted from: ‘As the World Looks Away, Death Stalks the Democratic

Republic of Congo’.

Commondreams.org

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