Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dawn after the African World War?

Poignantly Thomas Lubanga’s first day of trial at the International Criminal Court coincided with the Spring Equinox. Lubanga faces charges for his conduct during the long war in the Congo and he is the first person to face the ICC, but why is that conflict known as the African World War?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is more than three times the size of Turkey, it is estimated that more than 240 languages are spoken there and during the conflict (1998-2003) that nine African states were involved in, an estimated 3.8 million people died making it the bloodiest conflict since the second world war. In a complex clash there were broadly four factions; the Tutsi aligned, Hutu aligned, Uganda aligned and Kinshasa aligned forces, stemming from neighbouring countries. Although the conflict officially ended in 2003, the DRC is still a humanitarian crisis - Doctors without Borders listed it in their ten most underreported humanitarian issues of 2005.

So is a dawn breaking? In December 2005 a new constitution was approved by 84% of the 25 million who turned out which is considered an impressive response given the country's administration problems. The new constitution allows for 25 semiautonomous provinces drawn along ethnic and cultural lines. Yesterday, Kofi Annan travelled to the country to pledge international support for the planned June Presidential elections. German troops will lead a 1,500 strong EU troop presence which aims to provide security for the elections. The Ituri conflict still rages in the east of the country were eight Guatemalan special forces serving as UN peacekeepers were killed earlier this year.

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