May 28, 2003


Computer games apparently improve your visual and spatial acuity. Who knew?

Posted by BruceR at 06:32 PM


Irrespective of Canada's inability at the moment to get engaged in the Congo, there are all kinds of good reasons not to do so. A significant UN operation there right now is potentially more dangerous to the viability of that institution than the Iraq war was.

To recap: previous dictator Laurent Kabila never got a firm hold of the country after he seized it in 1997 from his lifelong rival Mobutu in a civil war. In particular, he did nothing to keep Hutu rebels who had fled from justice for their genocidal acts in Rwanda setting up guerrilla camps on what was supposedly Congolese territory from which they launched new anti-Tutsi strikes. Rwanda and its ally Uganda, Kabila's old allies against Mobutu, responded to his treachery in 1999 by invading and imposing their own authority on the border areas. After his assassination in 2001, Kabila's son Joseph, then 31, ironically himself half-Tutsi, took over the Congo cartel, and has had no better luck. Urgent infusions of military support from other African dictators, particularly Zimbabwe and Angola, have been the only thing keeping Kabila Inc. in power and the west and south of the country in some kind of stability.

So, anyway, the UN has been trying to implement the 1999 Lusaka Accord, which put a ceasefire to the "hot part" of this Rwanda-Congo war. That calls for all the other countries, both pro and anti-Kabila Inc., to get out. Rwanda's troops, which had if nothing else, been keeping a lid on the problems in the border areas closest to its country, finally pulled out last year without anything to replace them, and the resulting power vacuum has led to complete "Heart of Darkness" anarchy in that part of the country. Which is where we are today. The crisis remains more a humanitarian than a genocidal one at the moment, as the entire eastern half of the country can't be reached by foreign aid agencies, although some of the atrocities in the really deep parts of the jungle have been extreme.

The problem with the Lusaka Accord was that it was signed with the promise of a UN peacekeeping force of 20,000, as large as any in its history, to replace the Rwandans in the east. That never showed up. The Americans post-Somalia and post-Rwanda didn't want to touch this one, and without them deploying and supporting such a force would be impossible. The Rwandans said for two years that if they pulled out before the UN showed up, there'd be chaos, and what do you know, they were right (international pressure finally forced them to, anyway).

The people directly responsible for all this are the same Hutu leaders, and their successors, who organized the genocide in Rwanda. Practically coddled by humanitarian agencies after they fled across the border to escape justice for genocide, they were able with that assistance to set up a Kurtz-style jungle quasistate in east Congo. From there, they've continued to kill Tutsis whereever they find them. (It's as if in 1945, all the pro-Nazi Germans had fled across the German border, and continued to terrorize a German state now largely populated by the remaining Jews.) The Rwandans first tried putting Kabila Sr. in power, who sold them out to the Hutus... then they just occupied the quasi-state themselves.

Still, there are the innocents to worry about. The west wants aid to start flowing again, and for that someone has to step in now that the Rwandans have gone. The trouble is that a peacekeeping force in the Congo now isn't a normal UN peacekeeping force, in the sense that it's stepping in with the consent of all parties to sort out a civil war, or interpose itself between two warring countries... it's stepping in to replace Mugabe's and the others' troops propping up the decadent Kabila Inc. dictatorship. It's certainly not like any traditional peacekeeping situation... it's not like Somalia, where the UN stepped in in the absence of any government... Kabila is the universally recognized ruler. It's not like Rwanda, where they were trying to interpose on the agreement of both sides in a civil war, either. No, if the UN goes, it's going to keep the Hutus down, and Kabila in power. How is that consistent, in any way, with the founding principles of this organization? If providing mercenaries to a third-world dictator is all the non-U.S. western militaries are good for, then they're worse than useless.

Never mind that you'll never get the 20,000 troops needed, leaving any force that goes there undermanned in extreme danger. (Two UN observers were hacked to death last week.) Never mind that this was tried once before and failed, in 1960, with the UN leaving in embarassment three years later, and scaling back its interventionist ambitions for the next 30 years. But the whole thing is JUST WRONG. It's the antithesis of everything the UN once claimed to stand for.

Okay, that wasn't too constructive. What can be done? Well, the last time the UN realized it was being used to prop up a dictatorship in the Congo, and pulled out, Mobutu had them replaced with mercenaries, paid for out of Congo's lucrative mineral wealth (Mike Hoare and the other "Wild Geese" among them). Kabila the Younger could pay for a lot of good troops with the proceeds of his thievery (it's fair to say that's how he got Mugabe to send his troops in the first place.) He could do that again: we're back to Mobutu of course, but it's fair to say there isn't a single person in the world who wouldn't see that as an improvement by this point. In the 19th century, of course, we'd have just let the border shift to reflect the facts on the ground, with Congo shrinking and Rwanda and Uganda growing as a result. Or the UN could forego its commitment to a mission, and invite a couple willing African countries (ie, Angola and Zimbabwe) to put together the force to take over the disputed region as their own protectorate, like Denmark's over Greenland, using its own threat of force only to discourage Rwanda from intervening again... it'd be amoral, of course, as Hutu incursions into Rwanda from within the protectorate would almost certainly increase, and Mugabe would just get richer, but it'd likely work. Or you could just let the French do it, if they really feel like another colonial entanglement. But if you actually send in the UN, well, Harold Stassen has obviously left the building. The losses will be heavy... the stay, indefinite... and the morality, unfathomable.

(The ironic thing in Congo's history is that the sides haven't changed in nearly 40 years. Back then it was a much younger Laurent Kabila and Che Guevara and a bunch of Conradesque psychotic cannibals vs. Mobutu and the mining interests and the mercs (after the UN wised up and left). The Kabila family may have finally become what they once hated and switched sides, so now we're looking for a new bunch of white guys to come in and prop them up. This game's not worth the candle at all.)

NB: The current stories are focussed on Bunia, which was in Rwanda's sometimes ally Uganda's area of occupation since the ceasefire, until they and the Rwandans pulled out recently. You'll hear a lot about the ensuing Hema-Lendu violence... just so it's clear, "Lendu" are Congolese Hutus, and "Hema" are Congolese Tutsi, or at least that's the way they see themselves (ethnographically it's a lot more complex than that). Just substitute the words in stories like this, and the Rwandan genocide connections become a little more clear. It should also be noted that Uganda and Rwanda have had a falling-out recently, which some have linked to the lucrative tantalum (or coltan) mining industry in eastern Congo. (Metallic tantalum is key to many modern electronic components... so in a way, these deaths are in part due to Western consumer demands for small cellphones and computers, which couldn't exist a few years ago without capacitors made from tantalum... the industry's slowly moving now to ceramic capacitors instead, largely due to supply problems with the metal.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:33 PM


Den Beste is close to the truth here. Only one thing he doesn't quite grasp: Canada doesn't have "election cycles" any more. Our next prime minister will be Paul Martin, who will take over next spring and rule autocratically for the next eight years or so. He will follow more or less the same foreign and defence policy as his predecessor. (Because he's not senile yet, he'll actually get a little more done in terms of legislation, but that's just stasis at a a higher rate of rotation.)

On the upside, our economy will likely continue to do quite well, comparatively, and the lack of any foreign policy commitments we can't walk away from means our health and welfare systems will continue to be more than competitive with American systems that have to take that "hyperpower surtax" into account. That means our labour will always be competitive with the States', and our natural resource sectors are still in good shape. Occasionally, shortsighted US legislators will continue to try to screw with trade tariffs to give their own industries the advantage back by screwing American consumers at the cash register, but they were doing that long before Sept. 11, and will likely always do so: it's the same with every other country in the world, no matter what their politics. We will also remain almost certainly immune from terrorist attack, because we don't offend anybody. My kids will grow up to inherit the same country I've got now... de facto isolationist even if theoretically multilateral, prosperous, quiet, and unassuming. And the Liberals will still be in power then, too.

When you think about, we've reached a Fukayama-like "end of Canadian history," in a way. Oh, well... I've got a patio now I can lay around all summer on, so it's cool.

Posted by BruceR at 03:57 PM


A reasonably sound piece from the Cooper/Bercuson team on military procurement. If you're ever interested in finding out more, the best source for information on current Canadian military equipment online is probably this one.

Posted by BruceR at 12:34 PM