Eluned Morgan on the security and humanitarian situation in central Africa
The greatest war since the Second World War is occurring right now – in the middle of Africa, in and around the Great Lakes. Over five million people have died and over 2 million people have become refugees. It involves nine African nations and about 40 armed groups.
How is it that a tragedy on this scale is almost unknown to the mass of the UK public at a time when we have mass and incessant global communication? There are tragedies occurring in many parts of the world – Syria, the Philippines, Afghanistan – but why is it that we never seem to hear about the African tragedies?
As a politician I still reel from the tragedy and the anguish of the Rwanda genocide. The massacre occurred in 1994 just before I was elected to the European Parliament. Over 800,000 people died, while the international community stood around doing nothing. The whole area is a complex morass of local rivalries, competition for power and mineral resources, and tribal conflicts. And the biggest tragedy of all is that the fall out of that genocide is still occurring for millions in the Great Lakes area.
Forgiveness is hard when the scale of the slaughter is so vast. But there are hints that the African Union, and in particular its leaders, are starting to understand their responsibility to engage more practically and forcefully in this conflict; and to bring pressure to bear on those either perpetrating or encouraging continued violence and bloodshed.
People are living in atrocious conditions, and there are countless examples of human rights violations, including the use of child soldiers. There are severe mental health problems in the region, with people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder following the events they have witnessed or been a victim of. Rape is being used as a weapon of war.
A UN-brokered accord has been signed by ten countries in the region, and includes commitments at the national, regional and international levels to bring about peace and stability. Alongside this, a UN-backed intervention brigade has meant a more pro-active approach to engaging in the region, helping to defeat one of the militia groups active in the Congo. African countries themselves own this Framework.
Tragedies however, are still unfolding in the wider region – nowhere is this more evident than the failed state that is the Central African Republic (CAR).
One of the chief roles of a state is to protect its citizens. Far from protecting its people, we see in CAR a situation of permanent crisis, human rights abuses being carried out by state authorities, massive incidence of sexual abuse and a huge exodus of people from the country. Life expectancy of the average person is 48 years of age, there are more than one million at risk of hunger, and the situation is likely to become worse due to a poor harvest.
There has also been a dramatic escalation of violence since March of this year – something that must be halted before it spins completely out of control, and we find another Rwandan genocide on our plates. The world cannot stand by again and watch our fellow human beings suffer such horrors.
Baroness Eluned Morgan of Ely is a member of the Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Office team in the House of Lords
Published 18th November 2013