It tolls for thee

13 December 2012

It has now emerged that Namibia will apparently not send any peacekeeping troops to the DRC although our Government in principle supports the SADC decision to deploy a force. 
This will come as a relief to some Namibians who opposed the deployment of 2,000 Namibia troops to that country in 1998.

The prospect of another entanglement in the DRC revived unpleasant memories of what they considered an ill-conceived military adventure.
Namibia is a small country with limited financial resources and with the present fragile state of our economy it is perhaps the right decision to shy away from what might become a costly foreign military involvement.
However, this does not mean we can remain entirely detached from what is happening in the DRC.
The Ministry of Foreign hints that Namibia will provide non-military assistance to the SADC effort, which is welcome news
Although Namibia eventually withdrew its troops from the DRC in 2002, a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions has continued to unfold in the country.
By some estimates, 45,000 people die in the DRC each month and preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by conflict have claimed 5.4 million people since the war started in 1998.
Unspeakable barbarities have marked the war in the DRC including mass killings of civilians, mutilations and the systematic rape of women as an instrument of war.
The scale of the atrocities has a familiar ring to it and reminds one of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars that preceded it.
Here in Namibia we hardly pay any attention to the horrendous violence that takes place in a fellow SADC country – probably no further than two days travel by road from Windhoek.
As far as we are concerned, out of sight out of mind – apart from the occasional news reports that leave us largely unmoved.
However, much as we try, we can longer continue turning a blind eye to what is happening in the DRC.
The inhumanity that continues to take place in that country should offend the conscience of every Namibian, sicken us and fill us with revulsion.
Our own humanity compels us to take a stand against such cruelty and barbarity and we have a moral duty to oppose it with every sinew in our bodies and until our last breath. Let us not forget John Donne’s words:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent...
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
We are all a piece of this continent and the time has come to answer the call of that bell.
When reporting on the conflict in the DRC, it seems the international media cannot resist referring to Joseph Conrad’s short novel The Heart of Darkness.
They make the allusion to reinforce their own prejudiced belief that the African continent is inherently barbaric and primitive.
This is nonsensical, and noticeably no one ever made any mention of The Heart of Darkness during the Balkan wars when horrors such as the massacre at Srebrenica occurred.
However, witnessing their kith and kin committing gross human rights violations and appalling atrocities in the Balkan came as such a shock to white people that it jolted them into speedy action.
It so disgusted and offended their collective conscience that they decided to act firmly and decisively to put an end to the violence, with little consideration given to expense.
Similarly, although Namibia has limited financial resources, you cannot put a price on saving human lives.
This country has an obligation in terms of international humanitarian law to assist in preventing human rights violations and in preserving peace wherever it can
This obligation becomes even more compelling when the human rights violations take place on our own continent.
We complain when foreign powers interfere in African affairs, but we fail to act when we see injustices and atrocities taking place right on our own doorstep.
What happens in the DRC has importance for Namibia for many other reasons.
The DRC, with its vast mineral resources and fertile soil, has the potential to become the economic engine-room of Africa.
The country could play the same pivotal role in the economic emancipation of the continent that Brazil has done on the South American continent.
We can, however, forget about ever seeing an integrated Africa-wide market for goods and services as long as the DRC remains in permanent chaos.
Such a large market, and a unified continental economy, would to a certain extent free us from economic dependence on Europe, North America or Asia.
On the face of it, the prospect of SADC sacrificing precious lives and treasure to help prop up the incompetent kleptocracy of Joseph Kabila sounds very unappealing.
Nevertheless, as things stand, Kabila’s government seems to offer the best hope of peace, stability and some semblance of order in the DRC.
SADC should not give unconditional support, or no strings attached assistance to the DRC government.
Countries in the region must make any assistance they give to the DRC government contingent on it finally taking steps to put its house in order.
SADC should also not make any military commitment without a clear understanding of the mission and the rules of engagement for the inauspiciously named Neutral International Force.
Furthermore, for the effort to have any chance of success, SADC probably has to abandon the fantasy that it can remain neutral in a conflict with such sharply drawn battle lines.




The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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