"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

7.21.2007

can't see texas from here

So. Here we are.

I go back and forth on whether to be worried about the situation in North Kivu. It's bad there, and there's no question that things are getting worse. Yesterday at an official security briefing, we were given troop strength estimates and other alarming information of a similar nature. I was so concerned by the information we were given that I called C and E. They've heard rumors that something will happen on the 26th. Which almost certainly means that nothing will happen on the 26th. Probably.

What is clear is that something is up. Diplomats from the UN, the European Union, the African Union, and a regional bloc, as well as the Belgian foreign minister, are all trying to talk the two sides down from confrontation. Which is a sure sign that something's going to happen.

I've heard that the powers that be were/are waiting for two things: the dry season and the end of the school year. The school year ended in early July; national exam results might be out in a week or two. There were some schools in remote parts of North Kivu who had to extend the school year to July 15, due to insecurity. The dry season is clearly here. We had a little rain last night, but it was the first rain in over two weeks. No one wants to go to battle in the forest when it's wet, and no one wants to be the guy accused of preventing children from getting an education.

Some members of the Congolese diaspora living in Europe sent a document to the UN yesterday. It calls for the establishment of an independent Kivu Republic, and says something to the effect that this should be a war to establish that republic. This is an old idea from the last war when a Rwanda-backed force controlled most of the eastern Congo. There was a separate government, a separate administration, separate taxes, separate almost everything (except for the national health system and the education system, interestingly enough).

At the meeting at which I heard this announced, there was a big gasp in the room from most of the Congolese present. I don't know anyone who thinks that such a republic could actually be established (the rebels have troops, but not that many troops, and they would only be able to take over if the Rwandans invaded, but Rwanda has way too much to lose from another invasion, and MONUC can't let anyone take Goma or Bukavu). Then again, if the Rwandans perceive an attack on Nkunda by the government as a precipitant of genocide against the Tutsis, all bets are off.

What everyone recognizes is that there are people who are trying to resurrect old conflicts (that were never really solved to begin with, which is the problem at the heart of the peace process in DR Congo), and that this could easily set off a course of events that could lead to really serious violence. Soon.

The strange thing about this is how utterly calm Bukavu feels. It's so much less tense than Goma. Life goes on. And it makes me wonder how people live like this for years on end, always knowing that something could blow up at any minute, always wondering if this will finally be the end of the war, or if it will go on and on and on.

I have two more weeks in Congo. Two more weeks to wonder, two more weeks to hope for peace. Two more weeks...

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