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

8.11.2009

perhaps i've gotten a bit cynical

Assuming things went okay with her MONUC flight (always a dicey prospect, given the whole "lack of radar" and "the non-lava-covered part of the runway leads into the market" state of affairs at Goma International Airport), by the time you're reading this, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should be in Goma. Clinton is scheduled to visit the Heal Africa hospital and to meet with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, probably at either MONUC headquarters or the governor's office (aka, "la musee" ("the museum," Mobutu's old villa)) because those are the only places in Goma that can be secured for these sorts of things. For Clinton's sake, I hope it's the latter. The view is much more pleasant at the musee.

(If her time in Goma consists of a run between the airport, MONUC HQ (across the street from the airport), and Heal Africa, she'll see about 1/20 of the city without ever leaving the comfort of a MONUC Land Cruiser. Which, to be fair, is more than a lot of World Bank types see on their tightly-controlled five day consultancy stints in the city.)

I've already written about what Mrs. Clinton should focus on in her brief time there, but given that her entire Africa trip thus far has consisted of predictable statements about democracy and awkward dancing, my hopes are not high.

That we are unlikely to hear anything new out of Goma means that we are very likely to see a redux of the same stale article the New York Times has been running for several years now. And of what exactly will that article consist? I'll wager a guess:

Things New York Times East Africa Correspondant Jeffrey Gettleman* Will Report about the Clinton Visit to Goma
  • Goma is dangerous, Clinton's staff didn't want her to go, and the scenery under the smoking volcano is spectacular.
  • 5 million people have died in this under-reported, forgotten tragedy that's on the front page of the NYT at least once every eight weeks and where the largest peacekeeping force in the world spends lots of money and 17,000 troops struggle to control the vast territory, which is [either] the size of Western Europe [or] the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi.
  • Lots of women have been raped in the Congo.
  • Now they're raping men, too!**
  • It's the Heart of Darkness.
  • Kabila should behave himself.
  • Boo corruption! Yay democracy!
  • Women get raped because of cell phones and PlayStations.
  • And because of the FDLR.
  • It would all be better without the minerals and the FDLR.
  • Clinton bonded with one young woman whose body is broken but whose spirit is strong.
We learned yesterday that the United Nations has records of 200,000 cases of sexual violence in the eastern DR Congo since the beginning of the 1996 war. We've known for awhile now that the Kimia II mission - publicly supported by U.S. officials - has actually made life more dangerous for the women and girls of South Kivu who just want to live without fear of attack by soldiers from the national army.

None of those victims - not one - deserves the same old empty platitudes, the focus on the wrong solutions to misidentified problems, or a foreign policy approach that will do little to reestablish security and governance in the region.

Come on, Hillary. Prove me wrong.

*I pick on Gettleman a lot, because he and the Times get a lot of things wrong and regularly traffic in blatant stereotyping. (It is beyond me why the NYT's infamous fact-checking standards aren't applied to stories involving Africa.) I don't think it's entirely his fault; Gettleman has the unenviable task of covering half of sub-Saharan Africa in great detail. But the paper of record could do a much better job of ensuring that the stories they print are factual. And Gettleman is far from alone in his journalistic crimes when it comes to coverage of Africa.

**They've been raping men for years now. It's just that people are finally talking about it, and men and boys are reporting the crimes at the hospitals and clinics at which they seek treatment.

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