Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Elections in DR Congo

The results are now official and, as was predicted, voters in DR Congo have overwhelmingly approved their new constitution. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in March.

Since the Belgians gave up their rapacious control in 1960, the country has seen civil wars, Mobutu's decades-long kleptocracy, and interference by neighbouring states. Congo's plentiful natural resources mean that it could be one of the richest countries in Africa but, as is so often the case, the drive for control of those resources has instead fed the violence and chaos. This week, there are warnings of the threats posed by increasing violence in the province of Katanga. These are hardly the ideal conditions for a stable democracy to develop. But the people of Congo have shown that they feel it is time for real representative government.

Even without the poll, the current UN force in Congo is insufficient and, as usual, does not have a strong enough mandate. Obviously, the elections will increase the need for peacekeepers in the region. So what is the UN asking for? 800 EU rapid reaction troops. 800 extra troops, for a country that is about the size of Western Europe. The EU is not yet sure if they are going to be able to provide the troops. When you can't even meet the pathetic expectations of the U.N., things aren't looking good for you. This is an important moment for Congo, if Europe actually wants to play a role in the world beyond just yelling at the Americans, now is the time to step forward. Maybe they could surprise everyone and exceed the U.N.'s expectations. No, now I've gone too far...

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