A few years later, I read the harrowing but profoundly important We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch. Beyond the general horror of the tale, I was also horrified to learn that the suffering people in those refugee camps... had been the perpetrators and their families, fleeing from the victorious Tutsi army that had put an end to the genocide. The victims of the genocide were dead, you see, and couldn't congregate by their hundreds of thousands in refugee camps.
How had the entire world got it so extraordinarily wrong, I asked myself in disbelief?How idiotic had we been?
The answer, I suppose, was that no-one cared. It's only Africans, after all.
In the years since then I've been aware - and have even commented on this blog - that mass murder on a horrific scale is taking place in the Congo. Millions of people have been murdered, probably no less than 4,000,000. This month there appears to be a lull in the killing, but earlier this year - that's 2009 - the killing was in full throttle. Not that you'd know it unless you really wanted to, and knew where to look. The media would not be the place to look, with the partial exception of the Economist, and, with lots of patience, the NYT.
Howard W. French has read three recent books on the topic, and summarizes their findings for us at the New York Review of Books.
Although it has been strangely ignored in the Western press, one of the most
destructive wars in modern history has been going on in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Africa's third-largest country. During the past eleven years millions
of people have died, while armies from as many as nine different African
countries fought with Congolese government forces and various rebel groups for
control of land and natural resources. Much of the fighting has taken place in
regions of northeastern and eastern Congo that are rich in minerals such as
gold, diamonds, tin, and coltan, which is used in manufacturing electronics.
He puts the number of dead (so far) at 5.4 million, which means we're talking about magnitudes unseen since WWII, and tragically comparable, too. Beyond the sheer horror of the story, a depressing aspect is that if we're to believe the three authors, the limited media that does notice the events has them wrong, again. The Tutsi forces are instigating much of the killing. The genocide of 1994 wasn't the first; there was an earlier one in the 1970s, with 300,000 dead Hutu in Burundi. And so on.
I don't know who's right and who's wrong. I can't say if perhaps there's a side to the conflict which is bad, and another side that is fiendishly worse. My mind boggles at the possibility that everyone is equally right and wrong, culprits and victims according to the decade you choose to look at. I don't think history works that way. But I admit I don't have the tools to sort it out; nor are some of the witnesses being cited, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, credible reporters. We know how unreliable they can be.
The Apartheid regime in South Africa was despicable, and the world community eventually helped topple it. But it was nothing compared to this. Alas, the people suffering in the Congo are Africans being murdered by Africans deep in the Jungle. Nothing the world needs to care about. Matter of fact, nothing the world needs even to try to decipher.