Archive for November, 2008

African Classical Music

What if there was an African classical (traditional) music orchestra in every major African city, where the instruments would include Kora, Balafon/Xylophone, drums, Mbira, etc., and each orchestra would also include classical/traditional instruments unique to that country?

What if each orchestra were to be tasked with composing new music in addition to performing music composed by accomplished African musicians?

And what if every African Union meeting in Addis Ababa were to be opened and closed with a performance by the city’s African classical music orchestra and a guest orchestra from another African city?

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Democratic Republic of Congo: Long Term Solution

This previous post looked into the issue of warlords and war criminals in the DRC and Uganda. However, private security contractors and the UN can’t be seen as the long term solution, and other more systemic changes are necessary in order to stabilize the country.

First, a strong and well disciplined army is essential if the DRC is to remain a unified nation, and it is no secret that the DRC army is not only unable to defend its people, but some units have even turned to raping and looting.

Even though the British and possibly other western nations are beginning to train the DRC army, it is unlikely that training a few officers alone will be enough to transform the institution and turn it into a disciplined and professional army. More drastic measures are necessary to completely transform this failed institution.

Control of the DRC army needs to be taken away from the government for a period of ten years and handed over to the UN, where officers from western nations would then take the responsibility of transforming it into a professional institution. The goal has to be that by the end of the ten year period, the DRC will have an army not only capable of defending the country from internal and external enemies, but also one that understands its role in a democratic society: it is under civilian control and must respect the constitution.

Second, the DRC needs a government headed by a unifying figure who is universally admired and respected. Unfortunately most such figures are athletes or musicians, and there is no guarantee that they are competent enough to run such a large, diverse and complex country. If there is such a Congolese figure who could meet the challenge it is the NBA superstar Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo is an impressive man who is well know for his humanitarian work:

A well-known humanitarian, Mutombo started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in his native Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997. His efforts earned him the NBA’s humanitarian award in 2001. For his feats, The Sporting News named him as one of the “Good Guys in Sports” in 1999 and 2000,[8] and in 1999, he was elected as one of 20 winners of the President’s Service Awards, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service.[8] In 2004, he also participated in the Basketball Without Borders NBA program, where NBA stars like Shawn Bradley, Malik Rose and DeSagana Diop toured Africa to spread the word about basketball and to improve the infrastructure.[8] He also paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women’s basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.[8] Mutumbo is a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE (relief) and is the first Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Program.[9]

In honor of his humanitarianism, Mutombo was invited to President George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address and was referred to as a “son of the Congo” by the President in his speech,[10] Mutombo later said, “My heart was full of joy. I didn’t know the President was going to say such great remarks.”[11]

On paper, Mutombo has a lot of the qualities needed to successfully run the country, and may be the only individual who can unify the people of the DRC. At the very least, he would be an enormous improvement over the people who are currently running the country.

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Are Private Security Contractors the Answer?

It doesn’t look like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is going to sign the peace treaty anytime soon, or ever. It also appears unlikely that the Ugandan army will be able to defeat the LRA. To make matters worse, now the LRA has setup bases in Central African Republic, and is attacking villages in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Also in the Democratic Republic of Congo, general Nkunda’s militia is at it again attacking villages and killing civilians in the eastern part of the country, and on the verge of taking the town of Goma. Similarly, the DRC army seems incapable of protecting its people, and the UN doesn’t have enough manpower to stop Nkunda or the other militias operating in eastern DRC.

So, are the people of northern Uganda and eastern DRC condemned to forever live in fear and terror because their governments or the UN can’t protect them? The answer should be an emphatic no, and it is time the world came up with new ideas and actions to end these atrocities.

It is clear that unless a powerful western nation intervenes and defeats these warlords and war criminals (similar to Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone), which seems very unlikely at this moment, other more radical options need to be considered. One of those ideas has to be bringing in private security contractors; with a clear mandate of bringing those war criminals to justice.

It is clear that private security contractors are not going to be cheap, but the LRA has already inflicted a heavy human and material cost on the people of northern Uganda, and will continue to do so not only in Uganda but in South Sudan, DRC and CAR. The toll on the DRC is even higher, with some estimates of 4 million deaths in the last decade, not to mention the looting of the country’s resources.

So the question isn’t ‘can we afford private security contractors?’, but ‘can we afford to continue doing nothing?’.

There needs to be a clear rules of engagement for the private security contractors before they are deployed:

  1. Ideally this should be approved by the UN Security Council, and the countries where the private security contractors will be operating.
  2. Civilians have to be protected, where the security contractors must do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties.
  3. A clearly defined goal: capturing or eliminating specific war criminals.
  4. A clearly defined time line: e.g., capturing/eliminating LRA leadership in 24 months, etc.

This is a potentially controversial idea and likely to be criticized by some quarters, but something needs to be done now to end the atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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