- The Congo war has many causes, but two on the main ones were the collapse of the Congolese state after 32 years of misrule by a western-backed dictator; and the genocide of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, which drove a million people across the border into the Congo, where some of the commanders involved in the genocide still terrorize the Congolese population, along with many new non-genocidaire recruits.
- In 1996, a Rwandan-backed coalition invaded the Congo to topple the this dictator, Mobutu. After Laurent Kabila came to power on the back of this rebellion, he fell out with his Rwandan backers, who then launched a new rebellion. The war lasted until 2003, when all belligerents joined a transitional government. Elections were held in 2006 and Joseph Kabila was elected president. However, his presidency has been marred by corruption, abuse and state weakness. In the East, former Rwandan allies went back to war, driving an insurrection that morphed through various phases and continues until today.
- This violence is compounded by struggles over local political and economic resources that often take place along ethnic lines. Faced with a weak state, many ethnic-based militias have emerged. The motives of the fighters vary from self-defense to trying to make money to asserting manhood. [It would be very nice if journalists took more to interview perpetrators and not just victims, it helps to dispel the specter of African savagery.]
I am not convinced that just making people care more will solve the problem. After all, caring could lead to bad policy. There is ample precedent for this. Or, people could just shake their head when confronted with such "pointless" violence and throw their hands up in the air.
Kristof also could have spoken about policy. There are currently two pieces of important legislation in Congress on helping to regulate the mining sector in the Congo. The US Defense Department is considering how to help reform the Congolese army through AFRICOM. Several organizations are considering how to intervene to help combat sexual violence through initiatives in the justice sector. This is what an opinion piece is supposed to do: influence opinion and policy. Not reinforce stereotypes.
Maybe I spoke to soon - after all, this is his first piece. Maybe he was just prepping us for cogent policy pieces to come. I certainly hope so.