Humanitarian intervention, either in the form of peacekeeping or the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, is widely supported by the international community as a means of conflict resolution. When a country is unable or unwilling to provide security for its citizens, those countries that have the means to help have a moral obligation to step in. In 1998, for instance, the deaths of 2,000 Albanians in Kosovo prompted a three month NATO bombing campaign. The ongoing crisis in Darfur, which has killed roughly 300,000 people, has led to international condemnation, constant media attention and charges against President Omar al-Bashir in the International Criminal Court. But the West remains silent as the deadliest conflict since World War Two rages in Central Africa, due in no small part to old colonial borders and new resource demands.
It is ironically named the Democratic Republic of Congo and often, more appropriately, called Congo-Kinshasa. Formerly the personal fiefdom of Belgium’s King Leopold and then the cash cow of the brutal Mobutu Sese Seko, the Congo is now entering its second decade of sustained civil war and ethnic conflict.
The numbers are absolutely staggering: 5.4 million people killed since 1998, nearly 50,000 more dead every month and as many as two million internally displaced peoples. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. Torture, forced labor and child soldiering are common. Borders have collapsed and forces from neighboring countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Uganda and Angola have joined Congolese warlords in bloody campaigns across the heart of Africa. Lacking the means and will to protect its citizens, Congo-Kinshasa is a prototypical failed state.
In spite of all this – in spite of the fact that even a medium-sized force with a NATO-like mandate could substantially alleviate horrific conditions and provide security for millions of people – developed countries have been loath to respond. The International Security Assistance Force has deployed over 50,000 troops across Afghanistan but MONUC, the United Nations mission in the Congo, is expected to police Africa’s third largest country with a force of less than 20,000. The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have all contributed significant personnel in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but have only been willing to send a dozen military observers to the Congo. In fact, there is not a single solider from a Western country in MONUC: a force comprised mainly of troops from India, Pakistan, Uruguay, Nepal and other developing nations.
The message is clear: the "responsibility to protect" only goes so far. When white people die, such as in Kosovo, the West is quick to respond. When Muslims are the villains, such as in Darfur, the Western media is given carte blanche. When an area has geopolitical significance, like Afghanistan, NATO is only too willing to devote dollars and power to a conflict that, realistically, it has little hope of winning in the long-term. Yet the turmoil of sub-Saharan Africa, the deaths of Africans at the hands of other Africans doesn’t elicit a peep. Our souls might be stirred just enough by infomercials to donate a few dollars to starving children but when it comes to making concrete and sustained efforts towards ending misery, we just can’t muster the resolve. They’re just Africans after all. As long as Africans are the only ones dying and as long as the conflict doesn’t disrupt our access to precious resources – like tin for circuit boards and coltan for iPods and cell phones – then the Congo is not worth paying attention to.