OPINION: Have We Forgotten The Heart Of Africa?

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When the international community botches its promises to protect the world’s most vulnerable, those at the helm of our largest economies, as well as the international press and your next door neighbor, are quick to assert their steadfast commitment to ‘never allow the past to repeat itself.’

Haiti was the latest case in point of just how distant a failed former colony can become in the minds of the nations that once profited from its lands. Yet there are other regions of the world prone to the volatile attention span of the international community and none quite like ‘the heart of Africa.’

Three separate incidences this month in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo reminded us of how ingrained these countries are in our short term memories.

Rwanda, the site of the 1994 genocide of up to one million Tutsi, as well as Burundi, the site of the 1972 and 1993 Hutu genocide, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to the world’s deadliest ongoing war since World War II, seem no longer able to surprise.

In Rwanda an alleged revenge murder had taken place when the body of journalist Jean Leopold Rugambage was found outside his home, June 24.

He was acquitted of genocide in 2006 in a controversial tribal ‘gacaca’ court, which is in effect a local gathering where alleged war criminals are sentenced by community members.

In Burundi, a supposed period of national harmony has been undermined by a one-man presidential election in which the current president is expected (and destined) to win.

Voting across the country was jeopardized, June 29, when ballot boxes closed and election sites were hit with grenade attacks.

And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, prominent human rights activist Floribert Chebeya Bahizire was laid to rest June 27 following his murder earlier in the month.

Chebaya and the civil rights organization over which he presided, La Voix Des Sans Voix (The Voice Of The Voiceless), had been preparing cases against government officials. He was expected to meet with Police Chief John Numbi, the man now suspected of orchestrating the murder, but was eventually killed.

Numbi was stood down the day before the funeral to allow for a smooth start to the murder investigation.

But where next for these countries at the heart of Africa, as they are given the breathing space from intense international attention and an opportunity to move past their bloody experiences in national unity?

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo approaches its 50 years of independence from Belgium, President Joseph Kabila has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice irrespective of the anticipated independence celebrations.

The Congolese continue to battle against the consequences of decades of civil conflict. The war is considered one of the world’s bloodiest since the World War II and has claimed 30 times as many lives as the recent natural disaster in Haiti.

Observers have seen a slight improvement in the situation, though an April study by Oxfam found that civilian rape in Eastern Congo had increased 17 fold in the past few years. Refugees from the country continue to seek protection abroad in mass numbers, which suggests that the briefly publicized events of the past few decades will continue in some capacity into the future.

STUDY: Mass Civilian Rape In Congo Continues To Skyrocket

In nearby Rwanda, home of the shocking 1994 genocide, the acting editor of Umuvigizi newspaper was recently found dead near the entrance of his home.

Jean Leopold Rugambage died Thursday, June 24.

The Rwandan government has been pressured by the opposition over the murders, but government officials have labeled accusations they were involved as “baseless.” Rugambage was acquitted of genocide in a local tribal court in 2006. Many believe his death came was a revenge attack.

Rwanda’s ‘gacaca’ community courts have put the permanent stability of Rwanda into question in recent years because they have allowed accused war criminals to walk free in an effort to reintegrate them into society and to clear up the prison system.

Witnesses and accused participants of the genocide have been the target of vigilante activity as a result.

Unofficial estimates suggest that up to one million murders were committed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, many of which were never processed in the country’s formal legal system.

“My Neighbor, My Killer” Looks at Rwanda Genocide & Reconciliation

In Burundi a similar civil conflict unfolded in 1972 and again in 1993, this time targeted at the majority Hutu population.

Since a ceasefire with rebels Burundians have enjoyed considerable security, which makes the current political situation in the country even more alarming.

The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is running in a one-man poll in Burundi’s presidential campaign.

Ballot boxes closed Tuesday June 29 but the election’s end was coupled with a spate of grenade attacks. Two people were allegedly injured in the capital Bujumbura and a Tanzanian embassy vehicle was struck by a grenade, reports AAP.

In all of this, it remains to be seen if the brief period of international outrage about the events of the 1990s in the ‘Heart of Africa’ simply reinforced the notion that ‘if it bleeds [a lot] it leads.’

It comes, almost with a degree of acceptance, that an underdeveloped nation like Burundi, for example, could be holding a one-man presidential election in 2010 without at least some harsh words of disapproval from those who vowed to help guide these nations after their final ceasefires.

The situation faced in Haiti will be the next marker in history that will tell us just how much truth we can draw from the words of the powerful, as they deploy their public relations machines to the disaster zones of the world, cash in hand and full of promises for the future.

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