The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, September 26, 2003

The Congo perspective

As piece of unashamed news tourism, after several weeks obsessing about the minutiae underlying the death of one man [1], I thought I'd do a little nosing around the news about a war that's killed millions - and got a small fraction of the publicity.

As a subject to interest even the news anorak, the war in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo [2] is a tough sell: it's hard, boring and in French (or worse!). (And there's the colour question, of course; but of course no one would mention that...) And, for the hacks, the working conditions are deeply unpleasant when they're not downright dangerous. Whether it's insurance costs or staff morale, the whole thing is... well, a disaster.

A search on the Google news page will come up with stuff in most of which (to judge from the information on the search page) the war is either peripheral or irrelevant to the thrust of the story. A search on the French news page produces more local product on the war [3]. But, apart from considerations of quality (questions of bias and sheer competence), these stories assume a knowledge of the story so far which make them pretty hostile to the newbie.

To obtain the all-important background (without which the news stories are incomprehensible), you have to descend into PDF hell (searching on a broad topic, but trying to exclude the dross, on the assumption that the good stuff tends to be PDF). Mr Google, unhelpfully, does not sort the results by origination date. There is, for example, what looks like 150 items of solid material on the DRC and neighbours dating back to the mid 90s; but several hours work involved in downloading, arranging and tasting the stuff, before one got onto reading it!

More NGOs than you could shake a stick at have, it seems, produced at least one paper on the war (each, naturally enough, directed to its particular subject area of concern - children, women, particular diseases, international law, wildlife or whatever). One might get more joy with a shlep through individual NGO sites, but a trial run on the Human Rights Watch site produces some promising stuff, but distinctly not Congo War 101.

As far as the think tanks, I couldn't see anything on the CSIS site - and Brookings offers a Michael O'Hanlon WaPo piece from July 23 2002! (For a listing of online Congo material, this from Columbia University seems the best on offer.)

My suspicion is that there is a solid week's work required to get up to sufficient speed to get a decent familiarity with the history, issues, personalities and strategic situation. (No point in investing time in a particular story if you're not even going to be able afterwards to explain the basics on a side of A4!)

Far be it from me to give the hacks a free pass: but I can well see why they should want to pass on the DRC, whatever the casualty levels [4].

[As a final chastener, a piece on the continuing war in Cabinda. Which has been going on, more or less since Gerald Ford was in the White House.]

  1. With several thousand more not wholly irrelevant.

  2. Or DRC, or République démocratique du Congo, or RDC.

  3. There is, for instance, a site called, which looks as if it might bear investigation. The official language of the DRC/RDC is French.

  4. A Guardian piece yesterday said one estimate puts the death toll at four million. They did an interview with the President of the DRC. Who is....Joseph Kabila, son of the former coup leader Laurent Désiré Kabila. Not a lot of people know that, I'm thinking.

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