EDITORIAL: War crimes in the region must be stopped at all costs

Saturday May 14 2022

Soldiers in eastern DR Congo. Collective action on the flow of illicit arms, money and minerals can go a long way in denting the capacity of armed groups to organise and rain terror on unarmed civilians. PHOTO | FILE

By The EastAfrican

Since Monday, May 9, the news coming out of the Great Lakes region has been bleeding scarlet. Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province reported yet another massacre in which 40 civilians were confirmed dead.

Locals blamed the crime to the Cooperative for the Development of Congo, Codeco, a militia that has wreaked havoc in the region for some time. The attack targeted artisanal goldminers, suggesting an economic motive to the crime.

Local authorities feared the toll could be higher because as many as 100 people were unaccounted for in the aftermath of the attack.

A day later, 14 civilians and a soldier were killed when the same Codeco attacked a displaced persons camp in the same region. To strike terror in the hearts of survivors, the attackers killed their victims by beheading.

The Congolese armed forces, FARDC, blamed the civilian deaths on a battle for control of the mining areas between two armed groups, Zaire and Codeco.

Then on Wednesday, in the South Sudanese district of Yei near the border with Uganda, two Ugandans and a Tanzanian were killed when they ran into an ambush staged by suspected rebels opposed to the government in Juba.


Still in South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) reported that more than 700 civilians in the country fell victim to sexual abuse during the first quarter of this year. For the victims, it really makes no difference that Unmiss sees a decline in the overall trend of violence against civilians in the country because cases of conflict-related sexual violence more than doubled during the period under review.

All these events speak to the tragedy of the fatigue induced by low-intensity conflict. Because it has been happening over a long period, such violence is easily normalised among the people whose responsibility it should be that it does not happen. Over time, it begins to be accepted as characteristic of a particular region or people, and easily eclipsed by new flash points.

That is what is happening in the conflicts in Africa. From Somalia to the Central African Republic, you now have a swathe of territory embroiled in conflict.

Although many a commentator might be puzzled or even angry that the West should see the conflict in Ukraine as a more urgent concern, the plain truth is that is as it should be. Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is responding to a crisis in its orbit. The best lesson African leaders can pick from that is to get serious about preventing and containing conflict in their own backyard.

Rather than lament, Africa and the respective economic and political sub-regions should get down to the business of building collective security and developing the capacity to respond to share the burden of policing their territories. Places like the DRC and South Sudan are probably too large for their broken states to manage.

The current interventions are often too little too late and tend to incentivise more chaos.

But collective action on the flow of illicit arms, money and minerals can go a long way in denting the capacity of armed groups to organise and rain terror on unarmed civilians.