Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fear and loathing on the eve of DRC elections

Whew -- happy to get out of Kinshasa before elections tomorrow; tensions real and imagined are in the ascendant. Kinshasa, the giant anthill of 'inhabited devastation' (Conrad), is the night of Lubumbashi's day, where I landed today, quite malarial from too many bloodsuckers in my crappy Kinshasa hotel room.

I'll be working here this coming week before heading to Ituri and the Kivus. A lovely city, this Lubumbashi, home of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first and only true martyr; it is long since my favorite. While looking for photos of the place on the web, I ran into this curious site, apparently assembled by former colonials with a deep affection for Katanga, called Inchi Yetu. Loads of images and curios of the region from past and present.

Lots is happening across the country in these final days before voting occurs tomorrow; some of it making international news, much of it not. Kofi Annan is making the usual appeals for calm, most certainly unheard by the illiterate thugs ruling the streets of Kinshasa. Of particular note are events in Gbadolite, Mobutu's former feifdom, where his son Nzanga Mobutu, a presidential candidate in the August elimination round, was taken hostage by Bemba's forces. BBC reports on it here, but do not capture the intriguing nature of the Mobutu - Kabila alliance. I'll elaborate very unscientifically on this clever alliance below.

It seems that young Mobutu wants political relevance at any price , going so far as to ally himself with the son of the man (Laurent Kabila) who drove his father, Mobutu Sese Seko, from power in disgrace and terminal illness in 1996. Two sons of former enemies now joining forces -- stranger things have happened of course, but why this particular alliance? Both are rich as sin, which makes them equals in one way. They can visit their Swiss accounts together, perhaps even share the same private jet.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, the opposing candidate who's wanted by the International Criminal Court, hails from Equateur province, as does the Mobutu family. He married into the Mobutu clan years ago, compounding their riches with his own self-made wealth. In the popular psyche here, Bemba lays claim to the Mobutu heritage and days of yore when the place actually functioned -- rotten governance for sure but with a patina of joie de vivre that all Congolese recall with nostalgia. Like Saddam's Iraq, it was a brutal dictatorship but a boatload better than anything on the horizon today. Today, any Congolese will tell you, is relentless misery.

(Bemba and Kabila in a clever montage - IRIN)

So young Mobutu's alliance with Kabila is a veritable slap in the face to Bemba and the many Congolese voters who favor a continued reign of the Lingala speakers who descended upon Kinshasa from Equateur when Mobutu senior first seized power in the early 1960s. The alliance also offers Kabila far greater leverage over the Equateur-based, Lingala speaking electorate, with whom he had little clout up until now.

Tomorrow's voting, described by Jeune Afrique l'Intelligent as a 'Match' à la football, will hopefully attract a majority of the population. In Kinshasa people fear violence and are less keen to get out and stand around in the long lines. Adrenaline will be high among the lawless thugs supporting this or that candidate and roaming the streets looking for an exuse to explode. Here in Lubumbashi people are calm and content to see the process unfold, come what may.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sudan: Blog bites man

UN envoy Jan Pronk, former Dutch diplomat, was expelled from Sudan over the weekend. The reason given was his ongoing criticism of government atrocities in Darfur described on his blog, which is always a good read. A contentious figure in the humanitarian community working in Darfur, I have always appreciated Pronk for his classic Dutch directness, and fearlessness in the face of government intimidation and opposition to aid efforts. He worked tirelessly to increase access of humanitarian agencies to targeted populations, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get imprisoned or kidnapped aid workers released.

AFP reported today, "Sudan will not have any further dealings with expelled UN envoy Jan Pronk, regardless of what the United Nations may decide about his future, a senior official said Thursday.

"The decision to expel Jan Pronk is irrevocable because of positions he has taken that are incompatible with his mission in Sudan," foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadek told journalists.

The Sudanese military had accused him of "waging psychological warfare on the armed forces by propagating erroneous information."

[...] Pronk has long been a thorn in the side of the Khartoum government. He has openly called Sudan a "police state" and said refugees in Darfur were victims of "Arabic racism"."

Read rest of AFP article here.

Chad: timeline of the rebellion

IRIN News offers a useful summary of the rebellion against the Deby regime in Chad, active since late 2005:

"There have been at least a dozen attacks by rebels opposed to Chad’s president and skirmishes with the Chadian army in the last 12 months. After briefly occupying the southeastern Chadian towns Am Timan and Goz Beida this week, the rebels again melted away into the desert on Wednesday, according to a Chadian government spokesman."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

DRC elections: SADC monitors cannot communicate

Representatives from the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, are present in force here in Kinshasa, apparently to monitor elections scheduled for this Sunday, October 29. All the high end hotels (all two of them) are overbooked with election monitors and military from the European Union Force or EUFOR, a supplementary military force here to ensure calm during and shortly after the elections.

All are used to foreign militaries parading around this country, some were belligerents in the war, others here ostensibly to keep the peace. None of them spoke a single word of French or any local language, yet both groups managed to abuse and exploit local women and girls. Foreign armies, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Angola and Zimbabwe, remain above the law--surprise. But UN Peacekeepers have experienced a serious crackdown on their interaction with locals, particularly regarding sexual contact.

A minimum of communication skills ares obviously essential to ensuring positive relations with the local population that foreigners are here, for the time being, to protect and serve. And, not least, to get one's job done. But the wave of SADC officials and election monitors preparing to be dispatched across the country, none of whom speak any French or local language, sets the stage for an epic theatre of the absurd. Imagine the emphatic gesticulations and deaf mute grunts that will ensue as ballot boxes are analyzed and voting procedures contested between SADC drones and the Congolese. I hope someone films the interactions as evidence of the colossal waste of the SADC intervention.

Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president and a major force behind SADC, has always advocated for 'African solutions to African problems'. Surely a common language should be a key competency before intervening in another's sovereign affairs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

DR Congo: Gov't soldiers abducting civilians

This AP file photo shows a freshly uniformed government soldier walking in the fields around Goma, with its active volcano smoldering in the background. Government soldiers of the FARDC, or DRC Armed Forces, are the product of a long and expensive process of security sector reform, in which all former combatants (including rebels, ethnic militias, and popular defense forces) are disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated (DDR) either into civilian or military life, depending on their capacities.

Human Rights Watch recently released a report documenting a well known but troubling reality about the success of the country's DDR program : troops
from the 'new', reformed government army are responsible for massive human rights abuses, in particular the abduction of civilians for manual labor. Digging and sifting in open mines for coltan, diamonds and gold is one such activity, ostensibly to offset the lack of salary received from their superiors in Kinshasa.

"Congolese government soldiers were sent to Ituri to protect civilians against abuses by local militias, but they themselves are devastating the area," writes Alison Des Forges, Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.

I will be in the DRC for the next six weeks, so expect more blogging from there. Especially as the 29 October elections approach. My camera was stolen on my last visit in June. I haven't replaced it, so will have to crib others' photos, alas.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

DRC: Democracy is no panacea

Writing this week for "The New Statesman", Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and more recently I Didn't Do It For You, gazed with fresh eyes on the problems brewing in Kinshasa in advance of the 29 October elections.

"This is not hysteria," she writes, "the ingredients for serious trouble are all in place. A new form of xenophobia between Lingala-speaking westerners, who regard themselves as "sons of the soil", and Swahili-speaking easterners, rejected as "foreigners", is being stoked by television stations owned by the two candidates. Unpaid soldiers, whose wages are routinely pocketed by their commanders, roam at will. Both men control private armies that opened fire on each other after the first round of voting, leaving 30 dead, and have been importing weapons ahead of the coming showdown. Whoever loses is certain to denounce the results as rigged. Both Kabila and Bemba, after all, are men who owe their prominence to their readiness to take up arms, so why accept the verdict of the polls?"

She concludes, "If all hell breaks loose in the DRC after 29 October - and I desperately hope it does not - it will be tragic evidence of the damage a very human inclination to hope for the best can do."

But is exporting democracy--in this case with a $420 million price tag--the best the international community can do? Most ordinary Congolese lament the lack of tangible benefits to their individual lives and to society generally. Congo needs administrative structures, a capable bureaucratic class to operate these structures, and leaders capable of managing the mechanisms of modern statehood. Can such core necessities simply be bought? Of course not, only the Congolese can provide the human element.

Elections themselves are window dressing, all would agree, and if peaceably implemented, could lend legitimacy to Congo's status in a world of states. But as William Swing, the Secretary General's envoy to Congo, said last week in Kinshasa, if elections go well and the results are accepted by the losing party --but nothing improves in the country, then that $420 million will have been a complete waste.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Washington Post: UN reform falling flat

Yesterday the Washington Post editorial page published what amounts to an epitaph of reform efforts at the United Nations, in particular its Human Rights Council. The author described reform efforts aimed at the Council as having 'run amok', and as 'making the old one look good' ("Reform Run Amok").

The old one, we recall, sported the likes of Sudan, China and Libya as Council member states. Attention was successfully diverted from Darfur and Uzbekistan, and focused exclusively on Israeli 'atrocities' in Lebanon and Palestine. The exclusive focus on Israel was possible, according to Mallaby, thanks to Council rules allowing one-third of its membership to effectively run proceedings unilaterally. 17 of the 47 member states happen to be partisans of a so-called 'Organization of the Islamic Conference', and are thus able to sustain their screeching anti-Israel rhetoric while Darfur burns, China and Russia imprison and murder their journalists, and Guantanamo persists.

The editorialist maintains, "For all its faults, the previous U.N. commission occasionally discussed and condemned the regimes most responsible for human rights crimes, such as those in Belarus and Burma. China used to feel compelled to burnish its record before the annual meeting. The new council, in contrast, has so far taken action on only one country, which has dominated the debate at both of its regular meetings and been the sole subject of two extraordinary sessions: Israel."

"[...] Human rights groups that supported the creation of the council, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, admit to being appalled by the outcome; they nevertheless argue that the panel should be given time to right itself. That could happen, they say, if the democratic members of the council organize and work with the same cohesion as the "unfree" states. They also suggest that the United States, which refused to join the council, reconsider."

Personally, I have tended to withhold judgment on the success or failure of the UN's declared reform efforts given their sweeping and comprehensive nature. They will take time, and lots of dead wood will have to go. One can imagine many insiders will resist the process, like derelict renters facing eviction. [Having waited a full five months to get paid for a job I did for UNICEF in May of this year, I know intimately the unseemly odor and ungainly heft of the UN's administrative dead wood.] But widespread reform is urgent and imperative, and many UN careerists admit this.

Kofi Annan rightly recognized that the logical starting place was to fix one of the most glaring blemishes on the UN's tattered face, that of its infamously dysfunctional Human Rights Council. Why exactly this failed so egregiously is unclear. Mallaby recommends cutting off US funding, as happened to UNESCO in the 1980s. The UN only further undermines its waning credibility by allowing such anti-Zionist forums to abide and prosper.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

DR Congo: Amnesty Int'l claims child DDR programs are 'failing'

DDR is the process by which ex-combatants from rebel and government forces are disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life. Those who pass certain tests are allowed to remain in the national army, the remaining adults are given a short-term stipend and some vocational training.

Minors, of whom there were an estimated 30,000 associated with armed groups in the DRC, qualify only for civilian life. They are automatically demobilized and reintegrated because their association with armed groups is prohibited by international humanitarian law and a clutch of related international treaties and conventions specific to the rights of children. The work of de-militarizing their minds and acclimating them to school, village life with their family, the poverty and monotony of the life they left behind, is still an experiment. Programs differ significantly from country to country, as new methods are tried in light of past failures. The children dont get any 'better' at the programs, and are generally very difficult to work with, in addition to being violent.

In 2005 and 2006 I've been working in and evaluating several such programs in Burundi and DR Congo. It has been fascinating, but also enormously frustrating. There is always much to criticize in any aid program. Things rarely go as planned and measuring impact in highly insecure and fluid environments is notoriously difficult.

But DDR is unlike any other aid effort because of its close links with human security and its centrality to the pacification of the country itself. It's no exaggeration to say that a poorly executed DDR program adds a new powderkeg to an already volatile situation, and can re-ignite widespread violence when participants decide to withdraw from the program. The consequences of poor performance in other types of aid programs, like emergency nutrition or medical services, do not include returning the country to war. This happened in Liberia: failed DDR programs in the late 1990s meant a return to war. A new
international commitment to bring belligerents back to the negotiating table took much time and money, and only then could another DDR program get

This week, Amnesty International released its independent investigation into the success of child DDR efforts in DR Congo, called "Children at war, creating hope for the future."

BBC covered the story, highlighting the fact that the "missing 11,000" children are girls "used as sex slaves by military commanders or regarded as dependents of adult fighters." Girls made up 40% of the children taken by armed groups during the war yet the vast majority remain unaccounted for, according to Amnesty. "A lot of them were used more as sex slaves and therefore the combatants are considering them as their possession or their wife," Amnesty researcher Veronique Albert told the BBC.

It is an accurate claim. Girls associated with armed groups--often abducted by force, sometimes joining voluntarily--have proven nearly impossible to access and get released by soldiers and rebels
alike. There are many reasons for this, most of them cultural: the end result is that many girls choose to stay with these men, with whom they now have children. Read Amnesty's press release here.

With the second round of presidential elections approaching on 29 October, I dont think the problems with the DDR program pose a great risk to a peaceful outcome. There is already enough hate speech circulating and private militias
waiting in the wings, to deliver a crippling blow to the country's recovery. Today's report about Kabila's party representatives in London getting assaulted by a mob of Bemba supporters is indicative of the overt tensions around elections.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chad: Conflict spills over from Darfur

For the first time, heavy fighting between Sudanese rebel groups and the government of Sudan has spilled across the border from the embattled Darfur region into eastern Chad, IRIN new service reported yesterday. Previously, such clashes had involved the Chadian army in pursuit of rebels seeking to oust Chadian President Idriss Deby.

"Fighting spread into Chad after wounded fighters started scattering, according to reports. 80 of them have congregated at a refugee camp in Oure Cassoni, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

A dozen refugee camps in eastern Chad host about 250,000 Sudanese who have fled looting, raping and killing in the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan. At least 200,000 people have been killed in the violence in Sudan and more than 2.5 million have been displaced.

The camp at Oure Cassoni is less than 20 km from the Chad-Sudan border and 400 km northeast of the aid hub Abeche."


Monday, October 09, 2006

Darfur: Bearing witness to civilian massacres

Just when aid efforts in highly militarized zones such as Darfur begin to seem futile, their compassion a drop in an ocean of unchecked cruelty, one of their core raisons d'etre returns to view.

Reports, communiques and eye witness testimonies of civilian atrocities are one among several options in the humanitarian tool box. Sudanese government forces and their proxy militias have resumed their campaign against civilians across Darfur, and the heightened levels of violence make access and mobility difficult for aid agencies. The government claims it has returned to its rightful mission of clearing the state of insurgents. Witnesses say the attacks are indiscriminate and intended to decimate and terrorize specific civilian groups, whether they are armed or not.

An exerpt from a recent interview with operations directors of Doctors Without Borders captures the difficulties of responding effectively in Darfur, where twelve aid workers have been killed since June 2006 alone. "We are currently reaching the limits of our assistance. We do not have access to people who are directly affected by the conflict. [...] Today, the survival of populations in pockets where humanitarian assistance was still possible is jeopardized. Because of the lack of security, some of our operations in the field has been temporarily suspended, or continue with a smaller number of aid workers. Another consequence is that all our mobile medical activities, which target especially nomadic populations, had to stop."

Despite these difficulties, many agencies continue to document and report on ongoing atrocities, particularly against women. Rape of Darfuri women and girls is regular practice for government militias aiming to terrorize the population, break up families and destroy individual lives.

Documentation and public condemnation of the practice by aid agencies and human rights groups has been strident since war broke out in 2003. Government spokesmen dismiss the reports as 'Western propoganda', but will arrest aid workers involved in treating and documenting rape to dissuade them. So goes the debacle.

A UN communique today denounced the practice: "The rising rate of violence against women and children is increased by the participation of many different groups in these crimes. Warring parties seeking retribution against their opponents by inflicting humiliating punishment on civilians are flagrantly disregarding their obligations under international law. Moreover, there is scant evidence that culprits are being actively sought, let alone punished, for their crimes." [read the UN communique]

The Office for the High Commission of Human Rights, known as OHCHR, just published a detailed collection of testimonies documenting recent events in which "300 to 1000 armed militia from the Habbania Arab tribe carried out a series of attacks on some 45 villages in the Buram locality of South Darfur in late August. The attacks were reportedly marked by widespread targeting of civilians from tribes of “African” origin, wholesale burning of villages, looting and forced displacement. The population of the villages attacked is estimated to be about 10,000 people, mainly of the Zaghawa, Massalit and Misserya Jebel tribes.The attacks appear to have been conducted with the knowledge and material support of Government authorities, and the death toll is estimated to be as many as several hundred civilians."

There is one sign of hope in all this tragic reporting: at least there are people on the ground to document and bear witness to the seemingly relentless violence committed by government forces, and Darfuri rebel groups as well, against civilians.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

UN Assembly: Annan's departure speech

I've been meaning to post this for a while; it was delivered in late September in New York. It's the usual optimism about the state of the world one expects from those in high public office, none of whom seem to want to admit that the planet is going up in a pyromaniac flame-throwing frenzy. That said, I admire the man and his cause. His remarks about terrorism are interesting, and it is refreshing to be reminded that the UN is not the pious adherent of the pro-globalization orthodoxy so common on these shores. More cash for the rich does not float all boats. Here's the speech in full:

Madam President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I first spoke to you from this podium, in 1997, it seemed to me that humanity faced three great challenges. One was to ensure that globalization would benefit the human race as a whole, not only its more fortunate members. Another was to heal the disorder of the post-cold-war world, replacing it with a genuinely new world order of peace and freedom, as envisaged in our Charter. And the third was to protect the rights and dignity of individuals, particularly women, which were so widely trampled underfoot.

As the second African to serve as Secretary-General, I felt that all three of these challenges-- the security challenge; the development challenge; the challenge of human rights and the rule of law -- concerned me directly.

Africa was in great danger of being excluded from the benefits of globalization -- indeed, of being left to rot on the margins of the world economy. Africa was also the scene of some of the most protracted and brutal conflicts.

And many of Africa's people felt they were unjustly condemned to be exploited and oppressed, generation after generation, since colonial rule had been replaced by an inequitable economic order on the global level, and sometimes by corrupt rulers and warlords at the local level. In the decade since then, many people have been struggling to confront these three global challenges.

Much has been achieved, but events have also presented us with new challenges -- or rather, have given the old ones new form, or a sharper bite.

In the economic arena, both globalization and growth have continued apace. Some developing countries, notably in Asia, have played a major role in this growth. Many millions of their people have thereby been released from the prison of perpetual poverty. Meanwhile, at the level of development policy, the debate has advanced, moving from rival models to agreed targets. And the world has now recognized HIV/AIDS as a major challenge to development, and begun to confront it. I am proud of the role the United Nations has played in this.

Development, and the Millennium Development Goals, now take pride of place in all our work. But let's not delude ourselves. The Asian miracle is yet to be replicated in other parts of the world. And even within the most dynamic Asian countries, its benefits are far from equally shared. By the same token, the Millennium Goals are unlikely to be achieved everywhere by 2015.

True, in many developing countries there is now a much better understanding of what good governance is, and why it's important. But many still fall short of it in practice. True, there is progress on debt relief, as well as encouraging promises on aid and investment. But the 'global partnership for development' is still more phrase than fact -- especially in the all-important area of trade. My friends, globalization is not a tide that lifts all boats. Even among those who the statistics tell us are benefiting, many are deeply insecure, and strongly resent the apparent complacency of those more fortunate than themselves. So globalization, which in theory brings us all closer together, in practice risks driving us further apart. Are we any more secure against the second challenge -- the ravages of war?

Again, some statistics would tell us so. There are fewer inter-state conflicts than there used to be; and many civil wars have ended. Here too, I am proud of the United Nations' role in this. And I am proud of what my fellow Africans have achieved in ending many of the conflicts that disfigured our continent. But here too, we should be under no illusion.

In far too many parts of the world -- especially the developing world -- people are still exposed to brutal conflicts, fought with small but deadly weapons. And people in all parts of the world are threatened -- though some are more aware of it than others -- by the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It is shameful that last year's Summit Outcome does not contain even one word about non-proliferation and disarmament, basically because states could not agree which of the two should be given priority. It is high time to end this dispute, and tackle both tasks with the urgency they demand. Moreover, just as some who benefit from globalization may feel threatened by it, so, many who are statistically safer from conflict do not feel safe.

For that, we have terrorism to thank. It kills and maims relatively few people, compared to other forms of violence and conflict. But it spreads fear and insecurity. And that in turn drives people to huddle together with those who share their beliefs or their way of life, while shunning those who appear 'alien'.

Thus, at the very time when international migration has brought millions of people of different creed or culture to live as fellow-citizens, the misconceptions and stereotypes underlying the idea of a 'clash of civilizations' have come to be more and more widely shared; and insensitivity towards other people's beliefs or sacred symbols -- intentional or otherwise -- is seized upon by those who seem eager to foment a new war of religion, this time on a global scale. Moreover, this climate of fear and suspicion is constantly refuelled by the violence in the Middle East.

We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict amongst many. But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation; and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance-halls: so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.

On one side, supporters of Israel feel that it is harshly judged, by standards that are not applied to its enemies -- and too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.

On the other side, people are outraged by the disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians, and by Israel's continued occupation and confiscation of Arab land. As long as the Security Council is unable to end this conflict, and the now nearly 40-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will respect for the United Nations continue to decline.

So long, too, will our impartiality be questioned. So long will our best efforts to resolve other conflicts be resisted, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose peoples need our help just as badly, and are entitled to it. And so long will our devoted and courageous staff, instead of being protected by the blue flag, find themselves exposed to rage and violence, provoked by policies they neither control nor support.

But what about the third great challenge facing humanity: the challenge of the rule of law, and our rights and dignity as human beings? Here, too, there has been significant progress. More rights have been enshrined in international treaties -- and this Assembly is now about to codify the rights of a group who particularly need it: people who suffer from handicaps and disabilities. More governments today are elected by, and are accountable to, those whom they govern.

Humanity has actually brought to justice some of those who committed the most heinous crimes against it. And this Assembly, meeting last year at the highest level, has solemnly proclaimed the responsibility -- of each individual State in the first instance, but ultimately of the whole international community, acting through the United Nations to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. And yet.

And yet. Every day, reports reach us of new laws broken; of new bestial crimes to which individuals and minority groups are subjected. Even the necessary and legitimate struggle around the world against terrorism is used as a pretext to abridge or abrogate fundamental human rights, thereby ceding moral ground to the terrorists and helping them find new recruits. Sadly, once again the biggest challenge comes from Africa --from Darfur, where the continued spectacle of men, women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and the burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses. In short, Madam President, the events of the last ten years have not resolved, but sharpened, the three great challenges I spoke of an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law. As a result, we face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands.

And this is happening at the very time when, more than ever before, human beings throughout the world form a single society. So many of the challenges we face are global. They demand a global response, in which all peoples must play their part.

I deliberately say 'all peoples', echoing the preamble of our Charter, and not 'all states'. It was clear to me ten years ago, and is even clearer now, that international relations are not a matter of States alone. They are relations between peoples, in which so-called 'non-state actors' play a vital role, and can make a vital contribution. All must play their part in a true multilateral world order, with a renewed, dynamic United Nations at its centre. Yes, I remain convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations. Climate change, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, migration, human rights -- all these issues, and many more, bring us back to that point.

Addressing each is indispensable for each of us in our village, in our neighbourhood, and in our country. Yet each has acquired a global dimension that can only be reached by global action, agreed and coordinated through this most universal of institutions. What matters is that the strong, as well as the weak, agree to be bound by the same rules, to treat each other with the same respect. What matters is that all peoples accept the need to listen; to compromise; to take each other's views into account. What matters is that they come together, not at cross purposes but with a common purpose: a common purpose - to shape their common destiny. And that can only happen if peoples are bound together by something more than just a global market, or even a set of global rules.

Each of us must share the pain of all who suffer, and the joy of all who hope, wherever in the world they may live. Each of us must earn the trust of his fellow men and women, no matter what their race, colour or creed, and learn to trust them in turn. That is what the founders of this Organization believed in. It is what I believe in. It is what the vast majority of people in this world want to believe in. And that is what has spurred the reforms and new ideas of the United Nations over the last frenetic decade.

From peacekeeping to peacebuilding, from human rights to development and humanitarian relief, I have been lucky enough to preside over the Secretariat -- and its wonderful, devoted staff at a time when your ambitions for the Organization have sometimes seemed limitless -- although your pocket books less so. These last few weeks, especially, as I travelled through the Middle East, I saw again the legitimacy and the reach of the United Nations. Its indispensable role in securing the peace in Lebanon has reminded us all how powerful this Organization can be, when everyone wants it to succeed.

Madam President, dear friends: This is the last time I shall have the honour of presenting my annual report to this Assembly. Let me conclude by thanking you all for allowing me to serve as Secretary-General during this remarkable decade. Together we have pushed some big rocks to the top of the mountain, even if others have slipped from our grasp and rolled back. But this mountain with its bracing winds and global views is the best place on earth to be. It's been difficult and challenging, but at times thrillingly rewarding. And while I look forward to resting my shoulder from those stubborn rocks in the next phase of my life, I know I shall miss the mountain. Yes, I shall miss what is, when all is said and done, the world's most exalting job. I yield my place to others with an obstinate feeling, a real obstinate feeling of hope for our common future. Thank you very much.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Peacekeeping missions extended in Liberia, DRC, Ethiopia/Eritrean border

The UN Security Council voted unanimously today to extend the mandates of the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia, which would have otherwise expired at the end of this month.

Council members adopted resolutions extending the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (known by its French acronym MONUC), and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UNMEE has been extended until 31 January 2007, MONUC’s authority continues through 15 February 2007 and the mandate of UNMIL is now extended until 31 March 2007.

Read the full press release here.

The three peacekeeping contexts face very different challenges, yet all are equally central to building environments conducive to reconstruction and regional stability. All three contexts form each a unique epicenter of far-reaching regional tensions and cross-border interference that have caused much suffering and little political gain for the last 10 - 15 years.

How Charles Taylor's Liberia and Congo's conflict destabilized their respective regions and claimed millions of lives are well known. Less covered in the popular press is the degree to which Eritrea and Ethiopia have competed for dominant influence in both the Sudanese conflict (North & South, Darfur, and more recently the East), and in Somalia. There, Eritrea reportedly backs the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) while Ethiopia supports the feeble regime of President Ghedi, a product of western-financed mediations in Nairobi over the last 8 years. That Ghedi has been calling for a return of UN peacekeepers further allies him to the detested international community.

Congo will surely need the peacekeepers through 2007 to help control the probable violence that will follow the 29 October electoral showdown between presidential hopefuls Kabila and Bemba. International Crisis Group just released a report about the 'state of the state' in the buildup to this important date in Congolese history.

"Because both Kabila and Bemba will be tempted to use violence should they lose the second round, and the former in particular is very strong militarily, the Congolese government and the international community must move quickly to make secure the run-off as well as the provincial assembly elections on 29 October. Militias also threaten stability elsewhere in the country, notably in North Kivu and Ituri, but the capital is likely to be the most sensitive location again."

Read more from the ICG report here.

Take a tour: Kim Gjerstad's Congo

Check out this blog from Kinshasa by Kim Gjerstad, whom I've met a couple of times. The photos are particularly impressive. Images from the Ruwenzori mountains, long inaccessible because of insecurity, are stunning. Also see his photos from Salonga national parks (I&II), which few outsiders have ever visited owing to their geographic inaccessibility deep in the center of the country where roads have long been reclaimed by nature.

Here's yesterday's posting.

Street Kids Get Political and Get Locked Up

Top: street kids rioted in town two weeks ago.
Bottom: they've been catching them and locking them up since.

Kim writes: "Life without street kids is awesome. Last week, my flat mate, Tim, and I discovered the joy of walking free. Kinshasa’s main throughway, the infamous Boulevard 30 Juin, was peaceful. “The city feels like a normal city!” cried out Tim. So fine it was, we went for pleasure stroll, the first in three years."

Yes, you read that correctly. Kinshasa is not yet a place for the defenseless pedestrian. Nor has it been since 1991, the first time (of many) that I've been evacuated from there.

[read/see more here]