Sunday, September 26, 2010

Conflict and MDGs

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10 years ago when the UN member’s states adopted the Millennium Goals, many remained skeptical. After all, the UN since its inception had failed to deliver on some of its core objectives. 
In 1994, the entire world witnessed the shrilling slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi civilians in Rwanda, while the UN did nothing to help. The same organization had been unable to solve the subsequent refugee crisis, which resulted into more slaughter and gave birth to the first Congo war. The conflict in the Congo remains one of the worst and according to some sources 45,000 people continue to die every month.
But the MDGs seem to be working although much more needs to be done.
The biggest success story by far is China, whose poverty population has decreased from 452 million to 278 million. The challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa remain intact and there is little visible change in the lives of people—more so in the rural areas.
Even in Africa, there are some successes.
Nearly all countries now offer free primary education. Although, not without challenges. In Kenya, for instance, education for all gave way to an influx of thousands of children who would have otherwise been locked out. As is natural, the quality of education was negatively affected and children from well to do families opted for a private route. To this day, public schools have gained the notoriety for underperformance in national exams, making it near impossible for the poor to proceed beyond basic education.
The promotion of gender equality is also fairing well. Where I come from, in Rwanda, women hold up half of the parliament. If it can be done in poor countries, it should be much more possible in prosperous and more democratic countries.
But we are faced with another enormous task that seems to attract little or no attention.  In some parts of the world, the lives of women have been worsened due to conflicts and protracted civil wars. Here I am making specific references to Congo and Darfur.
In the Congo, the situation is desperate. Yesterday while having a chat with a Congo/Rwanda missionary, she told me that “the situation in the Congo cannot be excused.” 
Thousands of women are living in precarious conditions under the wrath of ferocious militias that have opted to using rape as a weapon of war. Yet the situation in Congo remains an underreported one. Even last week while the world leader held a special session to discuss Darfur, the Congo was largely ignored.
Unfortunately, the MDGs lack any provision for conflict alleviation. Thus, the helpless situation in Congo hardly fits into the MDGs. It’s difficult and perhaps futile to imagine that the 8 goals (though noble) would be attained without addressing the question of civil wars and conflicts. 
Conflicts stand directly as an obstacle in the way of the MDGs. Just to mention a few examples in the Congo, since 1996, over 5 million people are thought to have died. The environment was completely degraded, as mining companies flocked in to grab their share of Congo’s immense mineral wealth. The already endangered mountain gorilla species remain unsafe. Inadvertently, HIV and other diseases have been on the rise.
But conflicts are essentially a political problem and dealing with them would involve speaking uncomfortable truths. It would involve questioning the rising inequality between the rich and the poor, the fading commitment to democracy and human rights. The rise of illiberal capitalist nations and lastly, the never ending problem of exclusion and marginalization of many around the world. 
All the issues raised above make dictators around the word quite uneasy. And since the UN wants to remain politically neutral, dictators will get billions of aid money with little regards to how they govern. In the absence of moral voices, the vicious circle of poverty and conflict will go on.
Clearly, unless world conflicts are given a priority, the attainment of MDGs will remain a hollow dream. Yes, conflict resolution is a difficult and time consuming task. But the world cannot afford to give it a blind eye.

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