Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Saturday, December 6

Congo's displaced

Below is a video featuring some of WorldFocus's latest on-the-ground reporting in North Kivu, in Eastern Congo, where the ongoing fighting continues to wreak havoc. In many ways, in my view at least, the hallmark of Eastern Congo's conflicts, past and present, has been more mass disruption than mass destruction. An oft-quoted statistic, from a 2007 mortality survey published by the IRC, would seem to say the opposite: since 1988, 5.4 million people have died as a result of the fighting—making this the deadliest conflict since World War II. Yet this number represents overall excess mortality—the vast majority of these deaths occurred not as a direct result of violence, but from secondary causes, like disease and hunger.

Today, likewise, the stand-out numbers from reports on the fighting are of displacement, not death. Yet sometimes we forget (or at least I do) just how devastating displacement is. Congolese fleeing the fighting around them may not have crossed a border or even traveled all that far, but their lives have been entirely uprooted. Michael J. Kavanagh's report, below, sheds some light on this aspect of the conflict.

This latest surge in fighting has displaced some 250,000 people, according to UNHCR's estimates. This comes on top of 800,000 who had already been displaced in the region by the start of 2008. So far, 27,000 refugees have crossed the border seeking haven in Uganda.

But these numbers are murky at best.  Yesterday, the U.N. reported that roughly 90,000 people from six IDP camps in the Rutshuru region, where intense fighting had blocked access by aid workers, have gone unaccounted for. The camps were found destroyed and vacant, and the U.N. can only assume the former inhabitants have either returned home or are staying with host families elsewhere in the area.