International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Why is the World Ignoring the Congo War?

I recently read an interesting article on the CNN website in which the journalist poses the question: why has the world been ignoring the war that has been going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Initially, I thought she was going to solely discuss the conflict that is currently taking place in which the M23 rebels from Rwanda seized the city of Goma. However she discusses the wars that have been going on for 12 years that “have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—all combined and then doubled.” I was absolutely shocked because I wasn’t even aware that all of this had occurred and is still happening to this day. She further emphasizes the absence of these wars in the media by contrasting the coverage of the situation that is happening right now, in which the M23 militia is terrorizing the local population of Goma with the conflict currently going on in Gaza. That ongoing story has been front-page news since the first airstrike, while very few people are aware of what’s going on in the DRC.

So the question is really what is causing the disparity in news coverage? Is there something in particular that makes one story more newsworthy than other? Vava Tampa, the author of the article asks several follow up questions: “Is it due to the geographical or cultural distance between London or Washington and Congo? Or are Western media just reluctant, if not uninterested, to cover it because no Western interests or ally is endangered by it? Would the coverage the situation in Congo receives be the same if it was happening in Europe or if Congo spoke English rather than French? What if Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or his disciples were implicated in funding murderous militia gangs in Congo? Or if the killing was between black Africans and Arabs? Or if minerals funding Congo’s killing and raping industries benefited the East more than the West?”

Whatever the case may be, it is glaringly obviously that more attention needs to be brought to “the killing, raping and looting that have thus far claimed over 5.4 million Congolese lives, and continue to leave 1,100 women raped every single day, could continue to unfold undetected by the camera lenses of Western media and excluded from Western political agenda.”

It is clear that the conflicts that have been ongoing in Congo have all of the qualities of front-page news, i.e. millions of deaths, rapes, and terrorism, so my questions are what is preventing it from garnering international attention and what must be done to rectify this?


2 responses to “Why is the World Ignoring the Congo War?

  1. saracord December 1, 2012 at 11:34 am

    The problem of coverage discrepancies that ookesanya raises also points to some other aspects of international justice that we haven’t discussed much in this class, but which have profound implications for actually addressing ongoing and past mass atrocities: namely, the role of the international public (as opposed to international civil society). As the author of the CNN article states, the difference in coverage between the situations in Gaza and the DRC is definitely not due to “a shortage of sobering imagery of Congo’s killing fields or a lack of first-hand testimonies from survivors, or a lack of human rights and humanitarian reports and assessments of the situation.” Scholars, activists, human rights organizations, and even many journalists (Nicholas Kristof comes to mind) are well aware of the crisis in the DRC and its magnitude. So when someone calls for “more attention” or “more coverage” of any underreported issue, who are they trying to target?

    This forces us to ask, what power does the mass public of a foreign country have when it comes to matters of transitional justice or mass violations of human rights? Are calls for more coverage made in the hopes that a more informed public can be moved to rally around an issue and then their policymakers (who wield substantially more power than them when it comes to matters of international justice) will be forced to address the crisis? As Professor Tiemessen mentioned earlier, the public support mobilized by Kony 2012 really didn’t result in any new developments – the important actors were already aware of the situation and involved.

    However, it’s complicated. International human rights NGOs also raise awareness of important issues to the general public as a way of letting them know that the NGO is trying to do something about it, which also turns into a fundraising tool (which is not a bad thing – these organizations need money to continue their crucial work). Do they actually expect that the public can affect these issues in any way beyond supporting their own work? For the United States, this gets into the issue of how decisions concerning international justice are really made: does pressure from below really create substantial policy decisions (for our purposes, something like ratifying the Rome Statute, calling for an ICC referral, or providing funding for TJ processes), or are these decisions solely in the hands of well-informed, powerful elite policymakers? There seems to be arguments for both sides.

  2. awatt14 December 6, 2012 at 12:10 am

    This posts highlights some important issues with international justice, namely the issue of coverage. In all areas of human rights, coverage is very important. Not only is it important how much coverage an issue receives, but the nature of this coverage is also very important. However, when it come to just how much coverage an issue receive, there are two important factors that should be considered, how recent it is and how much change the involvement of the international community will have.

    As to the issue of time, if an issue is very recent, it will garner much attention as it did in Arab springs, or if an issue has been going on for long time, it will gain much attention, as did the conflict in Uganda. However if an issue has been going on for quite some time at a steady pace, without any real change, it will not receive very much attention.

    As to how much change the international community can effect, this goes to the medias belief in the mental capacity of its viewers. For example, in the kony2012 campaign the issues where presented very simply, with a very clear, albeit oversimplified, resolution. One reason this campaign received so much attention was because it could easily be processed in the minds of people. The issues in the Congo however are much more complex and may not be easily explained to the public. Although the way international problems and the media are intertwined is worrisome, it may be important to highlight this relationship and to do further research to see how international governing bodies can best effect change through this medium.

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