Democratic Republic of the Congo
Years after the official end of the Second Congo War, which raged from 1998 to 2003 and was responsible for up to 4.5 million deaths, whole swathes of the enormous Central African country remain in upheaval. In the eastern Kivu provinces, an undisciplined national army battles with rebel groups for territorial control. Amid the frenzy of violence and rape that follows in their path, the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping force is at a loss to protect even those civilians that live close to its bases.
Lurking behind the conflict is Congo's vast natural wealth, the very embodiment of the so-called resource curse. Government, militants, private corporations, and local citizens all angle to tap the gold, cobalt, copper, coltan and host of other minerals under the country's soil -- which are focused in the east and south of the country. Meanwhile, the central government lies nearly 1,000 miles to the west, separated from its eastern provinces by impenetrable jungle, a different language, and ethnicity. Rebel groups still roam the eastern border regions, exercising their authority with impunity and cruelty. Neither the government nor rebel groups have the strength to win, but both have the resources to keep fighting indefinitely.
Adding to the misery are appalling humanitarian conditions. Only a third of Congolese in rural areas have access to clean water, an estimated 16,000 children die each year before ever reaching the age of five, and life expectancy has actually fallen by five years since 1990.
Unless the Congolese and regional governments try different tactics, there is no end in sight to Congo's troubles. In an ideal world, military campaigns in North and South Kivu provinces would be suspended until better-trained troops can be deployed -- troops than can carry out targeted operations while protecting civilians. Meanwhile, governments in Africa's Great Lakes region should convene a summit and negotiate agreements on economic, land, and population-movement issues. A worst-case scenario would see more of the same: a mosaic of armed groups in eastern Congo continue to fight indefinitely, with civilians paying a terrible price.