Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Misfits, Missionaries and Mercenaries

Apparently the company that ran Bush’s campaign has also been hired by Joseph Kabila, current president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who aspires to also be its future president. Billboards dominate the city streets, from DIY posters to smooth glossies that proclaim Kabila to be “Champion of women’s rights.” Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, at a coordination meeting today, it was brought up that a plane from Angola full former combatants from way-back-when landed in Lubumbashi and the government was requested the humanitarian community to lend a hand. At first glance, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, right? Former soldiers, hard on their luck, coming home. What exactly were those guys doing in Angola? Well, like many ex-soldiers from one country, they were being paid to fight a war in another. So basically, they’re mercenaries. Mercenaries who happen to be flown back to Congo by the government a few days before the first democratic elections since 1960. Perhaps I should put that in capital letters for the full effect: MERCENARIES WHO HAPPEN TO BE FLOWN BACK TO CONGO DAYS BEFORE THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS SINCE 1960. And by the way, could we feed them?

The best part is that the government does not see the irony in the request. No matter what humanitarian principles we have (in this case, neutrality and independence), they are pretty much the rules of our private club that nobody else seems to get. I am particularly struck by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres = Doctors Without Borders), who promotes their image as being the most independent NGO around (which, to their credit, they are. Also one of the few NGOs I give money too). That said, most Congolese, citizens and soldiers alike, would not really know the difference between my NGO, MSF, and even the UN peacekeeping mission, which involves soldiers. We can control what we can project, but not what others interpret.

MSF’s relationship with other NGOs parallels that of Canadians with Americans. They are determined to make sure that people do not confuse them for being anything other than MSF. Which makes me wonder, if you pitted a group of Canadian backpackers against a posse of MSF workers, who would win in a rumble? Oh, the maple leaf patches would fly.


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The MSF/Canadian bit is a hilarious and very true comparison!

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