when conflict health becomes military tactic?

From refugee situations to border disputes, health crises that arise as a result of conflict are unfortunately quite common. Conflict health disrupts the ways that people access resources like food, water, and medicine. On the other hand, conflict health creates the circumstances where diseases spread, people are needlessly killed, and others are critically injured. These horrible results of conflict health are compounded by the destruction of infrastructure: roads, hospitals, etc.

What happens when conflict health becomes a military tactic? Since Medieval times (and before) armies attacking opposing castles would launch disease infested animal carcasses over the walls. In the 1800s, the US military gave smallpox blankets to indigenous North American groups in order to destroy their health and kill their populations. During apartheid in southern Africa, South African forces supporting RENAMO in Mozambique targeted health clinics and hospitals to cripple the health and infrastructure of the population.

During the World Wars, medics and vehicles with a red cross weren’t supposed to be targeted because they weren’t carrying out military actions. I had thought this idea was fairly widespread and that mercy was shown to health providers in times of conflict.

Recently, we have seen the complete opposite during the Libyan conflict. Libya’s pro-Gadhafi forces have targeted those attempting to provide health services to protestors and the population. In the early days of the protests it was reported that the military was entering the hospital to dump out blood supplies so that injured protestors could not be saved. In similar actions, Red Crescent medics and ambulances have been shot at, Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said:

“This was a deliberate attack on medical professionals, who were wearing full medical uniform and arrived in two clearly marked Red Crescent ambulances.”

Ambulances have been bombed, The rebel spokesman confirmed that

“Gaddafi’s forces shoot three ambulances, killing two drivers.”

The Misrata hospital has been a flash point of intense shelling and fighting by Libyan forces. The hospital has been bombed from the air, shelled by tanks, and overrun by pro-Gadhafi troops.One person inside said,

“heavy tanks for Gadhafi troops start attacking the hospital – the bombs falling here 20 meters (66 feet) around us.”

The health of the Libyan people is under seige as much as the repressive dictatorship of Gadhafi. Many countries including Egypt, Morocco, and the UAE have established military field hospitals to be able to help the wounded who are leaving Libya. UNICEF is deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on children and has distributed emergency health kits which contain enough drugs, medical supplies and basic medical equipment to cover the needs of 60,000 persons.

The conflict in Libya, through the blatant attacks on health providers and facilities, has demonstrated a new level of disregard for the basic health of a population. This is an obvious example that Gadhafi must be removed from power if the Libyan people are to regain their health and livelihoods.

Featured on the Americans for Informed Democracy Blog, where I’m writing as a Global Health Analyst.

From Oppression to Development: Chevron’s Policy Rethink in the Nigeria’s Bayelsa State

Presenting my research in style (photo credit: Nick Micinski, 2008)

As a Research Assistant to Dr. Rita Kiki Edozie in 2008, I participated in researching for Resource Scarcity and Abundance: Oil Democratization, and Conflict it he Niger Delta. The research proposal was submitted to the Global Area Thematic Initiative (GATI) 2006 in conjunction with two other Michigan State University professors.

My research is focused on the tripartite relationship between the Chevron corporations, communities in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state, and the Nigerian government. A relatively new state in Nigeria, Bayelsa is at the tip of the Niger Delta, but has a long history of oil oppression. Oil corporations have long used government forces to violently repress opposition among communities who are unhappy with the exploitation of their resources. More recently oil corporations have started focusing on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as well as more community friendly development projects.

Related blog posts:

kenya’s political history of turmoil

If it happens in Africa it must just be the primal instinct based in tribalism. The mass media has been covering the situation in Kenya as a near exclusive tribal and ethnic conflict without accounting for the history of Kenya’s political turmoil and where ethnicity is put into a colonial context. The crisis in Kenya is not solely ethnic and tribal. It is a crisis based on democracy and fueled by past divisions created by British colonial rule.

What we have seen recently is a devolution of ‘democratic’ elections into ethnic conflict. The Presidential incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was made President in previous elections as the opposition candidate was declared unable to run by the constitution. Moving into the most recent elections Kibaki did not have the majority support. However, in the end tallies of votes Kibaki came out ahead of the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. Odinga was running with his Orange Democratic Movement behind him. European Union observers declared Kibaki’s second term as stolen when the national vote counts came back different than the district vote counts, putting Kibaki as the winner. What we then saw was a devolution of a ‘stable democracy’ in to “tribal” conflict. But, before we can even begin to grasp what this means in Kenya we have to examine and understand Kenya’s history of colonial violence and created ethnic tension.

In 1888, the British took over the area known as Kenya as part of the 1885 Berlin Conference that divided the land area of Africa between the major European powers. The Germans formerly controlled the land. The colony known as British East Africa remained uninvolved in World War I. By the twentieth century 30,000 white British settlers began establishing themselves in the fertile highlands growing coffee and tea and commanding unjust political and economic power in the country. The highlands had traditionally been home to the Kikuyu people, who were forced off of their land and had to then seek jobs on their own former land under the employ of white settler farmers for a meager wage of newly imposed British currency. This injustice set off the start of the Mau-Mau rebellion lead by the Kikuyu people and the Land and Army Freedom movement in 1952. The country was placed under martial-rule. The British Long Rifles, the Home Guard (Kenyan soldiers), and the British army backed by Winston Churchill‘s command came together strongly against the movement and killed 42% of the rebel fighters. The capture and execution of Dedan Kimathi in 1956, the Mau Mau leader, essentially ended the rebellion. The Kikuyu rebellion was destroyed. The British consciously divided the Kikuyu and Luo people for fear that they would be too strong of a unifying force against their colonial empire. The Kenyan elites were able to take power with the election of the Kikuyu elite, Jomo Kenyatta.

The first elections in Kenya were in 1957. To the dismay of the British, the election was won by Kenyatta backed by his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party instead of the ‘moderate’ Africans the British had hoped for, but this was their own product of favoring the Kikuyu. Upon Kenyatta’s death Daniel arap-Moi took power, stepping up from his Vice Presidential role. His succession to president was strongly opposed by the Kikuyu elite, known as the Kiambu Mafia. He held power in uncontested single-party elections from 1978 until 2002. Moi dismissed political opponents and consolidated his power. He put down Kikuyu coup attempts through execution of coup leaders. Moi was central in the perpetuating Kenyatta’s single-party state, reflected in the constitution. In his 2002 and 2007 election wins, Moi exploited the mixed ethnic composition of Kenya and with a divided opposition of smaller tribes – Moi won. Moi represented an ethnic minority, the Kalenjin, that kept the Kikuyu out of power for many years. I am not sure if we are to assume the role of Moi as Vice President to Kenyatta was to appease the ethnic minority, but the Kikuyu’s role as a benefiting elite was lost with Moi’s succession.

Kenya’s 36 million people are divided among more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own identity, cultural traditions and practices, and separate language. The main groups are Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), Kalenjin (12%) and Kamba (11%), according to government figures. Now we see the colonial policy of “divide and conquer” lives on. The tradition of corruption in Kenyan politics continues and Kikuyu is pitted against the various ethnic groups. However, this is a created ethnic conflict in a country where ethnicity and politics are conjoined. Kenyatta was a Kikuyu elite created by the British colonialism, Moi was essentially a dictator for 30 years, and Kibaki undemocratically stole power and now for a second time. Instead of a conflict rooted in tribalism this conflict, “suggests that the undemocratic historical trajectory that Kenya has been moving along was launched at the inception of British colonial rule more than a century ago.” What is most surprising is not that there is now an ethnic conflict in Kenya, but that it did not happen sooner.

Surprisingly, CNN acknowledged the roots of Kenya’s ethnic political troubles. Neither candidate in Kenya’s elections really represented the people or true democracy. Odinga’s (Luo) Orange Democratic Movement was supported by Luhya and he promised to appoint a Luhya deputy if elected. Kibaki’s government has had troubles and scandals dealing with corruption and graft since beginning in 2002. The BBC also gives a more accurate account of the conflict in Kenya. They suggest that the headlines talking of tribalism should better read: “Tribal differences in Kenya, normally accepted peacefully, are exploited by politicians hungry for power who can manipulate poverty-stricken population.” But no one wants to read that. The main stream media has decided to final cover Africa as a front page story only because it provides a striking headline. As Kikuyu flee, the news wants to make Kenya out to be another Rwanda, but I wouldn’t venture so far to say that it has become that terrible. This sentiment of violence influences writers at every level. One student writer can only focus on the violence in her article.

The US has condemned the violence in Kenya. “We condemn the violence that occurred in Kenya as its citizens await these election results, and call on all Kenyans to remain calm while the vote tabulation process is concluded,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement. The US would like to say how terrible it is that Kenyans have been denied democracy. However, I am not sure how we can claim to know democracy. Just as Kenyans, we too have never known real democracy in this two-party system full of government control and corruption. My swahili professor is from western Kenya, he is a Luo. The other day I asked him if his family was safe. He said they were, they had fled soon enough to miss the violence. I asked him about the history of ethnic favoring in Kenya and he said that it all started with Kenyatta. While this all goes on – colonial legacies of ethnic tension, stolen democracy, and a fear of continued turmoil, the US presidential primaries plug along. We as US citizens can only dream of democracy. While Obama, with Kenyan descent, gains popularity and primaries his family in Kenya watches. Will there be democracy gained anywhere? Will stolen votes bring conflict in the US too or maybe we do not have a knowledgeable enough electorate to protest.

everyone wants to keep their power, don’t you?

As I sat at the conference table waiting for the theorists to arrive, I tried to understand the causes for the Rwandan intervention into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1998. After some time passed I realized that no theorist was coming to confer their knowledge upon me, so I decided to seek them out myself. But before analyzing theories and dissecting Rwanda’s intervention in the DRC in 1998 (Second Congolese War), one must note that there were preceding events during the 1996 intervention that triggered the second intervention. Rwanda intervened in the DRC in 1996 because it’s newly empowered Tutsi regime realized that the DRC’s leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, was in support of the Hutu refugees and ex-FAR/Interhamwe, groups who had perpetrated the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis (Curtis 3). With Mobutu’s support and the foreign aid flowing into the Hutu refugee camps (from aid agencies and bureaucracies) located in the DRC the ex-FAR/ Interhamwe was regaining strength and re-organizing. The ex-FAR/ Interhamwe, with the encouragement of Mobutu and the Hutu government began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Congolese Tutsi. The Rwandan forces then intervened in 1996 in support of the rebel Congolese Tutsi units. The Rwandan forces had many victories and eventually the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/DRC (ADFL) was formed with the Rwandan forces, Congolese Tutsis, and anti-Mobutu groups in the DRC.

However this relationship between Rwanda and the DRC’s liberation forces did not last. The alliance with Laurent Kabila, who was leading the ADFL forces, had been an alliance of convenience rather than a uniting of ideologies. The alliance was based on overthrowing Mobutu and not on achieving a greater security for the region. Kabila began distancing himself from his Rwandan supporters and began creating divisions within the forces of the ‘alliance.’ Kabila soon called for all foreign troops to be out of the DRC, which threatened Rwanda’s ability to eliminate the remaining Hutu militants. Rwanda, being interested in keeping hold of its regional political-military influence it had gained from the First Congolese War (intervention 1996) along with the growing threat from Hutu militants, decided that a second intervention would be necessary to keep its regional power and security. The Rwandan forces experienced a surprising amount of success and it looked almost to be a repeat of the 1996 intervention, but later it was evident that the Rwandan forces would fail (5). Another factor that led to Rwanda’s failure was the creation of the RCD (Congolese Rally for Democracy), which became the new political face of the movement to oust Mobutu. With Rwanda and Uganda’s involvement in Congolese affairs in the past years the RCD was condemned as an “instrument for neighboring countries to serve their interests” (6). To that same effect Kabila’s forces were successful in stirring anti-Tutsi sentiment before the war, which made it difficult to garner indigenous support to move the rebellion forward (6). Ugandan forces pulled out and opened their own anti-Kabila front, but continued to send moral and military assistance also Kabila’s regional allies: Angola, Chad, Namibia, and Zambia all contributed troops and support that eventually led to Rwanda’s defeat in its second intervention (6). These foreign allies all contributed to a score of strategic victories that saved Kabila from a sure defeat by Rwandan forces and shifted the focus of the Second Congolese War (7). The new Rwandan government found itself isolated in the region and in much the same situation as Mobutu’s regime, which they defeated just two years earlier.

The underlying causes of the Second Congolese War (Rwandan intervention in DRC, 1998) are based in a division of regional ethnic groups and the tensions of ideas between those militarized forces. Both Rwandan interventions were militarily launched to provide support for indigenous (Tutsi) rebellions (4). The national security for Rwanda was just as immediate as it was during the first intervention in 1996. The Hutu insurgency amounted to what some call a “virtual civil war” – which increased Rwanda’s sense of being vulnerable and reinforced the ‘siege’ mentality which had fueled the regime’s view of national security since it came to power after the 1994 genocide (5).

The international relations theory that best sheds light on the causes and reasons for the Second Congolese War and Rwandan intervention in 1998 is realism. Hobbes says that the classical realists would argue that the weakest has the strength enough to kill the strongest (Schecter, Sept. 7, 2006) – and therefore the newly in power Tutsis in Rwanda would still be under threat from the fleeing Hutu militant factions. The two groups: new Tutsi government and the defeated Hutu militants and government, both desired the control of the Rwandan state and because of that, could only become enemies and conflict is inevitable. Hobbes tells us there that will always be conflict when two men desire the same thing (Sept. 7, 2006). The classical realist, Rousseau, continues the argument noting that the Rwandan rational was to provide for their own self-interest and not depend on others (Sept. 7, 2006). When Kabila decided he was going to dismiss his Rwandan backers, the Rwandan government decided to end that convenient alliance and serve its self-interest to then move against Kabila. Rwandan again rationalized its alliance with Kabila being that it was set up previously to oust Mobutu and to continue rooting out the Hutu insurgency, and not necessarily in support of Kabila’s movement to liberate the Congo. Thucydides would argue that every country seeks more power, because with more power comes more security (Baylis & Smith 167). All states suffer from the security dilemma where self-help is the only cure in which a state needs more power and opposing states will also seek power in response (Schecter, Sept. 7, 2006). Rwanda had an underlying motive to keep its borders free from Hutu insurgent attacks and a probable Hutu invasion after the 1994 genocide. Rwanda had gained a significant amount of regional power after the First Congolese War and wanted to be sure to keep a hold of that power in order to ensure its own security.

This moves us on to the contemporary realist argument. The Rwandan intervention in the DRC of 1998 was a near repeat of its intervention in the DRC in 1996. History very nearly repeated itself, the governments did not learn from their mistakes. However it is debatable if there were any mistakes to learn from. The new Rwandan Tutsi regime had its security in mind when it saw the growing attacks from the strengthening former Hutu armies and militias. Is it a mistake to act on an attack and threat from an opposing force outside a nation’s borders? The Second Congolese War is a good example of the classical realist argument that there is no international order or law only power and force. The UN or other International Organizations did not intervene and Rwanda was forced to take the conflict into its own hands. Could a continuation of the 1994 genocide and thousands more deaths have been avoided by an international intervention? The classical theorists would argue not, since there is no international order or law except for power and force. Morgenthau, a contemporary realist, argues that the international order of power is a means and also an end – security. Rwanda used its power as a means to remain powerful in the region and ensure its national security in regards to its borders. Power of force was used as a means to a greater end of power in security (Baylis & Smith 167). The contemporary realists would also argue that peace can only be achieved by a balance of power, which is why Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Chad intervened on behalf of the DRC government because Rwanda was too powerful in the region. The argument continues with the point being made that the political sphere is autonomous therefore military power is critical. Rwanda could not depend on any political force to come to its aid, it had to depend solely on its military power. Waltz, as a defensive realist, reminded me that countries continuously pursue power without regard to regime type, or people (Baylis & Smith 163). In this case Rwanda was not concerned with the type of regime in the DRC. It only wanted to see the Hutu insurgency put down.

With all this realist theory being tossed around I felt sure that there is was also an element of social constructivism. Onuf argues that a social constructivist theorist would be sure to add to the argument by telling us that power is not only materialist, such as military or economic, but also that power involves ideas (256). In this particular case, the conflict is purely of ideas. The Rwandan government has the idea that the Hutus need to be stopped. The Hutus hold the idea that they need to fight against the Tutsis to regain control of the Rwandan government. Kabila believes that be needs to liberate the DRC and oust Mobutu. The conflict is purely of opposing constructed ideas of ethnic division and dislike. The socially constructed identities of the cultures in conflict are based on the non-state actors of the Hutu former FAR/ Interhamwe, the Rwandan Tutsi army, the ADFL in the DRC, and other various factors in support or opposition to the current government leaders of Rwanda and the DRC. The one hope in this conflict is that the ideas and institutions are not always path dependent, change is still possible because the state’s interests are not a given.

This is where a semi-Idealist approach enters the scene. These socially constructed ideas of dislike for an ethnic group can be changed in the idealist’s view. The Hutu and Tutsi factions can learn from their mistakes and conflicts and can work to create peace in the region. Kant informs us that an idealist theorist would argue that when these militant groups start thinking about the good of the state and not of themselves then there can be a peaceful end to the conflict (188). But herein lies the problem. How can one push out a constructed history of violence and hate? How can one throw out a deep past of conflict and dislike? How can a state ask its people to forgive and forget and move towards peace with such atrocities committed? The Idealists believe this ‘peace’ is a possibility when governments move towards a more democratic rule. Idealism doesn’t have as easily applied and proven theory for conflict, yet it does present a solution instead of a look into the reasons for a conflict. Therefore I believe the realist argument neatly describes how and why this war happened, the social constructivist argument gives a wonderful insight as to where the reasons come from and how to move forward, and the idealist argument provides a possibility for a future security and harmony between state and non-state actors.

The theories that do not present a clear insight into the conflict are Economic, Political, and Institutional Liberalism. In this case there was no economic conflict, it was a conflict based on security. Therefore Smith argued with me that if each actor pursued its own economic self-interest there would be a natural harmony holds no water. The ‘free’ trade in minerals (diamonds) between Rwanda and the DRC is definitely questionable and lends nothing to the argument for the war’s cause being that free trade and economic interdependence is supposed to equal up to no war. Political liberalist theorists’ argument that democratic governments do not fight one another is thrown out since neither Rwanda nor the DRC can be said to have a secure democratic government. The fact that no international laws or organizations took action also defeats the Liberalist approach to understanding the Second Congolese War. Institutional Liberalists are pushed aside when it become evident that neither Rwanda nor the DRC was interested in making sacrifices for the other and were only concerned with creating temporary alliances to serve self-interest. To that same effect the only instance of interdependence is with regard to the security of the region with which neither actor was concerned. The institutional liberals theory is also thrown out by the fact that none of the international institutions, such as the UN or European Union, came to help resolve the conflict. The First and Second Congolese Wars were fought without any interference from international institutions maybe because the states who hold membership in such institutions had no ‘mutual interest’ in the DRC or Rwanda. For many reasons the UN (or other institution) should have aided being that liberal institutions are concerned with keeping regional security and promoting cooperation between states. This is one of the many unanswered questions that always seems to break down to question the motives of people in power.

What is most interesting in applying the theories of international relations to the Second Congolese War and Rwandan intervention in the DRC in 1998 is that most international theorists that I called upon are not concerned with the ‘third’ world or developing world, yet here I am using their theories to explain a conflict that resides in this passed over ‘third’ world orbiting somewhere in the realm of the neglected. I now understood why I would be sitting at the conference table by myself. No theorist was on his way to consider a ‘third’ world conflict. Applying the international theories to a conflict in Africa is somewhat of an irony in that the politicians and government officials that apply these theories did not give a second glance as to why the Second Congolese War occurred and would not care for the reasons Rwanda intervened.

Works Cited:
Curtis, Marcus. ‘Raison d’Etat Unleashed: Understanding Rwanda’s Foreign Policy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Strategic Insights’. Vol. IV, Issue 7 (July 2005). . Date accessed: October 5, 2006.
Baylis and Smith. The Globalization of World Politics. Third Edition. Oxford University Press, New York: 2001, reprint 2005, 2006.
Schecter, Michael. MC220 World Politics and Security Class Lecture.
‘Realism and Idealism’ September 7, 2006. ‘Liberalism’ September 12, 2006. ‘Social Constructivism’ September 21, 2006. (citations only used when certain examples from lectures were not present in the Baylis & Smith book)

Research paper written in October of 2006 for an International Relations and Security Course. Look for more on the current DRC conflict soon.

what does genocide mean to you?

We are back again to the age old debate of language and the way it is used – this time however the consequences are much greater. Genocide, how do you define it? In a Slate News, Senator Obama’s comments are noted when referring to genocide. The article, titled “Getting comfy with genocide”, gets deep into the definition of genocide and the consequences of our current use of the term.

Lemkin’s definition, which was finally adopted in 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, classified as genocide ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.’ It is a definition that has lasted nearly six decades, and it is important to remember that it refers not merely to war between nations or war within nations, however terrible. It is not about the death of soldiers in armed combat or in foreign or civil strife. It is about the mass murder of defenseless civilians—men, women, and children—because they belong to a certain kind of group. And it’s not just a matter of words. The United Nations convention on the prevention of genocide, signed by 138 nations, holds genocide to be a special category of crime that justifies “action appropriate for the prevention and suppression of genocide.” The convention does not exclude abrogation of the sovereignty of a nation engaged in genocide in order to effect a humanitarian military intervention. The problem is that while it’s going on, when it can still be stopped, it’s often not evident just how grave a crime is being committed or whether it will eventually result in genocide if it’s allowed to go unchecked. At what point, for instance, does “ethnic cleansing” become genocide? “Ethnic cleansing” can refer to the forced transfer of populations—bad enough—rather than the indiscriminate murder of them. “Ethnic cleansing,” that hideous euphemism, becomes genocide when it involves mass murder with the intent to exterminate. Genocide is about annihilation.

In the debate candidates were asked how they would handle the genocide in Darfur. Slate News says the real question should have been:

“What would you do if you saw another Rwanda developing? In other words, a genocide that has little to do with previous U.S. intervention and is not our fault in any direct way, but one we could prevent—at a cost: U.S. troops, U.S. lives. President Clinton has apologized for his failure to intervene in Rwanda. Do you agree that the United States should commit itself to preventing genocide anywhere it threatens to occur?”

We have come to talking about the genocide in Darfur in a ‘feel good’ way. We cover it in debates, make up solutions that are not so feasible, and attempt to show how much we care. Is it possible to get comfortable with genocide? I covered that idea that it is very difficult for our minds to fathom the extent of genocide and the amount of mass killing that it entails, but is this the reason that it is so easy for us to be comfortable? This could be part of the argument, but I think it may also lie in the political framing that the world loves to use.

At any rate, it is pointless to argue the fine points of language; the definition of genocide – and actual work to stop genocide. This can be done in the same ‘feel good’ manner, but it can also include actions that everyone can take at home. Currently, Michigan’s congress is working on bills of divestment from corporations that operate and support the government of Sudan. This would cut off a great deal of funding to the government of Sudan and hinder the country’s ability to further the killing of their own people. The bill has passed the Michigan House of Representatives and is not working to pass the Senate. This bill is expected to be much harder to pass in the Senate, so if you live in Michigan call your senator and ask them to support this bill. There are numerous advocacy groups around the world. Michigan State University’s campus has one such group associated with a national organization STAND: Students Taking Action Now Darfur. Check out what the MSU STAND: Spartans Taking Action Now Darfur chapter is doing and learn more about the genocide in Darfur. We can say “genocide is bad” as much as we want to, but it is still there looming, killing, waiting for us to completely forget – don’t allow yourself to forget.

the impact of conflict on health

The correlation between violent conflicts and health may seem to be very obvious, but there is more to the issue than what crosses the mind. Everyone can make the simple connection that there is direct impact of conflict on being unbenefittal for the betterment of health. For example it is easy to read this <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6590965.stm
“>article and see the obvious connection to artillery shells hitting a hospital in Mogadishu. Internal clashes and conflict creates a more difficult situation for humanitarian operations all over Africa.

Africa represents the highest rates of internal conflict and disease, especially HIV/AIDS. This disease has been used as a weapon in conflict. Many times infected soldiers are sent to the front lines to spread disease and infect the opposition, which generally turns out to be the innocent population. Populations affected by armed internal conflicts end up experiencing severe public health consequences from food insecurity, displacement, and combat. All this ends in a collapse of basic health services which are essential to the survival of the population.

I could not find the article again, but the BBC had reported on the difficulties faced by those bringing humanitarian aid to Darfur, Sudan. They constantly faced issues with the government shutting areas down or denying them entrance. infrastructures for basic health, or created systems for basic health become neglected or destroyed. In many cases the impact of conflict can be felt at the very lowest levels of a population; women are unable to protect their families, fathers just might not be present anymore, children have no access to schooling, and everyone suffers from an absence of basic health – no food, no medications, no stable doctors, and no way to deal with the injury inflicted by the violence of conflict.

With the renewed peace talks for Uganda, the twenty year civil war seems to be coming to a close and the health of the northern Ugandan population may be improving. The rebuilding effort is going to be long and difficult, but there is hope. Many organizations are beginning efforts to improve the health situation and support hospitals and health centers that have been impacted by the conflict.

There are so many topics that can be covered as a result of conflict in a country and its correlation to health. However, I am not here to expound all of the information available, but know that it is out there: sexual violence, psychological impact on children, and especially the toll on health workers. Conflict impacts health plain and simple, but there is so much more as the impact trickles down to the population, the families, and the children. The future of a country in conflict lies in its ability to rebuild and provide aid to their populations after conflict.

why is the african dirt so red. . . blood spilled

Last night I finally made it out the the theater to see the latest of Hollywood’s Africa-related movies, Blood Diamond. I have to say I was a bit skeptical with Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role. I have been very skeptical of the recent upswing in movies covering topics and issues around the African continent. Hollywood is running out of remakes and new material for movie production, maybe now they are deciding to open the world’s eyes to the harsh realities that our governments and media didn’t care to cover before. Blood is spilled on the African continent for many reasons, but none chains the West to the blood spilled more than conflicts over greed – gold, rubber, oil, and diamonds.

I was very impressed with the way the movie was produced. Bringing maps and information to the general public about conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone. Blood Diamond did not stray from bringing the suffering and blood shed to the big screen, it did not stray from highlighting the truths of such a conflict, it did not allow us to any longer duck and hide from the brutality that we fuel through our lust for shiny stones. It covered many important issues, more than just conflict or blood diamonds; it covered poverty, refugees, small arms, child soldiers, the West’s attempts to help, UN involvement, and the corruption that lies beneath it all. Blood Diamond some might say is too violent or too full of bang-bang shoot ’em up, but I would say the movie balanced the bloodshed with the storyline of a greedy diamond runner and a Sierra Leonenian (?) man and his family caught up in the profit-driven conflict.

As the movie came to a close with a heart wrenching end that nearly brings tears to the eyes, I hoped immensly that more people would not keep their ideas of Africa as just a conflict ridden land. The credits rolled and many were in awed silence, some had tears running down their cheeks, and some left with no reaction. Behind me there was a group of teenaged girls. “It was so sad, so sad,” said one. “It was horrible, I mean it was good, but horrible. I tried to hold it together, Stacy completely lost it, but I mean whatever.” I bit my lip so hard I am sure it almost bled. ‘Whatever!’ The movie, besides showing intense, bloody conflict and tear-producing situations also showed that if you really care and want to make a difference, you can. With the story line of an American journalist seeking the truth behind the diamond conflict and who runs it all, Blood Diamond showed that with passion anything can be possible. Along with telling viewers that it is their, our, responsibility to be sure that any diamond bought is ‘conflict-free’ or ‘clean’.

Foreign Policy magazine created a nice photo-essay about diamond conflicts, those affected, and the path of a conflict diamond from mine to storefront window. Foreign Policy interviewed the director, Edward Zwick about the movie. They noted that the new movie has the diamond industry worried about sales. Why is that an issue? They just might not make as exhorbitant an amount of profit as they once did. So sorry, your third Mercedes-Benz could save lives instead and supply a village with clean water and basic healthcare.

In additon National Geographic has a great article on blood diamonds and how to not buy illicit diamonds. I would recommend reading both articles by Foreign Policy and National Geographic. Likewise check out this website run by the World Diamond Council, an online source with a wealth of information on diamonds, conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process, where the global diamond industry adopted a zero tolerance policy on conflict diamonds with the backing of the UN and many NGOs. They created the Kimberley Process is used by 71 goverments to certify that diamonds from their respective countries are conflict-free. The site also gives examples of how diamonds are helping people in Africa through healthcare, economy, and education.

This is really a great example of an African (over there) conflict that hits home and really affects us here in the West. I encourage and recommend that you all go and see Blood Diamond, read up on the issues, and learn about the positive uses and impacts that diamonds have for the people who usually suffer the consequences of conflict.