It’s been a season for celebrating independence across the African continent. On July 12th, Sao Tome and Principe marked its 36th anniversary of independence. On July 5th, Cape Verde noted 36 years of independence and Algeria celebrated its National Day. On July 4th, Rwanda marked 49 years of independence.
On July 1st, it was Burundi’s turn. In a statement marking the country’s 49 years of independence, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “Your success in the 2010 elections and your continued efforts to build a new political culture that prioritizes peace and dialogue over conflict and violence is admirable. Throughout the African continent, you have demonstrated a commitment to stability and have become a role model for other countries.”
On June 30, 2011, however, the mood was far less congratulatory when the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrated a bittersweet 51st anniversary of its independence. In her statement on behalf of President Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton emphasized American ties with the people of DRC, rather than its government. Her statement read, in part, “The United States stands behind the Congolese government and people as you work to improve security, respect the rule of law, and ensure the protection of human rights. We are looking forward to successful presidential and legislative elections in November to demonstrate Congolese commitment to the principles of a free and transparent democratic system. And we encourage all Congolese citizens to participate in the voting process so that your voices may be heard.”
Elsewhere, however, there was no sugar-coating of the brutal reality of life inside the DRC. CNN and other news media reported a horrific burst of violence against women in the villages of Nakyele and Abala. According to a United Nations official, over the course of two June nights, attackers plundered villages, stealing medicine from the local health center, goats from farmers, cell phones, motorcycles, and other property from residents. Before fleeing, they raped and beat more than 170 women, some as young as 17 and as old as 90.
The violence has been captured in a new film, “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth,” which was screened in six cities across North America on June 30th. The film spotlights the “enormous loss of lives, systemic sexual violence and rape, and the widespread looting of Congo’s spectacular natural wealth” in the wake of what the United Nations calls “the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II.”
Producers say that “the film is a short version of a feature-length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social, and political context and unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists, and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public.”
The June 30th anniversary also marked the publication of Foreign Policy magazine’s seventh annual Failed States Index, “The World in Misery, 2011.” The DRC ranked fourth in the poll, behind Somalia, Chad, and Sudan. Indeed, African countries dominated the top 10, with Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, and Ivory Coast also on the list.
Foreign Policy’s map showed the African continent awash in red. Guinea, Nigeria, Niger, Kenya, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, and Ethiopia rounded out the top 20, with Uganda taking spot number 21.
The annual ranking is prepared by the Fund for Peace and is published by Foreign Policy. It draws on some 130,000 publicly-available sources to analyze 177 countries and rate them on 12 indicators of pressure on the state during 2010, from refugee flows to poverty, public services, and security threats.
There were a few bright spots. Kenya moved out of the top 15 as the country continues to recover from its recent and bloody post-election ethnic warfare. But the magazine reported that elsewhere, “the ethnic violence in northern Liberia and renewed separatist troubles in Senegal’s Casamance region led to setbacks in both countries’ progress. In Rwanda, the increasing authoritarianism of President Paul Kagame, including further restrictions on the media and opposition groups, did no favors for the country’s score card.”
Looking for improvements on the continent, Foreign Policy’s editors reported that Africa produced three of the top 10 most improved countries for 2011. “Sudan and Chad improved their scores slightly largely due to minor [abatement] of existing conflicts in both countries; Algeria also improved substantially, in no small part due to the government’s more effective combating of regional terrorist groups.”
Despite the decidedly mixed record of progress across Africa, there will be additional opportunities throughout 2011. This year, 27 African countries are scheduled to hold presidential, legislative, or local elections.