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Blue Helmets Under Dark Skies

January 07, 2021

Some years back we took a huge corporate misstep into Sub-Saharan Africa. We lost massive amounts of money but no lives which makes us ahead of the normal game there. We were not content with only one exposure but were in three connected and troubled countries, Republic of Congo, Cabinda, Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo. The most problematic and dangerous of the three was the former Belgian colony of Zaire or what is today known as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I first went there immediately following a showdown between two brutal warlords with government promises of “blue skies” ahead under a democratic parliamentary regime. As I reflect on that period, I wonder who was smoking what?  

In any event, the “blue helmets” refer to the UN troops that have been placed in a DRC peacekeeping mission of more than 16,000 soldiers and police since 1999. The range in loss of life in modern DRC history is from one to five million people which is more than staggering. In all my years, I am not aware of any cases where these UN forces ever fired a shot in defense of the Congolese people. Most people do agree that they serve some small purpose in that there is a presence of the outside world in attendance when atrocities are committed. Quite frankly, UN forces are organized and established by developing countries who are paid handsomely though very little trickles down to the generally impoverished soldiers. In fact, in DRC they are known to join rebel gangs to loot and pillage. At least the young girl in the image below, from The Economist September 5, 2020 article United Nations Peacekeeping in Congo, waves a welcoming hand to the three Malawian soldiers.  
The map below illustrates the troubling eastern portion of DRC where we had our base of operations in Goma. Also, note the location of the DRC capital of Kinshasha on the far western side of the country and totally removed from the major “troubles” in the east though it is in close proximity to Congo Brazzaville. The DRC government officials from Kinshasha always requested that we escort them from Goma to our field operations with our security forces seconded from the DRC military elite rather than the UN forces.  
On the other hand, all is not well in the DRC capital of Kinshasha as a massive political dispute occurred when the former war lord, Kabila, finally succumbed to pressure from the international community to have a free and democratic election. However, Kabila preferred his previous position of dictator and began to have difficulties with his hand-picked successor, Felix Tshisekedi. The level of tension between the two factions exploded in a pre-Christmas confrontation in their statehouse shown below. Incidentally, it was in this statehouse many years ago that I was assured by government leaders of the democratic future of DRC. Nonetheless, once dictators begin to like the comfort and largesse of office, they prefer to remain in their positions of power.  
When one leaves Kinshasha and goes upstream on the Congo River, they reach the Republic of Congo capital of Brazzaville. I will always remember Brazzaville as a place where the government buildings had been defaced with automatic weapon gunfire whereas the economic capital of Pointe Noire, which housed the oil industry operations, was far more presentable. Nonetheless, Dennis Sassou Nguesso, the long-standing ruler of Republic of Congo shown below voting for himself, is nervous that the troubles across the border in Kinshasha could impact his election for a fourth term. My only personal connection with Sassou was meeting his wife in Geneva during an OPEC session when she was surrounded by an army of personal attendants carrying her haute couture clothing purchases. Being a long-standing African ruler is a lucrative position.  
So where does all of this African lack of governance, corruption and disarray lead us? It is mindful of what we are experiencing in our legendary land of democracy as the leader of the free world. It is not necessary to discuss it but just look at an image taken on January 6, 2021.  What has happened to the beacon of democracy?

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