Congo: The Crisis We Ignore

The Congo

image by Reuters / Finbarr O’Reilly

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The genocide in Darfur has called hordes of activists (if not world leaders) to action: There are protests, boycotts, celebrity spokespeople, letter-writing campaigns, dramatic slogans, and urban yard signs galore. And the amount of media coverage has generally kept pace, with the cause deservedly championed by mainstream columnists like Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.

But this raises the question: Why aren’t Americans equally informed (and outraged) about the violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had a seven-year head start on Darfur and is at least as devastating?

Extra! (May 2009), the magazine of the stalwart media­-watchdog group FAIR, dug into coverage of both conflicts, contrasting the disparity of reportage with the severity of the crises: “The New York Times, which covers the Congo more than most U.S. outlets . . . gave Darfur nearly four times the coverage it gave the Congo in 2006, while Congolese were dying of war-related causes at nearly 10 times the rate of those in Darfur.”

The complexity of the Congolese conflict and lack of “celebrity star-power” may have contributed to the dearth of media attention, but Extra! offers a more interesting (albeit cynical) explanation: politics. “Darfur fit neatly into the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ narrative, with the story (inaccurately) framed as Arabs versus black Africans,” Extra! points out. Plus, there’s the Rwanda factor—nobody’s eager to expose a U.S. ally’s “crucial role in creating and perpetuating the conflict in the Congo”—as well as the fact that Western demand for the Congo’s natural resources, including gold, diamonds, and cobalt, remains a primary driver of the conflict.

“Of course, it’s editors who decide what pieces run, how often, and with what prominence,” Extra! concludes. “The Congo is not a forgotten country; it’s an ignored country.”