The 800,000

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 21:06:35 -0700 (PDT)

Dear All,

800,000. In my mind, 800,000 is inextricably linked with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. That's how many people were killed. But 800,000 recently gained a new meaning, this one tied to Rwanda's neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The war in the DRC began in 1998, and has since been dubbed "Africa's first world war" because it has involved national armies from at least 6 countries. The first time I heard a death toll was in 2001, a shocking 2.5 million dead. Some were direct victims of violence, most died of disease and malnutrition that resulted from the war. People fled from the fighting to areas where they had no access to food or health care, and in much of the country, the health system had collapsed.

Several weeks ago, I heard an updated estimated death toll – 3.3 million. (The estimate was reported by the International Rescue Committee in April.) The death toll for the most deadly war since World War II had just jumped by 800,000 in 2 years. Death the scale of a drawn-out Rwandan genocide had occurred, and where were we?

I was reminded of hearing Philip Gourevitch, the author of the book on the Rwandan genocide, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda," speaking several years ago of his travels in the DRC. People there had asked him, "What do Americans think of what is happening in our country?" His answer: They don't.

Recent months have bought fragile new hopes to the DRC, at least in the western part of the country. Foreign forces have mostly withdrawn from the DRC. In April 2003, an Inter-Congolese Dialogue that began in October 2001 culminated when the parties endorsed a series of agreements that are meant to restore peace and national sovereignty during a two year transition period. A transitional constitution was adopted, and a widely criticized military court abolished.

Recent months have also brought new fears. The withdrawal of Ugandan forces from the city Bunia, which is in the Ituri province in northeastern DRC, left a power vacuum immediately filled by rival militias driven by an explosive mix of ethnicity and power, land and natural resources, guns and drugs. As they fought, the militias executed and massacred civilians, leaving some 500 people dead. Many of Bunia's 300,000 residents fled. The widespread killings and their ethnic-dimensions led top UN officials to warn of genocide. (See Elsewhere in Ituri and in Kivus, another eastern province, war persists, as fighting among armed groups has been accompanied by reports of rape, looting, armed robberies, executions, and massacres.

About 700 UN troops were in Bunia as the militias killed, but a weak mandate and inadequate equipment kept the UN forces from intervening. A new contingent of UN forces, armed with a stronger mandate and the equipment to enforce it, is now building up in Bunia to keep the peace – or to create it – there.

The United Nations Security Council is now considering expanding and strengthening the mandate of the UN mission in the DRC, which consisted of about 5,500 troops and observers as of May. (See The Security Council is expected to decide the matter by the end of this month. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed strengthening the mission’s mandate. The mandate would include assisting the delivery of humanitarian aid and protecting human rights, disarming and reintegrating Congolese combatants into society, providing political support for the transition, and providing security and contributing to local conflict resolution. (See )

While Kofi Annan's proposal has received support from other countries, the United States is reportedly undecided as to whether it will support an expanded mandate or an enlarged force. According to a news report, the State Department "said that increasing the number of . . . troops would not resolve DRC's problems if all the parties failed to muster the political will to foster peace." (See

Political will is necessary, but where insecurity reigns, a bright future does not. We are seeing this in Afghanistan, where the UN peacekeeping force (soon to be taken over by NATO) is too small (about 4,500 troops) and geographically confined to Kabul and surrounding areas. So warlords and harsh laws denying women their rights are reasserting themselves. (See, In Iraq, lawlessness and crime continue to interfere with ordinary life despite 150,000 American troops in the country. And even as a peacekeeping force with a strong mandate establishes itself in Bunia, fighting continues elsewhere in eastern DRC.

Along with providing basic security and performing other vital tasks, a stronger, larger international peacekeeping force will give the international community a larger stake in the success of peace in the DRC. This will make it more likely that the international community will remain involved and committed to peace in the DRC whatever obstacles arise.

I encourage you, therefore, to add you to e-mail, fax, or call Secretary of State Powell or President Bush to urge them to support an expanded UN peacekeeping force in the DRC with a stronger mandate. Perhaps the most important thing about your message will be letting the Administration know that what happens in the DRC matters to you. You might also want to urge them to support a NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan that is larger and spread more widely through the country than the current UN force. And you might want to encourage the United States to contribute to the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the DRC, which supports the United Nations' humanitarian activities in the country. As of late May, only 18.5% of the appeal for 2003 had been met. (See (pdf);

You can fax the White House at (202) 456-2461, leave a message with the switchboard operator at (202) 456-1111, or e-mail the President at You can also e-mail Secretary Powell through the form at

800,000 has another meaning. That is approximately the number of people who have died of HIV/AIDS since my last email to this Better World list. Since then, despite the passage of a much-touted AIDS bill, serious challenges persist. Most immediately is ensuring that the $3 billion authorized by the bill for fiscal year 2004 is appropriated. That is, while the bill permits $3 billion to be spent annually on HIV/AIDS, Congress has a separate appropriations process that occurs in the summer and fall to actually allocate money for this and virtually all other activities that Congress funds.

Unfortunately, both the Senate and House are currently on track to allocate even less money for foreign aid than President Bush requested, based on the levels of funds that the House and Senate appropriations committees have allotted to the House and Senate committees on international relations and foreign affairs. It will be a challenge to get more than the $1.7 billion that the Bush budget requested for HIV/AIDS spending. The first year of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a small but important expansion in foreign development assistance first proposed by the President 16 months ago, is also unlikely to be fully funded. (See Washington Post, 6/22/03)

If the full $3 billion is to be allocated to HIV/AIDS in fiscal year 2004 – itself not enough, but the best that is possible this year – it likely will be through an initiative that begins in the Senate. I encourage you to call, fax, or e-mail your Senators to urge them to support an appropriation of at least $3 billion for global AIDS for fiscal year 2004, including at least $1 billion (the maximum level authorized) for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Please emphasize that this funding should not come at the expense of other development or health programs. Otherwise, as in the past, money is likely to be taken from one disease or health issue, such as child survival programs, and given to AIDS, a perverse way of increasing HIV/AIDS spending. If you call, you can ask for the legislative assistant who works on global AIDS issues, to whom you can make these points. You can find your Senators' phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses at You can also call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

800,000. The 800,000 dead testified to our failure to act in Rwanda. If you wonder whether we are doing enough now, for the people of the DRC or for those living under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, the answer is in 800,000. Thank you for your efforts to help create a new answer.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

Back to Better World.