Mary Riddell is one of Britain's better columnists. She generally manages to produce original material, rather than resorting to the lazy rehashing of tired arguments and opinions that make up a lot of comment pieces. However, her article today reads like a checklist of what not to do when writing about Africa, ruining a potentially interesting analysis of the thawing in relations between Presidents Kabila and Kagame. Instead the piece is relegated to the overflowing dustbin of nauseating Western writing about the continent. An attempted fisking follows:
"A glimmer of hope in the dark heart of Africa?"
Phew! Don't keep your readers in suspense that you might be one of the first Western writers not to make reference to Conrad's racist book when writing about Congo, get it straight in the headline instead.
Photo (see above) of mother and scared looking baby.
"Mr Kabila had not been eager for this meeting. "Maybe I will see you," he had told me earlier. "I underline the maybe." "
Is that the same President Kabila who we learn later is in charge of a country the size of Western Europe with one million Internally Displaced Persons? How dare he have the temerity to keep a columnist from The Daily Telegraph waiting in suspense.
"This is the heart of darkness and the ultimate failed state"
It's been at least 200 words since the last Conrad reference after all.
"The latest handbrake turn in Congo's history began late last year when an internal insurgency threatened not only Mr Kabila but also his neighbour, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda"
An interesting way to describe Kagame's arming and support for Laurent Nkunda, only to succumb to international pressure to reign him in. Perhaps placed by the President's press office?
"Such pragmatism [working with Bosco Ntaganda] will cause shivers in an outside world alarmed by Congo's long implosion"
Because the 'outside world's' distaste for pragmatism has worked so well in Darfur, where a complex relief operation has been torn apart by idealistic, but probably unenforceable, ICC warrants.
"If Congo, with every natural blessing, cannot survive, then the future of all Africa hangs in doubt"
Eh? I don't remember the future of all of Europe being in doubt when Yugoslavia broke up. Does Riddell really believe that continued unrest in DRC will mean that Botswana, South Africa or Egypt will collapse?
"Now the UK's closeness to Rwanda and France's ties with Congo at last give the West some diplomatic leverage in a crisis whose ripples spread across the planet."
And we finally get to the heart of the problem - not enough Western leverage.
"For decades, the world has averted its gaze from a country drowning in blood and debt. This time it cannot afford to look away."
Is this the same world that happily lent Mobutu huge sums during the height of the Cold War? The same world that is addicted to mobile phones stuffed full of Congolese coltan? The same world that voted in the largest ever (albeit highly ineffective) UN peacekeeping force to the East of the country? And of course by 'the world' sub-Saharan Africa is implicitly excluded given that at one point six national armies were present in the country. I would surmise that the world has often had its gaze on Congo, but for entirely the wrong reasons.
Am I being too harsh?