Attrition: The True Cause of Death in Congo

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January 12, 2006: The eight year civil war in Congo is being described as the deadliest since World War II, with over four million dead. This number is an estimate, as the situation in Congo is so chaotic that no one has been able to collect accurate date. Some surveys have been done, and the death rate compared to that of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. This is the basis of the current "four million dead" estimate. But what has been overlooked is that the death rate from disease and lack of health care was higher in Congo even before the civil war began. This was the result of over three decades of kleptomaniac misrule by dictator Mobuto Sese Seko. This guy was legendary for the degree to which he would steal public money. By the late 1990s, there was practically no infrastructure left in the country, because nothing had been spent on that for many years. Health care was particularly absent, and the death rate was already the highest in Africa, or at least it appeared that way. Mobutu didn't believe in keeping public health or census records either. Things were so bad, that it was no surprise when a rebellion broke out, quickly spread, and turned into a civil war. The depredations of several hundred thousand armed men, and additional deaths among millions of civilians who fled into the bush, probably did create a record high body count. But not four million. Up to half of that can be blamed on Mobutu and his sticky fingered pals. The rest was largely civilian dead from disease and starvation. The smallest amount came from a direct result of looting and pillaging by the undisciplined gunmen and soldiers. Probably still four million. But blame should be placed where it belongs.

 


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