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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - A Top-Down Problem


In May 2004, large-scale fighting broke out in the eastern city of Bukavu. When rebel troops took over the city, they went on a looting, raping, and killing spree. In a well-populated neighborhood located not far from a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping base, a boy and his mother watched several soldiers enter their neighbor's house. From what they could see and hear, they understood that their neighbor was about to be raped. The boy ran to look for help at the UN peacekeeping base, but when he arrived at the checkpoint of the base, the Uruguayan soldier on duty spoke neither Swahili nor French. The boy tried to explain several times what was happening, but he could not make himself understood. Finally, the soldier broke into a large smile, made a sign to say that he had comprehended and went inside the camp. He came back a few minutes later with a pack of cookies, which he handed to the boy.

This appalling anecdote, narrated two years later by a furious and ashamed UN military officer, points to more than just a language problem. In the middle of fighting, bombing, and raping, it seems rather evident that when a boy tries to attract the attention of a UN peacekeeper, whose mandate includes the protection of the population, there is a high chance that the boy is asking for help.

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