Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Conclusion

Part 7 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

The benefits of a stable Congo to the United States are considerable. Ending the conflict in Congo would contribute greatly to stability in central Africa, since many foreign rebel militias, like the FDLR – which is made up of Congolese and Rwandan Hutus as well as génocidaires (1) – the Angolan UNITA, and the Ugandan LRA have taken refuge in Congo at various times during the past 16 years, taking advantage of Congo’s chaos and ample mineral wealth to regroup and launch renewed attacks against their home countries. Should the FARDC manage to bring lasting peace to Congo, there would be no uncontrolled, lawless parts of Congo that foreign rebels could use as bases. As the United States has discovered all-too well in Afghanistan, countries awash in chaos can become fertile breeding ground for militias and extremist groups that can carry out illicit activities, such as drug smuggling, and network with other extremist organizations, like Al Qaeda, to share techniques and even cooperate on targets and strategic goals. Given the United States’ past and current troubles with such extremist groups, it is in its strong interest to do anything it can to promote stability in chaotic parts of the world. Given its geopolitical importance and connection to other conflicts in central Africa, achieving peace in Congo is clearly in the interest of the United States, since it would not only stabilize what has been one of the most chaotic places on Earth for the past 16 years but would also contribute to the stabilization of central Africa, which in turn could contribute to the stabilization of all of Africa, which has been the most chaotic continent throughout the past 50 years.

In addition to these security benefits, stability in Congo would also give sustainable economic development and growth and development to take root in Congo, which would also be of great benefit to the United States. Should this happen, the full potential of Congo’s vast resource wealth – which up until now has been extracted in very primitive and inefficient ways (2) and has often been embezzled and smuggled illegally for profit – could be realized, which would benefit the entire world economy. Moreover, should the United States play an integral role in the stabilization of Congo, it would avoid being outflanked by China, which has stepped up its involvement in Congo as of late, most recently signing a multi-billion dollar mining agreement with the DRC government (3).

While keeping the benefits of a stable Congo in mind, it is important for the United States to view aid programs designed to enable the FARDC to achieve peace in Congo not as ends in themselves but rather a part of a greater restructured U.S. strategy for dealing with Congo. In the first few years of such programs, priority will need to be given to physical construction of barracks and supply delivery systems, such as an electronic banking account system for salaries (indeed, given these initial start up costs, the first few years could some of the more expensive ones of such programs). As these new military structures get settled in and as the situation on the ground starts to improve, the United States should be ready to fully cooperate with the DRC government and cede funding responsibility to it – perhaps benchmarks that measure progress in eradicating corruption could be a good timetable to use for this – provided that the United States still retains enough leverage, through continued funding or by another means, to ensure it still is able to have a productive impact in DRC affairs. Should lasting peace begin to settle in, the United States should then begin to shift the focus of its efforts toward helping the DRC government deal with the tasks of resettling the millions of refugees and of and rebuilding communities damaged by 16 years of conflict. Once these immediate postwar tasks are addressed, then the United States should start shifting its focus toward helping the DRC government to improve the country’s political, financial, and judicial institutions, upon which long-term economic growth can take root.

In the course of implementing such a series of more involved policy toward Congo, the United States should be wary of exercising too much influence too bluntly to avoid alienating the DRC government. After 30 years of Leopold’s brutal personal reign, 52 years of Belgian colonial rule, 32 years of Mobutu’s U.S.-backed authoritarian regime, and 5 years of occupation by 7 foreign armies, Congo is understandably uncomfortable toward anything resembling foreign control or exploitation. As demonstrated by its recent mining deal, the DRC is not afraid to turn toward countries like China – who can offer just as much aid money as the United States or the IMF – if it feels too tightly bound or exploited by existing arrangements (4).

Despite all of Congo’s daunting challenges ahead, a number of things have gone its way in the last few years. All foreign armies have withdrawn from Congolese territory; the country has its first democratically-elected government since independence; and General Nkunda, perhaps the most fearsome rebel leader during the last few years of the conflict, has been apprehended (5). These favorable circumstances present Congo with its best chance in some time to attain lasting peace and, through such stability, to embark on long-term economic growth and give its fledgling democratic institutions time to develop and take root. The time seems ripe, then, for the United States to devote significant time and money toward developing and implementing the needed policies that will help Congo take advantage of its precious opportunity to achieve lasting peace.


(1) Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. Most fled to Congo along with millions of Hutu refugees fearing reprisals from the RPF; indeed, it was this influx of refugees and militants that destabilized Congo 16 years ago and initiated the current civil war.
(2) “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, DRC,” CommDev, http://commdev.org/section/projects/asm_drc.
(3) Peter Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache,” Asia Times Online, March 11, 2010, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/LC11Cb02.html.
(4) Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache.”
(5) Jeffrey Gettleman, “A Congolese Rebel Leader Who Once Seemed Untouchable is Caught,” New York Times, January 23, 2009.

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