Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Outlining a Reformed, More Substantial U.S. Policy toward Congo

Part 6 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.

Until the United States makes a substantial financial commitment to the DRC – on the order of several billion dollars a year – and develops policies that tackle the core logistical and disciplinary problems that the FARDC faces, it should not expect to see its efforts yield significant progress in reforming FARDC. There are numerous ways in which the United States could increase its involvement. For example, the United States could offer to help develop a series of FARDC soldier bank accounts into which salaries can be directly deposited into, thus bypassing corrupt government officials and officers. It could also fund the creation of permanent barracks all across Congo to house soldiers on campaign and to serve as administrative outposts where FARDC soldiers could receive pay, rations, supplies, and medical treatment and where soldiers suspected of abuses against civilians could be tried. The United States could fund healthcare programs and pensions for FARDC troops.

To counter possible accusations of attempting to exercise undue influence over the FARDC, the United States could invite the UN, the EU, and other international donors to participate in its programs. In addition, to alleviate potential fears among President Kabila and other top DRC government officials about the U.S. aid making the FARDC too powerful, thereby increasing the likelihood of a coup, the United States could offer to set up special training programs or other initiatives directed toward the Garde Républicaine as a counterweight to its FARDC programs.

If its financial commitment to such programs is great enough, the United States can then use its funding as leverage to encourage the Congolese government to enact additional judicial and administrative reforms. The United States could set benchmarks for things like the passage of laws to enact harsher penalties for civilian and military rape, murder, and theft, as well as for officers who disobey orders and embezzle equipment and funds; the penalty for not meeting such benchmarks could be funding cuts. The United States could also threaten to cut funding if rampant impunity, embezzlement, and abuses against civilians persist. In addition to using the threat of funding cuts, the United States could also offer economic incentives, such as a preferential trade agreement of some sort, to further encourage the Congolese government to achieve specified objectives.

In addition to implementing significant efforts to deal with the logistical and disciplinary problems facing the FARDC and continuing or even expanding its efforts to train the FARDC, the United States should take more concrete action to weaken the rebellious militias opposing the FARDC. To do this, the United States should focus its efforts on reducing the fighting strength and income of such militias. First and foremost, the United States should work with the UN to more vigilantly enforce the current arms embargo on Congo, in accordance with State Department regulations (1) as well as through efforts to get countries bordering Congo to more readily police their borders for arms smuggling (as well as drug and mineral smuggling). The United States should also look to fund and improve upon existing military integration, DDR, and DDRRR efforts within the DRC; perhaps it could allocate funds to improve the quality of the DDR facilities that the observer interviewed in Dr. Baaz’s and Dr. Stern’s report spoke so cynically of (2). Furthermore, the Obama Administration should urge Congress to pass the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (currently pending in the Senate Subcommittee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs), which would be a good step toward cracking down on illegal mineral smuggling (3) that has funded militias throughout Congo’s 16 years of conflict; the small “Conflict Minerals” provision in the recently enacted financial reform law (4), which requires companies to disclose procedures for ensuring that minerals are obtained from legitimate sources, is a good first step, but more substantial reform is needed.

Undertaking such efforts would likely cost the United States several billion more dollars each year, which, while significant, still pales in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars spent on Iraq, Afghanistan, and economic recovery, among other things. Moreover, if such policies succeed in leading to a stable Congo, they would greatly further U.S. interests at a relatively inexpensive cost.

(1) John C. Rood, “Rules and Regulations,” Federal Register 72, no. 242 (December 18, 2007): 71575.
(2) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 63.
(3) “S. 891: Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009,”, Civic Impulse, LLC,
(4) Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. Financial Reform Bill Also Targets ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Congo,” Washington Post, July 21, 2010.

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