9 May 2011

Congo-Kinshasa: Africa In The Age of Obama - Why Libya and Not Congo

Photo: Denford Magora
Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe.


On March 28, 2011, United States President Barack Obama spoke to the American people about Libya and why the United States must engage militarily as opposed to diplomatically. In a historical decision, the United States is now openly supporting armed rebels inside a sovereign country. The rationale for the US intervention in Libya is to protect vulnerable civilians from mass slaughter by the Libyan regime. One question that has arisen is why President Obama has not applied a similar principle of civilian protection to the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world - the Congo.

For the past 14 years, more than 6 million Congolese have perished due to the ongoing conflict, which was triggered by U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda when they invaded Congo in 1996. As the world focuses on the Western Intervention in Libya under the guise of moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable, the global community must question the lack of action on the part of the United States and the coalition when it comes to the millions dead in the Congo.

On December 15, 2008, the United Nations published the Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo. This report documented, among other things, satellite phone records for members of one of the rebel groups responsible for destabilizing the Congo, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The CNDP was in communication with the Rwandan Defense Force high military command and the Rwandan presidency. Given the solid evidence of Rwanda's complicity in support of the CNDP who was destabilizing the Congo, global pressure had begun to be applied but not from the United States or Great Britain. Sweden and Netherlands took the lead in applying pressure to Rwanda by withholding aid to the Rwandan government. This action played a key role in Rwanda placing under house arrest the rebel leader of the CNDP, Laurent Nkunda, and causing the rebel group to integrate into the Congolese army.

This diplomatic action showed the world that Rwanda is susceptible to outside pressure. Unfortunately, the United States and Great Britain did not apply any overt pressure. Instead of following the lead of Sweden and Netherlands, the United States pursued a backdoor deal that would result in a rapprochement between President Kabila and President Kagame while allowing Rwandan troops to enter Congolese soil once again. In essence the United States backed a personal back door deal as opposed to an institutional transparent approach, which would have better served the prospects for long-term peace and stability in the region.

The US has a diplomatic tool at its disposal that can make a difference in the region, the Obama Law, Public Law 109-456. This law, written by Obama, and enacted in December 2006 provides the US with the force of law to hold accountable Congo's neighbors that have been destabilizing the country since 1996. It received bipartisan support in the senate and was also co-sponsored by then Senator Hillary Clinton. This law calls for the appointment of a special envoy to the Great Lakes region and gives the Secretary of State the authority to withhold aid from neighboring countries that destabilize the Congo.

On October 26, 2007, President Bush met with President Kabila in the White House. Then-Senator Obama released a statement reminding President Bush about his commitment to enforce the newly enacted US law, Public Law 109-456, and stated that "It's time the Administration stops ignoring the call by Congress to appoint a special envoy to the DRC, and strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping force which is working to stabilize the eastern part of the Congo. The seriousness of the situation there was recently highlighted by devastating reports about the escalation of sexual violence against women in the region."

Now that Barack Obama is President, neither he nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has taken steps to enforce this law. Unfortunately, President Obama has demonstrated the same lack of action on the Congo as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The Obama Administration's lack of resolve in implementing U.S. law as it relates to the Congo where the humanitarian crisis is far greater than in Libya, leads one to question why the double standard in applying the principle of the responsibility to protect, especially considering that the Congo situation does not require a military solution but rather robust diplomatic and political action. The suspicion many analysts share is that the United States is quick to act against its enemies while providing cover for its allies, even if its allies are clearly culpable of committing mass atrocities, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide according to the recently published United Nations report called "UN Mapping Exercise Report".

This report, released by The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 1, 2010, documents "the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003." It also identifies countries "that could be held responsible for serious violations of human rights committed by their national armies during the period under consideration in the DRC, and in particular Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola."

During President Obama's visit to Ghana, he shared with the Africans that the United States will engage differently in Africa from previous administrations by supporting strong institutions and not strong men. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has yet to hold to this principle when it comes to Central Africa. It continues to support Central African strongmen, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda while the people of the region continue to suffer from an ongoing conflict and the pilfering of their natural resources.

In the final analysis, if President Obama can implement a No-Fly Zone over Libya, surely, he can implement Public Law 109-456 and hold accountable U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda.

Thousands of American voters have called on President Obama to start implementing PL 109-456 through a petition that calls for the appointment of a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, which is Section 107 of the Law. Lend your voice to this effort to bring an end to the crisis in the Congo, the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Kambale Musavuli is a Congolese native, spokesperson and student coordinator for Friends of the Congo.

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