28 February 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: U.S. Policies in the DRC Sacrifice Democracy for Security

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Fleeing fighting (file photo).


In expressing support for the signing this week of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African region, the U.S. State Department urged all signatories to quickly establish concrete follow-up mechanisms for its implementation.

Earlier this month, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson provided more details on the U.S. position.  Kambale Musavuli, spokesman for the non-profit advocacy group Friends of the Congo, gives his analysis.

Carson's presentation, "Finding a Lasting Solution to Instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo" at the Brookings Institution, focused on why efforts should be redoubled to bring stability to DRC and how to move forward.

He outlined four main reasons for action: a moral imperative; fiscal and financial imperatives; the consequences of Congolese instability for U.S. national interests; and the lack of an option for failure.

"The international community has a moral imperative to act more effectively in the DRC to break this cycle of death and suffering and to address the other consequences of this violence," he said.

He laid out the U.S. administration's strategy for moving forward, including:

  1. Implementation of the United Nations Framework Agreement which was signed last Sunday;
  2. Establishment of a comprehensive and inclusive peace process around the UN Framework Agreement, led by a UN special envoy; 
  3. Restructuring of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (Monusco), including the integration of a regional intervention brigade;
  4. Enactment of governance and security sector reform in the DRC.

Carson called for greater attention to the crisis in the DRC. However, it appears that the administration continues to operate on the notion that "quiet diplomacy" is the best way forward when it comes to holding its allies Rwanda and Uganda accountable for their role in destabilizing the Congo.

The most telling and poignant point in Carson's remarks came not in his presentation of the U.S. administration's four-pronged approach, but in the question-and-answer session.  Carson was asked for his input regarding Rwanda's involvement in the DRC, as documented by a special UN panel, and why officers of Rwanda's military had not been sanctioned as had leaders of the M23 rebel group and DRC's armed forces.

Carson gave an unsatisfactory response that betrayed the claims in his presentation. He asserted that the actions of the administration of President Barack Obama - the cutting of U.S.$200,000 in military aid to Rwanda and Obama's phone call to Rwandan President Paul Kagame - "have been appropriate for the time".

This response pinpoints the failure of U.S. policy, in particular, as well as that of other nations and international institutions. They demonstrate a reluctance to fully hold to account DRC's neighbors who have played a direct role in the deaths of millions of Congolese, the pilfering of the country's resources and the perpetuation of the conflict through repeated invasions and the sponsoring of proxy militia.  [The International Rescue Committee said in a 2008 report that conflict and humanitarian crisis in the DRC had claimed more than five million lives since 1998.]

Evidence of this reluctance has manifested itself in the persistent inaction and burying of the UN Mapping Exercise Report, which documents serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out mainly by U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda in the DRC from 1993 to 2003.

The Mapping Exercise report is unequivocal in identifying outside destabilization. "The apparent systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterised as crimes of genocide," the report says, referring to the Rwandan army.

Other than to argue for greater attention and higher priority in the U.S. foreign policy portfolio, Carson did not clearly lay out how U.S.-Congo policy will substantially change from the past 16 years.

Unless accompanied by a break with current policy, greater attention will not bring increased peace or security to the DRC.

The current policies have their roots in the Entebbe Principles of the former administration of Bill Clinton. It encompassed unfettered support for the so-called "new breed of African leaders", a political approach that has been disastrous for the people of the DRC and the Great Lakes region of Africa. It is the entire policy position that must change, not degrees of attention to the same modes of approach.

Key omissions from Carson's presentation are calls for adequate measures of accountability and justice as outlined by 220 Congolese civil society organizations.  One would not know from listening to Carson that a substantial portion of the North Kivu province is still under occupation  by the Rwanda-backed M23 militia.

A number of local Congolese newspapers have been consumed with Carson's statements about Yugoslavia and Sudan: "Clearly, a sophisticated and internationally backed solution is the only way forward. We were able to achieve such a solution to end the conflict in the former Yugoslavia through the Dayton Accords. We were able to end Africa's longest running civil war, the conflict in Sudan, through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was negotiated by the IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) and supported by the United States, Norway and Great Britain. [...] A similarly energetic and international effort is now required for the DRC."

Some of the newspapers have carried stories questioning whether greater U.S. involvement in the DRC peace process would lead to the break-up of the country, as happened with the former Sudan and former Yugoslavia.  Although Congolese must be vigilant about any attempt to balkanize the DRC, the local newspapers may have read too much into that part of Carson's statements. Carson mentioned the DRC in the context of Yugoslavia and Sudan not necessarily to laud the specific outcomes in both countries, but to emphasize the priority attention they received from Washington to push for a peace process.

President Obama has been unequivocal about the territorial integrity of the DRC and, in a follow-up blog to his speech on February 21, Carson noted that his four-point prescription is meant to "protect the territorial integrity of the DRC".

Though the U.S. government claims it wants to uphold the territorial integrity of the DRC, its current policies do not bode well for doing so. The four-point plan articulated by Carson gives a pass to U.S.

allies Rwanda and Uganda who pose the greatest threat to the territorial integrity of the DRC.

Key shifts on the part of the United States regarding its policies in the region should include:

  1. Stronger steps in holding Rwanda and Uganda accountable - withholding of further military aid, placing both the Rwandan government and its high-level officials named in the UN reports   on the sanctions list, and investigating whether the Leahy Amendment has been violated in U.S. training of Rwandan troops.
  2. Just as Washington is demanding democratic reform in the DRC, it should also demand democratic reform in both Rwanda and Uganda. The authoritarian nature of both regimes has been a significant component in their destructive role in the DRC over the past 16 years. Not only have both governments militarized political space inside their countries, they have also exported this militarization to the DRC to the detriment of the Congolese civilian population.
  3. Support must be given to democratic institutions and the democratic process in the DRC. Carson's public opinion on the DRC elections was ill advised. When asked about the 2011 elections he answered: "My own impression ... is that even if we had had a fair accounting throughout this process, I think President [Joseph] Kabila probably would have still had won."

This is pure speculation. His point was to dismiss the need for a "fair accounting" of the 2011 elections, which is troubling. The concern of U.S. officials in his position should always be to ensure the electoral processes are transparent, fair and just. The United States must play a constructive role in supporting democratic processes in DRC.

With the help of U.S. policies, democracy in the DRC has been repeatedly sacrificed in the name of security; history shows that such approaches lead to the current situation, in which there is neither democracy nor security.

In his July 2009 Ghana speech, President Obama publicly recognized the need for a new approach and a clean break from Clinton-era practices. He said that the United States must support strong institutions in Africa, "not strongmen". This is a clear vision for changes in foreign policy approaches that has yet to be made a reality.

Kambale Musavuli is the spokesman for the Friends of the Congo. He is featured in the short film "Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth," a short version of an upcoming documentary looking at the role of Rwanda and Uganda in the upheaval in the DRC.

This article was edited by AllAfrica. The original piece appeared as a blog on www.friendsofthecongo.org

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