Friday, November 06, 2009

The Militarization of the Congo: When Will It Stop

The recent Human Rights Watch report and reports from many Congolese have consistently documented the failed nature of the military approach to addressing what is in essence a political challenge.

Human Rights Watch has warned the United Nations that it may be complicit in crimes against humanity due to its support of the Congolese army and its Kimia II military campaign. The armed forces of the Congo (FARDC in French) are for all intents and purposes a hodge-podge of former rebel groups. Even in Human Rights Watch description that the Congolese army is committing atrocities and abuses against the civilian population does not quite get to the root of the matter. What is transpiring is those rebel groups that have been “integrated” into the Congolese army as entire battalions are continuing the same practices they pursued while they were rebels. They are still in control of mines and collecting taxes in regions where they exercise military dominance outside of the purview of the Congolese government. We are talking here primarily about the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which is lead by Bosco Ntaganda and sidelined figure Laurent Nkunda, who according to reports is moving freely in Rwanda as opposed to being under arrest as is commnly portrayed.

The central question that remains, is how many more civilians have to die before a comprehensive concerted political process is initiated that lays out a framework that includes the neighboring governments, particularly Rwanda and Uganda but also to some degree Burundi; the Congolese government and FDLR and other rebel groups. Lack of political space in Rwanda and Uganda is a key part of the reason that a war is being fought on the bodies of Congolese women. Very little will change in the region without opening of political space in the countries involved, including the Congo itself. The United States has a critical role to play in addressing this problem in light of its historical support of policies that have perpetuated the conflict. Great Britain also has leverage on the players in the region and can play a constructive role in bringing an end to the atrocities in the Congo. Both countries need to radically change their policies to the point where they throw their weight behind the opening of political space in the region as opposed to their long-held practice of supporting strongmen, authoritarian regimes, military ventures and corporate plundering, all of which have been the difference maker in a region of weak and fragile states.

What Can and Should Be Done:
1. The United States and Great Britain should step up its diplomatic engagement as opposed to the military approach they are currently pursuing.
2. Back a political path to sustainable peace and stability
3. Hold accountable its corporations that are contributing to the fueling of the conflict and the exploitation of the people.
4. Support the strengthening of local institutions as opposed to its current approach of strengthening the military.


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