Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Obama Administration Official Provides Insights on U.S. Congo Policy

Obama Administration Official Provides Insights on U.S. Congo Policy

Last week (Monday, February 11, 2013) at the Brookings Institution, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, presented an outline of the Obama Administration's policy position on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The purpose of Ambassador Carson's presentation-  titled "Finding a Lasting Solution to Instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo-" was twofold: discussing why efforts should be redoubled to bring stability to the Congo and laying out a framework for "moving forward." He outlined four main reasons for action: 1. The moral imperative to respond; 2. The consequences of Congolese instability for U.S. National Interest; 3. The fiscal and financial imperatives calling for attention to the situation; 4. The contention that failure in bringing stability to DRC is not an option for the world. Ambassador Carson asserted in clear terms  "that the international community has a moral imperative to act more effectively in the D.R.C. to break this cycle of death and suffering and to address the other consequences of this violence" He laid out the Administration's strategy for action and moving forward, which includes:
1. Implementation of the UN Framework Agreement (PDF) - to be signed on Sunday, February 24th
2. Establishment of a comprehensive and inclusive peace process around the UN Framework Agreement (PDF) led by a UN Special Envoy
3. Restructuring of the United Nations 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

Ambassador Carson called for greater attention to and response 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 Ambassador Carson's remarks came, not in his presentation of the Obama Administration's four pronged approach, but in the question and answer session. The first question posed to Ambassador Carson asked for his input on the matter of Congo's neighbor, Rwanda, and its persistent destabilization of the DRC:

"You spoke about the actions that have been taken, sanctions against five members of the leaders of the M23, five members of FARDC that we supported, actions taken. You mentioned as well the concern that the M23 was supported by external forces, and the report of the UN panel and your own testimony last December indicate that Rwanda had provided that kind of support. Why haven't we pressed for any of those individuals - individual soldiers - officers of Rwandan military to be sanctioned?"

Ambassador Carson gave an unsatisfactory response that betrayed the claims in his presentation, asserting that the actions the U.S. has taken to date-cutting of $200,000 in military aid and a phone call to Paul Kagame from President Barack Obama-"have been appropriate for the time." This response pinpoints the failure of U.S. policy, in particular, as well as other nations and institutions in the international community: reluctance to fully hold to account Congo'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. 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 its identification of the destabilizing roles by outside support, going further to argue that "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 is referring, in this section, to the Rwandan army.

Other than to argue for greater attention and higher priority in the US foreign policy portfolio, Ambassador 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 Clinton Administration's Entebbe Principles of unfettered support for the so-called "new breed of African leaders," a political approach that has been disastrous for the people of the Congo 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 Ambassador Carson's presentation are calls for adequate measure of accountability and justice as outlined by 220 Congolese organizations. One would not know from listening to Ambassador 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 news papers have been consumed with Ambassador 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 states and supported by the United States, Norway, and Great Britain. [A similarly energetic and international effort is now required for the D.R.C.] "

The local papers believe that Ambassador Carson was signaling that greater U.S. involvement in the DRC peace process would doom the DRC to the fate of both the former Sudan and Yugoslavia and result in the break-up of the country. 

Although Congolese must be vigilant about any attempt to balkanize the DRC, the local newspapers may have read too far into that part of Ambassador Carson's statements. He 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 and profile both countries received from the U.S. to push for a peace process. President Obama has been clear and unequivocal about the territorial integrity of the DRC and, in a follow-up blog to his speech on February 21, 2013, Ambassador 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 Ambassador 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 U.S. in regard to 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 the U.S. 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 sixteen 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. Ambassador Carson's public opinion on the DRC elections was ill advised. When asked about the 2011 elections he answered: "my own impression, as someone who looks the situation, is that even if we had had a fair accounting throughout this process, I think President 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Christians' March: Still in Pursuit of Democracy in the DRC

On February 16, 1992, Congolese Christians responded to a call by the Catholic Church to protest peacefully and demand the reopening of the Sovereign National Conference (Conference National Souveraine - CNS in French). The conference was a democratic forum composed of delegates who represented all layers of the society in the Congo (Zaire at the time) from members of civil society, political parties, the military, the diaspora, as well as the president himself (Mobutu Se Seko). This conference was tasked with interrogating the country’s history and finding a way to deal with the multidimensional national crisis (political, economic, social, cultural, and moral) that the country was facing in 1990.

On January 19, 1992, then-Mobutu-appointed prime minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond announced the suspension of the Sovereign National Conference on radio and television. This decision to suspend the CNS angered many Congolese who had high hopes that this democratic process would help the country extricate itself from dictatorial rule. The Catholic Church, which at the time distanced itself from Mobutu's regime and became more vocal about Mobutu's human rights abuse, made a call to all Christians and civil society groups for a massive demonstration to reopen the Sovereign National Conference. Thousands of marchers from all backgrounds converged on the Tata Raphaël stadium. Police and soldiers opened fire on the marchers before they could reach their destination, killing more than forty people. This incident, which caused international outcry as news began to enter the western world, forced the government to reinstate the CNS in April 1991 and served as a pivotal point in Congo's struggle toward democratization.

In his book "The History of the Congo," Dr Didier Gondola revisits this important date and give us the reason why Christians in the Congo took to the streets. He says: "In early 1992, Mobutu decided to disband the Sovereign National Conference (Conference Nationale Souveraine - CNS), an assembly whose main task was to create a new constitution and organize democratic elections. In response to this decision, strong opposition mounted among Kinshasa's independent churches. On February 16, 1992, thousands of church members took their grievances to the streets of the capital in what was dubbed by its organizers as the "March of Hope" (Marche de l'Espoir). Marchers held banners demanding the reopening of the CNS, and they chanted songs against violence and dictatorship. The peaceful march ended in a bloodbath when the army intervened and gunned down dozens of demonstrators. The March of Hope has since been held up as a major turning point in the relations between the church and state. It was also an event that precipitated the end of Mobutu's regime."

Today, the Catholic Church, Civil Society and the political opposition have been prevented from marching to commemorate this day in the march toward democracy and social change in the Congo. The Kabila regime has prohibited any marches from being organized. The rationale given by the state is that they are prohibiting gatherings for security reasons. On February 16, 2012, the Kabila regime violently suppressed marches organized on that day to demand the truthful results of the November 2011 elections, which were appropriated by the Kabila regime.

Church leaders along with the non-violent pro-democracy forces have settled for participating in masses and have encouraged their followers to observe the day by going to church. Today serves as yet another indication of the lack of legitimacy of the Kabila regime and its fear of an open democratic society. Kabila has issued a call for a national dialogue but if today is any example, such a dialogue should it occur, will hardly be open, democratic or fruitful.