Mvemba Phezo Dizolele , 12.22.08, 12:00 AM EST
What the U.S. can do.
Mvemba Phezo Dizolele
Think of Congo and war comes to mind. A war fought in places with unfamiliar names--Goma, Kiwanja, Kanyabayonga, Sake and Rutshuru.
This war may take place beyond American shores and rarely appear on local news, but we cannot carry on our daily lives without the territory in which it is fought. The hills of North and South Kivu are abundant with strategic minerals such as coltan, cassiterite and wolframite that are essential to electronics and high technology. Whether we are chatting on a mobile phone, typing on a laptop computer or watching our children play videogames, the Congo conflict follows us everywhere.
Four times the size of France, and as big as the United States east of the Mississippi river, Congo is an important player in Africa and of long-term interest to the United States. As the heart of the continent, Congo borders nine countries. A secure, peaceful and prosperous Congo would positively affect the rest of the continent. With its vast resources and large population, Congo has a regional calling along with South Africa , Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt.
But how to get there? The United States can make a difference.
Understand The Problem
The protracted fighting in eastern Congo is a symptom of a more pernicious problem than ethnic tension: the rush for control of natural resources. Congo holds large reserves of copper, diamonds, zinc, cobalt and other important minerals. For a decade, the eastern provinces have been at the crossroads of a conflict that has paralyzed the nation, one of the world's richest countries in natural resources. But the local population lives in abject poverty and fear.
This poverty is a result of four decades of mismanagement and corruption by three successive dictatorial regimes from 1965 to 2006, when presidential and legislative elections were organized. Insecurity and fear stem from a conflict that is rooted in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which killed close to 1 million people. Following the mass killings, over 2 million Rwandans sought refuge in eastern Congo to escape the violence. This included the entire Rwandan Army and those who perpetrated the genocide. After most of the refugees returned home to Rwanda, a group of these former Rwandan troops and their commanders remained in Congo and set up bases of operations with a goal to reclaim power in their home country.
Citing a clear and present danger, the new Rwandan Patriotic Army, now called Rwandan Defense Forces, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame , invaded eastern Congo in 1996 in an attempt to root out these negative forces along the border. Rwanda, however, did not annihilate the rebels. Instead, Kagame and his associates changed their goal and decided to take advantage of the confusion caused by Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko's failing health. Mobutu was dying of prostate cancer, and years of corruption in his government had weakened the State and its defense capabilities. Rwanda supported a rebellion with former guerrilla fighter Laurent-Desiré Kabila as its leader. The invasion gathered greater momentum when neighboring countries, including Uganda and Angola, joined the operation. They marched 2,000 miles across Congo and drove President Mobutu Sese Seko out of power and into exile. Kabila became president.
The victorious coalition dismantled Mobutu's army and purged its officers, many of whom had been trained in the world's best military schools, including France's Saint Cyr, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, Britain's Sandhurst and Belgium's Ecole Royale Militaire. Several officers died at the new indoctrination camp at the Kitona Base. Others went into exile and the rest were dismissed. Leaders of neighboring countries had grown tired of living in the shadow of Mobutu's larger-than-life style of politics. As the primary U.S. interlocutor in Sub-Saharan Africa , Mobutu had imposed his ways on the region. Congo's neighbors, Rwanda and Uganda especially, thought it imperative that they weaken Congo. The current Rwandan army chief of staff, General James Kabarebe, then a colonel, who claimed at the time to be a Congolese Tutsi, became chief of staff of the new Congolese army. It became clear that Rwanda had other designs on Congo and a de facto occupation had started.
Having already suffered the brunt of the Mobutu regime's mismanagement and corruption, matters only got worse for the average Congolese under the occupation. In the new Kabila regime, power remained in the hands of a few cronies who amassed wealth for themselves à la Mobutu. A new millionaire class emerged overnight as Congo sank deeper into misery. In the meantime, President Kabila resented the very foreign leaders who brought him to power for their incessant interference. In 1998, after he fell out of grace with his backers in Uganda and Rwanda, these two countries invaded Congo in an attempt to overthrow him. A multinational war followed, with Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia intervening on Kabila's side. Unable to unseat Kabila, Rwanda and Uganda chose to support a second rebellion in eastern Congo.
Don't Give Rwanda A Free Pass
So where does the U.S. fit in to all this? Having stopped the genocide in Rwanda, Kagame was a new hero. The United States, meanwhile, had lost its moral authority and the Rwandans took advantage of this to the fullest extent possible.
President Bill Clinton had failed to see how the genocide fit into the United States' strategic interests and did nothing of consequence to stop the killings. Clinton's guilt over the genocide and lack of a strategic and principled approach to Africa allowed Kagame and his one-time mentor and boss, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, to manipulate Clinton and his secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright to sanction the two invasions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have subsequently killed over 5.4 million people. The conflict in eastern Congo is a direct result of a botched U.S. Congo policy that has given the governments of Rwanda and Uganda carte blanche in their bloody designs over Congo's mineral resources.
In 2003, following a series of negotiations, all foreign troops withdrew and a power-sharing transitional government was formed in preparation of the 2006 presidential and legislative elections. The country had held its last democratic elections in 1965. In support of the new democracy, the European Union invested $500 million in the process along with the deployment of a European military contingent to ensure security during the elections.
The elections legitimized the government in Kinshasa, but failed to bring peace to eastern Congo. Instead, new militias emerged, serving as proxies for Rwanda and Uganda in their efforts to retain access to natural resources. This support of militias takes the form of arms transfers, financial assistance, military advice and training and safe harbor for those who flee the Congolese national government. In fact, several United Nations reports have accused Rwanda and Uganda of siphoning off Congo's mineral wealth with the complicity of Western companies.
The flow of small arms has emboldened militias, such as Laurent Nkunda's CNDP to challenge the central government's authority and carve spheres of influence in mineral-rich areas. The illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources generates large sums of revenue, which in turn allow militias to acquire greater firepower.
Act On What We Now Know
On Dec. 12, 2008 the U.N. Security Council published the Final Report of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report has accused Rwanda of backing Laurent Nkunda's CNDP in his campaign of destabilization of eastern Congo. This support includes manpower, finances, logistics and combat fire support.
Today, all armed groups in eastern Congo, including the Rwandan Hutu rebels--some of whom allegedly committed genocide in Rwanda--sell their mineral products through Rwanda and Uganda, creating an unprecedented economic boom worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the two neighboring countries. As a result, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have no incentive to collaborate with the international community and help bring peace to war-torn eastern Congo.
For the last decade, Rwanda has waged an impressive public relations campaign, which capitalized on western leaders' guilt over the genocide, propping up Kagame as the paramount hero of the genocide--the only man who can prevent mass killing and hold that country together. Rwandans, along with sympathetic analysts in the press do not hesitate to compare Rwanda to Israel. This comparison is fallacious and dangerous, because it casts Rwandans, especially the Tutsis as perpetual victims and the neighbors across the region as bullies, ready to wipe out Rwanda.
As unspeakable as it was, the 1994 genocide stemmed from an inter-Rwandan conflict, which can only be solved by Rwandans in Rwanda. Rwanda is not surrounded by hostile countries determined to drive the Tutsis into the sea. On the contrary, neighboring countries have provided refuge to Rwandans every time mass killings have occurred--in 1959, 1972 and 1994. Unlike Israel, Rwanda is not a democracy, which makes it even more difficult to address the root causes of the cyclical mass killings that take place in that country. A comparison to Israel is irresponsible and does not remove the risk for potential mass killing of the level the world witnessed over the last four decades.
The U.S. should pressure Kagame to initiate a credible inter-Rwandan dialogue between the Tutsi government and the Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo in order to resolve the long-standing tension between the two groups.
The time has arrived for Western countries to deal with Rwanda and Uganda in a constructive manner, which will bring peace dividends for the region. Guilt over the genocide in no way justifies the inaction over 5.4 million Congolese deaths that can be traced directly to Kagame's and Museveni's new leopoldian regime of exploitation of Congo. Both Rwanda and Uganda are heavily dependent on foreign aid. This easy foreign assistance money has allowed these countries to destabilize Congo. Without foreign money, the two governments could not afford to maintain proxy militias.
The U.S. and the United Kingdom, two of Rwanda's and Uganda's large donors, should rebuild their moral standing and have the courage to do the right thing--pressure Kagame where he hurts the most, his heavy dependence on foreign assistance.
Sweden and the Netherlands have suspended their foreign aid to Rwanda in protest to Rwanda's involvement in Congo, following the release of the U.N. report on Dec. 12, 2008. The United States and the United Kingdom, along with the rest of the European Union, should do the same.
Although the U.S. contributes 27% of the $1 billion yearly budget of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, nearly 60% of the $125 million yearly U.S. bilateral assistance to Congo goes to food and humanitarian aid programs. As such, the U.S. treats Congo primarily as a humanitarian crisis, ignoring the root causes of a conflict that has claimed half a million lives every year for the past 10 years.
The U.S. should support security sector reform by assisting the Kinshasa government in establishing a viable and professional national army and police force that respects human rights and the rule of law, under effective civilian control, with an undisputed presence throughout Congo. Through various initiatives and protocols, the U.S. should ensure that the Congolese government is committed to responsible and transparent management of natural resources across the country and hold accountable individuals who illegally exploit these resources.
This means that the U.S. should fully engage the government of President Joseph Kabila. A government plagued by poor leadership and lack of vision, effectively holding 60 million Congolese hostage in a cycle of poverty, corruption and conflict. U.S. official declarations alone will not do. Congo needs a professional army and police force to guarantee its security and territorial integrity. By joining with other partners, such as the European Union, Angola and South Africa, who are already helping Congo with security sector reform, the administration will strongly signal to the world that the U.S. is indeed serious about peace in Congo.
Unless the U.S. shows greater resolve than what has been seen to-date and commits the full might of its diplomacy in engaging Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, there will be no peace.
Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is a national fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is currently working on his book Mobutu: the Rise and Fall of the Leopard King (Random House).