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What will it take for the United States and others to address the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Question submitted by Lauren Harrison, from Harvard Kennedy School, February 28, 2013

Answered by: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies

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Congo's natural wealth makes it an African arena of competing ambitions. It is an open secret that senior political and military figures from Rwanda and Uganda sponsor irregular militias in eastern Congo to access its mineral resources for personal enrichment. Corrupt Congolese politicians similarly enrich themselves, while Congo's government provides almost no security, health services or education. Human rights organizations credibly accuse government agents, the military, and local militias of committing atrocities to coerce the local population.

The United States, Belgium, China, and African states could pressure the Ugandan and Rwandan governments to cease supporting militias. They could urge the Congo government to reform its military and the police and reduce official corruption. With its economic heft in central Africa, China could play a positive role in a diplomatic push against Ugandan and Rwandan support for the militias. But, Congo is not a high international priority, and China is reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of their trading partners. Instead, the international response is to leave Congo to the United Nations to meet minimal humanitarian needs.

Congo's government would need international assistance for reform and to move against corruption, but it may not have the capacity to challenge the powerful individuals who benefit from the present system. In sum, the exploitation of Congo's vast resources by competing elites and militaries for personal enrichment promotes insecurity and stymies development. Only very strong Western and African public outcry and a change in China's nonintervention approach might open the possibilities for change.