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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—December 4, 1998

Presider: Georges Nzongola, Professor, Howard University
Speakers: Gilbert Mundela, U.S. representative for the Congolese political party, Union for Social Democratic Progress (UDPS), Jean Gauthier, Ministry of External Affairs, Canada, and Anthony W. Gambino, USAID
December 5, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured reports by Gilbert Mundela, U.S. representative for the Congolese political party, Union for Social Democratic Progress (UDPS); Jean Gauthier, deputy director for Central Africa at the Canadian Ministry of External Affairs; Antony Gambino, Great Lakes coordinator for United States Agency of International Development (USAID). The speaker was Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja of Howard University. The discussion dealt primarily with the need to find strategies to approach the numerous interlinked conflicts in the region.

Limits of Western Involvement in an African Solution

The conflict, both, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the region has become increasingly complicated by the multiplicity of actors involved including many surrounding countries. In light of the complexity of the events, there is a need to prevent the efforts to manage the conflict from overlapping.

Speakers argued that western governments should primarily support African solutions and initiatives. The western intervention should also focus on strategic coordination of humanitarian assistance. Finally, the international community must approach the conflict as a regional problem, not only as an internal Congolese issue.

Western Support to African Initiatives

In the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the international community should support African initiatives to reach an effective and comprehensive ceasefire. In this effort, a viable and inclusive transition process should include Congolese civil society and political parties. The involvement of a popular transition process is the key to a successful ceasefire.

Such a ceasefire agreement would have to include border security as well as the withdrawal of all foreign troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is a need and an obligation to respect the territorial integrity and security of each country in the region. At the same time, each country has a responsibility to prevent its territory from being used to destabilize another. In regard to the withdrawal of foreign troops, one speaker recalled the fact that currently the Congo has no legitimate army, and asked what will happen when foreign troops do withdraw and the country is left with hundreds of dangerously armed gangs and non-state actors? If a ceasefire is implemented, what credible army in the Democratic Republic of Congo would be able to enforce it?

Coordination of Aid Policy

Speakers agreed that the Democratic Republic of Congo is on the verge of a humanitarian and economic crisis. Nonmilitary actors are not being paid, and there is a real threat of severe crop and food-shortages as early as February or March. The dismemberment of the country due to fighting and territorial changes has cut off traditional economic supply routes, whereby many regions of the country are without essential resources. Since the ability of the Congolese to respond to this impending disaster diminishes daily, the United States and other western governments should collaborate with the United Nations and various humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to the population. In the long term, the huge potential for economic development in the Congo should be examined in depth.

Analysis of the Conflict in its Regional System

The conflict in Congo is part of a large regional system of conflicts. Peace in the region is contingent upon peace in the Congo, the two being closely related and intertwined. However, any approach to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo must equally address the regional involvement or the cycle of violence will continue and unrest will prevail.

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