As fighting between rebel and government troops intensifies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and refugees continue to flee combat zones in the eastern part of the country, where there is a humanitarian crisis, a new Council Special Report looks at the social, economic, and security impediments to achieving stability and proposes steps the United States can take to help the situation. "The United States should focus on the two central challenges to securing peace and sustaining progress in the Congo: ending the rampant violence and insecurity in eastern Congo and promoting broad-based, environmentally sound sustainable development."
The presence of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, MONUC (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo), in major cities and rural areas in eastern Congo is "the single most important factor preventing the full collapse of state authority there," argues Anthony Gambino, the author of the report, Congo: Securing Peace, Sustaining Progress.
MONUC's role is made even more critical by the lack of a "minimally effective Congolese army and police force." Gambino, former USAID mission director for the DRC, writes that "in fact, the Congolese army does more to compound insecurity than to bring peace. The Congolese police force...is violent and incompetent. The Congolese police also are part of the problem in eastern Congo today, regularly mistreating civilians." The report blames insecurity in eastern Congo for the failure of the peace agreements signed by the Congolese and Rwandan governments in 2007 and by twenty-two Congolese armed groups in 2008.
Despite some progress in the DRC, such as successful national elections in 2006, "as of late summer 2008, rural North and South Kivu remain humanitarian disasters, with 1.2 million displaced people and rampant ceasefire violations, other violence, and persistence insecurity in rural areas." Recent estimates suggest than an additional 200,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu as a result of the recent fighting.
The report contends that "in addition to the humanitarian imperatives to respond to the continuing large-scale violence in eastern Congo and the general impoverishment and suffering of the Congolese people, important U.S. strategic interests are at stake. Because of Congo's immense size and location in the center of Africa, it is vital to the stability of Central Africa. Congo is endowed with vast lodes of important minerals, the second-most important forest in the world, and enormous hydroelectric potential."
In response to the crisis, Gambino urges the United States to use its diplomatic power at the UN Security Council to ensure that MONUC has the necessary personnel and mandate to effectively reduce insecurity and provide training to create a reformed Congolese army and police force that can perform basic functions while respecting human rights and the rule of law. While MONUC is up for renewal at the end of 2008, the situation in the DRC is escalating so rapidly that some of the recommendations in the report should be considered as soon as possible.
To promote broad-based, environmentally sound sustainable development, the report says that "the United States should focus on maintaining the health of the Congo's forest, which is of global environmental importance; on...strengthening democratic institutions, including elections support; on aiding private sector growth...; on promoting agricultural development; and on continuing its effective poverty alleviation programs, particularly in the health sector."
This publication is a product of CFR's Center for Preventive Action and was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Anthony W. Gambino served for two and half years as USAID mission director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, receiving USAID's Superior Honor Award. He first went to Congo (then called Zaïre) in 1979, where he served for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. From 1997 to 2004, he worked for USAID on the Congo and other countries in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. He returned to the Congo in 2006 to monitor presidential and National Assembly elections. He has worked on international development issues for the House of Representatives, the State Department, and nonprofit organizations. He presently works as an independent consultant on international development and foreign policy issues.
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