Often referred to as one of the deadliest and most forgotten wars, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has yet to see a lasting peace in over a decade. Mvemba Dizolele, Tony Gambino, and Ben Rawlence discuss the long history of the Congo, the roadblocks to a sustainable framework agreement, and recommendations for the United States and regional players moving forward.
MORA MCLEAN: Good afternoon. I'm Mora McLean. This is the Congo Update. We have three every knowledgeable speakers to address this topic: Mvembe Dizolele, Tony Gambino and Ben Rawlence. You have their bios, so there's no need for me to take our precious time by reading them. I will just call your attention to the fact that Ben Rawlence's recent book, "Radio Congo", is available for your purchase and for his autograph. And Mvemba Dizolele is working on a masterpiece, a biography of Mobutu, so you can look forward to that.
Now, I know in the room are people who are very knowledgeable of the subject and others perhaps not so much, so I'm going to attempt in a very condensed way to get us all to the same point, after which we can begin to update.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, also known as Congo-Kinshasa, occupies a landmass is west-central Africa roughly equal to the size of Western Europe and a third of the United States. It borders nine other nations, including Angola, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan, has an estimated population of 74 million. The median age is just over 17, and the average life expectancy is 48. Overall literacy is 67 percent.
The history of DRC, metaphorically and literally, encompasses the history of the African continent as we know it. After 400 years of Portuguese domination, in the late 19th century King Leopold II of Belgium established it as his private colony. And at the historic Conference of Berlin -- we all know about the "scramble for Africa" -- the European powers acknowledged his claim to the Congo Basin. Pressured by the international abolitionist movement, Leopold ceded control of the Congo Free State to the state of -- to the Belgian nation, and in 1960 Congo got its independence.
In 1965, with backing from Western powers, including the United States, Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized power from what had been a government -- an independence government led with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Kasavubu as president. And Mobutu turned the a country into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola. And he retained his position for 32 years, until the late 1990s when Rwandan and Ugandan forces invaded from the eastern region. Recall that this was after Rwanda in 1994. And this enabled anti-Mobutu rebels led by Laurent-Desire Kabila to seize power and topple the Mobutu regime.
Soon thereafter a rift between Kabila and his former allies sparked a new insurrection in what became known as Africa's world war. The DRC government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, battled rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. And midway through this five-year conflict, in which an estimated 4 million people died, Laurent Kabila was assassinated, and his son Joseph Kabila was installed as president.
Although the war has officially ended -- or it officially ended in 2003 -- the fighting continues in the mineral-rich east. A new constitution introducing power-sharing between the prime minister and president and presidential term limits was adopted in 2005. A first round of presidential election, the first in 40 years, was held in 2006. Joseph Kabila was declared president again after a runoff with no clear winner.
Since 2002 there have been multiple peace talks brokered by the U.N. and South Africa. Just this month Mary Robinson, Ireland's former president, was appointed U.N. special envoy, succeeding former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in that role. And in addition, this month General Bosco Ntaganda, the Rwandan-born Congolese rebel leader and war crime suspect, surrendered himself to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, asking to be transferred to The Hague to stand trial.
So that's where we are. (Scattered laughter.)
So I'll turn to you first, Mvemba, for -- to begin our update. And in our conversation and preparation for this meeting today, you exhorted the international community to stop obsessing about conflict in the Congo and suggested that we ought to be looking for signs of progress in places other than the east, where the conflict has been raging for so long. Could you say more about that?
MVEMBO PHEZO DIZOLELE: Yes. Thank you, Mora.
I think the DRC's facing a lot of problems. I think most of us here who follow DRC are very well-versed in all the statistics. I think just last week a new -- a new report from the UNDP came out saying that Congo is again 187 out of 187. And you hear about Congo being the rape capital of the world. You hear things about life expectancies just like we heard today.
But really, that narrative is a serious block to development in DRC. If you have that in your mind as your prism to look at DRC, then you'll never see the Congolese as capable; you'll never see them as people who cannot truly have a sense of what they want and where they're going. You'll never, ever hear about all the other good things that are happening in DRC.
It is true that all the statistics have some value. The statistics are just that, really, statistics. I went to University of Chicago, where everything is statistics and economics -- (laughter) -- even if you are studying history. But I had a professor used to say, you hear a lot of statistics in your life, things like most accidents happen in the household, and you say, no kidding, they don't happen at the office because are not using scissors and knives; they're not cooking.
So when you hit some statistic, even in the context of Congo, what does that mean, really? It doesn't mean much. By that, I mean institutions are weak. Certain things are not working. But there are other things that are working, like a very vibrant civil society. If you follow what we learn in school, everything we learn in school, you have political scientists, lawyers, and the statistic -- then Congo should not exist. But if Congo exists, there's got to be something that is holding it together. And that thing is not part of the narrative that we hear in the States. That's why I think it's very important to understand what really is happening, and not the New York Times version.
MCLEAN: So what is happening, bringing us up to date?
DIZOLELE: So what's happening at this point, for instance -- and my colleagues will talk a little more about it -- Congo is facing the conflict, the security challenge in the east. Congo is the size of Western Europe. The east, where the conflict is, represents no more than 10 percent of the country. But yet our entire view of the country is based on that.
What's happening beyond the conflict is something even much more important than the conflict, which is a legitimacy crisis on the political front. The current government, the current president, because of the botched election of 2011, does not have the legitimacy he once enjoyed. The Parliament and the Assembly, meaning the Senate and the Assembly, are out of date.
So beside the presidential elections, the electoral process had called for the municipal and provincial elections. So you have a bunch of governors running the country without the mandates. The provincial assemblies are out of date because they were not re-elected, so they're serving beyond a constitutional term. Because they don't have no mandate -- and because they don't have any mandate, they cannot elect the national Senate, because in Congo, the national Senate is elected out of the provinces.
In all this seeming mess, there's a strong civil society that has been pushing, as has always been the case since independence, for change. And we're not hearing that story because either we're not interested or it's too complicated, is like they say in the U.S. As a writer, you hear this a lot from your editors: Don't tell that story; the Americans will not understand. It's like, Americans are not that stupid. They're not stupid. If you don't understand, this is one thing, as an editor, but I'm sure if the story is told, people will understand, because the story of DRC is a human story. There's nothing that's happening in DRC that doesn't happen here or doesn't happen anywhere else.
It's a country that is facing tremendous challenges. But if we understand exactly who's doing what, the resilience of the people, the resourcefulness of the people, the work they've already put in, then we start seeing the country in a different light.
MCLEAN: Well, what should a U.S. audience understand to be the greatest challenges?
DIZOLELE: The greatest challenge in the DRC is the political process, to get the politics right. And the politics right, it doesn't mean that the Congolese do not understand democracy. They do. They've gone to vote. I was an observer twice in the elections, coming at 5:30 and finding women with babies who travel miles to vote, and then finding these women being told that (somewhat ?), the name is not on the list, even though they have the voting card, literally disenfranchising them, because then when the process goes kaput, in a place like the U.S. -- and Tony and Ben are aware of this -- when you go to places like the State Department and you challenge them, and they will say, well, it's true, but we didn't see any violence; why don't you guys do like the Arabs? It's like, are you really telling me now that the electoral process has failed, you want people to take up arms and go in the street?
So this kind of contradiction -- on one level, we're promoting democracy, and when people actually believe us and because they want it for themselves and it doesn't work, then we tell them to go the other way. So it's a very bad vicious circle.
MCLEAN: What would you say is the significance of Bosco Ntaganda's surrender?
DIZOLELE: I think it's significant because of what they represent. So on one level, it is very significant. On another level, it's not very significant. It's significant because of what he represents. He represents the cult of impunity, people who have been operating for the last 20 years in various conflicts. So if you take the case of Bosco, he's born in Rwanda, he comes to Congo as a kid, he goes to fight with the RPF when they're fighting to end the genocide. As soon as that finishes, he goes back to Congo, goes to Ituri, starts -- joins the war there. When that ends, he comes to the Kivu, joins the conflict there, and this -- we're talking about a span of 20 years.
The conflict minerals, the impunity, the corruption, all that -- he's part of that. He's an epitome of that.
So it's good that he's surrendered, and hopefully there will be a trial. But at the same time, it doesn't mean much, because he's only an agent. He's not the principal. You know, it's a chess game. You have your -- you know, your peons that you're pushing, and he's one of them. As big as he is, as gruesome as he was, there are a set of powers that are holding these together. It's in a neighboring country. It's also in Kinshasa. Until we get to the core of those issues, after Bosco, there will be somebody else. Just watch for the next three months. You see what emerges.
MCLEAN: Tony, you were once an insider, and -- but you've since been very critical of the international role vis-a-vis the Congo. What should this audience go away with in terms of an update from that vantage point?
TONY GAMBINO: Thank you very much, Mora.
What I'd start with is to go back to some of the excellent history that Mora gave us at the beginning of the discussion. When the terrible war broke out in 1998 that brought in countries from across Africa, the United Nations, the United States, European countries also engaged, and through a lot of excellent work by American diplomats and others, a peace process came together, a peace deal with signed, a transition began in 2003, leading to successful elections in 2006 -- "successful" defined in that they were reasonably free and fair, and the person who was declared the winner, Joseph Kabila, actually won the election. And you can read reports by the Carter Center and others. I was an observer as well for the 2006 elections.
And this was done with tremendous work by the Congolese people, as Mvemba underscores, but also with very heavy lifting by the United States and others.
Oddly enough, after the 2006 election, when this very fragile government finally came together after elections, you would think, well, now we would really come in and support this country. It's a newly elected democratic state.
But yet what did the major European states and the United States do? We saw it as an exit strategy. Oh, now it's become a sovereign nation. Everything's fine. It's going to work well. We can turn our attention elsewhere.
And so our policy, in effect, since 2006 has been one almost of benign neglect. And we have jumped back in at times when actions within the Congo have threatened the international community. That happened in 2007.
In 2008, when the precursor to what we now call the M23 Movement and leaders like Bosco Ttaganda -- in 2007, in 2008, the movement was the CNDP and the leader was Laurent Nkunda -- when the same kind of violence began in exactly the same part of the Congo, the United States and others jumped in to try to see if we could fix it. And it was during this period that General Obasanjo came in from the U.N. to try do some work, but it was patchwork.
When things seemed to stabilize in 2009, particularly with Rwandan intervention, we lost interest again. And in particular, as we moved to the 2011 elections, the second national elections, those Mvemba just alluded to, instead of engaging, as we had in 2006, to help the people of the Congo have reasonably free, fair, transparent elections, we looked the other way, and the elections were horribly fraudulent -- botched, in the words of the International Crisis Group -- to the point that the Carter Center and others said, we just don't know who won. We can't tell, doing our best work, looking at the reports coming out from the electoral commission and others. We don't know who won.
So we have a president now, still Joseph Kabila, who has limited legitimacy. We have a parliament where it is clear that many of the people in the parliament did not win their seats. And we have not had subsequent elections.
Then we come to the most recent actions, in 2012, with the revolt in eastern Congo through this movement called M23. Again, that has gotten some engagement by the international community, but what's on the table now is, will we settle to patch it up and say, with the surrender of Bosco -- as Mvemba just said, it doesn't mean much -- will that be the case? Will Bosco go to The Hague and will we declare victory, or will we get serious? And let me give you the fork in the road, to be clear about what I mean. If we continue --
MCLEAN: So you're advising Mary Robinson in all this?
GAMBINO: Sure. If Mary Robinson and others focus only on issues relating to international problems of Rwanda and Uganda as they relate to the Congo, they will miss the fundamental issue, which is a dysfunctional, weakly legitimate Congolese state that is not working democratically; it is not working in a nuts and bolts way as a state either in terms of delivering services, delivering justice, helping to create jobs, all the things that -- for which states exist. That is the major task in the Congo.
What Mary Robinson will be able to do on that is still not clear. We have a large U.N. mission still in the Congo that is supposed to be working on these tasks. We have some good plans in place. But whether international community will step in, in the way it did in the early part of the century, to really put our collective shoulder to the wheel or whether we will back away and say, this one is just not one we're going to give a lot of attention to, even with the appointment of Mary Robinson, is still not clear.
MCLEAN: So Ben, you've written a substantive travel log, by which I mean that it's readable and you learn.
BEN RAWLENCE: Good. That's a relief. (Laughter.)
MCLEAN: Do you agree that this issue of government legitimacy and delivering services to people on the ground is really the main issue and that what's going on in the eastern region is more of a distraction than an indication of where the country is going?
RAWLENCE: Well, it depends who you ask, and it depends issue for who. I mean, and this is -- when you talk about update, you're talking about the next chapter in a story. The question -- the first question comes to my mind is, well, whose story and which story? And the story in my book is a story of my journey from Goma all the way down to the east through Katanga back up to the river Congo to Manono.
But the mainstream media narrative up to this point -- and why this week is quite significant, with Ntaganda handing himself in, with Mary Robinson, with the framework signed two weeks ago which established the -- you know, the re-establishment of some sort of peace process for eastern DRC -- that is very much an international narrative, a mainstream international media narrative that started back in '94 with the genocide and then the various war, and this is the tail end of that war and that story, even though the rest of the country is at peace.
And in fact, the -- I mean, in terms of kind of factual media updates outside of the mainstream narrative in the last two-three months, I think equally significant to M23 and all of those diplomatic negotiations about -- with international ramifications is actually the widespread increase of insecurity in many other parts of the country. So Gedeon, the Mai-Mai leader whose father I interview in the book, was busted out of jail, along with 900 other people, in 2009. And he's back in business. And he's killed several hundred people since January this year and displaced several hundred thousand in Katanga -- which is comparable numbers to what's been going on with M23, but it's not on the radar because it's not part of the story that we've already told.
And the problem that we -- those of us that try to write have with editors is, you've got to go from known to unknown; people want a story that they already understand. So the tragedy of Congo is also the tragedy of stereotyping and misunderstanding about other parts of the world, of which Africa, of course, has suffered much, much more than others.
So I think if there's a kind of takeaway from -- in my -- about updates is that there's a whole load of stuff going on. And what I would like to do, really, as a former human rights person who wants to lobby for rights to be respected is really to pose questions of those that would wish to help. So if that's a policy discussion, then it's about what is the appropriate and the responsible way for donors and international organizations to get involved. If you say you want to help, then you've got to be actual quite careful about how you -- how you do that.
And so far Tony's got a very good paper that published yesterday that goes into quite a lot of detail about the difficulties of doing that well and consistently when you're trying to manipulate a government, to make a government do things; it's only going to get involved in fits and starts, in inconsistent ways where its interests are threatened.
So I would, yeah, really just ask some questions is, A, what's legitimate, what's appropriate; B., what do the Congolese people want, work with the grain of Congolese civil society, of Congolese societies -- society and societies. I mean, the -- sort of the message of my book is talk to people, listen to them in their own languages, in their own homes, in their own places, and as much as possible, let that message filter up so that we don't have a framework agreement signed in Kampala by 12 countries with no representatives from Congolese civil society.
So it's those sorts of questions and those sorts of considerations that I think then should frame how you approach the issues and how you try and -- try and help. Ultimately, those are the -- they're the people who are living there, and they're the ones that -- who will frame peace and who will deliver peace. All we can do is kind of give them space and keep Rwanda off their back.
MCLEAN: Yes, I neglected to mention that Tony Gambino has a paper that is available along with the agenda for this meeting.
Before we open it up to questions from the audience, I had one last question for all of you. It strikes me also that so much of the international narrative has been about the activities of men, unless it has been to talk about women as victims. And to be sure, you know, that has been the case, given the reports of rape as a weapon of war. What is your sense of how women are weighing in to this situation, whether in an organized fashion or in their daily social relations? And I know that it's -- I'm asking three men, but -- (laughter) -- they know something.
DIZOLELE: This is -- this is why it's important to dissociate ourselves from the main narrative, because the main narrative is about tragedy, you know, that tells you, wow, this is a country with such a tragic history. And I will say, well, show me a country, and I'll show you tragedy. If there is a country, then there's tragedy. Congo is no more tragic than any other -- history of any other country. They're just going through a tough time now. We did, maybe, that in the U.S. earlier.
So if you have that narrative, the dominant narrative -- in the dominant narrative, the woman is the victim. But civil society is held together by women. The history of Congo, what's happening in the east, is surprising to the Congolese as it is to all of you. I was born and raised in Congo. My sense of what women were capable of was determined through that -- those years. And it was not what's happening with the militias. So it's strange to us as it is to you.
I know in the narrative, they try to tell you this is a part of the culture; women have always been treated this way. Well, it's no more far-fetched -- as far-fetched as it can get. The DRC, what is true the times of Mobutu, already worked to promote women rights. Zaire had the minister of foreign affairs almost 20 years before the U.S. We've had women in positions of power. We have matrilineal societies. I come from matrilineal society, where my entire lineage is traced from my mother. So even traditional women had property rights. They have all this stuff. Somewhere along the way, we also adopted a Western model, where women didn't have the rights.
So there's this confusion -- there's an intersection of the confusion. But in terms of the core, which I call the backbone of our society, which is the family and also civil society today, since the institutions don't work as well -- the women who are holding this. They hold the churches. They hold the neighborhood. Because the economy is not working well, they do the commerce. So most of the time, they're the ones who put the kids through school. In a society like that, you have a lot of strong role model, and all of them are women. I think that story also is not being told.
I think like Ben was saying, it's easy to tell about the victim. I always joke with my journalist friends, and I say, you know, when you write about the DRC, you write about these women. You come back and publish it in Boston or in New York. If that woman could read what you wrote about her, will she still be your friend? Will she even recognize herself in your story? If you can say yes, then good; you've done a good job. But if you're afraid to go back and show that to that woman, then you better change quickly because you're actually disenfranchising her.
She's not just the -- when I see a woman who's selling banana, I'm seeing a beautiful Congolese woman who's working hard, entrepreneur. When the story is told from a different perspective, she's this downtrodden woman who has not eaten for two days, who lives on a dollar a day or less than a dollar today. That itself is the same woman, but seen from different perspective. But I'm very confident in the support and the role that the women have been playing in Congolese society.
MCLEAN: Tony and Ben?
GAMBINO: It's such an important question. I'm really glad you asked it. I think -- to add a bit to what Mvembo said, I think we have to start also by recognizing that at least political structures in the Congo are extraordinarily male-dominated. If you look at the national Parliament, there are almost no women. If you look at the provincial assemblies, there are almost no women. If you look at the governors, 11 provinces, there are no women. So this is a country that does not have women in positions of power right now.
That said, that does not mean that there are not extraordinarily impressive women who are in other leadership roles in their society, particularly in civil society. I spent most of February traveling around the Congo and looking at civil society specifically. And if you go across, not just in Kinshasa, but to provincial capitals, whether it's Kindu in Maniema or others, as you meet the leaders, you meet -- and in many of the places, frankly, I felt that the most impressive members of civil society in particular places were women, in what they were working on and how they were seeing the issues and in what they were trying to accomplish in their interactions with the state and other actors.
Let me also make one point -- other point on this which is, I think, crucial for this audience. Our international action on this has missed the mark. And this links to the story we're talking about today relating to sending Bosco Ntaganda to The Hague. All of us in the United States, international community, have talked a lot about the violence perpetrated against girls and women and the need to have programs. And there are some very good programs funded by the United States and others in place in Eastern Congo and elsewhere.
But yet at the same time, as we were working on those issues and starting up those programs, these same governments were looking at a brutal person responsible for sexual violence, like Bosco Ntaganda, taking a central role as a commander in the Congolese army -- I'm talking about 2009 -- and implicitly accepting that decision, recognizing that when you permit people like that to continue in roles like that, the violence will continue and escalate. And so in effect, we winked and nodded at the mainstream --
MCLEAN: Was that when Secretary Clinton visited Goma?
GAMBINO: Unfortunately, at just the same time as Secretary Clinton was going to Goma in 2009, the implicit wink and nod by the international community accepting Bosco Ntaganda as the senior commander of the major military operation in precisely the same region occurred. So in my view, we missed the big question and the abuses continued, accelerated, even, through this period, and they still continue today.
MCLEAN: Let me give Ben a chance, quickly, because I know there are people in the audience that want to ask questions.
RAWLENCE: I'd just like to say -- to tell you a very small story that's in the book about a woman called Mama Christine in Radio Manono, which is a radio that was originally set up by a journalist who got a car battery donated from MONUSCO and rigged up an antenna, and it's housed in the former garage that used to have the post van of the town of Manonono. And Mama Christine is a volunteer. She's a refugee from -- IDP from within Katanga, but she's a volunteer and she runs a talk show for only women. And it sits a couple times a week and they have one microphone, and they invite women from the community and they discuss their problems, anything that they want to talk about. The week I happened to be there, it was husbands who drink too much.
And that show is the most popular show on Radio Manono, or at least it was when I visited. And it's one of the reasons why they applied to MONUSCO to get their antenna extended, so that more people -- the 50-kilometer radios could be increased. And in 2010, that happened, and Radio Manono is a bigger operation and it's thriving.
But that -- Mama Christine and the other women volunteers at that radio station are the driving force behind that show, which is one of the main programs of Radio Manono, which is playing a big role in reconciliation and in actually redefining, through the reach of its umbrella, what the community of Manono is and how it talks about itself and how it thinks about itself.
And there are lots of stories like that. And in this case, MONUSCO's? able to play a positive role. And I think that -- MONUSCO, for all its faults, is present in those communities. It is a member of those communities. It does have responsibilities. And I think there are plenty of other NGOs who do that kind of thing, and we should be learning from them and supporting more of that kind of stuff.
MCLEAN: Thank you.
Now it's open to you. Please, Ambassador -- (inaudible).
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much for this excellent presentation. I am delighted that you all have taken the time to share your perspectives with us. I wonder if I could ask you: Thinking back over the past 20 or so years, now think forward. Given where we are today, what will the Congo look like in two decades? Given the international environment, the regional environment and the motor forces inside the Congo itself, where are we headed?
MCLEAN: And I suppose anyone can answer.
GAMBINO: I'd be happy to start. I'll talk about where it could be headed, because, of course, it could be going in a variety of directions, and I'll give the most optimistic, because I think the events that we're seeing right now, with Bosco leaving the Congo, with the appointment of Mary Robinson, crates an opportunity to make peace in Eastern Congo, to get the relations right between Congo and its neighbors to the east, particularly Rwanda, but also Uganda, and then to really start working on governance issues.
So let's imagine that, working with the Congolese, the United States and others gets serious about having good provincial elections next year, and those occur. Then we will have democratic assemblies, 11 of them. They will elect governors; they will elect a Senate. We have a national election in 2016. Let's say that looks more like the election of 2006. President Kabila is term-limited. He's not permitted to run in 2016. So let's assume we have a free, fair, transparent election; someone wins. We need to have local elections.
So we have a structure that is starting to democratize. We work on governance issues, so the still very dysfunctional and corrupt state structures begin to improve. And there are good organizations, Congolese and international, doing that work right now, and we support that more.
Then the natural advantages of the Congo, the second most important forest in the world, with tremendous implications for climate change issues for the United States, not just the Congo River but a network of rivers that are the envy of all of Africa and contain potential hydroelectric power and fresh water that have people literally from Cairo to Cape Town salivating -- are those resources going to be exploited properly or not? If they are exploited property (sic) and this path of democratic governance is taken, in 2033 Congo would be stable, it would have had a series of successful elections, it would be moving into -- it would still be a very poor country, but it would be moving at a growth rate, a growth clip -- it could hit the kind of 7, 8 percent a year growth clip that you see in countries that are doing things right that have the kind of resources that Congo have. It would be a much better place than it is today.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Joanna Wechsler, Security Council Report. I want to ask all of you a question which you may not be able to answer. But I just don't understand one thing: Congo has been -- the DRC has been one of the most costly and resource-intensive efforts of the international community for over a decade. And occasionally, actually, there were results. When there was political attention, there were some results. But as you, Tony, mentioned, in 2009, for instance, there was this huge resounding message sent that, for instance, Bosco is OK. The Security Council visited DRC in 2009. Nobody mentioned the word "Bosco." It was completely off limits. So -- and for the last three years it seems like the Security Council lost any interest in the issue, until maybe November last year. Can someone explain to me why -- what is going on? It's enormous waste, if anything else. It is the most expensive U.N. operation, one of the largest ever, and due to its duration, it's the most expensive. Why are people wasting, if not human lives, money?
(Off-mic exchange.) (Laughter.)
GAMBINO: It's extremely shortsighted. But all I'd want to say, briefly, is that the initial role by the U.N. mission, which was called MONUC, in its first period, through the elections of 2006, showed what could be accomplished when you do it right, with serious leadership. By the way, a very distinguished retired American ambassador named Bill Swing ran MONUC through much of this period and did a phenomenal job.
MONUC, now renamed MONUSCO a few years ago, lost its way after 2006, as I tried to suggest earlier. Now the secretary-general is paying more attention to the Congo. The appointment of Mary Robinson is a sign of high-level interest. And there are a series of things that I've tried to sketch out today that are doable and that do not actually require more money, a lot more troops, a lot more effort, any of the things where you'd say, oh, that's heavy lifting.
No, frankly, what it requires is this concept we use all the time but have a hard time grasping that's called political will. The question is will the United States, will the other key members of the Security Council have the political will and work with the U.N. leadership to get this done. If they do, frankly, I would be more optimistic that MONUSCO could play a very positive role again in the Congo.
DIZOLELE: I think -- for me, I think the narrative is still key in this. I think we've lost our sense of principles, really, in many ways.
The Congolese are not asking for more money. You know, this costly business is not the cost to the Congolese. It's the cost to the West. You're wasting your money. You've chosen to waste your money, for whatever reason. And either it is the narrative, the extension of the genocide and these poor women we need to help; it is the prism of sexual violence or conflict. Again, we're talking about an area that represent less than 10 percent of the country. Can you imagine us spending our entire collaboration with Pakistan, with Afghanistan, in the tribal area, or in Kashmir, and building our entire international commitment with this country on Kashmir? It would be a most ridiculous thing. I cannot understand how nobody challenged that in the very principle.
So -- and then you have activists who come with different issues. So they make a lot of noise: We need to stop conflict minerals, we need to stop this, we need to stop that. And the entire Congress goes that way, or the entire Security Council goes one way or the other. Then there is such and such (star ?) or whatever. But lost in there is the Congolese voice. They've been there. We talk about Congo fatigue: There is no Congo fatigue in Bukavu. There is no Congo fatigue in Equateur. There is no Congo fatigue in Kinshasa. It's our -- we create those things, and then we wonder what happen.
So to me, the reverse of your question -- you're asking why it's happened; I don't know, I think for certain of these reasons I mentioned. But how do we stop that is really the most important question. We stop it be engaging the Congolese. It's not that difficult to engage a civil society that, by the way, has been doing most of the work. They do the work. They're the one who came the -- come with the data who's being raped. They're the one who go and say who's stealing what minerals. When they wanted revisiting of -- (inaudible) -- mining contract, it was civil society that pushed for it. It was not the U.N.; it was not the American embassy. So why are we so afraid to engage the Congolese is really the question. We do it everywhere else.
And again, to me, the answer goes back to the narrative. If we go back -- you mentioned the abolitionist movement or the Congo reform movement of 1908. In 1908 -- remember Joseph Konrad, the "Heart of Darkness," chopping off of limbs for rubber. But then it was not -- there were no militias. But the guys who made that movement, the Mark Twain and others, could have gone two ways. They could have said, let's do fundraising, let's mobilize our churches and send these people money, send them prosthesis, sent them doctors to treat them.
But they figure, no, no, no, wait a minute. The rubber is only a symptom of a bigger problem, the Leopoldian regime. If you don't rub -- if you don't have rubber in your region -- by the way, it was exactly like what's happening today. Rubber was not only across Congo; rubber was only in certain areas of Congo. But the consequence were enormous. So it was like if we only go after the rubber, then there is a problem. Nobody said let's start to fight rubber, and this way your car can have "clean" rubber. No, people said let's go destroy this Leopoldian system once and for all. They didn't have -- they barely had typewriters. They didn't have telephone. They didn't have Internet. So they had the courage which we don't have today. We have all the data, including satellite imagery, but we're still spending, as you say, billions of dollars. What is that? That's lack of guts, lack of principles. So we need to stop that. Maybe you come up with better idea.
RAWLENCE: Can I maybe say something just about the point I made earlier about the appropriate role and the legitimate role. I think -- and in the -- in MONUSCO, they're -- MONUSCO has all sorts of problems, but where the U.N. has played a very constructive role is in the group of experts that is providing -- is analyzing and looking at the evidence to support the implementation of the arms embargo and financing of militias. And it's that work that brought Rwanda to the table and Nkunda -- got Nkunda into house arrest into 2009. It's that work that precipitated the diplomatic flurries on M23 and all of the various maneuvers that happened last year that have ended up now in the framework agreement and the suspension of aid to Rwanda, which has had a lot -- much more far-reaching consequences for the political situation and the prospects of peace than all of that money that's spent on MONUSCO.
So it's worth the U.N., I think, reflecting a bit on how it can intervene, what its appropriate role is and where it can intervene. It has legitimacy. It has legal legitimacy. It has U.N. resolutions with the force of law that it can -- that give it the ability to gather that evidence, to play a key role. And that's really -- should be embraced at the same time of criticizing a lot of their profligacy as well.
MCLEAN: I see a question in the back of the room, but I also wanted to ask Mvemba, is there a neodiasporan Congolese population in the United States that has a stake in this that could be create -- because political will is, you know, not in the abstract.
DIZOLELE: There is a diaspora, but the diaspora is surviving like the people at home. I mean, there is this myth that the diaspora somehow is going to come together, you know. The diaspora immigrant, they're in asylum, they need to work, they need to survive.
MCLEAN: Well, it's happened with other diasporas.
DIZOLELE: No, I understand, but -- no, I understand. I'll take the question, but I'm just explaining -- because this notion of putting a lot of pressure on the diaspora is very difficult. I have the opportunity just to be where I am to do this stuff that I do, which happens to speak on behalf of some of the stuff that's happening in DRC, but most Congolese don't have that. And most Congolese would like to have that, but they just can't because of the stuff that -- (inaudible) -- described at home. The diaspora is already contributing a lot. They're the one who are sending remittances home, putting their nephews and nieces to school, who meet with congressmen and all that stuff. But at the end, it's really what the U.S. is prepared to do.
MCLEAN: One of the chief of staff in Washington, D.C., of a congressman who weighs in is Congolese.
DIZOLELE: Is Congolese, yes. And they do all these things. but if we are really caught like I say in going after the wrong thing, around the symptoms, and the voice are saying, we should not go that way, but you're not listening to them, it's really -- it's tiring, it's draining. The diaspora is contributing, I salute the effort, but I think it -- they're very limited just because of the reality of it. They have to survive, and that's really time-consuming for their families.
MCLEAN: Please. Do you -- I think you had --
QUESTIONER: My name is Obadias (ph). I'm from the Congo too. So -- thank you for your presentations.
I feel like you didn't talk about the elephant in the room, which is the ethnic issues in the east of Congo. Like you've talked about Bosco Ntaganda being arrested -- I mean, if you know the dynamics, the local dynamics, in eastern Congo, he doesn't represent anything. He just -- within the narrative, for somebody who represents impunity, as you've said, he's representing impunity but in practice -- I mean, who didn't do that -- who didn't do what he did? Who didn't do what Bosco did? I mean, from Kabila and his father and everybody and -- (inaudible) -- and all those names -- everybody did it in the Congo.
So Bosco is representing that impunity. He did wrong. I'm not -- I'm not supporting him or anything like that. I'm just saying he's representing something in the narrative, but in practice there's no substance in the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda. Things will continue.
So the issue is, from the east of the Congo, is this ethnic -- and I was surprised, because nobody really used anything -- ethnic groups and ethnic discrimination and animosity and all the conflict that has been going on, because one of the major issues with the Congo -- it all started in the -- in the east, because of some ethnic groups that were never recognized.
So I come from the Tutsis of Congo. (Chuckling.) So in the narrative I would fall into the bad guys of the Congo.
But when I grew up, when I was a kid, when I was 9 years old, Mobutu's soldiers would just show up, took our cows, call us Rwandans, and I know where my great-great-great-great-grandfather lived in the Congo. From 9 -- I was counting because I'm writing a memoir -- I was counting until 14th generation where my grandfather lived.
But for -- in 1991, I think, there was a local population census, and we weren't allowed to be counted. So what they did -- the men got out of the villages and went and burned the ballots. They just burned them because they weren't being counted.
MCLEAN: But -- so the point is that this involuntary --
QUESTIONER: Yeah. So the question is -- and for all three of them -- I'm feeling like they didn't touch on the elephant in the room. They didn't touch on the bigger issue, the cause of everything, and until the Congolese government, Kinshasa, gets little serious to deliver justice to protect everybody and everybody feels like there's justice, you won't have anything. I mean, I can't predict anything in 20 years. It will be worse than it is right now, today.
So that's a question --
MCLEAN: So all is not well within civil society.
DIZOLELE: (Inaudible) -- do you want to start? Oh, you want to -- you want to --
GAMBINO: Why don't we start and then you can --
DIZOLELE: OK. Go ahead. Yeah.
MCLEAN: Ben, did you want to weigh in as well?
RAWLENCE: Tony first.
GAMBINO: I don't agree that the ethnic issues are the only issues. There are a series of fundamental issues that include resources, include access to land.
But I do agree that the ethnic issues are fundamental. So it's very important that you brought up this.
And I would just make two points. One, there could be -- I'll take the optimistic road that I adopted earlier -- there could be something happening more and more in the Congo of coming to a greater understanding that all ethnicities inside the Congo, including Congolese, Hutus and Tutsis, are Congolese, period.
One sees that developing very strongly -- I was in just in Bukavu in South Kivu, and I think the acceptance of Tutsis who live in that province is growing. There are initial signs that in North Kivu, the province immediately to the north and the source of the M23 rebellion -- that there could be some movement in this direction and it relates -- and I won't go into the details, just for time reasons -- to a situation where I think people are going to turn away from Rwanda. Rwanda has, I think, in a sense, poisoned this issue and reintroduced an ethnic element. And it goes back to the genocide and a variety of points that Mora led us off with, that are so fundamental. But one thing that could be happening now is a useful diminution of Rwanda's influence inside the Congo, and therefore an ability for all Congolese, whatever ethnicity, to move forward.
The other brief point is that again the government has to become functional to deal with the land rights. As you know, you take a piece of land in eastern Congo or elsewhere, you will -- I'm aware of some conflicts going on right now that I'm actual doing a little work on -- where different people will produce legitimate pieces of paper from different periods, saying, I own this piece of land.
Well, imagine what happens if you have a piece of land and you have literally five or six or 10 different families who say, it's my land. And they can produce papers. And you don't have a state that has a system to adjudicate that. Well, what happens? Conflict happens. And unless the Congolese get that right, which is a state-building task, then we're going to see the continuation of these problems that you referred to.
MCLEAN: OK. Yes. And then you'll have the last --
DIZOLELE: I just wanted to add --
MCLEAN: No, Ben -- (inaudible). You'll make a little room for Ben as well.
MCLEAN: No, no, you go ahead.
DIZOLELE: OK. So I think -- I don't agree that's the elephant in the room, one. As Congolese -- as you, Congo is big. In fact, this is one advantage the DRC has. Over 250 ethnic groups. So while there may be issues between the Tutsis and other ethnic groups in the Kivus, it's not a national issue. That's one.
Two, you are not Congolese just because you're Tutsi, right? Neither am I in Congo just because I'm -- neither am I Congolese because I'm in Congo. You are Congolese for various sorts of things. So we need to go back and judge -- I think we have made, actually, a lot of progress. The stuff that you're describing happening with Mobutu and not -- we actually have gone also in the reverse. So while there is tension with the Tutsis, in some areas it's tension with the Nandes. There's tension with the Hunde. So -- in some areas there's tension with the Bazumbo (ph), in Bakongo. So it's not one specific group only.
And I think it's time -- let's put it this way. The U.S. has a lot of Hispanics. There are all kinds of Hispanics, the Hispanics who showed here before the Irish showed up, had been living in New Mexico before it became part of the U.S. The Hispanics who came in the '60s and applied for citizenship. The Hispanic who just showed up yesterday. They all want to be Americans. Some of them (are ?) Americans, some of them in the flux. So I think in the case of the DRC it is maybe an elephant in the room in the sense like we've addressed that.
But we also have -- the DRC has a new constitution that has taken all those things into account. Maybe it's time to lay weapons down, because you cannot say I'm a Mexican-American or I'm Hispanic, I want to be American, my family was (Father ?) Francisco. Now they have issue, I'm going to take up arms. Well, how does the Irish-American feel about that? You're taking arms because you're fighting for citizenship, so you're going to kill me?
MCLEAN: So Ben, you have -- (inaudible) -- more seconds.
DIZOLELE: So I think --
MCLEAN: You get to -- from your ears to the ground.
RAWLENCE: One second.
MCLEAN: No, no, no, we're just running out of time.
RAWLENCE: OK. The Banyamulenge and the Tutsi -- that narrative is so hotly contested, it is at the root of all the problems in the east since Belgium forcefully migrated Tutsis from Rwanda even, and way back before that. But what we're talking about is local politics. And in terms of foreign policy, mostly from a U.S. perspective, is how to allow a safe space or contribute to a safe space in which those discussions can take place. It's not for MONUSCO or Rwanda or the U.S. or France or anybody else to come in and untangle that. That's politics. And it's about -- the appropriate and the responsible question for policy is about how to do that helpfully without doing any harm, without funding the conflict, without exacerbating it and so on.
MCLEAN: Thank you, Ben Rawlence, Tony Gambino --
GAMBINO: Thank you.
MCLEAN: -- and Mvemba Dizolele.
DIZOLELE: Thank you, Mora.
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