The Crisis in Congo

Monday, October 18, 2010

Experts examine the stability, security, risks, and quality of governance of the Democratic Republic of Congo since the 2006 elections, as well as the need for continued international engagement.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH: Okay, can you hear me?

Good morning, and welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. I'm Philip Gourevitch, from the New Yorker Magazine.

Our speakers today are Roger Meece, special representative for the DRC, and Tony Gambino, former USAID mission director for the DRC. You have much fuller biographies here, so I'm not going to waste any of our precious time getting into that. Please turn off all electric devices, except pacemakers -- (laughter) -- and let's make sure that they're off, not silent.

And this record -- this meeting is on the record. We will talk for a little bit, and then we'll take some questions.

"The Crisis in Congo" seems like one of those, sadly, perennial titles that could have been used any time for an awfully long time. And the subject is just much too vast for the time we've got, obviously. And so in discussing how best to have at it, the three of us realized it's best to start off by admitting that we're going to not be able to do everything and address everything, all the urgent dimensions of the subject.

There's been a lot of coverage of recent legislation in Washington on regulation of Congolese mining practices, mass rapes in Walikale, a lot of coverage of the controversial U.N. human rights report on atrocities by all the parties in the war there between 1993 and 2003. And I'm sure there are going to be a lot of questions about these things when we open the floor in the second half.

We wanted to take advantage of the speakers here this morning and their expertise to address really the present and future political and military dynamics and risks, and to discuss what's shaping up to be in fact a period of new and urgent political and military crisis in Congo. It's actually going to be, I realized, in January, 10 years already since Joseph Kabila became president with no greater qualifications than that he was the son of the man who'd been assassinated after being installed by a foreign military invasion. And so he at that time didn't seem like a great prospect. In 2006, when he was elected, at great expense to the international community, the conventional wisdom in diplomatic and humanitarian circles was that after a century -- half-century of decline, and a decade of real hell, Congo was doing better. You'd hear this a lot: that it was in a position to improve; you could at least work with it now for the better.

The ensuing years have told a different story. There's been a pretty rough ride. And now, one hears from many directions that Congo really is in big trouble again, in crisis and at risk: in the east, the instability; the political volatility in Kinshasa; next year is an election year again, with potentially hot parliamentary as well as presidential races.

This past Friday, Barclays Capital put out a research report on the DRC, warning that it is about as high a risk a place to do business as there is on the planet, and saying, quote, "Perhaps most worrying is that U.S. State Department officials consider President Kabila to be at his most unpredictable, which does not bode well," close quote. Do you share this sense of alarm? What's going on? What's to be done? Perhaps we can start by you just giving us a sense of what you think the most urgent risks and concerns are, and why.

I'm going to start with --



GAMBINO: Thank you very much, Phil. And it's a real pleasure to be here. I'm going to jump right into it.

The problem we have in the Congo is, if we just go back to 2006, when elections occurred and Joseph Kabila won in what many of us considered to be reasonably free and fair elections -- certainly not perfect, but fair enough, given the context of the Congo. The United Nations and Security Council members in particular began to look, as rapidly as possible, for an exit strategy. How do we get out?

Let me just pause for a minute to have you think about how counterproductive that way of thinking is. In Liberia, for example, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won, the United States and others in the international community said, "Wow, now's the time to really engage."

In Congo after the 2006 elections, oddly, the international community had the opposite reaction: "Wow, now's the time to disengage," at least politically -- aid flowed -- but in terms of high-level political engagement, which had characterized the previous period.

When the international community looked for benchmarks to say, "Well, how do we get out in a reasonable fashion, so that the place does not go downhill towards collapse again," it has set out in a series of public documents, put out by the secretary-general of the United States (sic), what they've called benchmarks. And the benchmarks tend to focus on restoring the heart of a functioning state.

So what does that mean? It means a credible military and police that's able to perform the basic functions of those organizations across the national territory. It means other essential state structures around a judiciary, basic administration.

Okay. So where are we now as we move into 2011? I spent quite a bit of time earlier this year in the Congo assessing this, and efforts undertaken by the United Nations and key donors to try to build up state structures, particularly in eastern Congo, and I have to tell you it's not going well. And it's not going well because the quality of governance remains extremely low and the commitment on the part of the states to undertake these basic exercises that I just described remains very low.

The next quick point I want to make is to really emphasize what Philip said earlier. This is a state that has been in decline now for roughly 40 years. Decline of the Zairean state under Mobutu began in the mid-1970s. Then let's remember that in the second half of the 1990s we had two wars that literally tore the country apart, dividing it into multiple pieces at a particular point in time. Then we had a very messy transition. None of these things leads any state and certainly not the Congo towards better governance. Rather, the very weak governance that the Kabilas inherited when they took charge in 1997 continues to characterize the situation there and to create an enormous headache, to say the least, with the international community, as the United States, the United Nations and others think about what we do about that.

That said, I in no way consider the situation hopeless but will talk about what to do about it in later questions.

MEECE: Let me pick up on a couple of points. I certainly would not challenge in any way the extent or magnitude of the problems or the issues that could destabilize further not only Congo but Central Africa.

I would submit, however, that these are not worse and indeed are familiar in terms of the kind of risks that are being confronted for a very long period of time in the Congo and Central Africa.

I've only -- I've only been in my current capacity there as special representative of the secretary-general for the U.N. for about two-and-a-half months, but I do have benefit of two previous tours in Congo as a U.S. diplomat during the '90s, during the war and the installation of the Laurent Kabila government, and then again from 2004 to 2007, the end of the transition and the 2006 elections. And I am very familiar with the recurrent prevailing sentiment that the end is near, that everything is lost, that the challenges are too great to confront, and that we are facing imminent failure. I have always disagreed with that kind of thinking, and I would disagree with it now.

I think there is an issue, and I think it was alluded to a little with the question as well as by Tony, of expectations. Tony referenced the fact that the international community and a lot of people were starting to look for an exit strategy in 2006.

I think in part that was predicated on an overly optimistic assessment that somehow the elections would automatically solve so many problems. Well, the elections were in fact a critical and major step forward, but they in and of themselves don't solve the problems.

And so I think part of the problem that we go through in terms of what's being referred to as these issues or a more critical situation today is in part just a reflection of our own expectations and going through cycles from despair to an overly optimistic view.

I would say that in some ways the nature of the issues that we are confronting are similar, even though the specifics have changed. I would start out by noting that the security conditions in the east, from my standpoint, always remain at the top of the list. And this includes a variety of armed groups that are the fundamental source of insecurity and of course function as a predatory force relative to the forces -- relative to the civilian population in the areas where they -- where they operate.

We can go into the specifics of those. There has been some progress in the sense, for example, the FDLR, the Rwandan group, does not have the numbers of core combatants that it once had, but clearly continues as a major threat. And you can go through the various situations that way.

I would also identify another significant risk from a different angle, and that is my fear -- that has been the case for a number of years -- of a progressive or worse disengagement by the international community, because the nature of the problems that are being confronted, the building a state to which Tony alluded, are not short- term issues; they are not short-term -- there are not short-term solutions available. And it requires a sustained, continued commitment by the international community and obviously political will on the part of the government over an extended period of time.

And we -- and if we confront this situation -- as I think it has happened to a degree and certainly we are facing -- of any risk of a significant reduction in what is already arguably a limited base of international support and engagement relative to the magnitude of the problems being faced, it will risk there very seriously setting back the efforts with effects that would be difficult to foresee.

And so I would argue that it is more critical -- remains critical, as it has been for some time, to sustain that international engagement not only through the U.N. but through a variety of bilateral and multilateral programs that are critical to move things forward.

And finally I would just note, certainly in keeping with the opening question, our time is very limited. There are any one of at least a thousand issues that could easily consume an hour's worth of discussion and detail, but I, under severe duress, was -- am trying to limit myself in my responses to stay within the allotted time. So --

GOUREVITCH: All right. Well, let me -- let me drive it forward to -- I mean, we all agree, I think -- I think everybody agrees that one of the big issues is going to be stability and security, and if the question is nation building or if the question is peace building or if the question is just trying to protect the population that's been preyed on by rapacious groups in every direction for a very long time -- and it seems like the basic premise for stabilization is that you have some kind of monopoly of force by a national army or a national security force or some governmental or international force. No -- there is no such thing and hasn't been. And it seems that really by all accounts, the Congolese army, the FARDC, is a leading cause of the insecurity. It's badly trained, it's indisciplined (sic), it's extremely predatory. It's not a whole lot better than its longtime allies, the FDLR, except the FDLR fights enemies as well as population.

Meanwhile, the U.N. mission, MONUSCO, has been criticized for failing to protect civilians in the recent rape attacks, and certainly in its earlier iteration as MONUC got a lot of problems with protection and with its capacity. Kabila has been calling for the withdrawal of all U.N. forces, with considerable sort of background support from his neighbors.

Help us understand this dynamic. How do you respond to these calls for MONUC to go out? How do you deal with a situation where MONUSCO has to work to achieve its mission with a partner, the army, that's rotten and doesn't work in good faith?

And is there a coherent alternative to this very unhappy status quo?

MEECE: I will find it even more difficult to try to limit my question to -- my answer to that question than I did the previous one. But let me start out by saying that clearly the FARDC, the Congolese army, is a weak institution. That builds again, as Tony was alluding earlier, to 40 years, 30-plus at least, of extremely poor management and a (degrading/degraded ?) military capacity in the country.

And in some ways, some of the solutions that we collectively have identified to the very complicated issues of the east contributes to the problem. For example, relative to the armed groups, it was arrived at a long time ago that one of the solutions is offering the choice of demobilization or integration into the army by these various militias and other groups -- a large number -- percentage of which opt for integration.

These are not military, or have no classic military training. They're more groups of armed thugs. So what you are doing is integrating basically an armed gang or members of an armed gang into the army, which compels problems, absent effective and sustained military training and other programs, to bring them up to the level of professionalization both in terms of military performance and personal conduct, including serious abuses of human rights that you would expect.

Our collective answer to that, in part, has been bilateral training programs. And without disparaging in any way the effort that has been conducted by a number of countries, including the U.S., in these programs, there are not adequate to the needs.

A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing this problem. And if you added up the entirety of the bilateral training programs going on right now, one senior person in Kinshasa, a foreign diplomat, calculated that our current cycle would require about 20 years to get to the level of training that we need. That obviously is not satisfactory. And even worse, this -- the levels of bilateral training show signs of declining, including a U.S. training program that is not at all clear to me will necessarily be continued for the future.

I would also take issue with a couple of the premises of the question. To characterize the FARDC as a leading cause of insecurity I think I would -- I would disagree with. To me, the leading cause of insecurity -- there's a collection of foreign and domestic armed groups in the east that are the source of the -- the primary source of the security issues in the east. The FARDC problem is that it is inadequate, as it exists right now, to be able to respond.

And relative to MONUSCO, we have currently about 18,000 troops, what I would define as a civilian -- as the operational area where we have those troops in the east. The total surface area covers an area that is larger than Afghanistan. Obviously there is a significant limit as to what we can do with those forces and the resources available to us relative to civilian protection.

The incidence of mass rapes that got justifiably a huge amount of attention recently in north Kivu province clearly required us to take a serious look at how we are doing things and what we could do better. But I just reported to the Security Council on Friday and said, let none of us imagine that even if we get this exactly right in terms of doing our job as best we can, that we will reach the point with these kinds of forces, over that size area, to be able to ensure full protection for all civilians through that whole region.

And so we have to balance -- and I'm being called on time -- but we have to balance the short-term issues of protecting civilians, aid to victims and humanitarian interest interventions against the long- term fundamental issues, including security sector reform, including the military, including the building of the state, which is the only way we're going to get to the kind of situation, long-term security that is needed. And the Congolese institutions, problematic as they are, have to be a part of that solution.

GAMBINO: Let me start by saying that the building of the institutions, as Ambassador Meece said, is, under any circumstances, a long-term situation. Even if the international community threw everything we had at trying to build an effective military, military experts would tell you that it takes at least a decade to form the kind of professional army that a state like the Congo needs and doesn't have.

So I want to focus on what are the problems now and what can we do about them right now.

Unfortunately, Ambassador Meece inherits a real problem. He could speak about the situation he lived during his time as U.N. ambassador, the two -- excuse me, U.S. --

MR. : U.S. (Chuckles.)

GAMBINO: -- excuse me, U.S. ambassador, U.S. ambassador, in the 2004 to 2007 period.

Because particularly in 2005, 2006, the United Nations, with support from the United States and others, engaged very aggressively around protecting civilians and trying to ensure that the right framework was in place for reasonably free and fair elections to take place.

And it succeeded. Levels of violence went down dramatically, including in the areas of eastern Congo that are plagued by high levels of violence, including sexual violence, today. So let me emphasize that what was then called MONUC, with a level of force that was actually somewhat lower than what Ambassador Meece has today, was able to quite successfully set up a reasonable situation.

Was there violence during that period? Of course. As he said, it's impossible to protect everyone, but no society is capable of protecting everyone, even with the most professional police forces and other security structures. So that can't be a realistic goal. It's to set up the kind of circumstance where the horrors that we've seen in various places, documented by Human Rights Watch and others -- not just recently, in the Walikale area, but in Kiwanja and in so many other places in north and south Kivu over the last decade -- those kind of things don't happen. And in particular, they don't happen in the neighborhood of a strong U.N. armed presence. So as we move into 2011 and elections, the challenge for the special representative of the secretary-general, for Ambassador Meece, is to how do we regain that period of 2005/2006.

Final points. In late 2008, right around the time of the presidential election in the United States, a renegade in-and-out member of the Congolese military, a man named Laurent Nkunda, almost took the city of Goma, the capital city of north Kivu province. This caused one of these flares of attention on the part of the international community: We have to do something about this. At the same time, the Congolese government and Rwandan government reached an arrangement whereby Nkunda, who was stopped from taking Goma, was removed from the -- literally removed from the Congo by Rwandan authorities. He is still under loose house arrest in Rwanda.

Then, in 2009, the Rwandan army entered at the beginning of the year. They were only in the Congo for a little over a month. After they departed, the Congolese army started an offensive. There was good news in the offensive in that effective action was taken against the Rwandan armed group, the FDLR, that's been so brutal, as Ambassador Meece has already stated. And that -- we can talk about that perhaps a bit later. But there was bad news in it too.

The MONUC gave basically carte blanche support to the Congolese military during this period, and Human Rights Watch and many other Congolese and international human-rights and other nongovernmental organizations documented the level and scope of abuses that were committed by all actors, including the Congolese military.

During this period in 2009, in effect, the United Nations gave up on its protection of civilians' mandate, which is the highest priority stated again and again in Security Council resolutions. It's really now time, as we have new leadership in, now, MONUSCO, to put that back in the center and to find the effective strategies that have already been executed by the United Nations to protect civilians and to create adequate stability so that the Congo can move forward.

GOUREVITCH: We're almost out of the time we have before questions, so -- but you've led me to what was going to be my last big question, will have to be my last very quick question. If you -- to the extent that the foreign press covers the Congo, it does so very heavily from the point of view that you could actually sort of think that everything in Congo was driven by Rwanda. And I find that far more people in New York and Washington have strong opinions about Kagame and the Congo than about Kabila and the Congo, which is probably to Kabila's advantage.

No doubt Rwanda has a lot to answer for in Congo, but for the past year and a half there has been this rapprochement of some kind between Kigali and Kinshasa, one which the international community during that whole long Nkunda assault on Goma really didn't see coming, and was being engineered behind the scenes there.

And, I mean, we're talking about international engagement, and it seems like there are two levels. This is a room in which, I think it's pretty safe to say, there are almost no Africans. And there are African discussions about Congo going on in the region all the time. Are these two talking to each other? Is this rapprochement real, is it solid, is it a phony sham, does it lead to peace, is there a positive way to work with it?

We have three minutes before open the floor.

GAMBINO: I can say something brief. (Inaudible) -- I really will adhere to time.

I think there is a positive and a negative. First, the rapprochement is real. The understandings reached by President Kabila and some of his key aides and President Kagame and some of his key aides were real understandings that we have seen executed over the last few years. And good relations between the two neighboring states certainly is something that we would like to see, although there are -- there can be and are negative aspects to it.

But the undeniably positive side to it is this: For a decade, the Congolese state had supported the FDLR. The FDLR, for people who might not know, is a group of Rwandans who had come out of the genocide. Its leadership included people who had engaged in and been involved in the genocide at senior levels. So the Rwandan state, quite correctly, saw the FDLR as a huge threat to them and one to be defeated.

The Congolese state, for its own reasons, provided the FDLR with military and other support until the agreement of late 2008. All reports suggest that for the first time, the Congolese government really did adhere to its agreement with the Rwandans and it cut off the FDLR. And now we see the FDLR is at maybe half or even less than half the strength at which it was when Congolese support ended in 2008.

This is unambiguously a good thing. For anyone who has looked at the scale and brutality of the massacres committed by the FDLR, controlling this group and seeing them ultimately disappear will be a great thing.

The negative side, not of the agreement but of the involvement of Rwanda, is that right on the border you have a variety of groups dominated by Congolese. The most important is called the CNDP, that has close links with Rwanda. These groups are in and out of the Congolese government, the Congolese military. Today, in effect, in certain key regions they constitute a parallel government and are not really within the Congolese state.

There are now a whole set of shadowy exercises undertaken that relate to dominance within the CNDP, where there's a struggle, and dominance within the Rwandan state, where there is a struggle. This is roiling the already very unstable situation in the Congo and is something to be very concerned about.

MEECE: My short answer to all of your questions is yes. I would agree this is real. I would note that it is not just with Rwanda. The improved relations with Uganda and, to a lesser extent, other countries in the region is also very important, also real, also unambiguously a good thing for the overall situation.

And in some ways better yet, I would submit that these are not improved relations -- and specifically with Rwanda -- based on just some vague feelings good -- warmth or friendship. There is, in fact, no friendship. (Clearing his throat.) Excuse me. It is based on -- entirely on a calculation by the respective parties of shared interests. And those are real and they are very viable and there are a good basis for moving forward.

It's very clear to me that, speaking of people in Kigali as well as Kinshasa, and I would extend that to Kampala, as well -- have a serious commitment to maintaining this relationship, of continuing it, of not doing anything that would jeopardize it, recognizing that their own interests are very much wrapped up in having this improved regional dynamic. It is -- it is the -- (word inaudible) -- initiative. They are talking to each other.

All the rest of this, insofar as we can or need to support it, that's a good thing, but by now it is an established fact and, I think, a very important factor for the future.

GOUREVITCH: Thank you. Now I want to open it up to your questions. State name and affiliation. Keep it as concisely one questions and a question, and wait for the mike. Joanna's first.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Joanna Weschler, Security Council Report.

After the horrendous wave of rapes in Walikale, several officials including -- and this is a question for Mr. Meece. Several officials, including diplomats and high-level U.N. officials, were talking about imposing individual sanctions on some of the perpetrators. Specific names were mentioned as recently as last week.

You have now spent some time interacting with the Security Council, its members; you addressed the council last week. The council has given itself a tool of targeted sanctions, specifically for sexual violence, almost three years ago. Yet, so far it has never used it specifically for that purpose. Nobody's on the list because of perpetrating just sexual violence.

What is your feeling after this week around New York of the likelihood that these sanctions will be imposed for the Walikale perpetrators? And generally, what is your feeling about individual accountability as a way of addressing what's going on in the Congo?

MEECE: Let me try to address that briefly. I think that what is generally referred to as ending impunity is clearly critical, and can and should be addressed on a variety of levels. It's a bit difficult for me to predict what or may -- what may not be taken relative to broad international sanctions.

In this particular case, these mass rape attacks, the primary perpetrators were elements of the FDLR, the Rwandan group, and a Congolese militia group called Mai-Mai Cheka. Insofar as there is the appetite to impose sanctions against particularly the FDLR leaders -- and it seems to me there's several potential bases for that -- I would certainly strongly encourage and support that.

In addition, we, MONUSCO, had a target of opportunity which we were able to successfully seize in cooperation with the military prosecutor's office to take into custody -- Congolese custody -- and transfer to the prosecutor's office one of the senior commanders of Mai-Mai Cheka for prosecution. That's another step. I would also applaud the arrest last week in Paris of a primary FDLR leader who has long been operating there in relative freedom -- that's pursuant to an International Criminal Court warrant -- Callixte Mbarushimana, if I've got the name right without aid of being able to read it off a paper. Also a good step, and I would hope that that would encourage others to take action against FDLR leaders who are continuing to live and operate in Europe and North America. And that too would be a step forward.

So, insofar as actions can be take at the local level to end impunity and bring prosecutions, insofar as there can be further action at a international level, whether through the ICC or other institutions or sanctions, I think it's important to pursue all of these. And the more pressure that can be brought to bear on particularly the leaders who are guilty of a -- not just these recent mass rapes, but, you know, long-standing horrific violence directed against civilians, I would applaud all those steps.

GOUREVITCH: Monte (ph).

QUESTIONER: Is there a plausible argument that this region in the next 20 years can become a significantly higher geopolitical strategic priority for the United States than it has been since the fall of the Berlin Wall?


GAMBINO: Do you want to --

MEECE: (Inaudible.)

GAMBINO: Over the next 20 years, Monte (ph). (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

GAMBINO: Right now -- right now, certainly not. One of the things that not just the Congo, but the region suffers from -- and I think that's the impetus for your question -- is that I think that the terrible things that have occurred in the region -- the Genocide in Rwanda, the continuing violence in Congo, including the sexual violence -- does get international attention. And then we get a quick "Shouldn't we do something?"

But because it is not perceived that the level of interest that the United States sees in Afghanistan/Pakistan, in the Middle East or even just north of the Congo in Sudan, we don't get quite the focus to reach the kinds of results that Ambassador Meece was talking about.

My own view is that even without an alteration of any kind of geostrategic view, there are still ample reasons to do a better job than what we've done in the Congo. If we just look back, for example, at what occurred in the late '90s when we had a war bringing in eight other African countries, destabilizing not just central Africa, but starting to destabilize much of Sub-Saharan Africa, this is certainly something that the world doesn't want. And I think that, plus the deep humanitarian interest and a variety of other things, compel us to do a much better job than we have done.

MEECE: Could I add?

GOUREVITCH: Yes, please.

MEECE: I would -- I would just add to that I -- the difficulty seeing a geostrategic priority, but I think there has been a growing interest in the region. I hope it can be sustained. It's what I was alluding to earlier, not just by the U.S., but other international countries as well. I think that's needed.

Tony -- I keep calling Tony -- he's referring to me as "Ambassador Meece." I don't know if this means he -- it's to -- easier to beat up on me or what but -- (laughter).

GAMBINO: (Laughs.)

MEECE: But I would -- I am concerned that there is the potential for at least some disengagement in terms of attention and resource levels being committed. But it is important for the region to move this forward.

Tony referred to the eight national armies, what was often called Africa's "first world war." What goes on there and to move backwards could have a huge implication not just for central Africa and Congo, but for a significant swath of the continent, as we've seen before. And in fact, I'd go further than that, in noting that insofar as there are, I think, justified concerns about how things will develop in Sudan -- southern Sudan in particular, which shares a very long border -- it behooves all of us to be paying attention to this region and to be doing what we can to ensure things continue to move forward. QUESTIONER: Ken Roth, from Human Rights Watch.

When I think about who might personify many of the problems that you've been describing in the Kivus, I think of Bosco Ntaganda -- you know, the former deputy commander and then commander of the CNDP, who was then integrated into the FARDC. My question really is, first of all, what is holding up his arrest? He's been indicted by the ICC. Kabila has the best record of any president in the world of surrendering people to the ICC, but he hasn't turned over Bosco.

Second, as for MONUSCO, it has had a long policy of not supporting abusive figures. But last week, Bosco came out and finally admitted the obvious, which is that he is indeed a deputy commander of the FARDC. Does that change MONUSCO's policy toward working with him?

MEECE: A couple of answers to that. First of all, Bosco -- what Bosco claimed in a press interview is that he's the deputy commander of Amani Leo -- which is, bluntly, not true. We know the Amani Leo command relationships. We have no contact with Bosco. We have no support or involvement with battalions, units, in which he has a command relationship -- (drop in microphone sound) -- I've obviously said something wrong and I've now been -- (laughter) -- somebody's monitoring.

Can you hear me? All right, let's continue without the mike.

The arrest of Bosco -- Bosco nominally is integrated into the -- into the FARDC, but I would emphasize the word "nominally." I think the most charitable description I've heard about Bosco and the CNDP generally is that it is imperfectly integrated. I would submit that it's questionable as to whether there is integration in significant measure.

For example, the government is undertaking a new push right now to try to move CNDP commanders, deploy them elsewhere. It looks highly likely that there will just be a collective refusal to do that. This is -- this is not properly viewed as a -- as an integration into the FARDC.

I don't think it is fair to assert that there is any confidence or trust in Bosco by the leadership. But the ability to successfully arrest him and take him into detention -- I think it is also a question.

And so I don't think it is so much a matter of making a decision. And we'll assess the practicality of doing so in what is a very volatile area and a very complicated one, specifically in north Kivu, to be able to move.

But from a MONUSCO standpoint, we certainly do not have any dealings with him. And I would just state that his assertion that he is deputy commander of Amani Leo is just flat wrong.

GAMBINO: Could I just say just a quick thing about this, because this is so important? Bosco is a thug. He's indicted by the ICC. When the indictment came down, the Congolese authorities said publicly, okay, we understand this, but we need stability before justice. This was the formulation they offered.

As I said, in 2009, regrettably, the United Nations supported the Amani Leo operation, which included at its heart the CNDP. As weakly integrated as they are into the Congolese army -- and I would agree with that -- they are still actually the major fighting force within the Congolese army. And those are the units that were receiving support during 2009. It's this back-and-forth from the international community of do we support these groups, including ones that have, even if it's tenuous and shadowy, people like Bosco at the head? Or do we focus on civilian protection and other key aspects of the mandate?

I'm so pleased. I'll now call you, Roger. (Laughter.)

MEECE: Does that mean you'll be kinder now? (Laughter.) (Inaudible.)

GAMBINO: (Inaudible.)

GOUREVITCH: Just getting back to the question I was asking a little bit about the army, which is, if you have an army that's no good and doesn't fight, first they're allied with the FDLR and now they're allied with the anti-FDLR, but they're not able to do these operations, or they don't do them on their own, and then you keep having these impossible partners. Isn't that -- put even greater emphasis on needing to create some kind of an army that works?

MEECE: Well, I think it does, absolutely. I mean, I go back to the earlier statements -- and I mentioned training, but I mean, there's a whole series of really major issues that have to be addressed with the army. And pay and living conditions, which is very much at the heart of things, I've heard being (quoted ?) by European security effort, demobilization, military justice systems, as well as training performance. And I could go on at length.

For ourselves, let me just note that the key to part of this dilemma, the problem, is the FARDC clearly is a problem in many respects, including the CNDP. But it has to be a part of the long- term answer. And so one has to somehow square the circle of working to improve the FARDC even while working with it in terms of operations addressing the armed groups and other issues.

For ourselves, among other things, this has produced something called the policy of conditionality, meaning MONUSCO active involvement or support is given only to units or commanders that are -- do not have or are not implicated in egregious human-rights records, which is a -- which is a problem and is imperfectly -- an imperfect solution to an issue. It's one that we are continuing to try to work and better implement. But there is an inherent problem here in trying to work for the improvements at the same time one is trying to address the security conditions.

And finally, just one final point. I would just note that when we talk about the security institutions of the state, clearly the FARDC and the army is a major role, and the preeminent one relative to the armed groups in the east. But also, over the long term, we should not be forgetting the police, which are -- I think are a critically important part of the long-term answer in terms of providing security and are dramatically underequipped and have nowhere close to the capacity that is needed, and military and civilian justice systems, which are also extremely weak but also have to be a part of this -- of this equation as well in terms of getting to the -- to the long-term solutions.

GOUREVITCH: Let me just take one from the back. Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Todd Johnson from Ferrari Consultancy.

What do you -- I know this may be a bit out of -- Ambassador, out of your realm of what you can comment on, or -- but regarding the conflict -- Congo conflict minerals provision of the financial reform.

I'm wondering, if you look at the specifics, there are quite onerous reporting requirements for listed companies here in the U.S. And I'm wondering if you could -- either of you could comment on the -- whether these actually can be implemented, whether a U.S. company or a company listed in the U.S. can actually meet these obligations. And if they can, will it make a difference in terms of stopping the trafficking of conflict minerals from eastern Congo? Thank you.

MEECE: Maybe I could start this. It's probably quite -- first of all, it's a (rare ?) topic that I -- that I won't comment on.

But conflict minerals is clearly at the center of a lot of issues, provides major support of financing to armed groups. Illegal exploitation is a major problem throughout the region.

In my own view, I'm not well-positioned to comment on the specifics of the U.S. law that was just passed. But this is something that requires effort, again, probably over an extended period, at three levels.

One is the national level with the -- with the weak institutions of the state trying to better get at and control and regulate the mining and commerce.

You know, two is at the regional level of states in the region. And there is an encouraging initiative there -- in fact, a summit that is planned in Kinshasa for November at the initiative of the region to try to start defining and putting in place some kind of structure that will better control and regulate or normalize, if you will, mineral trading.

And then, third, is at the broad international level -- and whether that is in the specific form of the U.S. legislation, some initiatives that I understand are being considered in Europe. But I would certainly support whatever is a practical (form ?) at the broad international level to try to regulate the trade and what is sometimes referred to as conflict or blood minerals, to put pressure at that level. And it seems to me none of those by themselves is likely to offer a quick or definitive solution. But by trying to pursue all of them, it certainly adds to the pressure to put an end to what is an unacceptable existing status quo.

GAMBINO: I'll just talk about the aspect of "Will it make a difference?" rather than going into some of the details of the legislation, although we could talk about that afterwards if you're interested.

I understand and I think it is useful for people to, you know, pull out their cell phones and hold them up in any kind of audience and say, there might be a mineral in this cell phone that came from the Congo, and then to use that as a way to get people to think about what's going on in the Congo. It's a very effective public relations tool.

And in effect, some of the minerals that are taken out of the eastern zones of Congo, where these horrible abuses occur, could wind up in some of our cell phones. And there are some issues around corporate social responsibility that Roger raised that I think are useful, and that I do not think that this is just a PR gimmick. I think there's something real there.

But the reality today is that there are a series of very rich gold, tin and other mines around eastern Congo that are controlled by various armed groups. They're controlled by the FDLR. They're controlled by Mai-Mai militias. They're controlled by members of the Congolese military, the loosely integrated Congolese military. And those different groups have their own sub rosa arrangements with the government of Rwanda, the government of Uganda, the government of the Congo, that permit this to occur. The legislation that was just enacted will not get at that, which is the nub of the problem right now.

And trying to get this very shady corrupt set of dealings, which is organized around high levels of violence and then expropriation of these minerals, requires more creative and aggressive actions on the ground. MONUSCO has had some plans to do certain things around it, although it's an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. But I think it's in those efforts on the ground that we could get some of the short term, which is what I think is really needed, as we move on some of the longer-term changes that we could get via the legislation.

GOUREVITCH: (Off mike) -- you have a question?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- Tempelsman, Leon Tempelsman and Son. A historical/philosophical question, looking back at history.

Underlying U.S. policy since the '60s, and then the U.N. policy afterwards, and even Mobutu's internal policy, one of the main drivers, really -- and the African Union -- was to maintain the integrity of the territory. Are we chasing a phantom? Is that unachievable? Is that something that should be reviewed? Are the fault lines in that society so deep and so historical that no amount of patching up -- which really is what one has been doing -- can result in a country that is delineated as it presently is?

GAMBINO: Perhaps I'll start. This is a question, as you know, that is regularly asked about the Congo, and it has been asked for many, many years. I guess I will confess that, unlike Ambassador Meece, I am --

MEECE (?): (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

GAMBINO: -- I am alarmed by the situation in the Congo today. And I think it is quite important that reasonable elections be organized next year -- believe it or not, this is getting to an answer to your question -- because elections are the way that a society tries to produce legitimate leaders.

And Congo made a halting move in that direction in 2006. But Joseph Kabila is deeply unpopular -- make no mistake about it -- everywhere in the Congo today. It is not clear that he is going to be willing to organize anything like free and fair elections.

What will free and fair elections mean in 2011? One, they have to be at least as free and fair as 2006. That seems an obvious standard. Two, there has to be at least one credible opponent running against President Kabila. It can't be a referendum. There has to be and there are some serious Congolese politicians who are examining whether they're going to be running, and one, Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, who has been a Congolese politician for many decades, who has announced he will run.

If the Congo has free and fair elections reasonably next year, I will be more confident that the state will continue to hold and the Congo will move forward. If, on the other hand, the Congo moves away and has horrible elections -- which, unfortunately, is the reality of Central Africa; that's a region of the world not known for particularly good elections -- then there are various forces -- all around the country, not just in the east, as you know, but in Katanga, over in Bas-Congo there are movements -- we could talk for a long time about the various splinter movements. And even though most Congolese do want to talk about a sense of being Congolese, I fear that if the basic legitimacy of the state does not continue to be reinforced, that then those forces that you refer to could actually start to rip the state apart again, as we saw efforts going back into the early 1960s.

MEECE: If I could please add something to that. I would agree on the importance of the elections for next year. I would submit that in my opinion, the 2006 elections are actually a pretty high standard, because the success of those, particularly against the difficulties in getting them organized, was considerable. And I think they came out pretty well.

Now, honesty compels me to note I was U.S. ambassador, so I perhaps have a non-objective view here in helping to try to make it happen, but I think we're pretty good. And I feel somewhat more optimistic than Tony does for '11.

But getting back to your question, having lived in Zaire at the time of Mobutu, the period after the ADFL takeover and then at the end of the transition in 2007, I would submit that I have heard these kinds of questions asked for a long period of time, and perhaps at their peak when Congo was effectively under three different zones of occupation during the invasion, with the Ugandan and allies in the north, Rwanda and allies in parts of the east, and government and allies in other parts, questioning whether this could survive, whether there would be an inevitable Balkanization or versions of that.

I have always submitted that, for whatever reason, and it's another discussion, there is a strong sense of Congolese identity. I think it continues to be the case. On my list of concerns of things about Congo, that's pretty low, in terms of at least the imminent or foreseeable chance of this becoming a significant issue.

The old Katangese succession (sic; secession) movement of the '60s -- there may still be a few dreaming the dreams, but I think they're much more on the margins. And so this is -- this issue is not high up. Who knows in the long term? But I am more sanguine on that question. So --

GOUREVITCH: We have three minutes left, which means time for about one of you to give a fraction of an answer to one question. (Laughter.)

So I'll take two questions, one from -- the man in the back row has a question and a man in the front row has a question -- take these two questions, so at least we hear these questions, and ask you to give your 10-second response.

MEECE: My answer will be "maybe."


QUESTIONER: Hi, Mr. Meece. I wanted to ask you about -- I cover the U.N. I'm with -- Matthew Lee with Inner City Press. And I'm wondering -- there are some issues of kind of MONUSCO's own credibility that came up around in the mass rapes in Walikale. It was said that you'd come to the -- spoken, I guess, by video conference at the U.N. and said that you became aware of it in like mid-August. But then these e-mails came out showing that MONUSCO was told a bit about it, you know, days -- as the attacks began in late -- in late July. I'm just wondering if you've modified what you say, when you knew, and when you knew it, and also when Margot Wallstrom, the special representative on sexual violence in conflict -- when was she told? Because she didn't -- she said that she only learned in sort of later August, and so I'm just wondering: How do the communications work in MONUSCO when something like that occurs?

GOUREVITCH: Go ahead and -- your question, quick, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. My name's Michael Kocher. I work with the International Rescue Committee. We're among the largest NGOs working in the Congo. My question concerns simply protection of civilians. You've both referenced FARDC, FDLR. Ambassador, you made the quick reference to the Mai-Mai, one of the -- and there are many local militias. And also the miners themselves and are -- groups associated with the miners are perpetuating a great deal of violence in the DRC. These and other -- some --- only some of these instances are reported, frankly. I was there for a few weeks in North and South Kivu a couple weeks ago. The --

GOUREVITCH: The question?

QUESTIONER: My question is, are you optimistic, either of you, at all about a continued, even expanded MONUSCO presence? It seems to me the only plausible way to protect civilians in the near to midterm. I can assure you that local villagers surely do not want to see that presence diminished. Thank you.

GOUREVITCH: I think he spoke to you, Roger.

MEECE: The short answer is, I do not see an expansion, at least no time soon, but neither do I see a reduction. Without trying to go into an elaborate description of what's going on, under the new resolution, 1925, there is a -- among other things, a joint evaluation process with the Congolese. We have gone through the first cycle. There is nothing in that that suggests any imminent change or a timetable or withdrawal. So the forces that we have more or less as they exist will continue, and the Security Council has been explicit that that should be the case pending the situation on the ground, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the appropriate criteria. So it's a bit of an oversimplification, but I don't see an immediate change.

To the other question, again, we don't have time to go into a detailed answer, nor do I have all of the chronology in front of me to refer to. But what I would say is there were reports coming out or there were aspects of shortened bits of information that flowed from one agency or an office to another. That does not alter the answers that I was giving earlier in terms of when the MONUSCO force was informed and what we are able to do.

The bottom line here is that to be able to respond, of course you first of all have to have reasonable information and then a capability to respond. As I mentioned earlier, we have undertaken and are continuing a significant review of how we do civilian protection, including reporting and including a variety of other things. And again, I don't have time to go into all of that here. It has been briefed and updated at various steps to the Security Council. And as I told the Security Council on Friday, from my perspective, this is not a one-time review. This will be an ongoing process (to always ?) see how we can accomplish what is, as Tony noted, our first priority of protection of civilians as effectively as possible, with the resources we have to work with.

QUESTIONER: What about communications with Ms. Wallstrom? (Off mike) --

GOUREVITCH: We're done. I'm sorry. It's 9:00 and -- would that we had all week, but I --

GAMBINO: I'd just -- I'd just say a little bit about Michael's question, by emphasizing what I said earlier: that if, with support from MONUSCO and others in the international community, I'd love to -- and I will -- embrace Roger's optimism and hope that we have really credible, good elections in 2011. Let's remember, then, the right question for the Congo is not how we get out, how do we disengage.

The right question is: How do we engage, so that this country with very weak governance and all of the problems that we've been talking about this morning has a chance of success?

If we continue to want to do -- to identify the problem incorrectly, and keep looking at how we want to run away from what's going on in this country, then these cycles that lead to deep despair will occur.

GOUREVITCH: Thank you both very much, and thank you all. (Applause.)







Top Stories on CFR

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

The U.S. military is considering some major shifts to its posture in Europe, including a large withdrawal from bases in Germany, that are raising security concerns on the continent.

Middle East and North Africa

The Trump administration’s case for invoking “snapback” sanctions against Iran for violating the nuclear deal rests on shallow arguments that have left Washington alone in efforts to pressure Tehran.

Food and Water Security

Global food insecurity has surged amid the coronavirus pandemic, threatening to worsen humanitarian crises and spur further mass migration.