This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Around Africa
Between March and early May, you may remember signing a petition to the U.S. State Department generated by Africa Faith and Justice Network regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-Rwanda conflict. On May 23, we submitted the overwhelmingly well-supported petition (more than 1300 signatures) to Ms. Madeline Seidenstricker, DRC desk officer at the State Department, who promised to forward the petition to the Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice through Ms. Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. AFJN staff returned to the State Department in July to follow up and met with the new desk officer, Mr. Christopher J. Lamora as well as the Rwanda desk officer, Ms. Marlaina R. Casey. We have also visited numerous Congressional offices, asking your representatives to call or write to Assistant Secretary Frazer in support of the recommendations outlined in the petition.

What was the petition about?
The petition outlined concerns and recommendations calling on the U.S. government to urge the Rwandan government to do more in implementing the ongoing peace talks between the Congolese and Rwandan governments. What has the Rwandan government done to help pacify the Congo in relation to its demand to repatriate its enemies, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) who are operating in eastern Congo? Why is the Rwandan government supporting the Congolese rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda which is responsible for crimes such as looting, killing, rapes, mass murder, displacement and destabilization of the North Kivu province? Why is the U.S. standing by, watching millions of Congolese die by the hands of a rebel group supported by its ally Rwanda? Why is the Rwandan government allowing Congolese minerals to be illegally sold in Rwanda to foreign companies by Congolese rebel groups, knowing that these transactions only enable the war to continue? Why is the U.S. training and equipping the Rwandan army while at the same time mediating peace talks between the two nations knowing that Rwanda provides military equipment to Nkunda?
Analysis of our meeting at the State Department
It is clear that the alliance between the U.S. and Rwanda allows Rwanda to hold a place of privilege when it comes to U.S. decisions and policies concerning the Rwanda-Congo conflict. AFJN expressed the skepticism outlined by the Congolese people on whose interests the U.S. is supporting at the negotiation table. Rwanda is supportive of the U.S. position on Israel, maintains a troop presence in Baghdad, and holds the door to Congo’s rich mineral wealth. The fact that the FDLR is considered a terrorist group by Rwanda, and therefore deserves no place at the negotiating table with the Rwandan government, complicates our request to President Kagame to open a political space where the FDLR can participate in government, an incentive to get the FDLR out of the Congo.
How far can the U.S. push the Rwandan government to do more for peace in the the two countries knowing that it is still dealing with the 1994 genocide and the killers are ready to strike again from next door in the DRC, we were asked. We demanded that the US government push Rwanda as far as possible. We pointed out that current U.S. policy in Rwanda is not the best for peace in Rwanda because it favors one tribe (Tutsi) over the other (Hutu), resulting in continuing tribal tensions. Rwanda and Congo have to be brought together fairly to end their differences and to promote peace and prosperity in the two nations. This is in fact the first, last, and only effective path to peace, prosperity, freedom, and independence from foreign influence in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region. We promote unity and patriotism of citizens of each nation in central Africa.
AFJN Touring Capitol Hill Offices on Peace in Congo
So far, we have met with staffers in the Senate offices of: James M. Inhofe (OK), Hillary Clinton (NY), John McCain (AZ), Barack Obama (IL), Richard Durbin (IL), Sam Brownback (KS), Joseph Lieberman (CT), Norm Coleman (MN), Tim Johnson (SD) and Russ Feingold (WI). We are happy to report that the conflict in the Congo is beginning to get a little bit of attention on Capitol Hill . Some offices are more involved and informed than others, with Senators Brownback and Feingold leading the way.
In most offices, our message was received with interest. The challenge of being the legislative branch limits the impact they can have on decisions that are made at the State Department. However, there are bills already introduced to respond to the Congolese crisis. We are requesting a hearing and regular reports on U.S.-Rwanda and U.S.-Congo relationships to find out how these relationships shape the US response to the conflict that opposes these two countries. Among the resource to them was the powerful and revealing hearing on the DRC held on May 17, 2001 by the House Committee on International Relations, particularly the opening remarks from former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the testimony of Wayne Madsen. We explained what is happening now to the Congolese people and the need for the United States government to urge and encourage its ally the Rwandan government to do its part in providing what is needed for the Rwandan Hutu rebel groups to return to Rwanda and bring an immediate end to the Rwandan government support to Nkunda’s rebel group.
Remember, Your Representatives Will Act When They Hear From You!
Your representative needs to hear from you to supplement your signature on the petition and AFJN’s staff visits. Only you, their constituents, can make this issue more visible. It only takes a telephone call, a letter or an email to show them that this is indeed your concern and to request that they pay attention to it. Ask your senator to cosponsor S.3058 , The Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act of 2008introduced by Senator Brownback. Ask your representative to cosponsor H. Res. 795 , Condemning the ongoing violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) and recognizing the threat such violence poses to the overall peace of the Great Lakes region introduced by Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN); and H. Res. 1227 : Condemning sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and calling on the international community to take immediate actions to respond to the violence introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). AFJN’s strength lays in our joint effort of taking the issues we care about to our decision makers.