The Africa Human Security Working Group of which AFJN is the convener had the pleasure of hearing Jimmy Juma speak about AFRICOM and its impact on life and security in the Congo. Jimmy is the Mennonite Central Committee Regional Peace Coordinator for Southern Africa. Originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, Jimmy provided new insights and recommendations for the struggle for human security in Africa. He reviewed the supposed tasks of AFRICOM and their implications to DRC as well as offered some challenges to AFRICOM as it relates to Africa.
AFRICOM is certainly training and equipping a Congolese Battalion. Supposedly there is training in human rights, food conservation and HIV/AIDS. Congolese troops are also trained to defeat extremists groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army. AFRICOM is also supposedly serving as an agent for humanitarian assistance. That said, rather than providing education, shelter and food for displaced people, AFRICOM has worked on strengthening military infrastructure in the Kivu.
Challenges for AFRICOM are many. Some of those African soldiers trained by AFRICOM are the very soldiers that are involved in military oppression of the people. Also, even educated Africans, journalists and human rights advocates aren’t really aware of AFRICOM. African leaders seem not to be informing their people of the connections they are making with AFRICOM. There have been delegations of Congolese sent to the AFRICOM Headquarters in Stuggart, Germany, in a public relations exercise to improve the perception of what AFRICOM can offer.
That cannot cover the fact that AFRICOM is preparing soldiers who will be violating human rights when they should be protecting them. AFRICOM is training troops in DRC, but the problem is compounded because the UN, France and China are also training troops. Who is tracking what they do? Who is accountable for them? What do they do when they do not receive any money for their “protection”?
The challenge for us it to spread awareness in Africa and the US about AFRICOM. We brainstormed the many networks of peace-building institutes and centers that exist both here and on the continent. Here are some suggestions that can improve the security situation on the ground in many parts of Africa:
• Find a way to ensure that government workers, police and soldiers are paid for their work.
• Do not “integrate” into the army those who were members of various rebel militias unless properly vetted and trained
• There is a need for a civilian solution to security, perhaps a civilian corps that utilizes the unemployed youth
• We need to make better use of Church grassroots movements.
• There is the need for dialogue between nations, such as Rwanda and DRC, in order to reduce the need for military security among neighbors.