During her August trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw her mission as the beginning of a new chapter in the U.S-DRC relationship. On August 11, 2009, in a private meeting with Congolese President, Joseph Kabila in Goma, Mrs. Clinton raised the following issues: army and police reform, governance and corruption, economy and the mining sector in particular, and finally, DRC’s relationship with its neighboring nations, with particular regard to the situation with the Ugandan rebel group, Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in North-East DRC and Rwanda.
Contrary to U.S rhetoric, Clinton’s mission in Congo marked an official cashing in time. In fact, for more than 13 years, the U.S had been preparing for the era after that of President Mobutu, with an eye to continued access to Congolese resources and keeping political influence in the Congo and the region. The strategy for regime change in Congo started with regime change in Rwanda, with U.S using Ugandan president Yuweri Musevevi to help support Paul Kagame. Once Kagame was in power in Rwanda, he and Museveni were supported by the U.S as they actively drove Congo’s to its current, hopeless situation. Yet, Clinton pointed to the consequences instead of the causes of the Congolese problems only to raise Congolese consciousness on their need for help and keep them blind on the source of their problems. These are neo-colonial policies whose end is overdue.
U.S Commitment to Address Rape Pandemic in Congo
The headlines of Clinton’s trip to Congo focused on her effort to work with the Congolese government in addressing the rape pandemic. She went to Goma, capital of the North Kivu province where there is the highest reported number of rape victims. A UN report states that about 200,000 cases of rape have been reported in the DRC since the war began in 1996. This estimate is rather conservative because it does not include many victims who did not survive the attacks, those still held as sex slaves, unreported cases and those forced to hide because of shame, fear of retaliation or rejection by their families or the community.
Clinton promised $17 million for gender violence prevention, medical care, counseling, economic assistance, legal support, recruiting and training women police officers to protect women and girls and to investigate sexual violence. Part of the assistance package includes U.S technological experts to help women report abuses, medical personnel, and military engineers to assess how to further assist survivors of sexual violence.
AFJN has several questions about this money. First, how much is it going toward all these multitudes of experts instead of helping the victim of rape? Second, U.S assistance might help victims of rape get well, but if US policies in the Great Lakes region do not change simultaneously, today’s survivors will be tomorrow’s victims of rape as a result the ongoing crisis. It could lead to the next wave of neighboring-nation invasions, proxy wars, foreign and local rebel groups or members of the Congolese army.
Update on U.S Policy in DRC
In Washington, the Congolese story is known by law-makers and the executive branch. Over the years there have been congressional hearings, resolutions and letters to the U.S government leaders on the crisis in the Congo. In 2006 then Senator Obama introduced the bill S. 2125 “Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006” and was signed into law (public law 109-456) by President Georges W. Bush
This year, Congressman Scoot Garret introduced a bill condemning the ongoing attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and Senator Samuel Brownback introduced the bill S.891 “Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009” as an effort to get a multilateral support to end illegal and abuses related to trade of columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, wolframite, and gold. On July 13, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Russ Feingold asked her to develop a plan for civilian protection, address conflict economy, security reform with mention of $2.45 million available in the President’s FY10 budget request for foreign military financing for Congo. Finally, on September 15, 2009 at the Center for American progress, Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, said that the fact the Secretary of State went to Goma, following then Secretary of State Madeline Albright 12 years ago, is a sign of the administration’s interest in addressing the crisis on Congo.
What the Unaddressed Issues?
U.S Lawmakers and the government continue to neglect the core, external causes of Congolese tragedy. Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) has informed you over the recent months Rwanda’s connection to the Congo conflict. Nothing seems to have changed. In fact, in January, the U.S was part of a systematic infiltration of the Congolese army by Rwandan forces as a result of a rushed and poorly planned peace deal between the Congo and the pro-Rwanda rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). A U.N report confirms this infiltration. The U.S is aware of Rwandan plan of massive illegal migration in North Kivu in view of Rwanda’s take over of land which it has failed to acquire through boarder review request. Rwanda is pushing either for a split of the North-Kivu province in two or to impose a new governor to represent Rwanda interests there. This is confirmed in U.N. report as well. Assassinations of traditional leaders continue to be part of the plan.
AFJN urges the U.S to engage Rwanda and Congo on this issue to prevent imminent violence in eastern Congo, particularly ethnic violence between Tutsi and other tribes in eastern Congo. We ask that the U.S encourage Restorative Justice processes as part of bring peace in Congo and Rwanda. On international level, through the United Nations’ Security Council, the U.S should help refer to the International criminal Court (ICC) all qualifying cases in the Congolese tragedy for prosecution that are impossible for local justice systems to handle.