At least five million people have died as a result of wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1997. The wars, which are sometimes described as civil conflicts, are more accurately described as Africa’s first world war. Why? Because the st
At least five million people have died as a result of wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1997. The wars, which are sometimes described as civil conflicts, are more accurately described as Africa’s first world war. Why? Because the struggle in the DRC involves forces from several other African nations including Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, plus forces from within the DRC itself.
The initial war in 1997 started as a combination insurrection against the ‘kleptocratic’ dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, plus an effort by the Rwandan government to destroy the perpetrators of the infamous Hutu-Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. The genocidaires retreated into the eastern Congo and were permitted to live there through the active collaboration of Mobutu and the French, despite the fact of continued Hutu genocidaire raids into Rwanda.
Over time, these wars devolved into the slicing up of the DRC by competing armies and militias, often operating in close collaboration with multinational corporations in search of valuable raw materials, such as coltan (used in cell phones). Rather than struggles to transform the DRC into a truly democratic republic, various warlords emerged, often using pretty rhetoric that disguised opportunistic intent.
The situation in the Eastern Congo has once again flared up with the emergence of a former DRC military officer, Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda claims to be an ally of the Tutsi minority in the Eastern Congo who are harassed and persecuted by Hutus from Rwanda still living in the Eastern Congo.
These Hutus, it should be noted, are not disgruntled refugees but are more often than not military units that were defeated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front that ended the 1994 genocide.
Elections in 2006, which were aimed at stabilizing the DRC, did not resolve the situation in the eastern Congo. Neither did they actually stabilize the DRC itself.
The DRC, looted first by Belgian colonialists and later by Mobutu (with the active support of the U.S., Belgium and France), has pitiful little infrastructure around which to construct a vibrant economy. The paradox is that the DRC has the natural resources to be one of the richest locations on Earth, yet after years of pillage from colonialists, neighboring countries, domestic dictators and multinational corporations, the wealth of the DRC is not serving the people of the Congo but is helping to line the pockets of warlords, business people and corrupt politicians.
In 2005, shortly after being elected to the Senate, now President-elect Barack Obama expressed a strong interest in the situation in the DRC. He developed legislation calling for a new and different role for the U.S. in helping with the redevelopment of the DRC and the bringing about of a lasting peace.
Despite his intentions, little has changed in the relationship of the U.S. to the DRC.
Instead, the situation seems to go from bad to worse, and the international community is often led to believe that nothing can be done. To the contrary, something can be done, but it will necessitate a strong U.S. role in support of the African Union. All foreign forces and their proxies must be removed from the DRC.
The Hutu genocidaires must be completely demobilized and never allowed to pose a threat to Rwanda or, for that matter, the Tutsi minority in the eastern DRC. The U.S., which is directly responsible for the tragedy that is the DRC, also has an obligation to help with the rebuilding of the DRC. To expect the DRC to do it alone is to engage in a self-induced hallucination.
The fact that the U.S. allowed Mobutu to rob from his own people makes the U.S. complicit in this situation and, therefore, a party to a lasting settlement. As one of his first foreign policy acts, President Obama needs to announce to the world that the U.S. will offer its concrete support to the African Union and will advance the sorts of foreign assistance needed to protect the sovereignty and construct the democracy that the DRC so desperately needs.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies.
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