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The ongoing conflict in the DRC

December 4, 2012

Last week on NPR’s On Point program, they ran a segment called “Africa’s Endless War.” It was an interesting as a few of the guests brought good information to the table, but I want to focus on a few details.

First, referring to the situation in the DRC as “Africa’s Endless War” is both defeatist and pessimistic. Denoting something as “endless” conveys the idea that it has or seems to have no end or limit. There are plenty of other word choices, but they instead chose a word that removes hope from the situation. I think this is extremely problematic. Word choice has a substantial effect on how others perceive a situation. There are many, including Congolese, who believe things can change, the war can end, and that there is hope for a more stable future. A title that takes this into account is much better for it.

Second, Rep. Adam Smith’s comments were frustrating. He says the United States needs to take an active role in the situation by training Congolese troops to provide better security, as he said we did a few years ago in the Congo and currently do for Uganda. However, training troops only goes so far when you don’t have a government that can control them. You need the institutions in place to govern this vast country and control this trained military if security is going to have any affect whatsoever. The M23 rebels started out a contingent of Congolese troops and broke away this past spring. It’s just not that simple. He says that training these troops would discourage both Uganda and Rwanda from “engaging in a negative way.” Really? Part of the problem with the Congo is its vast size. A more highly trained military is still going to have problems watching over all this territory.

Tom Ashbrook then asks Rep. Smith what leverage a high level envoy from the US could provide that would get Rwanda or Uganda to leave the Congo alone and his answer is “getting the world to pay attention.” He says countries will do whatever they want as long as the world is not watching, but as soon as the world is watching, as soon as their credibility is on the line, they will straighten up. Seriously? The world knew about and watched Rwanda, Sudan, and a number of other countries engage in some horrific things in the past and that didn’t stopped them from doing engaging in these actions. Currently the world is watching Syria murder tens of thousands of its own citizens and not doing anything about it. Attention without action is meaningless.

Ashbrook asks about our own credibility since the recent UN Group of Experts report on the DRC named Uganda and Rwanda as backing M23, yet it was United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who pressured to have their names removed from it. Ashbrook asks how this makes sense given Rep. Smith’s comments about putting people in the spotlight. Rep. Smith says that we have cut off some aid, but that really in these instances you need to privately pressure these groups. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you understand Susan Rice and her past. She played a part in the Clinton administration failures during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that has shaped her approach to the continent ever since, an approach that has included creating close ties with both Musveni and Kagame and believing they can do no wrong (see here, here, here, and here). She has consistently shown poor judgement and her record on the continent is abysmal.

You should listen to the entire segment

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