An “African Marshall Plan” for DR Congo

by Gregory Gordon

It’s the colossal human catastrophe that just won’t go away. And closing our eyes and wishing it were so is not going to work. There are new reports of fresh fighting, and widespread internal displacement and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to UNHCR, some 56,000 people have been forced to flee renewed armed conflict between government forces and Rwandan Hutu rebels in the eastern portion of the country in the past couple of weeks. This brings the total number of civilians displaced in South Kivu since January to 536,000 and in the whole of eastern DR Congo, the number of displaced has reached over 1.8 million. Experts estimate that approximately 45,000 people die in the country every month. The hellish fate of one such individual is vividly chronicled in today’s Washington Post.

This recent round of maelstrom is the result of a renewed Congolese campaign to root out remaining pockets of extremist Hutu resistance (consisting of a group of rebels known collectively as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR) and their local militia allies. The FDLR consists of Rwandan genocide perpetrators who crossed the border as the RPF swept to victory. They initially hoped to refortify, invade Rwanda and topple the current government but their ranks and resources have thinned over the course of Congo’s perpetual fighting (which has included raids by Rwandan and Congolese forces). Now the FDLR, hiding in the bush and linked with various armed groups, including Mai Mai militia, mostly exploit and abuse the local civilian population. In addition to subjecting IDPs to arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, extortion and forced taxation, there are recent accounts of widespread atrocities at the hands of the FDLR, including murder, rape and torture.

In the meantime, the so-called “positive forces” in the conflict have been preying on civilians as well. It was recently reported that four Congolese army officers (including a general) accused of rape (including the rape of children) are still in active military service. Another recent report reveals that members of the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (known as MONUC) may also be engaged in the sexual abuse of Congolese women (over the years there have been other reported instances of sexual abuse by MONUC troops).

At the same time, in a report issued a little over a week ago, the human rights group Global Witness accused a number of multinational corporations of “turning a blind eye” to the source of Congolese minerals they purchase and then sell to manufacturers around the world. The report indicates that these corporations, such as Afrimex, Traxys, and Amalgamated Metal Corporation, are knowingly purchasing minerals (including gold and wolframite) mined through the exploitation of civilians controlled by both the Congolese military and rebel groups. According to the report:

The stakes are high, and those benefiting from the illicit exploitation of resources will not be willing to give up these riches easily. As evidence by patterns of the last 12 years, it is in the interests of all sides in the conflict, as well as unscrupulous businessmen, to prolong the anarchy, as it delivers financial benefits without accountability.

In an article recently published in the Fordham International Law Journal, I have called for the United States to launch an “African Marshall Plan” for DR Congo — a massive resource and assistance infusion to bring about wide-ranging, organic change and secure the benefits of DR Congo’s free elections and the recent Nairobi/Goma peace process. To date, U.S.-DR Congo policy has been formulated in dribs and drabs, limited in quantity relative to the enormity of the crisis, and without an overarching plan for promoting legal coherence and yielding long-term, systemic change. To be effective, I submit, U.S.-Congolese policy must be crafted and executed with a holistic approach– security, disarmament, infrastructure, food assistance, and health care must all undergird greater efforts to establish the rule of law (including efforts to curb corporate predations). And from a procedural perspective, U.S. policy should be better coordinated internally (rather than the current farrago of individual agency initiatives).  It was announced within the past couple of days that Hillary Clinton will be visiting DR Congo on her upcoming trip to Africa.  One would hope she will be thinking about these larger policy issues during her visit.

Of course, to be successful, any such effort would have to include the participation of, and coordination with, other major donors such as the EU (although, as I point out in my article, due to various bureaucratic and financial restraints, the EU seems limited in the extent of effective assistance it can provide). And I’m not suggesting that this would look anything like an exact replica of the original Marshall Plan. But I do think those two words conjure up the idea of large-scale, effective, coordinated assistance. That’s what’s needed.

Not only is it the right thing to do and the best policy from a humanitarian perspective, it is in the U.S. and global interest that a country the size of Western Europe, lying at the heart of the African continent, attain stability. As the New York Times has noted, “When Congo shakes, Africa trembles.”

14 Responses

  1. Let’s broaden our horizon, or widen the circle: Development in Dangerous Places: If richer states provide security, the poorest can finally grow

    And U.S. leadership on this score should not amount to unilateralism….

  2. I should have linked to the responses to Collier’s piece in the Boston Review as well.

  3. I should have linked to the responses to Collier’s piece in the Boston Review as well.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  4. Patrick,

    Thanks for the feedback and the links.  We need to find a way to get people to listen to this proposal over at State!

  5. Gregory,

    Although I did think it was a great post (and didn’t say so), the third comment was not from me but from someone using my name, as the link attests.

  6. Pacify the savages, police the natives, teach the children, cure the sick, build the roads, govern them until they can govern themselves …

    Maybe we can get the Belgians to do it. They did such a good job the last time.

  7. Skeptical,

    Live for a time amongst those experiencing the horrors and violence in the DR Congo and see how easy simple-minded sloganeering comes to your lips. Hobbes well understood the fundamental value of security when faced with conditions in which life is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.” Your comment is not far afield from William Easterly’s in the Boston Review, so let’s read his response:

    Many influential development experts agree with me that peacekeeping is one of those policies we should implement more vigorously. I was heartened to find during the Copenhagen Consensus 2 event that Andrew Mack, who leads the Human Security Report and who knows UN peacekeeping operations better than almost anyone, strongly supported the need for expanded peacekeeping. Similarly, in the above commentaries, Larry Diamond argues that we need to double or triple funding for multilateral peacekeeping operations. As he points out, “it has been an impressively successful and cost-effective type of international intervention.” Nancy Birdsall notes that the Center on Global Development includes peacekeeping as one of the criteria in the Global Development Index of commitment to development.
    Nothing could better illustrate the true nature of the disagreement about peacekeeping than Easterly’s accusation of colonialism. This accusation is founded on coarse thought, not statistical rigor. Colonialism was an oppressive system in which non-democratic empires conquered territories and ran them according to the interest of their own elites. International peacekeeping is temporary, sanctioned by democratic governments whose electorates have no appetite for empire, and aimed at establishing governments that are accountable to their own citizens.

    Coming to the aid of others need not involve condescension,  paternalism or colonialism, while doing nothing amounts to a de facto endorsement of the status quo. I would think only a dull or stunted moral sense could live with that….

  8. I should have written: “so let’s read Collier’s response…”

  9. Well, I see the spammers have taken up a new tactic.

    I don’t believe for a second there’s public will for the First World to provide security for the Third, especially as this is almost certain to involve great costs and messy civil conflicts.

    That’s without even considering the probability of success should the will actually materialize…

  10. Political leadership is about shaping and guiding–leading–public will toward what, in the end, is in the public’s best interests, i.e., toward realizing public goods.

    I would have thought that the UN and its affiliate organizations; the global consolidation of capitalist financial instruments and institutions as seen in the work of the WTO, IMF and World Bank, as well as transnational corporations; the effects of emigration and immigration; the consequences of secession movements, regional conflicts and environmental degradation (including global warming), among other political, economic, ecological, and cultural phenomena, have driven home the lesson that we are inhabitants of one world, not three (or four), and the sooner we appreciate the myriad consequences and implications of that fact the better we will fare, in the long term, as individuals and societies.

  11. Mr O’Donnell:

    Please don’t patronize me. I have spent my entire 30-year career in emerging markets and not-so-emerging markets (including Sierra Leone, Angola, Chad and Afghanistan). I have an acute sense of the tragedy, and a first-hand understanding of what is necessary to end it.

    Please don’t pretend that you are suggesting anything other than a re-colonization of the Congo. “Marshall Plan” is nice salesmanship, but the Congo in 2009 is not Western Europe in 1945. (And, lest we forget, the Marshall Plan was the endgame of total war and military conquest and was backed by a military occupation and 50 years of military defense — including offering the United States as a nuclear hostage.)

    I am a thoroughgoing Hobbesian, and have no moral qualms about re-colonization. But let’s be honest about what it is.

    And let’s be honest about what’s involved: Military conquest. Occupation. Foreign military government. Creating an honest indigenous police force. Policing the country until it is created. Construction of basic infrastructure. Creation and staffing of an educational system. Creating and nurturing an indigenous government. 30 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of people. Iraq, by contrast, is a Sunday School picnic — for all Iraq’s problems, it has basic infrastructure, basic social structures and basic governmental function.

    What leadership will convince leftists (“Imperialism! No blood for copper!”)? What leadership will convince realists (“Not worth the bones of a single Nebraska grenadier.”) What leadership will convince a taxpayer or soldier that they will see any benefit for their money, time and blood? What leadership will convince anyone that after 30 years, it will turn out any better than it did for Belgium?

    I’m not Cynical, I’m Skeptical. If I were cynical, my comments would be substantially more pointed.

    PS: In a discussion of the Congo, I wouldn’t bring up the UN if I were you. It’s poor salesmanship.

  12. It’s impossible to patronize an anonymous blogger.

  13. In any case, your recapitulation of a few points in the argument is too tendentious and inaccurate to be taken seriously. You do not proffer an alternative nor did your original comment indulge in anything other than sloganeering. Incidentally (or perhaps not), my last comment citing political leadership and the UN, among other things, was addressed specifically to M. Gross’ comment. 

  14. I would posit that the international infrastructure and the more general trends mentioned by Mr. O’Donnell are evidence of enlightened self interest, which, however, does not directly contravene his argument.

    The problem is, the DRC’s problems have only the most minor of effects on the rest of the world.  If it wasn’t for the conflict itself and some notable (but not irreplaceable) mineral deposits, it’s doubtful the rest of the world would even notice it was there.

    Intervening would have very visible negative effects and costs for those doing so.  I therefore would wager the majority of the population of whichever hypothetical First World countries would do a simple cost-benefit analysis, and oppose it on such grounds.

    Europe after World War II was a major part of the world, and as the US saw, would be again.  It’s unlikely that’s how most would view the DRC.

    Then there’s the fact that despite Mr. Collier’s protestations to the contrary, this is basically Colonialism in new make-up.  One can argue that this time we will do it right, but history casts a very large shadow over the legacy of Colonialism.

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