An “African Marshall Plan” for DR Congo
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.”