“Nobody has any idea what to do about it”

I’ve never met Laura Seay, except briefly in cyberspace.  All I know is that she is @texasinafrica, a Morehouse professor and smart.  Her 2009 analysis of the breakdown of governance in “what to do in the congo” holds up well today, but her proposed solutions aren’t happening:  the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) aren’t getting any better and the UN force (now called MONUSCO) isn’t able to handle the situation the way she suggests.  When I queried her about the need for an update, she answered:  “Nobody has any idea what to do about it.”  We should all be so clear and concise.

Washington is nevertheless sending its “top Africa diplomat.”  That’s Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson, a veteran of great virtues.  But his means are very limited.  To show disapproval of support for the M23 rebels who have taken the provincial capital Goma in Eastern Congo, the United States has suspended $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda, which has repeatedly supported rebellions across its western border.  That’s pocket change even in Kigali, probably intended to support military education for Rwandan officers in the United States.  Cutting it off isn’t likely to have much impact.

Meanwhile M23 is wreaking havoc on a mineral-rich area that has already seen several decades of conflict.  some of Laura Seay’s suggestions from 2009 are still apropos:

  • …the root causes of the conflict – land disputes and citizenship rights – need to be sorted out. This means getting the courts functioning and creating an enforcement mechanism for implementing court decisions about land claims. It also means guaranteeing the citizenship rights of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese, which should involve a massive public education campaign. This won’t solve all of the problems, but it would be a start.
  • In the provision of public goods other than security, the international community needs to work with local organizations who are already providing efficient, quality services rather than pretending that government institutions are the best entities with which to cooperate. Most government health and education institutions are already being run by third parties (in particular, churches and mosques). International donors should work with these communities to implement positive, locally conceived solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
  • Local solutions, proposed by community leaders and the victims of violence, should be privileged in conversations about what needs to be done on almost every issue. Goodness knows the army of international experts (myself included) who pontificate on the DRC have proven that we don’t know how to solve the country’s problems. Let’s give people who might a chance, and let’s take their suggestions seriously for once.

This all makes eminently good sense to me, but none of it is likely happen unless some semblance of stability emerges.  I purposely did not say “is reimposed,” as none of the forces in Eastern Congo seem strong enough to definitively dominate the others. The best one can hope for is a balance of forces that is relatively nonviolent and allows the local population to fend for itself.

This will disappoint another of my Twitter acquaintances, Doudou Kalala (@kalala), a Congolese citizen and MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding  from Royal Road University, Victoria BC.  He is currently volunteering with Cuso International in Jamaica.  He argues that DRC is a classic intractable conflict that requires a major, multi-facted, long-term international intervention.  In his words:

The point I am trying to make is that, the solution to the conflict in the Congo is a long process that should start now and lead to building administrative infrastructure, accountability, justice, social and intellectual capital, army, police through EDUCATION and research…

The trouble is I don’t see any prospect of that any time soon.  Even a balance of forces that allows the local population to fend for itself may be too much to hope for.  So let’s wish Johnny Carson good luck.  He is going to need it.

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