what to do in the congo
The 49th anniversary of Congo's independence passed largely without incident, unless of course you consider the deaths of the 1200 men, women, and children who died yesterday (as 1200 people do every day) to be an "incident." We still don't know where Nkunda is (beyond that he's certainly living in luxury somewhere in Rwanda), nor do we know whether the Rwandans will ever admit that they have no intentions of returning him to the Congo or sending him to the Hague to face prosecution for his crimes.
Rape in the Congo is back in the news. A focus group survey of 236 women and girls in IDP camps in the Kivus revealed that almost 50% of them either had been raped or had a close friend or relative who had been raped. (The fact that they are in IDP camps certainly skews the results a bit, but the truth is that the insecurity in the camps and that in the countryside isn't terribly different.) We also have even more depressing news about rapes that occurred during an attempted prison break in Goma. And Eve Ensler is pitching a fit in the WaPo about the world not paying attention to UN Security Council Resolution 1820 with respect to Congolese women.
Bless her heart. Ensler seems to be under the impression that Security Council resolutions are normally worth more than the paper on which they're printed. Resolution 1820 specifically calls for the UN and its member states to respond to the use of rape as a weapon of war. A year after its passage, the rape crisis in the DRC is still as bad as ever. What's Ensler's solution?
"Resolution 1820 must be enforced with seriousness by the Security Council and the secretary general. Arrests need to be made immediately of known rapists and war criminals at the highest levels. The United Nations must stop supporting military actions, because they are doomed in Congo. And the root economic causes of the war need to be addressed with the leaders of countries in Africa's Great Lakes region who commit violence to reap benefits from Congo's minerals, as well as their Western corporate partners. They, too, are liable for these atrocities."All of these things sound good on the surface. But none of them will solve the problem. That's because the root of the rape crisis isn't an economic problem, nor is it a crisis of leadership. And it has very little to do with what the UN is or isn't doing. The basic problem in the eastern Congo is a crisis of governance and the failure of any government or rebel force to take full control of territory. All of the warring parties (and the peacekeeping force) are too weak to do so. Therefore the territory languishes in a semi-anarchic state, with some areas under the firm control of local authorities and others under none.
The unfortunate truth is much harder to digest. Rape happens in the eastern Congo because it can. It turns out that when all mechanisms of social control break down and there are no consequences beyond a guilty consciece, young men with weapons and the promise of impunity will behave like animals. Cutting the supply chains to the coltan mines or convincing American consumers to stop buying iPhones will not change this fact. Nor will arresting and convicting people like Bosco Ntaganda, who certainly deserves it. There will always be another Nkunda, another Ntaganda to take their places. Nor will the enforcement of vaguely worded UN resolutions.
The only way to end the crisis in the DR Congo - and to allow its women and girls to live in peace and health - is to settle the governance problem once and for all. As we discuss regularly on this blog, doing so is an almost impossible task. But here are a few steps that would be more realistic and might even be more likely to lead to lasting change:
- I actually agree with Ensler that MONUC should stop "supporting" the FARDC's missions. In reality, MONUC does most of the work on these operations anyway, but legitimating the band of uniformed war criminals that is the DRC's national army typically causes massive civilian suffering. Forget all this nonsense about capacity-building. The FARDC has more than proved that it is incapable of being a functional army that protects civilians. Until a real force of professional soldiers can be trained by experts and paid by the states, they shouldn't have a functioning role.
- Instead, the UN should commit to making MONUC as large as it needs to be to secure the territory on its own, or another peacekeeping organization should partner with MONUC to do the same. That means finding, at a bare minimum, 100,000 well-trained and equipped troops. (The odds of that actually happening are slim to none. But I am convinced that nothing else will work in the short to medium run.)
- MONUC's forces should have a mandate to independently hunt down and destroy destabilizing rebel movements. They should also actively provide policing services in cities and towns that are not able to do so independently. (Is it neo-colonial to suggest this? Probably. But the FARDC is a disaster. Does anyone have a better idea that would actually work?)
- The FARDC should be trained, professionalized, and purged of war criminals. Efforts should be made to recruit outstanding high school and university graduates who otherwise face chronic unemployment into the ranks to provide real leadership. Anti-rape education must become a critical - and repeated - part of the training process.
- The methods of paying FARDC soldiers should be radically changed. The international community already donates money to pay soldiers' salaries, but soldiers in the field rarely receive their pay. This is because Kinshasa insists that all funds come through Kinshasa first. The only reason Kinshasa does so is to allow everyone in the leadership chain to have the chance to skim a little off the top. Those disbursing the funds should stop pretending that Kinshasa is a credible partner and directly transfer the money for soldiers to the provincial capitals, where a team of non-Congolese African military experts should be responsible for distributing salaries directly to soldiers posted in each province.
- If this all works (and that's a huge "if"), at some point it should become possible to begin joint operations between MONUC and the FARDC that will actually serve the public interest, with the goal of handing over military control to the FARDC at some point in the future.
- Meanwhile, 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.