"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


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.
By no means will any of these suggestions solve the crisis in the eastern Congo. But recognizing that the situation there is fundamentally a problem of the breakdown of government and governance helps us to think about far more realistic solutions that might have a chance of working.


Blogger Esteyonage said...

Great post.

Recently had a really interesting conversation about with someone who had been working in the IDP camps in Kivu about the mental health situation there. (Its not a good situation) Its a topic often overlooked, but the widespread, long-lasting effects of the population's prolonged exposure to trauma adds another dimension of difficulty in finding a path forward.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 4:58:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Absolutely. I think the mental health issue is one of the largest public health crises in the region. Everyone is traumatized and something like 1/3 have witnessed a violent death. There are very few trained counselors in the region. Most of the ones there work with rape victims, which is very, very necessary, but there's a huge need for more and better services for the population at large. I always tell students who ask how they could help to learn Swahili and get a counseling degree. There are some stopgap measures (eg, training pastors in trauma counseling) that help, but the process of training a corps of qualified Congolese psychologists and counselors will take a lot of time.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 7:44:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for expressing this so concisely. It's unfortunate that so many people view MONUC as a scapegoat for not achieving the impossible. Unfortunately, I do not see, as you do not, that MONUC will be supported in such a way as to allow it to take over territory in the east. The red tape that would have to be negotiated to give MONUC a mandate to hunt down and destroy destabilizing rebel movements is eternally prohibitive - would such a thing ever be permitted of a UN backed mission?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 5:09:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Yeah, of course not. But then again, they already have a far broader mandate than anyone thought possible even 5-6 years ago. Those helicopter gunships are a completely new thing, and whether they acknowledge it or not, the UN has taken a side in this one.

The other idea I didn't mention is that maybe the UN et al should actually try to negotiate with the rebels, or at least talk with them and acknowledge their concerns. (One of the things that gets lost in all this is that some of the rebels (not including the FDLR) have legitimate concerns, even though they're horrible people who've done horrible things. That's why I think we have to tackle the land and citizenship issues.) But it will be much harder to get the UN to deal seriously with non-state actors than it would be to expand the military mandate.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 7:42:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

MJPC blames the Congolese Government for Deteriorating Situation in East Congo

"There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months"

Following the deteriorating situation in east Congo, the MJPC called for the Congolese Government to pay the salaries of thousands of soldiers who have not been paid for over six months in east Congo and take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court's (ICC) warrant against Bosco Ntaganda and to held accountable perpetrators of sexual violence against women for their acts.

"Faillng to hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humunity continues to be the leading cause of widespread and systematic sexual violence acts against girls and women in the easten Congo" said Makuba Sekombo, Community Affairs Director of
the Mobilization for Justice and Peace in the DR Congo (MJPC). Mr. Sekombo again criticized the government of Congo for not only the continuing failure to protect women and young girls from sexual violence, but also for "encouraging conditions that create opportunities for sexual violence to occur". "There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months" said Sekombo.

The MJPC has also renewed its call for the Congolese government to take urgent needed action to end human rights abuses in east Congo, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure reparation for the victims of sexual violence. The MJPC has been urging the Congolese government to compensate the victims of sexual violence in order to also help combat impunity in eastern part of Congo where sexual violence against women and children has been widely used as weapon of war for more than decade.MJPC online petition calling for for help to put pressure on Congolese Government to compensate victims of sexual siolence in Eastern DRC can be signed at http://www.gopetition.com.au/online/26180.html

MJPC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to working to add a voice in the promotion of justice and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular in the East where thousands of innocent civilians, including children and women continue to be victims of massive human rights violations while the armed groups responsible for these crimes remain unpunished.

For more information on MJPC and the activities, visit the web site http://www.mjpcongo.org. E-mail: info@mjpcongo.org or call Makuba Sekombo at 1 408 806 3644.

Thursday, July 09, 2009 2:46:00 AM

Anonymous kmart said...

great post but wasn't part of your solution a little like what Bush's solution to Iraq was? What makes the UN handing over control a more effective method?

Friday, July 10, 2009 1:11:00 AM

Blogger Tans said...

I'm studying Psychology and Swahili for exactly those reasons but I'm wondering if it would be better to learn French. What do you think?

Monday, January 25, 2010 6:17:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Tans, I believe French and Swahili would both serve you well. If the goal is to help counsel women in the DRC, Swahili will be more useful. If the goal is to have a portable skill you can take to other contexts, French would be helpful. I have both language skills and can't tell you how invaluable that's been.

Monday, January 25, 2010 9:23:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll keep up the Swahili then. Thanks!


Tuesday, February 09, 2010 6:38:00 PM


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