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


GLPF - UN DRC Mapping Report

Last week it was my pleasure to be part of a Great Lakes Policy Forum/SAIS panel on the UN Mapping Report on DRC. GLPF events are not for attribution, so I'll just summarize several themes that emerged from the discussion:
  • Security sector reform (SSR) is by far the most important issue in the DRC right now.
  • The atrocities documented in the report are well-documented and it is not possible for any rational individual to deny that they happened and expect to maintain credibility.
  • Justice for the victims of atrocities in the DRC will be difficult, but not impossible to come by.
  • A much greater understanding of the context in terms of domestic politics and economics within the DRC is needed. The conflict in the east has regional dimensions, but these play out in the national context.
  • The international community needs to address local land rights, justice, and ethnicity issues.
The discussion in the Q&A period was, of course, heated. I can't comment on what any particular individuals said, but let's just say that it got interesting. So much so that Rwanda's New Times deigned our humble panel worthy of attack in an opinion piece by Joseph Rwagatare:

At about the same time, the UN mapping report on Congo was being flogged again in a malicious attempt to prove it is still alive. Some organization calling itself the Great Lakes Policy Forum, bringing together such organizations like Amnesty International and the like organized a one-day conference at John Hopkins University on the theme: Congo: UN mapping report and the responsibility to justice.

The conference brought together western "scholars and researchers" on the region, notable more for their activism than scholarship, for their open biases than academic objectivity.

It was also remarkable for the absence of anyone from the region, people with intimate knowledge of the issues, or those affected by events there. No one with a real stake in the region was invited.

Instead there were people like Carina Tersakian - yes, the same one - talking about "the next steps towards justice".

You can be sure she read a long and angry list of indictments against Rwanda, cheered on by fellow conferees. You would not be wrong to think that the whole discussion must have been a huge exercise in imagination (fantasy, really. Imagination is too positive a word) about supposed culprits and weapons used to commit the untold crimes.

They will have gone away feeling good about themselves, having presented papers to their peers and anticipating good reviews. They will be excited about having bashed the "evil doers" and thinking they had exorcised the demons within.

And of course they did not talk about the hordes of armed groups marauding in Eastern Congo, killing, pillaging and raping and wreaking all manner of havoc.

Any guess why all these worthies usually get it wrong on Congo, and worse, why the misery there will not end soon?
Recognizing that facts are not the New Times' specialty, I'll just point out a few in response:

  • The Great Lakes Policy Forum is not "some organization," but rather is a well-established forum for debate that's been around since 1995. The fact that diplomats from each Great Lakes country regularly attend the forum's event suggests that it is quite reputable indeed. The fact that last week's was the 159th edition of the forum - and that we spoke to a packed house - also attests to the forum's reputation and the strength of the organizations behind it.
  • The event on December 2 was not a conference, it was a panel discussion. There were two panels, actually.
  • As such, there were no papers. Panelists were asked to give a ten-minute summary of their views of specific issues (either justice or foreign policy) relating to the mapping report, then we moved into an extended question-and-answer period.
  • We did, in fact, talk about the ongoing atrocities in the east, which is why the need for security sector reform was a key issue in the discussion.
Overall, I found the GLPF/SAIS discussion to be a very positive experience. It was encouraging to me that the discussion did not descend into name-calling, but rather that people who disagree were able to air their views in a calm and professional manner. I'm also happy to see a growing awareness that the difficult path of security sector reform is the only hope for real and lasting peace in the region and hope that this will be a topic of many forthcoming discussions.

Thanks to everyone who had a part in making this discussion happen, and thanks to the many blog readers who stopped by to say hello - it was great to meet you all!


Blogger maurice said...


It appears that the conclusion differs substantially from your contention that "Security sector reform (SSR) is by far the most important issue in the DRC right now." Below is the conclusion from the GLPF

"While the mapping report has been a very significant exercise, it is important that the appropriate follow-up is guaranteed. The victims deserve justice. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that the humanitarian tragedies are only ramifications of the political problems. For example, the problems of sexual violence in Eastern Congo are important, but they are peripheral. At the core of the problems is the political crisis – and this crisis is present in the whole country. The many US-based campaigns in favor of the DRC need to be adjusted in a way that is really helpful for the local population. In addition to a political solution and justice for the victims of violence, truth and reconciliation are important for the state to heal."

SSR is not the most important issue in the Congo. Mainly non-Congolese experts and international NGOs are pushing SSR as the top priority. Talk to just about any Congolese scholar, thinker or analyst and they will share with you that Political Reform has been and will continue to be the most important challenge to tackle in the Congo. SSR is a subset of political reform and a byproduct of a lack of a viable state responsible to her citizens. SSR without political reform is symptomatic and demonstrates a lack of in depth understanding of the socio-political history of the Congo. Imagine, reforming a military that would ostensibly be accountable to civilian rule -- with a civilian leadership that assassinates human rights activists, journalists and repress its population.

Thursday, December 09, 2010 4:45:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that SSR is coming into fashion, in large part because there is more funding for SSR than other reforms in the DRC. However, I think the discussion must become more nuanced than the ones we've seen from Africom or Oxfam.

I'd also like the correct the New Times article's false assertion that there was no one on the panel from the region or with any stake in the issues. Mvemba Dizolele is a prominent Congolee scholar and was the first to speak on the panel. He is a visiting scholar at SAIS and currently at the Hoover Center. There were also many Congolese and Rwandans invited to contribute in the discussion. Many did.

Overall, the conversation was well informed, debate arose, and many stayed well over-time to continue the discussion. Thanks to all panelists and guests!

Monday, December 20, 2010 10:16:00 AM


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