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


guest post: Kate Morris of Falling Whistles

Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Kate Morris of Falling Whistles. Kate responds to my critique of her New York Post op-ed from last weekend:

Laura, first let me say that it’s a pleasure to hash this out on your digital turf. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

I believe it’s significant that Sec. Clinton has been committed to funding SGBV treatment and prevention/rights education/legal access programs. Falling Whistles believes long term solutions in Congo will come from the Congolese people. This is why we partner with local leaders in the Kivus who are working toward solutions. But this isn’t enough. At the end of the day, aid money doesn’t fix the root causes of SGBV. This is why we also engage in advocacy and are pushing for more effective diplomacy from the US State Department.

Sec. Clinton may be funding good programs, but she is missing critical opportunities on the diplomacy front. I criticized her Congo policy because she is only using half of the tools in her arsenal. It will take painful reforms of the security sector, justice sector and electoral processes to address the governance problems that create the conditions for rampant SGBV. But governance reforms won’t happen in DRC without assertive external pressure and an empowered civil society. Thus far, the State Department doesn’t seem interested in the type of assertive diplomacy that’s required, especially during this election year.

This year, we’ve seen the State Department choose inaction when confronted with governance-related shenanigans in Kinshasa, precisely when the Great Lakes team should have exercised their budgetary and political leverage. For example, in January, President Kabila’s political party rammed through a sweeping set of constitutional amendments that were highly troubling. Presidential elections were reduced to a one-round vote (with no requirement that a winner secure a simple majority) and the independence of the judiciary and the provinces was curtailed. Under the current constitution, the president can fire governors at will. The State Department’s response to this power grab was muted, to say the least.

In general, the State Department’s work in Congo is characterized by competing agendas and habitual stovepiping. Even the Africa Bureau’s org chart is a mess, as David Sullivan explained recently, leaving Congo on the desks of 3 separate deputy assistant secretaries. An envoy isn't a silver bullet … but a simple rearranging of the deck chairs isn’t likely to fix the problem, either.

What an envoy could do is make substantial steps toward governance reform, and help ensure the legitimacy of this year’s elections. Records of U.S. envoys like Mitchell and Holbrooke suggest that there is plenty they can accomplish that lies beyond the scope of regional ambassadors, whose main function is to preserve good relations with the host country. Even Gration’s role in Sudan suggests that envoys make the difference between stalemate and forward motion. Although Darfur activists were disappointed by his lack of focus on the western region, and Gration’s unorthodox tactics got him into trouble stateside, it’s fair to credit his aggressive shuttle diplomacy with the successful secession referendum in the south earlier this year.

Given what’s at stake this election year, it’s important that Sec. Clinton takes the reigns to deliver a Great Lakes diplomacy team that has the guts to pursue long-overdue governance reforms. If she doesn’t, we’ll likely see shoddy elections in November, followed by unrest and continued state failure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get a little scared reading posts like this. I remember hearing very similar rhetoric about Afghanistan from NGO's in emails forwarded by feminist friends in the late 90's.While most of those friends opposed the war that NGO rhetoric has provided one of the key justifications for continuing occupation.

Calling for more and more aggressive intervention - higherlevel, higher-powered envoys; coercive sanctions - is this really the right road to go down? How far does the road go? Is Darfur really a model? Really?

Makin' me nervous...

Friday, June 24, 2011 9:41:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remain unconvinced. I've been hearing about the Special Envoy debate for a long time now in Washington. It's false to assume that the appointment of an Envoy will be able to make significant advances in the DRC. The problems in the DRC are fundamental and require massive resources to solve. An American Envoy would likely be set up to fail because many of the problems cannot be solved by one man let alone one country. I think it's tempting for advocacy groups to seize great one line asks such as "Appoint an Envoy" or "Give X to Y." Unfortunately, the oversimplistic ask of appointing an Envoy does not match the incredibly complex problems of the Congo. I challenge Falling Whistles and other groups to make a more sophisticated advocacy argument than this.

Sunday, June 26, 2011 4:33:00 PM

Blogger Kim Dionne said...

Kate - I appreciate you taking the time to further the discussion. I don't see in your post, however, any response to the analogy in Sudan. What makes the DRC special such that what wasn't as effective as advocates/activists wanted in Sudan will work there?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 1:03:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the incredibly relevant post, Kate. Those of us working on US-funded projects on the ground here experience tremendous support from State. At the same time, the conversation at the top doesn't seem to be making much headway of late. While the Government of DRC is supportive of reforms necessary for professionalization of the FARDC and rehabilitation of former rebels that could help alleviate some of the SGBV, tangible support in terms of funding and manpower remains scarce. It's not news that DRC has a host of issues related to rule of law and governance. While these problems will be difficult and expensive to solve, DRC has the natural resources and the international support to overcome anything. At the same time, this will only be possible if and when the government decides to take physical steps toward making DRC a functioning state. Bottom line - yes I agree with your assessment that more pressure from international partners at the top is necessary. A special envoy has the potential to make efforts here more organized. But real solutions will never happen until the Congolese leadership decides to match words with action.

Thursday, June 30, 2011 6:49:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's indicative of how little one understand of Sudan to state that Gration was the reason the referendum went forward. Not only is it ignorant of the mammoth effort made by Southern Sudanese but it bears little relation to the reality of US influence in Sudan. Promises of debt-relief and removal from the SST list were key drivers but ask anyone on the ground in Sudan and Gration was dangerously ignorant of the context and the limitations of US leverage. However, although it's early in his tenure, Princeton Lyman is doing a far better job managing a situation that has developed into an increasingly complex conflict in both North and South Sudan. The question may not be that a "Special Envoy" is or is not an answer- the question may be who the envoy is, his/her mandate, and who s/he really reports to in Washington.

Monday, July 04, 2011 8:29:00 AM

Blogger Ann Garrison said...

I get fabulously annoyed by writing like this that starts out with an undefined acronym like SGBV. And I didn't become less annoyed once I realized this was bureaucratese for Sexual and Gender Based Violence. Congo is not a feminist issue.

Thursday, July 07, 2011 10:33:00 PM

Anonymous Kate Morris said...

Thanks everyone for your interest on the ongoing debate on whether or not the US State Department ought to appoint a special envoy. I’ve answered comments individually, but I’d encourage reading the entire response as they do overlap in some areas.

Anonymous 1: I incorporated Darfur in response to Professor Seay’s earlier post which questioned African envoy effectiveness. Darfur is not the model, and neither is Afghanistan. Congo holds its own unique history with a separate course and momentum. Comparing apples to oranges is not effective. What I want to do is hold the State Department accountable for decentralized action. I am not calling for aggressive intervention, but different intervention. One geared toward streamlining State Department strategy and focused on long-term democracy-building.

Anonymous 2: I agree with your point, and don’t let the limitations of word count create the illusion that this is all my organization works toward. Yes, an envoy “ask” waters down a complex conundrum into a bite sized issue that can be digested by policy-makers and grassroots advocates alike. My organization has a number of additional projects –-generating attention around this year’s elections, investing in local leaders, funding grassroots rehabilitation programs, and calling for more effective diplomatic efforts-- in which we invest our resources and focus.

Monday, July 25, 2011 2:46:00 PM

Anonymous Kate Morris said...

Kim: You bring up an exceptionally relevant and interesting point. There is no way to guarantee that we will have a more effective envoy mission to Congo, but the inaction from the State Department is where I find the most fault. The US government supplies a hefty portion of the current government’s annual budget and supplies humanitarian assistance in a vast array of arenas. What it does not do is organize assistance toward an end goal. I hope that an envoy creates an office with the potential to bring many valuable projects together to be more beneficial to the people of DRC.

Abedgell: Thanks for the work you are doing on the ground, and it’s great to hear that someone in the field sees the benefits of working towards long-term solutions. I am part of an organization that partners with leaders on the ground, convinced that empowered grassroots will be able to match words with action in the future.

Monday, July 25, 2011 2:46:00 PM

Anonymous Kate Morris said...

Anonymous 3: I agree with your arguments on what we ought to be looking for in an envoy. The problem is we are not there yet in the process. Once candidates are considered, we will have the opportunity to weigh in. I’d like to see someone with familiarity and clear ties to the region. I would like them to act within a mandate from the American executive (either within the White House or State Department). I would like to see them appointed with a clear cut mission and sufficient resources to streamline and coordinate State Department strategy within the Great Lakes Region. Unfortunately these goals are hypothetical without some attention on the possibility of a Great Lakes envoy. Until then getting the issue to be considered is my greatest concern.

Ann: I’m sorry that you find these acronyms annoying. I was responding to a post in which Professor Seay defined SGBV before we began using it interchangeably. Congo is not a feminist issue, and that is not where I focus my work. However the global state of women’s rights has been an explicitly important issue to Secretary Clinton, and women’s issues consume her rhetoric surrounding the conflict in Congo. Feminism does not incorporate the scope of Congo, but violence against women is a real and relevant issue.

Monday, July 25, 2011 2:47:00 PM


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