Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Congo's day in Congress

A somewhat strange hearing took place this week on Capitol Hill. The Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House's Armed Services Committee had a hearing on the Congo. The aim: to see what security threats for the United States the Congo poses.

I understand the desire to appeal to the meat-and-potatoes issues that US congressmen understand, namely national security. But in the case of the Congo, this means going out on a bit of a limb. Three people were invited to give presentations: Adam Komorowski (Mines Advisory Group); John Prendergast (Enough); Ted Dagne (Congressional Research Service). I have uploaded their presentations, as the congressional page seems to be under construction.

The only piece of information that suggests threats to US national security is the link between Ugandan ADF rebels and the bomb attacks in Kampala. As argued here before, this link appears to be tenuous - while there is little doubt that the ADF, a fairly half-baked, small group based in the Ruwenzoris, has links to radical Islamist networks in the Horn of Africa, I don't think there is solid evidence linking them to the Kampala bombings.

Otherwise, the presentations must have confused the congressmen and women, who were expecting to hear about links to US national security interests. (The title of the hearing was: Crisis in the DRC - Implications for US national security.) Komorowski spoke about his de-mining organization's work in the Congo and made a cogent appeal for better stockpile management within the Congolese armed forces. Dagne, the only one to mention the ADF links, gave a basic overview of economic and political developments in the Congo with no underlying policy message. Prendergast used the opportunity to push for concerted action on conflict minerals, including the appointment of a US special envoy to the Congo with a good staff. He also mentioned to need for coherent sector reform.

It seems to me that the opportunity could have been better used. If I had been organizing the hearing, I would have pushed for security sector reform, the one issue that the subcommittee really has the prerogative to address through the Department of Defense's current training program in the Congo. Lead with this and then include stockpile management, the appointment of a special envoy and a coherent, multilateral approach under this heading.

And don't even try to make the argument, as some have in the past, that US security interests are at stake. That could lead to misguided, military attacks on inconsequential militia in the Ruwenzori.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Jason for this analysis. AFRICOM seems to be actively seeking out ways to get more involved in Congo, and some US-based and US-focused activist groups seem eager to help AFRICOM achieve this mission. As you point out, security sector reform is sorely needed, but it would be good for Congress to also examine more broadly the role US foreign policy has played in contributing to the wars in Congo, so that we might actually learn from our mistakes and stop supporting regimes and groups that perpetuate conflict.

Jason Stearns said...

Thanks. SSR is a tough one, especially for some of my more left-leaning brethren who have been schooled in the dirty tricks the US military has sometimes played in Latin America. There is a fine line between humanitarian military interventions and the cynical promotion of national interests through military adventures overseas. Especially when we begin seeing cables emphasizing the importance of Congolese natural resources (with no mention of more humanitarian motives) to US interests.

And yet, this shouldn't blind us to imperatives of military reforms. Except that they need to be carried out in a meaningful way, not a simple window dressing.

Anonymous said...

I'm of Congolese origin and naturalized a Canadian citizen who believes that speaking the truth is right thing to do given the abysmal situation in which the Congo and its Seventy and two million inhabitants have been plunged. I speak the truth, because only the truth will set my people I free. Speaking the truth, without recrimination and hatred, aiming to the future and regarding the past as a driver carefully looking his/her retro visor in the middle of the express way for a better journeying to the road ahead is what the people of the should master to communicate and explain the state of their nation.

The US's brazen policy of promoting Dictatorships regimes under the guise of 'National interest' has prompted the people of Congo to undergo a punishing control system of government, one of the worst Dictatorships regimes of the 20th Century.

That Congolese people are lacking, peace and security at home and abroad and, that individuals like I, are enduring all sort of humiliations, cruelty, inhumane and degrading treatments in the 'West' in spite that the Congo is a country that people from many nations have largely benefited of its hospitality and wealth while, due to the US and their allies containment policies towards Africa in general and the Congo in particular, we the inhabitants of this immense country and riches live in limbo, yet our land is gifted with numeral natural treasures to affording the people with high standard living.

Whilst other countries under the control of authoritarian regimes, within and following the ensuing period of 'Cold War', have made strides in terms of economic and social developments as well as in the terms of good governance, protected by the umbrella of the US 'protectorate' satellite countries groupings, in contrast, in the case of the Congo, the African country that the Leaderships have forced its citizenry to all sort of privations in greater scale and have made many sacrifices to defend the United States and its allies during the NATO v. the Warsaw pact ideological division of the World prior to the current Globalization, has nothing existing, standing and indicating economic and social infrastructures that were build built by the US to help alleviate the hardships created by their interfering in political strife at the inception of the Congo's independence in 1960.

I agree with some of the readerships, who expressed the view that the focus on the protection of Congolese strategic natural resources to prevent the access to 'terrorists' is recipe to future US unproductive military adventures or involvement in the Africa Greats Lakes Region countries' s domestic affairs.

I think that the US should base their policy towards the Congo on the path on cultural and trade exchanges rather solely on 'security issues.'

Anthony Onakoy _(140-315 Adanac Dr. Toronto ON CANADA M1M 2E8)

Rich said...

Dear Anthony I can feel the passion coming from your message but I’m afraid to tell you that you may be barking on a wrong tree here!

Why do I say this?

Because one once said, “each society deserves its leaders”. In the case of Congo it looks like pointing the finger to others is easy than going through an honest introspect of why, for instance, some Congolese are ready to act like unscrupulous mercenaries in their own country to terrorise, persecute, rape, kill, loot, etc. their own countrymen and women?

Why is it that if, for instance, you decide to swap countries between Congolese and any other developed nation, after a six months period, the Congolese will be able to reduce their new country to ruin and the other nation will transform Congo into a paradise?

The biggest problem is the Congolese him/herself. The others are only exploiting Congolese lack of vision and genuine sense of citizenship.

I agree that historical events have disrupted and distorted, a great deal, the original cultural process upon which pure Congolese values should have emancipated and interact in conjunction with other cultures around the world. Instead of complaining about others, Congolese should go through a soul-searching motion and be serious about consolidating the Congolese identity.

Such consolidation should be a bottom up process – starting from a family level, the street, the neighbourhood … and all the way up to the government level – rather than the other way round.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I am almost always mystified by the "so-called" experts who are asked to testify before various Congressional subcommittees. Certainly this mystification holds true with respect to the 3 witnesses for the hearing on Crisis in the DRC - Implications for US national security. I agree with you Jason. The committee would have been much better served/informed if the members had heard from SSR experts. Especially given that Chairwoman Loretta Sanchez actually mentioned in her opening remarks that the US has been involved in training sessions for the FARDC to assist in the creation of a strong national army.

Too bad that the person(s) who organized the meeting did not include someone like Sam Mubangu who knows something about the subject. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Mubangu's work check out:

"Establishing a disciplinary and militarily credible citizen army in the DRC" at


RDC. 1960-2010. De l'ANC aux FARDC. Vers une armee de citoyens. Essai. Gustave Samaliam Amisi Bin Mubangu*

PS: For those of your readers interested in watching the event it can be seen via the archived webcasts at The testimonies can be downloaded there as well.

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