The Obama administration has signaled its concern for the Democratic Republic of Congo by sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton there last month, but restoring stability will require a long-term commitment of money, education, military training and enough political will to force Central African governments to hammer out a sustainable peace.
“The atrocities that these women have suffered, which stands for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distills evil into its basest form,” Mrs. Clinton said in the regional capital of Goma.
However, Mrs. Clinton also told aid workers that she did not want “to overpromise.”
“I am not just here to leave a business card, but I don’t have a magic wand, either … . It is ultimately up to the people here.”
More than 5 million Congolese have died in civil strife in the past decade. Most are noncombatants, and many were victims of hunger, rape and disease.
Mrs. Clinton told the Congolese government that the $17 million in new funding would go to provide more medical care, counseling and economic and legal support for rape survivors. Some of the funds will train doctors to perform the delicate surgery needed to repair the terrible physical damage suffered by the victims of gang rape.
About $3 million will be used to recruit and train more police officers, particularly women, to work on sexual-violence cases, which often go unpunished in Congo.
Mrs. Clinton also said that the Pentagon’s U.S. Africa Command would deploy a team of civilian experts, medical personnel and military engineers to assess how to provide more assistance to rape victims.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates total U.S. aid to Congo will amount to $200 million this year, compared with $150 million in 2007. In addition to assisting rape victims, the money will go for economic development programs, food and support for U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Anne Richard, vice president for government relations and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee, an aid group active in eastern Congo, said the U.S. must provide more than money.
“Sending aid, even on a more massive scale than is currently the case, into eastern Congo is a short-term solution at best, because the government is corrupt and inept,” she said.
Before the Clinton visit, Africa specialists said the U.S. had paid too little attention to a country still reeling from the overflow of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, feeble national institutions and continuing interference by neighbors that covet Congo’s mineral wealth.
“There seems to be some conventional wisdom forecasted that the need for extensive U.S. policy in the DRC is over because the war is officially over,” said Howard Wolpe, director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former Democratic congressman from Michigan. “This is not the case.”
“Washington cannot afford to be so timid about engaging in or treating the DRC as a second- or third-order priority,” agreed Chester A. Crocker, a former assistant secretary of state for Africa and a professor of strategic studies at Georgetown University, in a policy report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
After Mrs. Clinton’s visit, his opinion was much more favorable. “We now have in office an administration that recognizes the central importance of the DRC,” he told The Washington Times. It is “an important change.”
U.S. policy in the past has rested largely on supporting Rwandan and Congolese military operations to stabilize eastern Congo,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, which targets genocide and crimes against humanity.
“We must evolve from a whack-a-mole strategy against the FDLR,” he said, referring to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, one of Congo’s violent militia groups. “There needs to be a more comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.”
He said people who have committed war crimes are being allowed to join the Congolese national army and that a vetting system should be created to screen out former rebels.
The Obama administration and the United Nations support such vetting mechanisms and better discipline in the army. However, neither have much control over how the army recruits and retains personnel.
The U.S. also advocates better relations between Congo and neighboring Uganda and Rwanda to coordinate the capture of rebels, especially members of the FDLR.
“The military needs professionalizing,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters accompanying her on her trip.
She said Congo’s neighbors must cooperate to end the violence and the exploitation of Congolese minerals that is “basically funding a lot of these militias that are keeping the fighting going, along with all the attendant human rights abuses.”