To save Congo, US and Britain must stop Rwandan and Ugandan support of militia gangs

Thousands of Congolese flee the town of Sake, 26km west of Goma, following renewed fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo town on Nov. 22.
Phil Moore

KINSHASA, Congo --- “To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart” is the preposterously tiled op-ed in The New York Times by J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. In his piece, published November 30, he asserts that Congo’s circumstantial factors, such as artificial boundaries and dysfunctional status quo, are the reasons that country remains swamped by militia gangs of every stripe.

Pham writes that Congo is “too big to succeed” and recommends ending the crisis by breaking up a “chronically failed state into smaller organic units whose members … have at least common interests in personal and community security.”

This strikes me as a plan under which the international community would stand aside while killing, raping and looting are permitted to continue until Congo falls apart.

His argument is stunningly off base. Pham asserts that Congo’s heartbreaking suffering, beginning with Leopold II of Belgium to today’s killing industries, is caused by a “mineral curse,” the country’s immense treasure of mineral reserves. His central premise is the notion that “Congo’s size is the reason protracted wars and human tragedy continue in spite of dozens of peace deals and the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world.” These points are both inaccurate and misleading from historical and academic standpoints.

There is no mystery why militia gangs continue to lurk in or around Congo’s green hills, pastoral plains and mines. Neighboring governments, notably Rwanda and Uganda – two of the biggest recipients of UK and US aid in Africa---as well as dodgy elements in the Congolese establishment, have taken advantage of the abject failure in leadership in Kinshasa.

Unless addressed, both Congo and the wider region will be plunged into an abyss. The tragic failure of policies and strategies by the international community in their attempts to address the region’s political and economic dynamics help incite the wars and human tragedy engulfing Congo.

This is an established fact. Anyone familiar with the killing, looting and raping industries in Congo knows this. I struggle to understand how Pham can draw a link between Congo’s size and the protracted conflict over its rich mineral deposits. Research about the wars and human tragedy in Congo reveal that:

(1) Congo does not have an army; what commentators often refers to as the Congolese army is little more than a collection of different militia gangs that have agreed to temporarily stop fighting each other over control of minerals

(2) The March 23 Movement (M23) militia is not a disgruntled rebel movement as has been presented by the news media. M23 is the latest generation of rebel groups sponsored by the Rwandan army. The first was Rally for Congolese Democracy–Goma (RDC-Goma), a rebel movement based in Goma at the onset of the 1998 Rwandan–led invasion of Congo. RCD–Goma rebranded itself, first as National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and then as M23, leading to a further rebranding in October as the Revolutionary Army of Congo. The common denominator of all these militia gangs is Rwandan support in many forms.

(3) The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo can only be as effective and robust in its response as the political will of the UN Security Council, notably UK and US. Both countries have been reluctant, even disinterested in taking effective political action to stop Rwanda and Uganda from resurrecting militia gangs in Congo and pushing for political reform in Kinshasa.

Pham’s striking omission – the idea that by leaving the killing, raping, uprooting and looting to go on unhindered until Congo as a nation falls apart – is neither a reasonable nor a realistic solution.

Congo is not too big to succeed. Congo remains in crisis because leaders of that country over the years have failed to dream big.

To Save the Congo, in political terms, we must address the crisis of leadership in Kinshasa. In humanitarian terms, two things must happen: First, US and Britain must stop Rwanda and Uganda from resurrecting militia gangs in Congo. Second, we must put an end to impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and the international trade of minerals that fund the war. And that’s a very tall order.

Vava Tampa is a native of Congo, and the founder of Save the Congo, a UK-based campaigning organization working to raise awareness of, and tackle the impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and Illicit trade of minerals that funds the wars in Congo.