Hollywood actor Ben Affleck brings his star power to Congress today to testify on the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its implications for the United States. Affleck will be joined at the hearing by Heritage’s James Jay Carafano, who will explain why the Obama administration should rethink support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. This is the second hearing in two weeks on the issue.
Affleck’s activism in the DRC has helped elevate awareness about the country’s instability. Today’s hearing before the House Armed Services Committee is an opportunity for Americans to learn more about what’s happening in the central African nation.
In a new report, Heritage’s Morgan Lorraine Roach and Brett D. Schaefer explain the country’s troubled history and the plight of DRC citizens, who are among the world’s poorest and suffer from high infant mortality and low life expectancy.
The current crisis stems from the mid-1990s clash between DRC and neighbors Rwanda and Uganda. The most prominent rebel group officially disbanded after a March 23, 2009, peace deal, that was supposed to integrate rebel troops into the Congolese army. Earlier this year, DRC president Joseph Kabila ordered the arrest of former rebel leader, Bosco Ntaganda, prompting his former troops to again rebel under the new name “M23” in reference to the March 23 peace deal. M23 launched an offensive in eastern Congo and, just last month, occupied and later withdrew from eastern Congo’s largest city of Goma.
Failure of the ill-trained and unprofessional Congolese armed forces to stop the rebels’ assault reflects poorly on the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a budget of an annual $1.4 billion. The U.N. peacekeepers are charged with protecting civilians, but as the recent advance of M23 reveals, it has failed to effectively carry out its mission.
To make matters worse, Kabila’s government has used violence, corruption, and cronyism to maintain power. Yet the international community continues to endorse his government and its support, supplemented by U.N. peacekeepers, allows Kabila to disregard his governance and security responsibilities.
What should the United States do? In the last fiscal year, American taxpayers provided more than $110 million in humanitarian assistance for the Congolese people. There are five steps the Obama administration should consider immediately, according to Roach and Schaefer:
- Acknowledge that the DRC government lacks legitimacy and cannot deliver on its commitments. The U.S. should press Kabila to decentralize authority and transfer power to provincial and local governments.
- Enforce sanctions on supporters of rebel groups. The recent cut of $200,000 in security assistance to Rwanda for supporting rebels is a welcome sign that the U.S. is prepared to enforce its policy.
- Encourage regional economic integration. Rwanda and Uganda have much to gain from a stable eastern DRC, particularly one with greater autonomy that would be open to trade and investment.
- Diminish the size of MONUSCO, limit its mandate, and establish a framework for terminating the mission. It’s time for the United Nations to transition its work and acknowledge it’s not the proper force for implementing peace in eastern Congo.
- Support the creation of an African Union peacekeeping force. An African-led strategy helped address the dismal situation in Somalia and could bring regional attention to resolving the DRC crisis.
It’s time the United States made these much-needed changes to more effectively address the plight of the Congolese people.