Treating the Sickness at the Heart of Africa
Treating the Sickness at the Heart of Africa
Great Lakes Politics and the Fight for the Eastern DR Congo
Great Lakes Politics and the Fight for the Eastern DR Congo
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Treating the Sickness at the Heart of Africa

With Africa at the top of the agenda at the Group of 8 summit meeting next month, world leaders would do well to focus on Congo, the sick heart of the continent, which combines all of Africa's worst problems in their most extreme form. Two small European Union efforts already in train could show the way.

From war to disease to poverty to bad governance, Congo is a prime example of all of Africa's nightmares. Of these, war is the most important to understanding Congo. Resolving the ongoing conflict is critical not only for rescuing Congo's 58 million people but also for stabilizing central Africa and helping it escape the other horrors.

The scale of devastation in Congo over recent years is staggering. Since 1998, an estimated 3.8 million people have died as a result of a civil war abetted by eight of the country's neighbors. Such a figure overwhelms the imagination; it is probably the most deadly conflict on earth since World War II.

A peace deal was signed in 2002, but the transitional government established in Kinshasa the following year has been at best dysfunctional and at worst a stalling tactic foreshadowing renewed war. Its principle figures are former warlords who maintain their own militias and continue to compete with one another for Congo's rich natural resources.

Elections had been planned for June 30, but they have been delayed; those who have relied on guns appear to feel their positions threatened by the ballot box. Key elements of security reform, including the formation of an integrated national army, have been small, slow and uncoordinated, and disarmament and the demobilization of militias have barely started.

That the world tolerates this instability in the heart of Africa is bad enough; that we do so while the international community foots half of Kinshasa's budget is unacceptable. Much more outside pressure can and should be brought to bear to get Congo's transition to peace back on track.

The European Commission has been the largest single donor to Congo, with more than €585 million, or $705 million, pledged since 2002. After the 2003 Artemis military intervention in Ituri, a French-led EU mission that brought a degree of security to that eastern Congolese district, the EU has been intensifying its efforts to facilitate a successful transition in Congo with two new missions.

The first civilian mission, Eupol Kinshasa, began in April and aims to provide advice to the Integrated Police Unit under Congolese command. A second EU mission, Eusec R.D. Congo, which began on June 8, is a military initiative to advise and assist the Congolese authorities in charge of security while promoting policies compatible with human rights and democratic standards.

These small missions will no doubt provide excellent guidance to the key government offices they are attached to, but they should be seen as only a first step in a much deeper push for the demobilization of combatants and wider security reform.

One key move, which is needed urgently, would be to bring together under one body the various programs for security sector assistance and coordinate and increase their activities. Right now, for example, army integration projects are taking place under a variety of agencies: Angola, Belgium, South Africa and the UN mission in the Congo, known as Monuc, are all involved, often without any coordination.

Another crucial issue is how to better manage the financing of security reform. Every month, $10 million leaves government coffers to pay soldiers to serve in an integrated army. Almost none of this reaches its destination, prompting pillaging and abuses across the country. Eusec, together with Monuc, should be well placed to ensure more transparency in future as it is to act as the focal point for dispersing wages and food supplies to the brigades that will be deployed to keep order during the election.

More broadly, of course, Congo simply needs more international attention. While talk of debt relief and poverty reduction has swirled around the impending G-8 summit, far less attention seems to have been given to the violent conflicts that underlie some of Africa's most intractable problems. But without a concerted push to bring Congo's long war to a peaceful conclusion, every other effort the international community attempts in central Africa will be at risk.

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