Tuesday, July 2, 2013

DR Congo: Obama signals policy change ?

The White House press release 

Remarks by President Obama and President Kikwete of Tanzania at Joint Press Conference

Q    My question to President Obama -- Mr. President, there has been no peace in Congo for almost 20 years now.  As a powerful nation in the world and a permanent member of the Security Council with a lot of influence to major players of the Congo conflict, how is the U.S. going to assist the DRC and Great Lakes to reach a permanent peace?  Thank you. 

"...a lot of influence to major players of the Congo conflict. " That is a very perceptive part of question and Obama didn't duck it. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, the people of Congo need a chance.  They need a fair chance to live their lives, raise their families.  And they haven't had that opportunity because of constant conflict and war for way too many years.  And of course, the tragedy is compounded by the fact that Congo is so rich in natural resources and potential, but because of this constant conflict and instability, the people of Congo haven't benefited from that. 
I want to congratulate, again, President Kikwete and others who have helped to shape a peace framework.  Because one of the things that I've said throughout this trip is, the United States doesn’t seek to impose solutions on Africa.  We want to work with Africans to find solutions to some of these ongoing security and regional problems.

All this is fairly standard stuff but the acknowledgement that the Congo is resource rich and that the people of the Congo have not benefited from the mineral wealth begs the question who has benefited ? 

And so, the fact that you now have a peace framework that the various parties have signed onto is critical.  But it can't just be a piece of paper; there has to be follow-through.  And so, one of the things that I discussed with President Kikwete is how we can encourage all the parties concerned to follow through on commitments that they've made in order to bring about a lasting solution inside of Congo.  That means, for example, that President Kabila inside of Congo, he has to do more and better when it comes to dealing with the DRC's capacity on security issues and delivery of services.  And that’s very important, because if there's a continuing vacuum there, then that vacuum sometimes gets filled by actors that don’t have the best interests of Congo at heart.  And we're prepared to work the United Nations and regional organizations and others to help him build capacity.

That is a accurate way to describe the failings of FARDC and the ongoing security issues in the Eastern DR Congo.
"...then that vacuum sometimes gets filled by actors that don’t have the best interests of Congo at heart." 
One gets the feeling Susan Rice is about to have a bad day.  

The countries surrounding the Congo, they've got to make commitments to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Congo.  And they've signed onto a piece of paper now, now the question is do they follow through. 

Wow. Did I read that right.  Hope that Rwanda are paying attention. Susan Rice is going to find it difficult to run cover for you now.

And so, we're prepared to work with anybody to try to make this happen.  Ultimately, though, the countries involved have to recognize it is in their self-interest to do so.  We can't force a solution onto the region.  The peoples of the region have to stand up and say that’s enough; it's time to move forward in a different way.  And, by the way, that means holding those who've committed gross human rights abuses accountable for what they've done.

The list of human rights violators is not a short one.

But there's an opportunity for peace here.  And the countries surrounding the Congo should recognize that if the Congo stabilizes, that will improve the prospects for their growth and their prosperity, because right now, it's as if you have a millstone around your neck.  If you have one of the biggest countries in terms of geography in all of Africa with all these natural resources, but it's constantly a problem as opposed to being part of the solution, everybody suffers. 
Tanzania should be doing more trade with the DRC.  Rwanda should be doing more trade and commerce with the DRC.  One of the things we're talking about it how do we get more inter-Africa trade, because if countries like Tanzania are going to improve their economic position in the globe, the first thing they have to do is to make sure they can trade with each other more effectively. 

It is hard to know how to interpret these statements. The absence of an acknowledgement of western neocolonialism is a bit of an oversight. 
Right now, in Africa -- this is true not just in Tanzania, but in Kenya and Uganda and other places -- it's easier to send flowers or coffee to Europe than it is to send it across the way.  And that means that fewer businesses are getting started and fewer jobs are being created.
So we want to work with the existing international structures like the United Nations, and we're supportive of the brigade that’s been shaped and in which Tanzania is making a contribution.  But ultimately, it's going to be the African countries themselves that have to follow up on the commitments that they've already made. 

All in all not a bad answer to the question.

Hat Tip Clemence Umutesi Barati on Facebook

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