United States House Committee Discusses Post-Election Policy Toward DR Congo

On 02 February 2012, the US House of Representatives held a hearing on “US Policy Toward Post Election Democratic Republic of the Congo” in the Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Subcommittee.  Here are some of the highlights:

Opening Remarks by Chairman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey, 4th District)

According to Committee Chairman, Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) “the continued flow of strategic minerals” helps to drive American concerns regarding DRC.

I agree with Smith that minerals are a big concern for American companies and consumers, thus American politicians.  Someone would have to be naïve to think minerals don’t matter and that the US is simply interested in the stability of DRC for the sake of stability.  But natural resource access is not the only concern.  In his statement, Smith did allude to other US interests in the DRC, but he only mentioned minerals specifically. 

While it might be true, this statement was a major error on the Congressman’s part.  It sends a message to Congolese and American citizens that mineral access is driving US interests in DRC.  For Congolese, it paints the United States as the proverbial neo-colonizer, interested only in extraction and using aid as a means to gain access to natural resources.

Donald Yamamoto, US Department of State Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary- Bureau of African Affairs

Yamamoto stood in for Deputy Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson during the hearing.  His remarks covered the general stage upon which the November 2011 elections were held and the ongoing challenges to address democracy and human rights in the DRC.  His statement highlighted both the victories and failures of the GDRC during the electoral process.

He provided a very clear and direct summarization of US policy regarding the elections:

“The State Department has found the management and technical execution of these elections to be seriously flawed, lacking in transparency and not on a par with positive gains in the democratic process that we have seen in other recent elections in the region and elsewhere. The Secretary of State noted that we were deeply disappointed that the electoral commission’s provisional results were affirmed by the Supreme Court without a full investigation of alleged irregularities, despite opportunities to do so.”

Yamamoto reiterated confusing US policy regarding the final candidate order:

“It is important to note that we do not know, and it might not be possible to determine with any certainty, whether the final order of presidential candidates would have been different from the final results had the management of the process been better.”

[Since I’ve already written about this statement here, I won’t go into detail.]

Fortunately, Yamamoto’s speech covered some of the other (and in my opinion, more legitimate) USG concerns regarding the DRC that Congressman Smith forgot to mention.

“The importance of the DRC to the United States is multifaceted and profound. Our humanitarian obligations to this country that has brutally suffered so much drive our policy and underpin our commitment to the Congolese people. Moreover, the stability of central Africa in the near and long-term depends on the still precarious stability of the DRC. If the country returns to the 1993 to 2003 levels of violence, all the countries in the region could yet again be involved, leading to humanitarian crises and regional instability.”

Daniel Baer, US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Baer’s testimony covered a range of topics from disappointment at the electoral process to violence against women.  The general message was a mixed one directed at the Government of the DRC (GDRC).  His comments indicated an overall fatigue within the US government and international community at the GDRC’s lack of commitment in establishing reforms.  Here’s what Baer had to say:

“The U.S. and international community – foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs – have contributed billions of dollars and thousands of advisors into the DRC over the years. To date, unfortunately, the GDRC has not shown the same commitment to reform, and we need to be clear: Without a strong and sustained commitment by the GDRC to democracy and human rights, little can be done that will be sustainable…

“Of course, we must also acknowledge the fact that the DRC is one of the least developed countries in the world. Even were the GDRC completely committed to improving democracy and human rights, its ability to do so is limited. And, developing the capacity of the GDRC — enacting laws and transferring tools and know-how — is but a small part of the solution. Helping them foster and inculcate a respect for human rights and the rule of law—and embed it institutions as a way of doing things – is the central task, and the larger part of a sustainable solution.”

Dr. Sarah Mendelson, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance

In addition to retelling the election story, Dr. Mendelson offered some perspective on the way forward. 

“A variety of steps could be taken, based on these elections, to ensure that future elections in the DRC have greater transparency and credibility and to reduce the possibility for tampering with the results. While the U.S. Government and the international community will likely have a role to play, to be meaningful and lasting, this process must be Congolese driven. A thorough investigation of incidents of election-related violence, including incidents that were perpetrated by members of the security services and opposition political parties, would send the message that the government of the DRC and the political class take seriously their commitment to promote democratic processes and human rights. Journalists and human rights defenders detained illegally for their work should also be released. The Congolese people deserve-and successful reform will require-professional and fair coverage by the media.

“To regain its credibility with the Congolese people, the CENI needs to demonstrate to the Congolese people that it has the capacity to successfully manage future elections in an efficient and transparent manner.”

Dr. Mendelson highlighted USAID’s multi-faceted efforts to promote democracy and human rights and to combat atrocities and trafficking.  However, like Mr. Baer, she left the success of such programs up to the GDRC.

“Even with the international community’s concerted efforts to support peace and stability in the DRC, ultimately, the commitment to democracy, human rights, and good governance is up to the Congolese. The government, political parties, civil society, and other stakeholders must together define the contours of a reformed and inclusive political system that will enable all Congolese to develop their country and enjoy the benefits of living in a peaceful, prosperous society.”


One Reply to “United States House Committee Discusses Post-Election Policy Toward DR Congo”

  1. Regarding Smith, the honest truth regarding capitalistic nations will always be a major influencing factor in foreign policy. That truth being, “what is going to make me more prosperous?”

    He did seem to mess up a little, but something can be said for honesty.

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