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Opinion: DR Congo, the Biggest Moral Failure of the Bush Administration

By Sylvestre Ngoma | Published on October 28, 2008

Paul Kagame
During the 2000 presidential campaign, the then governor of the state of Texas running for the office of president of the United States stated that he did not view Africa as a strategic partner of the United States —leaving Africans wondering about the type of foreign policy the US would have towards Africa . Thus, inferring from this statement that President George W. Bush came in office on January 20, 2001 with a foggy policy towards Africa with respect to US foreign policy would, indeed, be an understatement.

Not surprisingly, this was hardly the first time a US president began his first term without a clear, well-thought out strategic policy as to how the US should relate to Africa . The same thing cannot be said about positions of candidates running for the office of president of the United States towards Asia , Europe , and the Americas that the US often views as strategic partners. Clearly, Africa is often regarded as a minor entity that presents a mix of uncomforting challenges: On the one hand, the continent sits on a stunning fauna and flora of ecologic and economic wealth. Yet, on the other hand, it is the poorest continent on earth with the highest rates of armed conflicts, illiteracy, diseases, and mortality.

Hence, the first term of President George W. Bush had, expectedly so, an unflattering list of accomplishments with regards to Africa . Although President George W. Bush was able to redeem himself with some positive steps towards the right direction during his second term (with The Child Soldiers Accountability Act, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006 (S.2125) , the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS ) , and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act [by Executive Order 13413, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency with respect to the situation in or in relation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706)] ), he remained undeterred in his commitment to staying out of Africa's crises.

In all fairness, though, it is worth pointing out that President George W. Bush did help end the crisis in Liberia by sending some US troops to Liberia and easing out the exit of President Charles Taylor from power. It may be argued that the sense of urgency on the part of the US only was triggered by the historic links that exist between Liberia and the United States . The US president may have felt compelled to act because of pressure from all kinds of US constituencies, especially blacks.

One of the looming conflicts of Africa today is in the region of Darfur in Sudan . President Bush's commitment to solve the crisis in Darfur still remains open to questions. Until recently, nothing suggested that he sized up accurately the measure of the disaster in that country. Even though his own Secretary of State referred to what was happening then and still is happening in that country as a “genocide”, the Bush Administration still remained unphased by the extent of the disasters in that country. The unwillingness of the Bush administration to take bolder actions instead of verbal threats still raises questions. Over 500.000 men, women, and children have lost their lives since that conflict started in 2003, according to the United Nations. Thousands of women and girls have been raped. Over three million people have lost their homes, their belongings, the very fabric of their lives. They subsist, barely, in refugee camps, terrified, captive to the ever-present threats of starvation, disease, and violence. Apparently, not enough casualties to warrant decisive actions by the international community! It is true that some organizations and institutions are beginning to act. The arrest warrant in the International Court of Justice issued against President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir is part of that effort.

Even more baffling is the Bush administration's response to a conflict that a former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, called “ Africa 's first world war.” Indeed, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the real “first world war of Africa ” by scope, its victims, the actors involved. A war that still threatens to destabilize the whole region of central Africa . Initially, the Bush Administration did not seem to have a clear grasp of that crisis. It seemed to rely on partisan accounts by protagonists. Hence, it allowed the war to rage on for two long years until it became clear that Rwanda and Uganda were not painting the correct picture of that war. The governments of these two countries presented themselves as regimes that were under the threats of terrorism from a neighboring country harboring terrorists, “genocidaires”, and rebels opposed to their “democratically” elected governments.

It took the clairvoyance of the U.S. Secretary of State, Collin Powell, to help the US realize that Rwanda and Uganda and even Congo 's allies ( Zimbabwe , Namibia , Chad , and Angola ) were drawn to that country for reasons beyond what was officially stated. Powell vowed to assure that the territorial integrity of the Congo was respected. That allowed President Bush to finally order all foreign troops out (with just words) of DRC in 2002. A power-sharing deal was hatched out and a transition government took office in DRC in June 2003.

All seemed to work smoothly. But Paul Kagame still had a different agenda. While withdrawing his troops from DRC in 2002, he left several thousand troops in DRC under the disguise of a local insurgency. Those troops were led by Jules Mutebusi and Nkunda Mihigo. With those troops, Rwanda was able to pursue a proxy war. Uganda was lured into the process. It is quite clear why Rwanda could not afford to lose the control of the vast mineral-rich portion of DRC it controlled through Nkunda Mihigo.

Towards the end of the Bush administration, President Paul Kagame is getting even bolder in his expansionist desire to keep part of the Congo under his control. The timing is perfect. It is almost the end of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush is a lame duck president. Thus, the time is on President Kagame's side to try to score some points in the Congo before a new administration takes office.

Subsequently, President Kagame sent in several troops to reinforce Nkunda last August. He even became at times the official political spokesperson for the CNDP rebels. He invited a Belgian reporter to Kigali to announce that he was tired with the Congo government and was ready to act. He let the world know when Nkunda would attack and how Nkunda's weaponry was superior to that of the national Congolese army. One goal that Nkunda is trying to achieve is to drive out local populations and bring in Tutsis from Rwanda while exploiting the minerals (coltan, diamond, gold, copper, tin, etc.) with the cooperation of multinational corporations.

All is done in order to drown out reports of pillaging, rape, murder committed in the process. In the meantime, six million Congolese have lost their lives as a direct result of Rwanda 's invasion of DRC. Soon, a milestone will be reached. The conflict is about to have more victims than the holocaust of the Jews during World War II.

What will President George W. Bush tell the world years from now? Did he not know what was happening in the Congo ? He sure did. The United Nations knew. Human rights organizations knew. The whole world knew but decided to look the other way mainly because the people dying were black. Some brave people with some moral sense have raised red flags, have blown horns…but for some strange reason, President Bush has failed to act; he has failed to tell President Kagame of Rwanda, an ally of the United States, to get its troops out of the Congo and, thereby, allowing the Congo to enjoy some peace. Is that not fair, given the fact that the people of the Congo have endured untold indignities and atrocities since the war started in 1996 with the first Rwandan invasion?

The Democratic Republic of Congo has always been an ally of the United States since the early days of its independence. What is surprising is the fact that DR Congo was not involved in the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. The international community did ask President Mobutu to give refuge to Rwandans fleeing the war in their country in 1994. Why is DRC being punished for landing a helping hand?

What would it take for the US and the international community to feel disturbed by the deaths of the Congolese people as they are by those of mountain gorillas (or other endangered species present in DRC), victims of their war? What would it take for the international community to stand up to companies illegally benefiting from this war?

Will President Bush be brave enough and tell the Congolese people that he is sorry that he allowed this holocaust to continue? It is never too late to act for a good cause. The new US administration—be it Obama's or McCain's—whoever succeeds President Bush should draw lessons from this moral failure and do things differently. He should not repeat the same policies. Those people dying in the Congo are not mosquitoes. They are human beings.

Paul Kagame and Museveni need to learn to live in peace with the Congo . They are unwilling to work with the opposition in their own countries but force the Congo government to dialogue with their proxy, Nkunda Mihigo. The sitting president with the most blood in his hands, Paul Kagame, needs to be warned against crimes he is committing rather than praised for destroying human lives. And the rebel leader Nkunda Mihigo needs to be handled like Charles Taylor.

It is no secret that the United States has lost its moral leadership in much of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its leadership in that region has not only been a hopeless failure but also a disgrace to the world.

The US foreign policy is based on moral values and respect for human rights. The ongoing war in the Congo and the lack of attention by the US do hurt the US moral standing in the world. Because of international complacency and lack of international pressure on Rwanda and Uganda , these two countries have maintained their troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo , thereby, continually destabilizing that country.

I believe that moral principles should guide relations between the US and Africa . After allowing a genocide that cost lives to 800,000 in Rwanda , the international community should redeem itself by helping prevent another one. Instead, it is allowing the genocide in Darfur . And even worst, it is allowing a much bleaker genocide in the Congo . All this is happening while the US has an African-American as Secretary of State! Why do the deaths of four gorillas in the Congo attract more attention than those of six million people? The US is losing its moral leadership in the world by not taking a stance on such a crisis of unimaginable magnitude.

While I was shopping in a local store today, a cashier asked me where I was from. I told her that I was from the Congo . The woman noted: “it is sickening what is going on in your country. Our government should have stepped in and stopped that senseless war. It should have stepped in 12 years ago. You know why it won't do anything? Because of minerals in that country. It is a shame. People don't matter.”

It is morally wrong and outright criminal to stand by and watch nearly 6 million people die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo without denouncing it . As a matter of fact, the war in the Congo has more casualties than Iraq , Afghanistan and Darfur combined. It is the deadliest conflict since World War II. Close to half the casualties are children younger than 5 years old. With tens of thousands of women, possibly hundreds of thousands, raped, more than 2 million displaced, 45,000 people dying each month, when will you break your silence, Mr. President?

Sylvestre Ngoma, MS.
Information Technology Teacher

On the web:

@Congoplanet |

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