US envoy boosts DRC peace process

After decades of bad news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it seems like the stars might finally be aligning in the country's favour. The most recent devleopment is the appointment of former Senator Russ Feingold as the US Special Representative to the Great Lakes and the DRC.

Author

June 19th, 2013

After decades of bad news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it seems like the stars might finally be aligning in the country's favour. The most recent devleopment is the appointment of former Senator Russ Feingold as the US Special Representative to the Great Lakes and the DRC.

But this is just the latest in a string of positive steps, which include the signing by 11 central African nations of a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, the appointment of former Irish President Mary Robinson as UN Special Envoy to the region, and the pledge of $1billion in development funds from the World Bank.

The impetus for this unprecedented international mobilisation is the year-old M23 rebel insurgency in eastern Congo, which has left hundreds of people dead and tens of thousands displaced. The UN Group of Experts released a report in 2012, which showed direct Rwandan government support for the M23, heightening the need for serious and concerted international engagement. But if the world’s major powers want political stability and an end to the violence, their response to the crisis has to be about far more than just the M23 and DRC’s troubled eastern provinces.

And the rhetoric of the Framework agreement and the appointment of the two prominent envoys seem to suggest that the international community finally gets it. For years, there has been talk about the need for security sector and political reform in Congo and economic development in the region. But now the US, UN and the countries in the region can start to turn this talk into action.

Indeed, Senator Feingold and President Robinson, in a way, have a fresh start.

The first thing they must do is to ensure Congo’s neighbours stop meddling in Congo’s affairs. Specifically, they need to deliver a tough message to the Rwandan government and tell it to stop interfering and destabilising its much larger neighbour. The media and other observers on the ground in the region report that Rwanda continues to support M23, despite the pressure exerted by the international community. A lasting peace deal will not be reached if Congo’s neighbors continue to interfere and foment rebellion in the country.

Secondly, they need to make the Congolese governance a significant part of their mandate. They must get Congo to undertake comprehensive security sector reform – rather than the piecemeal and unsuccessful reforms it has implemented in the past. Furthermore, the Congolese government must follow through on its promises to reform its electoral system and electoral commission, and start planning for local and provincial elections next year. Finally, it must deliver on much needed institutional and administrative reforms in the justice sector and public administration, and begin to tackle widespread corruption.

US policy toward Congo has never been worse than it was during the 2011 presidential polls, when the US government failed to denounce the fraudulent electoral process. As a result, the current government lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, worsening the country’s problems. Without a credible Congolese government, peace and development in the Congo will remain impossible.

Senator Feingold has the opportunity to reshape US policy towards DRC and promote the governance and democratic reforms that are critical to its future. Indeed, in an to Senator Feingold, a number of US and Congo-based analysts urged him to prioritise building DRC’s democratic institutions and implementing the Framework Agreement.

The fate of Congo rests with the Congolese, but hopefully Senator Feingold – together with President Mary Robinson – can work with them to bring lasting peace and security not only to eastern Congo but also to the whole of the DRC and the entire Great Lakes region.

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