The name ‘Congo’ conjures the image of profound and serious systemic challenges, such as, political discontent; moral muddle; a swamp of corruption; an image of genetic defect in democracy since independence from Belgium! And sadly, grinding poverty, despite its vast wealth in natural resources!! The unrest is resource-driven. Consequently, it has become a real ‘International Migraine’. It has outlasted many UN Secretary-Generals, as in the following: Dag Hammarskjold, U-Thant, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan. It is now up to the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to make history by finally bringing an end to this conflict, once and for all!
The Congo crisis is a powerful example of how mineral resources in Africa are a ‘curse’ and not a ‘blessing’! All of the human vices are brought to bear in Congo: mercenaries, looters, gun-runners, smugglers, drug lords, human traffickers, sex traders; all form an unholy alliance, under the watchful eyes of the UN and its powerful member states (USA, Britain, China, Russia, Japan and the EU). How can this be happening and UN member states continue to do ‘Business as Usual’? It is an unassailable fact that peacekeeping in Congo is more substantive now than ever before. Most of the peace-keepers are simply making a career out of the misery of the Congolese. They are there earning comfortable salaries while ignoring the mass rape of young women and girls. They are there protecting their jobs and benefits rather than seeing the problem resolved. The recent accounts of rape under the watch of the peace-keepers, is a clear example of the perpetuation of the belief that Congo is a rape-saturated culture. It is deeply disturbing to learn that a Commanding Officer in the Congolese Military took an active part in the recent barbaric violation of women. He should be arrested and sent to The Hague to face charges of ‘Crimes against Humanity’. It is the duty of the UN peace-keepers to act swiftly, if indeed they are serious about their peace-keeping functions?
There is a silent majority of Africans who share the view that peacekeeping has not been properly constituted for Congo. Peace-keeping and peace-keepers for Congo have become a contested issue among African scholars. This is primarily due to the nations that make up the peace-keeping contingent. I, for one, no longer have faith in the current peacekeepers in Congo, where atrocities, such as gang-rape of women by the rebels, were committed under the watchful eyes of peace-keepers whose camp base was close to the site where some of these atrocities took place. It was this incident that strongly convinced me to doubt their overall commitment to the mission in Congo. It has become a war of ‘no gain and no loss’ – “a war of inertia”. This charade has gone on for too long, and a new team of peacekeepers need to be reconstituted for Congo and with a new mandate and mission.
The name, Congo, still resonates with images of vast desolation, plunder, anarchy, rape, and murder. The laundry list of what has gone wrong in Congo, beginning from the ‘quasi-Independence’ until now: since gaining independence from Belgium to the Mobutu era following the assassination of Patrice Lumumba; the sharp rise in violence and rape; political paralysis and dysfunction; deep unhappiness among the Patriots, coupled with troubling imbalance in politics. These issues continue to grow. Even though the Congolese have collectively demonstrated an iconic image of resilience and survival, the continued exploitation of their natural resources by foreign corporations and foreign governments, in exchange for weapons of mass destruction (grenades, land mines, AK-47, grenade launchers, etc.), have created problems for decades.
The hard truth has been that there is no solidity as a nation, because of the absence of a comprehensive peace accord between and among the warring factions. Also, there are no identifiable, courageous politicians that would work for change through non-violent means. This fact is partly the reason for a serious leadership vacuum being witnessed in Congo.
The UN should and must find some peace-minded individuals, willing and ready to sit down together and encourage a roundtable discussion, to develop a working formula acceptable to all parties. Legislate a binding treaty that is new, with progressive ideas, and inclusive of diverse opinions. It was done in Namibia by a UN-brokered peace, followed by a new constitution and the first successfully conducted election ever for Namibia. The UN should duplicate the same success for Congo and its people. The UN should use its expertise to mediate as necessary, to break the impasse and end this sad but perennial carnage that has become synonymous with the history of Congo since Independence. As a positive first step for the UN to become a credible peace broker in Congo, the following measures need to be adopted as the fulcrum for peace and democracy:
stop the recruitment of mercenaries; all mercenaries should leave Congo immediately. All rebel and warring groups should lay down their weapon; there should be the stoppage of the illegal flow of arms by monitoring the borders air surveillance by the UN, if necessary). All neighboring states that share common borders with Congo should commit themselves to non-interference or face UN sanctions. Gun-runners should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. No illegal dealing or smuggling of mineral resources (for example, diamond). Government(s) from where these weapons originate must be made to close the loopholes for arms sale and smuggling.
The UN can set up a similar system of Democratic & Constitutional Government as UNTAG (United Nations Transition Assistance Group) did in Namibia. Such a model will succeed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It worked superbly well by bringing the various factions in Namibia together. The Namibian success can serve as a template for the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was a true example of a UN-supervised election, the first ever democratically conducted election, the first elected government, in the Sub-Saharan Africa. It worked and great thanks to the UNTAG’s undeterred effort and sacrifice. Part of the funding should come by recuperating some money looted by Mobutu and the others like Memba, (now on trial in The Hague), that is in the Swiss Bank. The Swiss Bank needs to be held responsible for its dealings with criminal elements in Africa and for their active role in impoverishing most of Sub-Sahara African states, including Congo (Zaire). Congo has no group of nations to turn for a bailout in its current financial crisis! Therefore the UN, IMF, and World Bank must step in to apply pressure to the Swiss Bank to release all ill-gotten assets from Congo. These assets are a common knowledge. Sometimes I wonder what the so-called ‘Permanent Member Nations’ in the UN are really doing there as people suffer greatly in Congo for years.
With democratic values entrenched in the new constitution, and input from all the political and ethnic groups, a durable peaceful settlement can be achieved in Congo. It is do-able. Democratic Values for Congo should include good governance, a working constitution, inclusiveness, accountability, transparency and responsibility. I would specially appeal to His Excellency, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to do more and to leave a memorable legacy of being able to bring PEACE to the people of Congo as was done for Namibia. This will be a great contribution to humanity and the greatest achievement in his tenure as a UN Secretary-General. A permanent peace based on mutuality, inclusion, and solidarity, will certainly form the fulcrum for an economically sustainable and robust Congo! The MOTTO for the UN in Congo should read: “Human beings must come before profits”.
By: Akadu (African-Canadian)