Kabila needs real help nowCongo
WASHINGTON - When President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo visited Washington last week, he was promised continued humanitarian aid.
He needs far more than that: today, our country is going through a transition that will certainly fail without a firm political and financial commitment from the United States. This is no time to waver, or to play double games, sending mixed signals to warring factions and their sponsors.
Since this last round of fighting started five years ago, 3.3 million have died out of a population of 56 million, some of them fighters, but most innocent people. In the United States, that would amount to Sept. 11 happening every day for three consecutive years. No other conflict since World War II has claimed so many victims.
Yet so far the major powers have offered only excuses for their inadequate involvement. They are uneasy to intervene and bring justice. The pundits have dismissed Congo's deaths, citing ethnic strife, low-intensity conflict, starvation and even cannibalism. No. These people died in the name of "border security," mineral exploitation, and geopolitical ambitions. They died because world powers consistently ignored their cries for help.
The United States is the principal power backing the two main sponsors of this war - Rwanda and Uganda. Both of these countries continue to support militias in eastern Congo. They fuel the conflict even while they sign peace agreements. They use U.S. military assistance and economic aid to support warlords within our borders.
Unless the United States exercises meaningful pressure on Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, our Great Lakes region will not see peace in the near future. We will not rest quietly while our neighbors plunder our country under the cover of border security. Hundreds of thousands of our women and children have been systematically raped, leaving the very soul of our society bleeding. The United States should draw on the lessons it learned from its inaction during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Washington should ask Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to respect Congo's sovereignty.
The United States must also give Kabila's government its full economic and political support. Kabila has managed to patch together a transitional government representative of many warring factions. He has only two years to organize national elections in a country that has no viable infrastructure. Throughout the country, functioning airports, health facilities, telecommunication systems, and even roads are few to nonexistent. Roughly one third of the country is outside the sphere of national government control.
Beyond the elections, Congo needs help to rebuild the national economy by revamping infrastructure and encouraging foreign investment. Congo is rich in natural and human resources. Indeed, the desire for this wealth is at the core of the conflict. Without U.S. support in protecting and developing these resources, the peace process will certainly fail.
For the first time in many years, we have a president who has made concerted efforts to reunite the nation and to instill a sense of hope among the Congolese. A clear political endorsement of President Kabila's efforts by President George W. Bush would give tremendous momentum to the process and send an unmistakable signal to all parties. Above all, such an endorsement would be the vote of confidence needed to generate greater commitment from the global community.
Finally, we have witnessed unspeakable crimes and unimaginable atrocities. The architects and participants of the war must be held accountable. Congo alone does not have the resources to establish a tribunal to address the crimes. As with Rwanda and Burundi, the transition to democracy requires a means to establish and maintain a sense of justice among the people. A tribunal would facilitate reconciliation not only in Congo, but in the Great Lakes region as a whole.
As history has shown, impunity only fuels hatred and instability. Without a tribunal, we fear that our survivors will take justice into their own hands and our conflict will never end.
The writer, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve for six years. He has worked as radio broadcaster at the Voice of America's French Service to Africa and at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.