Conflict in Eastern Congo: U.S. Tools for Reconstruction and Stabilization

January 28, 2009
UN Plane Lands at Goma Airport

About the Author: Lyla Andrews Bashan serves as a Conflict Prevention Officer in the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the U.S. Department of State.

As our United Nations flight from Kinshasa landed in Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we were greeted by Mount Nyiragongo, the volcano that hovers over the town. The most recent eruption, in 2002, left almost 50 people dead and 120,000 homeless. The remnants of this eruption can be seen in the many walls around town built with the same jagged volcanic rock that continues to blanket much of the ground. One is quickly reminded that this devastation is the least of Congolese worries: on the wall of the small United Nations airport is a color-coded sign titled, “Threat Assessment Level Goma.” The day we landed was a good day – the arrow is only pointing at the red level 4 rather than the maximum black level 5. We later learn that one of the front lines of the conflict between the Government of the DRC and the main rebel group at the time, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), is in the foothills of the volcano, just 12 miles north of Goma.

Many parts of eastern DRC remain unstable, especially in the province of North Kivu. The conflict, once a full-blown war involving seven national armies, has spanned 15 years and resulted in over 5 million deaths. This most recent stage of the conflict in the east involves the DRC Government, the CNDP, and another armed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (more commonly known by its French acronym “FDLR”). The CNDP’s purported goal is to protect the Tutsi people and other ethnic minorities, while the FDLR is led by a small number of génocidaires, the ethnic Hutu perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Natural resources, ethnicity, and lack of state authority all work together to make this conflict highly complex, with no easy solutions.

Sadly, the violence and instability in the DRC is not an aberration in today’s world. Failing and post-conflict states pose one of the greatest national and international security challenges of our day. The U.S. Government has learned from past experiences that we need to be able to prevent conflict and, if necessary, help stabilize and reconstruct countries emerging from conflict. The State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) was created in 2004 to strengthen the U.S. Government response to conflict. As it has done in more than 20 countries, S/CRS has employed several of its stabilization and reconstruction tools to the situation in eastern DRC in support of the U.S. effort to improve stability in this conflict-stricken region.

One such effort is an $11.9 million program focused on border policing, civilian and military judicial reform, and local governance. The Office of the Coordinator’s conflict prevention programs are funded through section 1207 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Defense to transfer up to $100 million per year to the Department of State for programs that support security, reconstruction or stabilization around the world.

Following this precept, in June 2008, S/CRS and USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation facilitated a three-day interagency conflict assessment in Washington that helped identify the main drivers and mitigators of conflict in the DRC. This assessment tool, known as the Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework, is designed to guide a shared interagency analysis of conflict dynamics and identify potential entry points for U.S. Government efforts. More than thirty interagency partners participated in this assessment and the findings fed into the DRC’s Country Assistance Strategy, a five-year U.S. Government foreign assistance strategy.

In the fall of 2008, S/CRS sent a team to DRC to explore how we could provide additional assistance to the U.S. Government efforts to promote security, stability and reconstruction in eastern DRC. This scoping team was comprised of the DRC analyst from the State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit and three S/CRS staff: a Conflict Prevention Officer, a Planning Officer, and a Diplomatic Security Agent detailed to the Civilian Response Corps (CRC). Civilian Response Corps members, drawn from the interagency community and coordinated by S/CRS, are U.S. Government employees with conflict expertise who are available to reinforce reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Washington and our Embassies abroad.

The first member of our scoping team arrived in country shortly after a rebel offensive in October 2008. S/CRS took the opportunity to reexamine the situation and support the embassy during this crisis. Once the situation had stabilized somewhat, the rest of the team followed, spending a few days undertaking consultations in the capital, Kinshasa.

We spent the next week in Goma consulting with U.S. and United Nations staff, international donors, and NGOs. In addition to our many consultations – over 30 in 2 weeks – we visited several camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The fighting that began in August 2008 has resulted in an estimated 250,000 IDPs, many of whom have been displaced several times. These are in addition to the nearly one million pre-existing IDPs. Visiting the camps allowed us to see first hand the condition of the victims of the conflict. This moving experience helped breathe life into all we were learning from our consultations with officials and donors.

The United States, along with the broader international community, has worked hard to create a level of stability in the DRC. Although the situation in North Kivu remains tense, other parts of the east have significantly improved in recent years. In coordination with the Embassy, USAID and other offices within the State Department, our scoping trip developed several potential avenues for enhancing stability in eastern DRC. As the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization continues to collaborate with our interagency colleagues and the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, we hope to see good ideas become a reality on the ground and contribute to a positive outcome in eastern DRC.

In order to learn more about S/CRS, please visit our website.

Jason Lewis-Berry contributed to this piece. He serves as a Planning Officer in the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
January 29, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Hi Lyla, I was reading the other day that Colombia is facing a similar volcanic dillema with one about to re-erupt. Evacuation has begun and the government is actually asking these indiginous folks where they would like to be relocated to, at government expense.

Nice to see a government take care of its people for a change when so many seem not to give a darn.

Folks say that war cannot be won by military means alone, yet war was never strictly a military force on force proposition to begin with, as that is the culmination of resentment and ill will , misunderstanding and abused diplomacy. Ultimately the parties must undergo group therapy.

That may be one reason the U.S. does not have permanent enemies, come to think of it.

It seems to me one of the greatest tasks over the next 5-10 years is going to be arriving at a global cooperative understanding on how to ethicly cope with mass migrations of peoples due to variable environmental circumstance, be it natural or man-made.

In such cases, it it sometimes more efficiant to bring the people to the aid than to face failure trying to deliver aid into hostile environments, with nations closing their borders to refugees, and politics trumping human existance.

I'd ask you (or anyone); How many lives might have been saved over the years in many crisis, had nations risked losing their UN membership for not having been good samaritans?

And as a followup, whether the UN would still have a credible number of nations left to call itself the United Nations (plural).

In my opinion, the Stature of Liberty still stands for something, and folks keep coming to America because she does to them as well.

Now you have your Millenium challenge, so I think I'll be so bold as to suggest a challenge of a different type.

Nations seem to love a good contest as evidenced by the Olympics, and it would certainly be an Olypmic feat for any nation to absorb through immigration, 1 million refugees, fed, clothed, housed, given work and a life back..

So that's the challenge I propose. I leave it up to the Dept of State and our President to come up with an appropriate incentive for the grand prize if they so choose.

Maybe we can do this on an annual basis till the world runs out of refugees?

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
January 29, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

The very history line of the Congo tells most of the tale in simplest form: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1072684.stm.

There is not that much to research in reality: INSTABILITY.

Instability which has led to this: A January 2008 IRC survey found that 5,400,000 people have died from war-related causes in Congo since 1998 -- the world's deadliest documented conflict since WW II. The vast majority died from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition?easily preventable and treatable conditions when people have access to health care and nutritious food.

The real factor to eliminate their problem lies in limiting weapons sales outside the military and legal venue. From the first real problems in the 60s where Russia provided them arms to this day, external political interest or profit continue to be the largest determent to stability in all of Africa.

To Eric: And I do not want to continue a lengthy conversation which is out of context to the subject matter:

QUOTE: That may be one reason the U.S. does not have permanent enemies, come to think of it. END QUOTE.

You are so wrong it is a sin. We DO have enemies, clear and present dangers from the past to this very day. That misnomer is why we are in this situation...ignorance is bliss; but, we have been in blissful ignorance for over 20 years now -- and I can time frame it for you: when the subject comes up. Just keep thinking you can shake hands and pump out money so people will be your friends...

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
January 29, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Oddly, I went back to visit CDI and found this supporting article from Jan 15.

Mumbai Attacks Demonstrate Terrorist Reliance on Small Arms (Analysis)

On Nov. 28, 2008, gunmen attacked the city of Mumbai, an attack which paralyzed India and horrified the world. Using only small arms, the attackers killed nearly 200, and wounded another 350 more. CDI Senior Analyst Rachel Stohl and CDI Research Assistant Doug Tuttle examine terrorist use of small arms in the attacks, and the potential consequence of allowing small arms proliferation to continue unchecked in the region.

We need to find a way to infiltrate the small arms trade and use the information in timely manners for interception rather than the hold and react after the fact of the past SOP format.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
January 29, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Uh Joe, pardon me. But what about the group therapy of the Marshall plan after WW2 that lead to the EU, a unified Germany and a free and stable economic base in Europe did you not understand?

If you don't invest in the future Joe, it is the past which will haunt you.

Besides, "the U.S. does not have permanent enemies" is official U.S. policy...the ones that wish to remain permanent generally get buried. Que no?

Methinks you grossly misunderstood the statement. (chuckle). Patience is different from ignorent bliss.

I agree with you on the halting of light weapons proliferation, the international community has left loopholes in related UN resolutions that you could pilot a freighter through, literally.

Donald
|
Virginia, USA
January 29, 2009

Donald in Virginia writes:

29 January 09

I think we all have to start bracing for one of the biggest rollercoaster rides in the world. The economy on the brink and with situation in the Middle East. I believe what happened in India was a test. We all know that India failed the test. Just like we failed the test of September 11th, 2001. We have had years to put in place better and smarter measures to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States. We can only hope and pray they will be enough to prevent any future attacks. Learning the signs is key because on that very day "Crescent moon and star" was present, how ironic it's the same sign on the Pakistan flag. It was also present during the Subway attacks in London.

I think to put a finer point on the matter we should be more concerned about National Security then about the temperature of the earth. God created the earth and he will no doubt have more of a say about what happens to Mother Earth and no Man or Woman on earth will ever have his powers. If you believe your smarter than God or can out smart the creator I say Good luck!

Scientist have been trying for years to outsmart God and yet they cannot keep up with God. Hurricanes, lightning Storms, Earthquakes, Mudslides, Natural Disasters Just don't happen without a little help.

Taking a look into my crystal ball, we all better be prepared. Taking nothing for granted and ensuring you have plenty of emergency supplies onhand. This is a good time to stock up on canned goods, candles, batteries, flashlights, shovels, radios, blankets, clothes, you can never have too much supplies for the storms or events ahead. Have water in bottles. Check out the dates on the goods to ensure they have plenty of time. Have a medical kit and draw up emergency fire exits in your homes. Learn how to egress out of your homes safely without your eyes. Which means using the buddy system. Place a blindfold over your eyes, have someone escort you out safely. "Plan for the worst and hope for the best" safety note: Always use the back of your hands when leaving a flooded or burning building" when it's dark and you can't see what your touching, you might grab on an electrical cable which would cause two things to happen. One you get zapped and second your fingers would clinch and stick to the power line. Using the back of your hands, you move away quick which might just save your life. If your in a bucket of water, this method wouldn't work. I was a Fire Fighter in Iraq and a Damage Control Team Trainer onboard a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier. This is good safety sense, also stay low in a fire because smoke can be just as deadly as flames. I have personally been in Floods, Fires, saved lives and counting my blessings of surviving over 12 times near death experiences. The techniques taught to me work. I even wrote a book "Smart Survival Secrets" to help people survive Natural Disasters. I was once even trapped in a log under water in a creek.

God bless

Baruch B.
January 30, 2009

Baruch writes:

Fantastic article. Clearly written, provides a good overview of the situation.

Clearly this one's a winner; keep your eyes on her.

Himanshu
|
Texas, USA
January 30, 2009

Himanshu in Texas writes:

"As Obama is an African himself, he will help to develop Africa for those of us here," says Abraham Wekabira of Bukhalu, Uganda. Yet four conflicts persist: in Sudan's Darfur region; in Somalia; in northern Uganda; and in eastern Congo. These three conflicts raging in the region impose enormous costs: in loss of life, economic growth and diminished confidence in the ability of African leaders and institutions to solve their own problems.

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
February 1, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Uh Joe, pardon me. But what about the group therapy of the Marshall plan after WW2 that lead to the EU, a unified Germany and a free and stable economic base in Europe did you not understand?

...why differentiate time and place to make points? It is not the same in any manner but:

You actually view the major problem herein with that statement as to why that does not apply: Culture.

Africa, for the most part has no modern identity or structured systems of government...You cannot compare African problems to those of WW2,in Europe or Asia, which was a success by the by, in any way...so you can't use this tangential association. It holds no water.

From culture, such as over 116 variants of just one African nation's langue to outside political interest, there is a vast departure from your premise.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 4, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- Since the Marshall plan was the basis of inspiration (by precedent) for the nation building efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and aid to developing countries, disease mitigation efforts and a host of foreign assistance programs that included Africa, Asia, MENA, South America, culture really does not preclude the success of programs, as peoples have common desires to improve their lot in life.

All that assistance came with the stipulation that nations would be involved in good governance, accountability, and work as partners to develop programs that met nation's individual needs, and thus culture, language barriers etc. were not predisposed to illicit failure as you suggest.

It's like you are saying in a backhanded sort of way that people of developing nations are not capable of grabing the brass ring of prosperity and peace.

Aye well Joe, you are well known for your soft bigotry of low expectations, and your hard bigotry in calling the people of Asia "Godless people".

Would you like me to pull that post of your's out of the archives?

I have no wish to embarass you more than you've already embarrased yourself at the expense of any credibility you may think you have.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
February 4, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Dipnote staff:

After reading this, I can understand why Sec. Clinton thanked the "Appropriators".

This citizen thanks them as well, knowing what the stakes are.

FY2009 International affairs Congressional budget justificaton:

http://www.state.gov/f/releases/iab/fy2009cbj

Judging by the following Citizen's Report, State gets an A+ for effort. While I'm firmly convinced that there is no policy created by man or government that cannot be improved upon to better serve the people, you'all have more than met the expectations set out for you in policy objectives overall.

I only have one general recomendation for Sec. Clinton as the policy review of the new admin. goes forward.

"Don't try to fix what isn't broke."

Tweek programs for better perfomance perhaps, but that has been ongoing for some time anyway, and is a natural process of program review and maintenance.

FY2008 Citizen's report:

http://www.state.gov/s/d/rm/rls/perfrpt/2008cr/pdf

.

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