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Democratic Republic Of The Congo At Crucial Crossroad, Envoy Says

Published on 05 March 2014

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by Sonya Weakley


Washington, D.C.

Speaking before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations February 26, Russell Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region, said the region stands at a crossroads between peace and ongoing conflict.

“The decisions that the Congo, the region and the international community take now will set the trajectory of the next several years in terms of security, good governance, and development,” he said.

In his opening remarks, committee Chairman Senator Robert Menendez, said the hearing was convened to “shed light on the best way forward to end the horrific violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” During the past two decades more than 5 million people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced, Menendez said.

Feingold said the recent defeat of a major rebel group was a “critical first step” toward securing peace in Africa’s Great Lakes region, including the DRC and surrounding countries. “Looking at the region today, I am cautiously optimistic about the road ahead, while recognizing that a myriad of challenges still stand in the way of lasting peace and stability.”

He said the surrender of the armed movement, known as the M23, represents the region’s capacity to achieve an end to decades of conflict, but success will depend heavily on dedicated international military, political and economic assistance.

He credited combined military and political pressure from the United Nations, the United States and other African nations in overcoming the rebellion but cautioned that the success of peace agreements depends on “the parties’ prompt and full implementation of their commitments, as well as the cooperation of neighboring countries.”

Competition for control of the DRC’s vast mineral resources combined with long-standing ethnic rivalry are primary sources of the conflict, Feingold said. The DRC also possesses significant agricultural resources and “some of the greatest forests in the world,” he said.

Mineral resources include large reserves of coltan, used in mobile phones, as well as diamonds, cobalt, copper and bauxite. This wealth has contributed to regional conflict to gain access to these assets. “The country has great potential,” Feingold said.

That potential is threatened by the large number “of other armed groups that continue to prey upon the population, undermine state authority, complicate the DRC’s relations with its neighbors, and illegally exploit the country’s natural resources,” Feingold said. “The internal displacements and humanitarian consequences caused by these armed groups make sustainable development in the region virtually impossible.”

Roger Meese, former ambassador to the DRC, said peace cannot be achieved without “political and economic normalization of regional relations, especially between the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.”

He added that upcoming elections are vulnerable to corruption and will require outside assistance to enforce fairness. “While the 2006 Congolese elections represented a very promising major step forward…, flawed 2011 elections underscore that a stable and successful democratic future for the country is far from assured.”

In their remarks, Raymond Gilpin of the National Defense University, and Ben Affleck, an actor who started an economic development organization in the DRC, emphasized the need for a stronger focus on increasing employment opportunities.

Gilpin, an expert on African conflict, said the DRC is “not a problem that needs to be fixed,” adding that the country has a “resilient and adaptable cohort of business professionals who [have] learned how to survive throughout the worst of the conflict.”

Affleck echoed Gilpin’s sentiments, citing an example of the “extraordinary opportunity that exists in Congo.” He said a U.S. chocolate maker affiliated with his group obtains more than 50 percent of its cocoa from the DRC.

“This year alone, more than 640 tons of cocoa will be purchased from smallholder farmers … enough to make 9 million chocolate bars. This is neither charity nor aid; it’s good business for the Congolese and it’s paying off for this American company.”



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Posted 2014-03-05 10:42:00