Hillary Clinton clearly learned about the power of technology from her primary campaign. She has a Senior Adviser on Innovation on her staff at the State Department and has taken the tools that launched Barack Obama to the White House into Africa on her current diplomatic mission. On twitter, #HillaryAfrica has become the official hashtag for tweeting her journey, and the White House used the data captured during the SMS and Twitter outreach surrounding President Obama's speech in Ghana last month to urge Africans to follow Secretary Clinton. On Wednesday in Nairobi she urged young Kenyans to use technology to fight corruption in their government.
"There ought to be a way to use interactive media," she said, "especially the Internet obviously, and some of the new vehicles like Twitter, etc., to report in real time allegations of corruption."
It's an exciting idea for the State Department: give people the tools and they, like the protesters in Iran, will solve our foreign policy dilemmas. "Phoning it in" takes on a whole new meaning if mobile technology can bring down Africa's corrupt Big Men.
Technology is going to be a theme, it seems, in each of her stops. On July 30th, the US Embassy for the Democratic Republic of Congo (@USEmbKinshasa ) tweeted: "The Secretary will be discussing new technologies and their relevance for the DR Congo."
The State Department also alerted the press that the Secretary's visit to Goma, the former rebel capital of the eastern DRC, will emphasize the scourge of sexual violence that has made that region the rape capital of the world. Since the joint operation between the armies of Rwanda and Congo began to route out rebels last winter, over half a million people have been displaced and incidents of sexual violence have skyrocketed, with all parties to the conflict being implicated in gruesome sexual attacks on civilians, according to a July 15th report by the UN Secretary General. State and non-state forces alike are plundering the countryside and abusing the population in horrific ways. In a grim echo of President Obama's Ghana speech, the citizens of the eastern Congo cannot count on anyone else to solve their problems for them. Perhaps this is where @USEmbKinshasa's "new technologies and their relevance for the DR Congo" comes in.
One can imagine, using the Secretary's Kenyan example, a model employing mobile phones, wherein the brave "upstanders" of the DRC--the group Women's Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, for example--would have the tools to report instances of abuse, crowdsourcing sexual violence the way Clinton hopes young Kenyans will crowdsource anti-corruption efforts. The people of the Congo certainly don't lack for courage. Perhaps mobile phone technology can give them the tools they need to take action against the thugs and war-criminals who are ripping their society apart.
The market for minerals that go into manufacturing cell-phones is one of the major contributing factors to violence in the DRC, after all. Armies and rebel groups struggle for control of the mineral rich areas, which leads to the high incidence of sexual violence. Cell-phones, John Prendergrast of the ENOUGH! project notes, are the new Blood Diamonds. Using these same tools to hold perpetrators to account has its charms, but right now, there is no effective response mechanism even if attacks are reported. There is no policing. There are no courts where the survivors can get a fair hearing. There are no resources for a rapid-response. As one woman in the eastern DRC told Candice Knezevic, also of ENOUGH!, "the FDLR [a violent insurgent group] is in the bush, the Congolese army is in the town, and MONUC [the UN Peacekeeping force for the Congo] can't be found."
Chillingly, the government army of the Congo has even been accused of setting up bases near schools so that the soldiers have easy access to pre-pubescent "wives." Though sexual violence is now a crime in the DRC, the police are inadequate to the task, notoriously corrupt, and those committed officers who are trying to bring perpetrators to justice, have no standing to take on the military. MONUC lacks the resources to effectively address this problem and prevent acts of violence. Their officers, while trying to get a handle on the situation, lack the language skills to communicate with the local population, and they remain under-resourced to address the scale of the crisis.
In spite of these troubling observations, US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, hailed the Rwanda-Congo joint military effort last winter as a success, having "played a key role in defusing the crisis in the eastern DRC." She continued, noting that "further rapprochement would help create the conditions in the eastern DRC that would allow for MONUC to reduce its size, and ultimately depart."
Right now, however, MONUC's presence might be the only thing keeping the eastern Congo from completely falling back into open warfare.
It seems, all this tweeting and blogging and web 2.0 won't help a single man or woman living in the mineral rich areas of the eastern Congo, unless the United States takes a leadership role in peacekeeping and in demanding accountability.
According the Susan Rice's testimony, the United States currently contributes 93 military and police personnel to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. Ninety-three professionals from the United States against a backdrop of roughly 100,000 soldiers and police contributed by other nations. The other four permanent members of the Security Council are among the sixty-five nations who contribute more than the U.S.: China with 2,153; France with 1,879; Russia with 328; and the United Kingdom with 283. While there are good reasons not to fill international peacekeeping forces with American soldiers, the discrepancy could be made up with greater logistical and financial support. While the US pays its peacekeeping dues in full and on time, we can do more. The European Union and Japan contribute over half of the UN Peacekeeping budget, while the United States contributes about a quarter; generous, certainly, but cold comfort to the people of the DRC. MONUC is still awaiting 3,000 additional soldiers and equipment promised to it in December of 2008. And while they wait, the cycle of violence continues.
So will the Secretary's visit to Goma be more than a PR visit? Will she call out Rwanda for its responsibility in the violence? Will she demand accountability from the government of the Congo for the actions of its soldiers? Will she name the names of government officials who have been implicated in using rape as a weapon? Will she do more than speak our moral indignation at the crisis? Will she back up her words with a US leadership role in protecting the civilians of the DRC? Will she call for action against those who profit from the illegal exploitation of Congo's natural resources and commit to giving MONUC the resources it needs to achieve its protection goals?
I hope she will.
The last thing the women and men of the DRC need is more of our moral outrage. They could use new tools and technology, certainly, but they need real action on their behalf: enforcement, protection, and prevention. We have to change our consumer behavior and clean up the supply chain from our end, but we also need to provide more support to effective Peacekeeping Operations. Technology has its place, but it is no substitute to boots on the ground. For the Congo, we can't phone it in.
Follow Charles London on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ca_london