This is going out to the end of a very long limb, but contrary to the rumblings in progressive think tanks, let's suggest that AFRICOM must be given a chance in eastern Congo. I fear I hear the chainsaws firing up as I write this. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a $17 million aid package aimed at assisting victims of sexual violence and preventing further atrocities during her visit to eastern Congo this month. Much of the aid program will be managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and military advisors for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).
10,000 women are expected to receive assistance in the form of medical care, counseling, economic assistance and legal support. Clinton's uncompromising condemnation of perpetrators of sexual violence has not been thoroughly emphasized or analyzed, but sniping has already begun about AFRICOM's involvement in her initiative. First, let's look at what Clinton had to say.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I offered, and the president (Congo's Joseph Kabila) accepted my sending a team of legal and financial and other technical experts to the DRC to provide specific suggestions about how to overcome these very serious obstacles to the potential of this country.
In the face of such evil, people of good will everywhere must respond. The United States is already a leading donor to efforts aimed at addressing these problems. And today I am announcing that we will provide more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC.
This assistance will be distributed to organizations across the Eastern Congo, and is being targeted to respond to the specific needs that you have identified, such as training for health care workers in complex fistula repair. Working through USAID, we will provide medical care, counseling, economic assistance, and legal support to 10,000 women living in North and South Kivu, and other areas.
We are dedicating almost $3 million to recruiting and training police officers, particularly women, so that they understand their duty to protect women and girls, and to investigate sexual violence. We will be sending a group of technology experts to the eastern DRC next month, as part of an effort to equip women and front-line workers with mobile devices to report abuse, using photographs and video, and to share information on treatment and legal options.
And we will be deploying a team comprised of civilian experts, medical personnel, and military engineers from the United States Africa Command.
This initiative has already begun and not a moment too soon for the innocents in Congo. Clinton should be given kudos for the speed at which she is fulfilling her promise to the women and children she met at the Mugunga I IDP camp. Clinton took a bold step by saying out loud what everyone has known for months--that the Congolese army is responsible for much of the sexual violence and displacement. She said this on Congolese turf.
Image: Greeting for journalist at Mungunga II in January 2009 © Nienaber
The press office at AFRICOM confirmed in an email that a three-person Public Affairs team visited the DRC this week. "All (were) uniformed service members who, at the invitation of the government of the DRC, undertook an initial survey visit to share best practices with the armed forces of the DRC on conducting public awareness communication campaigns for members of their military," the source said.
In an official statement, AFRICOM's spokesman Ken Fidler offered the following:
The U.S. Africa Command has been asked to assist the U.S. government's efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At this time, we are planning to send a team of specialists to the DRC to look at what is being done now and to see how the US military may be able to support. It's very important to note that this will be done in full coordination and cooperation with US Agency for International Development representatives in the DRC, who work with the nongovernmental organizations in the DRC. These initial assessments are crucial to ensure that what we do will enhance and add value to what is already being done.
We are going there to conduct an assessment. It is premature to discuss potential activities until we have a clear picture of what is already being done and how our capabilities can add value to activities already being accomplished by other organizations. We currently do not have a specific timeline, but this will occur sometime in the near future.
Atrocities have been well documented by Human Rights Watch and United Nations Special Investigations, even though the facts have not been embraced by the UN Security Council. The United States is one of five permanent members of the Security Council and it seems Clinton may have executed an end-run around multi-national interests by this effort to use AFRICOM instead of relying on the UN to get the job done.
This is not to say the US does not have strategic interests in the region, but let's take a look at some other motivators for the United Nations to drag its collective feet in eastern DRC.
Consider that Uganda and China are on the Council, have much to be gained by instability in the region, and you understand why the Security Council has been ineffective regarding human rights issues. China and the United Kingdom are permanent members, and Uganda, along with Viet Nam, are two of the ten members with one year term limits. China has been engaged in negotiations with the government of Joseph Kabila for the mineral wealth of Congo, Uganda is involved in a war with rebel forces in northeast Congo, and Soco International Plc, a UK explorer operating in Asia and Africa, is ramping up a drilling campaign in Vietnam and Congo.
The company will spend as much as US$120 million in 2010, Chief Executive Officer Ed Story told VN Business News by telephone. "That compares with $90 million this year, with the majority funding wells in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo." Source
Given the involvement of Security Council nations in the exploitation of Congo's wealth, instability serves them well, at least in theory. Clinton calls it a "geological scandal."
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would like to answer two questions that you asked, the one about China and the second (inaudible). For more than a hundred years the riches of the Congo have served to develop foreign countries but not the Congo or the people of the Congo. Geologists say that, as far as our country's concerned, it's a geological scandal. But it's a geological scandal doesn't really serve the people of the Congo. (Inaudible) so far with (inaudible) beneficial to other countries and detrimental to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The (inaudible) government to -- has asked the government to study the different approaches to work with other partners who are willing and able to cooperate with us and use our mineral resources and, in turn, help us with our infrastructures.
This country is as big as Western Europe. We don't have a single road that goes from north to south or east to west. So the government wanted to see how we could work in partnership with countries, not only with China, but with other countries that are willing to help us with our infrastructure so that we can solve problems with electricity, water, and poverty in exchange with our mineral resources. So it's not a matter of numbers, but it's a matter of working with anyone, any other partner who is willing and able to help us improve our infrastructures.
Clinton seems to understand that there is no real motivation for Security Council members to end the violence and instability. But critics are already attacking Clinton's AFRICOM initiative as a stealth move by the United States to establish a military base in Congo. This is unfortunate when the suffering has been escalating exponentially since January of this year, and the UN has done little to stop it. AFRICOM is the next best chance.
A Global Research author has come out swinging, suggesting that Clinton only wants to further US "imperialism" in Africa. I hate to bite the hand that has fed me, since Global Research has published some of my work regarding the colossal waste of dollars by NGOs and USAID in Congo, but the current article bears some scrutiny.
She (Clinton) condemned rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and offered a token $17 million for its victims when she visited Goma in the eastern DRC. But the situation women and girls face today is the direct result of the decision of the US government to covertly back the Ugandan and Rwandan invasion of the DRC in 1998, which entirely destabilized this mineral rich region. It was a war which claimed some 5.4 million lives and displaced millions more.
The leaders of Uganda and Rwanda were among those designated as African Renaissance leaders by President Bill Clinton. Their proxies have been responsible for carrying out the very atrocities which she condemned. Similar atrocities have been carried out by the DRC Army, which is backed by the United Nations and the US... What was not mentioned on Clinton's Africa trip was the new US military command for Africa--Africom (sic)--established under the Bush administration. Previously US military operations in Africa were divided between the Middle East and the European commands. The decision to establish a separate African command represented an intensification of US strategic interest in Africa.
First of all, $17 million dollars is not a "token" amount if managed properly. I am holding in my hand a proposal by a grass roots organization of mid-wives in Goma who have been shunned by the large NGOs and USAID. Why? The midwives have requested a measly $100,000 that could build and outfit a clinic that promises to save many lives per day. The NGOs that spend millions on overhead would have some explaining to do if a small grassroots effort is successful. The provincial government is behind the midwives, and so are American medical experts who have vetted the proposal. We have squandered billions on Africa and hundreds of millions in Congo due to waste and fraud. $17 million is an astronomical amount when you consider that the "change" in worthless Congolese currency for a hundred dollar bill will fill a shopping bag. The "token amount" argument does not fly. Give the midwives some support and see what they can accomplish. The big guys might learn something. President Obama has an opportunity to support true community organizing by a group of brave women in Congo.
AFRICOM will at least offer the guarantee of accountability through the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) no matter who receives funding. Requests for audits are honored there. I have requested them, and in one case the results were classified regarding a conservation organization, but at least the audit was conducted.
Readers interested in learning more about the contentious relationship between AFRICOM and the State Department would do well to read an 80 page report recently declassified by OIG. It explores the previously touchy relationship between the State Department Bureau of African Affairs and AFRICOM. A key judgment in the comprehensive report says:
OIG recommends that if the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) cannot provide the proper oversight of the peace support operations and security programs it runs, then the day-to-day implementation of peace support operations, capacity building, programs, events, and activities should become the responsibility of AFRICOM....
Secretary Clinton is in charge of State now, and it seems she must have read this report, which is uncompromising regarding diplomatic failures in Africa.
...complaints from U.S. Ambassadors in Africa as well as from senior interagency colleagues that the bureau did not report and share what it was doing. The Assistant Secretary underlined the importance of communication, coordination and interagency collaboration, and he ordered his colleagues to report promptly all relevant meetings with foreign leaders to their respective ambassadors. He clearly was aware of what OIG team members themselves were finding in their interviews and questionnaires. He knows what it is to be in the field and not know how the Department may be affecting bilateral relations. If African policy issues were not enough to overwhelm the best of leaders, internal bureau issues are almost as daunting. Leadership shortcomings often compound acute staffing problems.
Embassy platforms are collapsing under the weight of new programs and staffing without corresponding resources to provide the services required by new tenants and requirements.
Within AF, public diplomacy integration is a failure ten years after State-USIA consolidation. Policy planning focuses on near term contingencies, such as outbreaks of violence, upcoming elections, or ailing leadership. While the United States helps feed Africa, it is not focusing as it might on helping Africans feed themselves; even laudable HIV/AIDS programs spend more on medication than prevention.
A $2 billion peacekeeping program lacks the resources for adequate management controls. The country desks are not staffed with enough officers possessing relevant overseas experience.
The U.S. Military is stepping into a void created by a lack of resources for traditional development and public diplomacy.
These serious management issues are discussed throughout the report.
This is not "news" to independent media, but mainstream has ignored this critical report which is an excellent primer to our involvement in Africa and how it has evolved. Diplomacy has been compartmentalized, with the right hand literally not knowing what the left hand was doing. As the report indicates, embassy postings in Africa are not considered plum jobs, and there is a possibility that the best and brightest are not filling embassy jobs there. Although, from personal experience with embassy personnel in Rwanda, the staff was available and helpful when I turned to them for help. It is best to never NEED your embassy when in Central Africa, though.
It is true, as the Global Research author says, that the United States has supported Uganda and Rwanda in the past. It is also noteworthy, and I have not seen a mainstream media opinion on this, that Clinton shunned Rwanda and Uganda on her visit to Goma. The Rwandan city of Gisenyi, where Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been and might still be held, is a three minute drive from Mobutu's former palace where Clinton met with Kabila. Logistics was not a problem for a meeting with Rwanda's Paul Kagame if Clinton wished to do so. Clinton made a clear diplomatic statement by not visiting Rwanda and Uganda.
Image: Road from Mobutu's "Palace" to Gisenyi © Nienaber
It is also true that AFRICOM provided logistics to Uganda in its failed attempt to capture rebel leader Joseph Kony this year. Kony is the brutal head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and responsible for the abduction of 30,000 children and other atrocities, too numerous to mention. 900 civilians were killed in the aftermath of the offensive, which involved the Ugandan air force bombing five rebel bases in northeast Congo. I have no military expertise and cannot begin to comment on this except to say that what is true is that AFRICOM did provide consultation at the request of the Ugandan government and that the mission failed.
Instead of squandering media time on the infamous response to a translation error by Secretary Clinton, how much better would it have been to ask a question about this AFRICOM/Ugandan operation which has since been used to pummel both Clinton and AFRICOM?
Andrea Mitchell, were you in Congo? You are a respected veteran foreign correspondent. A friend told me you were on MSNBC, lamenting that Clinton did not receive proper coverage. Can you ask the question now? Have you read this report? Call me! Let's write something up together.
Seriously, (with apologies to Mitchell) let's all hope and pray that the media focus turns to the women and children of Congo who have suffered so much and for so long.
Me? I have already asked for an "embed" with AFRICOM. The guy at State who answered the phone before I reached AFRICOM literally laughed in my face when I asked the question. He then proceeded to berate me for asking a stupid question. "Call AFRICOM," he said haughtily. Animosity for AFRICOM runs deep at State. I have a new number for State, where I am told I will receive a more civil response. I am nervous about calling. AFRICOM is so far mum on my request, but helpful.
If my "embed" initiative fails, there are some folks in Congo who will assist me on their side.
If all else fails I hope Andrea Mitchell gets to go.