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The violence and displacement in the eastern Congo illustrate the type of security vacuum that over time the U.S. can help address through its new Africa Command.
The current fighting between rebel and government forces in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is ethnically based, the result of unresolved conflicts following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But two huge failures have allowed simmering tensions to escalate into fighting that has displaced an estimated 250,000 people in the last month. One factor is the inability of a UN peacekeeping force called MONUC to protect civilians. The second is the collapse of the Congolese army, which not only fled the fighting but turned to looting and raping, preying on the very people it is supposed to protect.
What does this mean for the new U.S. Africa Command, known as Africom? The chaos in the Congo highlights two tasks that should be at the top of the command’s list. The first is working to train African peacekeepers who could help bolster UN peacekeeping forces in Africa and around the world. The second is to turn poorly trained, poorly led African forces from undisciplined, rapacious menaces into professional forces that protect their fellow citizens.
After President Bush approved the establishment of a unified regional command for U.S. military engagement in Africa, I and many of my colleagues in the humanitarian community expressed concerns about Pentagon statements suggesting that Africom was going to become a development agency, building schools and clinics throughout Africa. While there is a great need for development and infrastructure programs in Africa, experienced civilian agencies, not the U.S. military are better able to do this work.
However, the military is best positioned to provide or direct the type of training necessary to make the DRC and other lawless African nations more stable and secure. That’s what it should concentrate on. The Pentagon already has a good model for such training. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. set up a program called the Partnership for Peace that provided extensive engagement, including joint training and disaster response exercises, between U.S. and former Soviet-bloc forces. The exercises focused on how militaries function in democracies and how to conduct combined operations with other forces. Both of these would be important lessons for Congolese forces, who would be starting from a much lower level than, say, Ukraine’s forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Every country has a responsibility to protect its people from war and crimes against humanity. The U.S. is currently working to reform the military forces of Liberia, which suffered a long, brutal civil war marked by cruel human rights abuses by both rebel and government forces, and Africom faces the same opportunity in the DRC.
Displacement in the DRC is getting a lot of attention today, not only in the press but on the blogosphere. Today, Bloggers Unite, which represents more that 10,000 bloggers around the world, is focusing on refugees. We at Refugees International focus on displaced people every day, and are thrilled to have an army of 10,000 bloggers join us. Please join them.November 12, 2008 | Tagged as: AFRICOM, DR Congo, U.S. Administration, Protection & Security