073_Global12_InFocus_DRC_V8

Global issue 12

In FocusThe Democratic Republic of Congo Watching from the sidelines The West has a long and chequered history of interference in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stretching right back to independence. Having been instrumental in securing the end of open hostilities in 2003, Western countries are now wary of being drawn back into the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo. However, they are willing to hand out humanitarian assistance and provide development aid Thierry Vircoulon Western intervention in the Democratic Re- public of Congo started immediately after independence from Belgium in 1960, with major powers playing a significant role in the country’s messy post-independence politics. The risk of the country ‘becoming red’ put it on the Cold War map, prompt- ing US involvement in Central Africa – a region considered the fiefdom of the former colonial powers, Belgium and France. Following his seizure of power in a coup d’état in 1965, for almost three decades the West quietly supported Congo’s dictato- rial leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, despite his regime’s violent rule. However, the end of the Cold War turned Mobutu’s tyranny into a liability, and in the early 1990s, while he was facing growing domestic discontent, his Western backers requested the end of the one-party system that had kept him in power, thereby weakening his authority further. Western powers did not simply stand by and watch Mobutu’s 32-year rule descend into anarchy and bloody warfare, and by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba the late 1990s were actively supporting fore has had the privilege of running it. Congo was not the result of its own strate- one party in the conflict. The Rwandan- In addition to the UN force, the EU dis- gic interest but due to French and Belgian and Ugandan-backed coalition, the Alli- patched two military missions in Congo lobbying. ance of Democratic Forces for the Libera- during the political transition (2003–06): Western powers now play a safety net tion of Congo-Zaire (AFDL), headed by policy in eastern Congo: unable or unwill- Laurent Kabila, received political support ing to resolve the root cause of the conflict, The West provides from Washington even though Belgium they make sure that the situation does not and France disagreed on this policy. And, humanitarian assistance deteriorate too much. France, the USA and while the Ugandan and Rwandan armies the EU have disengaged from the Congo- occupied eastern Congo, US authorities ex- for 2.2 million displaced lese politics by suppressing their own spe- pressed views about a possible partition of persons and around cial envoys but have maintained a presence the country. in eastern Congo by posting diplomats or The spread of the Rwandan conflict to 17,300 refugees, as well development staff. However, Belgium and eastern Congo following the genocide in the EU still play a watchful role, as proved 1994 led Western powers to support a peace as supplying most of the during the latest crisis when a new rebel process, once again playing a behind-the- country’s development aid group, the M23, emerged in May 2012. scenes role. In 1999, they funded negotia- The EU may be watchful but it is no tions at the South African resort of Sun City longer willing to engage, as signalled by and, from the beginning, backed UN in- the first to prevent conflict escalation in the its rejection of Kinshasa’s call for military volvement, both politically and financially. north-east Ituri district (operation Artemis, intervention against the rebellious Laurent Washington continues to be the biggest fi- 2003), and the second to secure the 2006 Nkunda during the 2008 crisis in the eastern nancial contributor to the UN peacekeeping elections (operation EUFOR DRC). How- Congolese city of Goma. However, West- mission in Congo (MONUSCO) and there- ever, the EU’s political involvement in ern donors are supporting – financially and globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l73


Global issue 12
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