Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and U.S. Policy *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and U.S. Policy *

Article excerpt


Since the mid-1990s, cyclical conflict in eastern DRC has caused regional instability and inhibited development, consuming substantial domestic and donor resources and thus becoming the focus of international policy toward the country. The emergence of a new, formidable rebel movement known as the M23 in 2012 prompted international policy makers to increase their diplomatic engagement in the Great Lakes region of central Africa.1 A significant breakthrough was achieved in November 2013, when the Congolese military, backed by a new U.N. -Intervention Brigade," defeated the M23. The Obama Administration's Special Envoy for DRC and the Great Lakes, former U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, has since called for -broader political dialogue" among countries in the region, new military operations against armed groups still active in the east, and accountability for human rights abusers.2

Ongoing violence by remaining militias in eastern DRC and the abusive national military, as well as poor governance throughout the country, remain key challenges for achieving greater stability. Tensions endure between DRC and its smaller but more capable neighbors Rwanda and Uganda, including over reports that they provided support to the M23. DRC's President Joseph Kabila has also displayed a limited commitment to democracy and reforms. State actors often appear more focused on controlling resources and augmenting their personal power than on establishing security, creating effective state institutions, and fostering socioeconomic development for DRC's 75 million inhabitants.

DRC is rich in minerals, water resources, and agricultural potential. Annual economic growth, buoyed by high global commodity prices, has topped 5% in most recent years. DRC also receives high levels of international aid, with $2.86 billion in net official development assistance disbursed in 2012.3 Yet the majority of Congolese live in poverty and many lack access to adequate food.4 Over 2.6 million Congolese are internally displaced, and nearly a half-million more are refugees in nearby countries.5 DRC tied for last place on the 2013 U.N. Human Development Index and has the world's lowest per-capita gross domestic product (GDP).6 Given that it is the 11th-largest country in the world, some areas, such as mineral-rich Katanga province, have enjoyed comparative stability and prosperity. However, increased militia violence in Katanga since 2012 suggests that even this relative security is tenuous.7

The Obama Administration's policy toward DRC -is focused on helping the country become a nation that is stable and democratic, at peace with its neighbors, extends state authority across its territory, and provides for the basic needs of its citizens."8 The United States provided an estimated $274 million in bilateral aid to DRC in FY2013, in addition to about $165 million in emergency humanitarian assistance. Targeted sanctions are implemented via Executive Order 13413 (2006).

U.S. policy makers, including in Congress, have often focused on human rights issues in DRC, such as sexual violence, the use of child soldiers, and the international trade in -conflict minerals" sourced in DRC and neighboring states.9 The United States also provides significant logistical and advisory support for regional military operations against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northeast DRC and neighboring states.10 As discussed below, the Administration has criticized Rwanda for supporting the M23 and has suspended some military assistance, although Special Envoy Feingold has emphasized that Rwanda is a -friend and ally."11

The United States is also a major financial contributor to multilateral efforts to stabilize DRC, including U.N. peacekeeping operations and international financial institution programs.12 The U.N. Organization Stabilization Operation in DRC (MONUSCO, after its French acronym) is the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping operation, with some 21,000 uniformed personnel. …

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