Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton's Challenge in Congo

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton's Challenge in Congo

Article excerpt

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a tragedy. It's also a vast, organized scam. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived there today. If she doesn't address the scam, the suffering will not end.

Congo is a tragedy for reasons that many know well, including the 5 million who have died from conflict since 1998, the thousands gang- raped by soldiers and rebels, and nearly 2 million who've been displaced from their homes. Add to that a population of more than 60 million citizens suffering from the state's chronic inability to provide safety, dignity, and anything close to development. Progress has been painfully slow. A so-called democratic transition, six years of postconflict intervention, billions in foreign aid, and some 20,000 UN soldiers have done little to end the violence.

A major reason for this tragedy is that Congo's governance resembles a racket. Its politicians and administrators are mostly corrupt, getting rich from keeping their state dysfunctional, and promoting local violence to serve their interests. Throughout the country, people in positions of state authority systematically dominate and extract resources from those below them, all under the guise of sovereign power.

Congo presents Mrs. Clinton with the most daunting challenges and greatest opportunities of her seven-country trip to Africa. Yet outsiders have too often made things worse by cajoling and rewarding rapacious politicians and soldiers, reinforcing rather than abating the authority of a criminal state. Recent UN-supported operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels, for example, have encouraged the deployment of unpaid and poorly trained soldiers who loot, rape, and terrorize more than they protect.

Although Clinton will speak against "gender-based violence," and Congress has approved a $15 million project for a "professional rapid reaction force" of Congolese trained in "the fundamental principles of respect for human rights," this is unlikely to achieve much. Soldiers terrorize because they, like other state officials, benefit from near total impunity; they steal because their officers and politicians hijack their pay; and they rape because it is an easy way to control and dominate civilians.

It is only by exposing and stopping the scam that Congo's tragedy will end. The more we contribute to rebuilding the state, however, the more we inadvertently restore authoritarianism, domination, and predation, features that have characterized Congo since its creation by Leopold II of Belgium in 1885. However failed a state Congo might be, Clinton must avert uncritically embracing its rebirth. …

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