In the past few months tensions have flared again in the Western region of Congo. A lawless place with little to no government control, this region has often been called the “wild west”. Congo has consistently had problems with rebels in its western territories, especially since the Rwanda genocide in 1996. A few years ago, the region calmed down with the aid of the UN, AU peace keepers, and a cease fire with the rebels, but those tensions have flared again as the rebels have soundly defeated the Congo army.
Most significant is the tacit support that the rebels are reportedly receiving from Rwanda. Many speculate that the continued support is a continuing revenge response by the Tutsi’s against Hutu’s living in Congo.
While nothing that occurs in Africa surprises me anymore, I doesn’t make sense to me why the Rwandan government would stir the hornets nest of violence and rebellion right outside of their border. Their President, Paul Kagame, is a bright man, forward looking, and has done a lot of good restoring Rwanda and making it one of the brightest locales of freedom and relative economic prosperity in Africa. Mr. Kagame has been lauded by Western governments and has the full support of the United States and European Union.
I suspect that if this rebellion is being funded out of Rwanda, that the support is not coming from the top, but from either lower Rwandan government or military officials or from non-governmental groups. Regardless of the source of support, this poses a huge danger to Rwanda’s increasing prosperity.
As has been evidenced by multiple African wars and disputes in the last half century, wars quickly spill over into neighboring countries. If the issue in the Congo continues to escalate it is quite feasible that Uganda and Rwanda will be forced into it. This is the last thing those countries, Africa, and the world need.
So what is to be done? I call for an international peace keeping force lead by the UN in concert with the African union to deploy to western Congo. They should be given authority to engage in combat, but only when they are engaged upon and under orders. Their primary mission should be to be a presence of stability and encouragement for the millions of civilians who have been forced from their homes. They should have the authority to stop tribal violence where they find and be tasked with assisting the distribution of food, medical supplies, and building infrastructure (to a minimal extent).
This is one location where the example of America’s recent strategy in Iraq can be partially implemented. That is, there is strength in numbers and soldiers given proper orders and instructions and deployed to the appropriate areas can be a huge benefit to regional stability and development. It is highly unlikely that the Congo rebels would attack international troops, aside from the occasional skirmish, which would be inevitable. They know that if they did, they would likely have the muscle of the international community fall upon them.
Ideally, the troops who deploy there would be a fairly standard UN force. It would be unlikely the United States could provide any significant number of troops, but that does not mean the United States should be excluded. On the contrary, the U.S. would arguably be the most important player from the international community. The U.S. is the only country that currently has the ability to deploy rapidly and to maintain an effective logistical supply chain to anywhere in the world. The U.S. should provide a majority of the logistical support, to include the use of C-130’s and other supply aircraft. The U.S. can also provide a significant number of multi-purpose vehicles and aircraft that can provide logistical, medical, rapid deployment, and attack support; tools like the Chinook and the Bradley.
Sadly, this conflict in the Congo is just another “issue” with Africa. The cycle of violence is so common place that it is difficult to be optimistic that something positive can be done to alter it. It is very easy for us in the comforts of the West to just shrug our shoulders and say, “well, that is Africa”. But that is wrong. There are too many places in Africa that showing hope and development for us to turn a blind eye now. Places like Botswana, Rwanda, Kenya (despite the violence a year ago), Ghana, and even Liberia. The U.S., EU, Russia, and China should all promote those places and provide support where appropriate. Because in the same way that violence spills across borders, so does prosperity. With good governance and self-criticism and reliance, Africa can stabilize. It won’t be anytime soon, but there is hope and it should be built upon and encouraged.