Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Women For Women International Weighs In On Clinton Visit

Among the important commentators about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo was Zainib Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International. Her appearance on Jim Lehrer's PBS NewsHour added welcome depth to the coverage of Clinton's visit.

I'll be sponsoring a team in the New York Women for Women International Run for Congo Women on September 26. Last year, my wife and I were happy to raise a significant amount for the group's efforts to help Congolese women rebuild their lives. I hope you'll join us in supporting the cause this year. Even if you can't run, a small donation can make a big difference in the life of a women in the Congo.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clinton Advocates The Right Things In Congo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo--particularly her stop in Goma--was a tremendous step toward bringing an end to the violence that keeps that nation on its knees. Not only did her presence draw renewed attention to the epidemic of sexual violence that has victimized hundreds of thousands of Congolese women, children, and even men, but the very specific steps she advocated are exactly the ones I believe need to be taken to bring peace to the DRC. What's more, she pledged specific actions (and money) from the U.S. to move the process along.

During her tour of Magunga Camp, where 18,000 displaced people live in crowded temporary housing after being uprooted by the fighting that continues in the eastern provinces, Clinton pledged $17 million in American aid to help fight the gang rape and sexual mutilation that have destroyed so many lives in the region. At least $10 million will go toward training and equipping doctors to treat the victims of attacks. Some funds will also be used for prevention.

"We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many — that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment," she said during a press conference.
Clinton said that the U.S. supports military efforts to pacify insurgents who continue to victimize the population in order to control valuable mineral resources in the region. While acknowledging that civilians suffer from military action, Clinton was very clear in her advocacy of firm action against the perpetrators. Not unsurprisingly, she stopped short of offering U.S. troops to support the effort. She did, however, urge the United Nations to intensify its efforts to defeat the FDLR and other militias.

The Secretary of State pulled no punches when it came to the Congolese army, either. She bluntly said that Congolese soldiers and commanders need to be held accountable for their abuses of civilians as well. Congolese forces have repeatedly been reported to have raped and brutalized villagers in an effort to extort money and supplies from them. Clinton laid much of the blame for that at the feet of the government:
"We believe that a disciplined, paid army is a more effective fighting force. We believe that more can be done to protect civilians while you are trying to kill and capture insurgents."
Clinton also said the U.S. will send a team of legal, financial, and other experts to come up with specific recommendations for overcoming Congo's problems with corruption. She said Congolese President Joseph Kabila accepted that offer during their meeting in Goma.

I found it particularly refreshing that Clinton's remarks went far beyond the usual hand wringing and finger pointing that characterize so much of the rhetoric surrounding the situation in the DRC. She identified the problem (conflict-driven sexual violence), pinpointed its cause (the fight over control of the Congo's mineral wealth), and offered specific, deliverable actions that will help solve it. Are the simple steps she advocated a silver bullet? No, but that's exactly why they stand a chance to make a difference.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hope Among The Ruins Of Eastern Congo

While the conflict in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo flares anew, two recent significant events lead me to express some guarded optimism that an end to the humanitarian crisis is achievable.

The first was a meeting held last week between Congo's Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame, the first time elected leaders of the two countries had met face-to-face in thirteen years. The two-hour meeting took place in Goma, heart of the conflict-ridden eastern provinces, and came just a month after the two countries resumed full diplomatic relations including the exchange of ambassadors.

As I have written in the past, I believe the only route to lasting peace in the Congo is through recognition by both nations that their mutual economic interests are best served by cooperation rather than bloody battle for control of the region's assets. Initial steps in that direction were announced at this meeting, with an agreement to jointly develop natural gas reserves in Lake Kivu, which lies between the two countries, and to revive joint economic and trade commissions that have lain dormant for years. There was also a renewed pledge to close down militias operating in the region.

The second bit of encouragement came during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Kinshasa, where she spoke out clearly and forcefully against not only sexual violence against women but identified the armed conflict for control of the Congo's mineral wealth as the root cause of the epidemic of rape and sexual mutilation that has sickened the world. She urged Kabila's government and the United Nations to take the steps necessary to bring an end to the conflict. While she stopped well short of offering U.S. military assistance, I wonder if her remarks presage such a move.

Clinton visits Goma tomorrow, where she is scheduled to meet with victims of rape and speak about the horrors of sexual violence that has claimed hundreds of thousands of women.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the