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

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