By Jeb SharpThe Democratic Republic of Congo faces huge problems: governance is weak, corruption is rampant and the state isn’t capable of protecting its own citizens from terrible violence, especially in the eastern part of the country.
“Congo has been poorly governed for at least the last 40 years,” said Tony Gambino, an independent consultant who has worked for the US government, the United Nations and the World Bank.
He says next year’s elections will be key to stabilizing Congo and reducing the violence there.
“If you think about it, there are only two ways that can happen: it either happens through normal order which is elections or it happens violently,” Gambino said.
Gambino says the international community has a big role to play in laying the groundwork for those elections, including the United States. Congo needs an estimated 300 million dollars from donors to prepare but the Obama Administration has only allocated four or five million dollars for Congo election aid.
“That’s a scandalous level!” Gambino exclaimed.
Cynthia Akuetteh, the US State Dept.’s director for Central Africa, says Gambino’s right that the funding could be higher but she says she has to confront the reality of current budget constraints. And she doesn’t want to take money from other Congo aid projects.
“I don’t think anything we’re doing is fluff,” Akuetteh said.
It sure doesn’t sound like fluff. US aid to Congo runs close to $200 million a year and goes to treating and combating sexual violence, reforming the army and police, development aid, and dealing with diseases like HIV and malaria.
“All of these are also critical,” Akuetteh said.
As always there’s a bigger picture to contend with. But even if money wasn’t an issue, some Congo experts say national elections shouldn’t be the top priority.
“We know from previous research that elections by themselves don’t lead to democracy and to good governance unless specific conditions are in place,” said Severine Autesserre, a former aid worker turned academic who’s written a new book called “The Trouble with the Congo.”
“We need freedom of press, freedom of campaigning, freedom of speech and we don’t have these conditions in the Congo as of now.”
Autesserre thinks the whole international peacebuilding apparatus in Congo focuses too much on top down solutions and not enough on bottom up ones.
Hold national elections by all means she says, but if you want the violence to stop, start devoting far more resources to helping Congolese villagers in rural areas resolve their local conflicts over land and power.
This story followed Anchor Marco Werman’s conversation with reporter Michael Kavanagh on Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Kavanagh was at the trial of eight police officers facing accusations of killing human rights activist Floribert Chebaya. Click here to listen.
See also: DR Congo: Celebrating 50 years of chaos