A Senseless and Ill-Timed Cut for MONUSCO

With appalling violence on the rise in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, U.S. support for a United Nations resolution to cut the organization’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) represents a tactical and moral retreat.

In remarks  before the Council on Foreign Relations March 30, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was correct in asserting that the government of Joseph Kabila is “corrupt and preys on its citizens” but her analysis deviated from fact when she claimed the “the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people.”

However chaotic the DRC is at this moment, the UN is almost certainly not bolstering Kabila’s illegitimate presidency. Quite the opposite, the UN’s presence has helped prevent a far greater calamity from unfolding.  Increasingly, MONUSCO has seen Kabila as the problem and not a partner in peacekeeping operations. Violence rose last year as Kabila sabotaged elections that were supposed to take place last fall. Now that he has undermined an agreement facilitated by the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to hold elections by the end of this year, there has been even more bloodshed.

There are reports that 400 or more people have been killed in recent months. In the last week, 40 police officers were reportedly decapitated by militia in one province and a few days ago it was confirmed that UN workers Michael Sharp of the U.S. and Zaida Catalan of Sweden had been kidnapped and killed. These two heroic individuals were in the country investigating compliance with the terms of targeted UN sanctions imposed on the DRC. In the absence of a government chosen in free and fair elections, militias throughout the country will continue to use murder and fear to expand their power. That is why a robust UN presence is needed more than ever. Otherwise, the country could spiral back into a civil war that began in the 1990s that left millions of Congolese dead.

MONUSCO has a budget of $1.2 billion, which is the highest among 16 peacekeeping missions.  According to Reuters, diplomats say the United States wants the troop cap to be cut by a quarter to 15,000. In addition, despite a request by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to add two extra police units – 320 officers, the U.S. wants to maintain the current level of 1,050 officers.

In light of this rising instability and murder, the draft UN resolution to cut the number of military personnel in the country from 19,815 to 16,125 and reduce the 660 military advisors there by 100, it is hard to assume anything other than the UN is losing heart and so is the United States.

Up to now, the United States has taken a painfully tentative approach with regard to Kabila. There have been the requisite statements calling on Kabila to honor the country’s Constitution’s term limits and step aside. The Obama Administration imposed sanctions targeted on individuals identified as culprits in the violence and Congress has endorsed ramping up sanctions if Kabila refused to budge. However, the Obama Administration held back on imposing sanctions directly on Kabila and members of his family. Now, it appears the Trump Administration wants to go in the opposite direction and raise questions about the utility of multilateral operations in the DRC.

In her remarks linking the UN operations with Kabila’s government, Haley added, “We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”

What should end are half measures. The decent thing to do for the Congolese people is to increase international pressure on Kabila to vacate so the international community and stakeholders in the DRC can chose a new leader in a balloting process that is safe, free and fair.

African Nations Again Unite to Uphold Democracy

The roller-coaster ride of Gambian democracy ended last week with longtime strongman Yahya Jammeh’s exit and exile.

The process was not perfect. It appears Jammeh was allowed to keep a fleet of luxury cars and an unknown but apparently staggering amount of cash he is said to have looted from this small, impoverished country. Nonetheless, Gambians have a chance to establish a lasting democracy and other African nations seem to have their backs in that endeavor.

An unsettling series of ups and downs followed the December 1 election. Jammeh said he would agree to step down if he were not re-elected and even conceded to former real estate agent Adama Barrow, declaring in a statement December 3, “I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best.” Jammeh. In the days that followed, a number of opposition figures were released from jail. Continue reading “African Nations Again Unite to Uphold Democracy”

Kabila Hunkers Down in his Empire of Kleptomania Ahead of Constitutional End of Term Monday

Ever since winning a second full term in a universally discredited election in 2011, Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila has been doing everything he could to ensure the election of his successor, scheduled for this fall, would not take place. A story published by Bloomberg News today helps explain why: Kabila and his family have been looting the country.

Bloomberg News, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, traced the Kabilas’ interests by amassing an archive of hundreds of thousands of pages of corporate documents. Given that so much of the DRC’s economy is informal and cash-based and transactions are notoriously opaque, it is impossible to determine the exact value of the illicit Kabila business empire. However, the documents that were obtained show the Kabilas have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of the DRC’s economy and enriched themselves with perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. Continue reading “Kabila Hunkers Down in his Empire of Kleptomania Ahead of Constitutional End of Term Monday”

Ghana’s Democracy Triumphs in Latest Presidential Vote

Ghana remains the beacon of hope for democracy in Africa. President John Mahama made a gracious speech conceding to long-time rival Nana Akufo-Addo and pledging a peaceful and stable transition December 10, continuing a 25-year democratic tradition.

The campaign was hard-fought, sometimes bitter, and close. This was Akufo-Addo’s third run for the presidency and a rematch of the hotly-contested race of 2012. Tensions were high for nearly three days as procedural snafus in some areas and a close vote delayed the official announcement of the results of the December 7 balloting. However, both men’s principled expressions of commitment to democracy fortified Ghanaians’ confidence in continuing on the path leading to stability and economic opportunity.   Continue reading “Ghana’s Democracy Triumphs in Latest Presidential Vote”

Elections in Gambia and Ghana Offer a Glimmer of Hope for African Democracy

After over 20 years of repressive rule, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh accepted defeat at the polls December 2. The highly unexpected development was a morsel of good news for African democracy and it thrilled Gambians.

“We have our country back,” the New York Times quoted taxi driver Modu Ceesay’s ecstatic proclamation. “This is our country, and now we have it.” Continue reading “Elections in Gambia and Ghana Offer a Glimmer of Hope for African Democracy”

U.S. and China Forging Bonds with Africa’s Future Leaders

Voting and governing are two critical but distinct components of democracy, just as vision and execution are elemental to business success. A feature in the New Republic this week provides a hopeful but instructive perspective on U.S. efforts to groom Africans who will soon take key leadership roles in their countries.

Democracy was in full bloom in Africa in the 1990s but it since stagnated in too many countries. Even in countries long regarded as democratic success stories such as Ghana and South Africa, corruption remains a serious problem. In Burkina Faso, Benin, and Nigeria, newly elected leaders face daunting challenges to deliver better governance and improvements in daily life. Democracy’s long-term prospects in Africa depend not only on historic elections and enlightened politicians but also on the individual commitment of thousands of people to become fully-engaged citizens who strive to make public and private institutions more competent and accountable. This will enable aspiring business people to thrive and fuel home-grown economic development and opportunity. Continue reading “U.S. and China Forging Bonds with Africa’s Future Leaders”

Today’s Reported Murder of a Priest the Latest Sign of the DRC in Crisis

The BBC is reporting today that a priest was murdered in the city of Lubumbashi. While many details about the killing are unknown, it could be another sign that President Joseph Kabila’s machinations to postpone elections for up to two years are plunging the country into a state of violent uncertainty.

According to the BBC, Father Joseph Mulimbi Nguli was shot dead in a relative’s home by men wearing ski masks. The archdiocese of Lubumashi and the city’s police chief are calling for an investigation of this audacious killing. Continue reading “Today’s Reported Murder of a Priest the Latest Sign of the DRC in Crisis”

A Looming Test for Ghana’s Democracy

Ghana is often hailed as one of African democracy’s success stories. For over 25 years there have been regular elections with peaceful transitions from one major political party to another. In a little over a month, however, Ghana’s democracy could face its most serious test in years.

Not long ago, we noted the comments of President John Mahama before the United Nations General Assembly in which he gently told the international community to back off from scrutiny of his country’s democracy. There are reasons for his apparent defensiveness.  There is mounting evidence that public discontent coupled with balloting procedure shortcomings could make for a tense and uncertain situation.  Continue reading “A Looming Test for Ghana’s Democracy”

Statement from Rick Gittleman on Extension of Sanctions to Additional Officials in the DRC

On September 28, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the extension of sanctions on Gabriel Amisi Kumba and John Numbi, following what it termed as “increasing indications that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to suppress political opposition in the country, often through violent means.”  Under this sanctions program, all of these two individuals’ assets within U.S. jurisdiction have been frozen and Americans are barred from doing business with them.

“Today’s action builds on the United States’ continued commitment to disrupt this destructive behavior and foster a better and more stable future for the DRC and the Congolese people,” said John E. Smith, Acting OFAC Director, in statement.  “Today’s action is not directed at the people of DRC.  It is intended to alter the behavior of the targeted individuals.”

Continue reading “Statement from Rick Gittleman on Extension of Sanctions to Additional Officials in the DRC”

UN Speeches Raise Critical Questions for African Democracy

Obama and Mahama. The two presidents’ names overlap phonetically as did their message to the 71st gathering of UN General Assembly this week: The road to democracy, however bumpy, is the only path to take.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama likely directed his affirmation of democracy to Africa’s current and aspiring “presidents for life.” Continue reading “UN Speeches Raise Critical Questions for African Democracy”