Congo’s 50, but has anything changed?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo turns 50 today to great fanfare, with guests no less than the U.N. secretary-general and the king of Belgium on hand. But as FP contributor Joe Bavier wrote yesterday, there’s not too terribly much to celebrate: The country’s lawless east continues to boil and churn, human development is among ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images
BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images
BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of the Congo turns 50 today to great fanfare, with guests no less than the U.N. secretary-general and the king of Belgium on hand. But as FP contributor Joe Bavier wrote yesterday, there's not too terribly much to celebrate: The country's lawless east continues to boil and churn, human development is among the most desperate in the world, and the country's leadership -- under President Joseph Kabila -- is turning out to be what Bavier calls the new Mobutu Sese Seko. And like his Cold War predecessor, Kabila is propped up by the West, where no one seems ready to stop aid because of the president's shoddy human rights and governance record. (Another FP contributor, Dino Mahtani, agrees on this point.)

Well, no one except for Canada. That's right -- Canada. Congo was supposed to recieve a massive debt-forgiveness package today as part of its festivities, but Canada held it up, noting concerns about governance and leadership, as Reuters reports.

Mark that down as a big shift. For literally half a century (yes, all of Congo's independent history), the country's predicament has been a thorn that the West didn't really know how to pick out of the world's side. Half-measures like humanitarian aid and an understaffed U.N. peacekeeping mission (it's still the world's biggest) have kept the conflict to a low level, grinding, and horrible drip-drop. But that's been the plan. (Big similarities here to the lack of plan on a fellow failed state, Somalia.) Never mind that more human beings have perished in Congo than any conflict since World War II. Strategic implications have consistently kept it lower on the priority list than countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo turns 50 today to great fanfare, with guests no less than the U.N. secretary-general and the king of Belgium on hand. But as FP contributor Joe Bavier wrote yesterday, there’s not too terribly much to celebrate: The country’s lawless east continues to boil and churn, human development is among the most desperate in the world, and the country’s leadership — under President Joseph Kabila — is turning out to be what Bavier calls the new Mobutu Sese Seko. And like his Cold War predecessor, Kabila is propped up by the West, where no one seems ready to stop aid because of the president’s shoddy human rights and governance record. (Another FP contributor, Dino Mahtani, agrees on this point.)

Well, no one except for Canada. That’s right — Canada. Congo was supposed to recieve a massive debt-forgiveness package today as part of its festivities, but Canada held it up, noting concerns about governance and leadership, as Reuters reports.

Mark that down as a big shift. For literally half a century (yes, all of Congo’s independent history), the country’s predicament has been a thorn that the West didn’t really know how to pick out of the world’s side. Half-measures like humanitarian aid and an understaffed U.N. peacekeeping mission (it’s still the world’s biggest) have kept the conflict to a low level, grinding, and horrible drip-drop. But that’s been the plan. (Big similarities here to the lack of plan on a fellow failed state, Somalia.) Never mind that more human beings have perished in Congo than any conflict since World War II. Strategic implications have consistently kept it lower on the priority list than countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

So will the next 50 years for Congo get much better? Let’s hope. And yes, it might be good for the United States and Europe to follow Canada’s lead.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Congo

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