ECI paper released

A bunch of Congo-focused events took place in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, centered around the release of the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) white paper. You can download the paper here. It has a useful summary of current initiatives on the eastern Congo and gets into a lot of the nitty-gritty of technical assistance (not surprising, as its author Spyros Demetriou was the team leader for MONUC’s stabilization strategy in the Kivus).

Some of the recommendations are good, especially the emphasis on obtaining buy-in from the Congolese government and conditioning aid on political reforms . In fact, I wish more emphasis and analysis had been placed on conditionality, as it is key for everything that follows: if donors do not have a coherent conditionality for ALL of their funds (not just the humanitarian stuff, but budgetary aid and infrastructure projects), then the rest of the recommendations will fall on deaf ears in Kinshasa – but how do construct such conditionality with push-back from the World Bank and IMF, and the risk of jeopardizing development projects? When do we pull the plug on investments and projects? It seems like a whole paper could be written on just this.

I also like the idea of garrisoning troops in barracks in the East to prevent them from living off the land – an idea already including in the current stabilization strategy – as well as the details on support to police and justice sectors.

Other recommendations, such as how to deal with the FDLR and how to demobilize Congolese armed groups, consist largely of improving the technical capacity of demobilization programs – useful, for sure, but it seems we’ve seen this all before. For example, they leave untouched (except for a tantalizing quote by a Congolese partner in the margins) the possibility of a more diplomatic approach to the FDLR problem. Also, while there should certainly be more support to the electoral and decentralization processes, the paper doesn’t really produce much detail about what exactly this support should entail other than technical assistance.

I’m also not sure I buy the notion that the US should be doing this out of its own national interests. They mention our investments, but then quote the amount of money we have spent on humanitarian issues in the country – this argument amounts to spending more money because we have already spent money. I’m not sure that will impress Congress that much. Then they say that the US has national security interests in the Congo – the only concrete instance we can point to is the possible, very tenuous connection between the Ugandan ADF rebels and the Kampala bombings this year, an incident that may have linked the Congo to terrorists cells in East Africa. I have yet to see any concrete evidence for this link (although Kampala keeps pushing it), and I understand the FBI – who had 60 investigators on the ground – didn’t find much evidence for this, either.

That is all just to say that I think we shouldn’t try too hard – the moral imperatives are strong enough, I think we should stick to them.

The paper is worth reading. It is particularly good to have a second report in as many months (see the Oxfam report on SSR from last month) explicitly targeting US policy. It is also impressive – although  a bit bewildering – to see such a huge turnout: two senators (John Kerry and John Boozeman), the Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson and pretty much anybody who is anybody in Washington working on the Congo was present. ICG, HRW and other groups have never had this kind of turnout. Ben Affleck’s celebrity and the organizational skills of ECI certainly helped.

However, if I am not mistaken, the report was written by two consultants, and – outside of Goma, where ECI has a dedicated staff working on humanitarian issues – they does not have much in-house policy expertise on the Congo. This kind of policy work is complex and it is vital to have intimate knowledge of local and regional politics. ECI is a new organization and has started with an admirable focus on promoting local voices and organizations, but it is also trying to become a prominent voice in the policy community, an arena where organizations have dozens of full-time staff working on these very issues.

Politique ya Congo eza makasi – Congolese politics is tough. Mujikaze bandugu, kila la heri.