Officially, the United States has maintained diplomatic relations with what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo since independence from Belgium in 1960. The United States is significant, because of its central location, its borders with nine other nations, and its vast array of natural resources. For these reasons, the United States officially claims to support peace, democracy, and security in the area. Economic relations are not especially important, with the United States’ main exports to the DRC being pharmaceuticals, wheat, poultry, and machinery, and its primary import being oil. Total trade is low however, relative to the United States’ economic relations with other nations in the region.
Currently, the State Department recognizes the instability and unrest in the DRC, and has pledged support for security, peace, and functioning democracy. In the June 2012 “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, the introduction notes the United States’ efforts to work with regional partners to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian Rebel group which has been violently wreaking havoc in and around the DRC for decades. This is consistent with the third pillar of the United States’ strategy, aimed at advancing peace and security. However, in reality, the United States has shown hesitance and even opposition to supporting any of its own four pillars in the DRC over the past two decades.
Abdi Ismail Samatar puts it lightly when he says “the administration could have been more serious about genuine democratization in the continent, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Ethiopia,” in his piece, “Africa: Beware of Obama’s Second Term.” Especially in the DRC, it seems the United States has consciously allowed and even encouraged democratic institutions to fail, and chaos to reign. For example, the United States formally recognizes Joseph Kabila as President of the DRC, even though many sources have determined that the 2011 election which put him in power was fraudulent.
In “Implications of the 2012 U.S. Election for U.S. Policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region,” author Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja suggests that because the United States is partners in its fight against terrorism with Uganda and Rwanda, it has looked the other way as those two nations, either overtly or through proxies have taken advantage of the DRC’s resources, without regard for the negative impacts on the DRC.
Perhaps most overtly, Nzongola-Ntalaja points out that the United States has not held up tenants of a law which requires U.S. sanctions against actors which interfere in the DRC’s internal politics, and/or exploitatively extracts its natural resources. Since both Rwanda and Uganda have been accused of both, the U.S. should theoretically impose sanctions. However, those two nations are key allies in the U.S> campaign against terrorism on the continent, having supplied forces, materials, and leadership in the struggle against al-Shabbab in Somalia, and countering al-Qaeda and ISIS efforts elsewhere in Africa.
If it can achieve security, the DRC can surely achieve functioning democracy, and in turn, can mobilize its economy for the national benefit. Etienne Tshisekedi is an example of a Congalese leader who truly and nationalistically hopes to stabilize, democratize, and make prosperous the DRC, ideals he shares with his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. Theoretically, as champions of democracy around the globe, the U.S. should support Tshisekedi and his efforts, however, it seems that democracy and stability is inherently irreconcilable with the United States’ policy objectives in the region, at least until the War on Terror is considered to be a victory without question.
“Africa: Beware of Obama’s Second Term” – Abdi Ismail Samatar
“Implications of the 2012 U.S. Election for U.S. Policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region” – Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja
“U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” – The White House (2012)