Scroll to top

Podcast: Improving U.S. Strategy for Africa’s Two Biggest Wars

No comments

Podcast: Improving U.S. Strategy for Africa’s Two Biggest Wars

Posted by Laura Heaton on July 28, 2010

Podcast: Improving U.S. Strategy for Africa’s Two Biggest Wars

The Brookings Institution has published a podcast from last week’s event about Africa’s two biggest wars – Congo and Sudan. Brookings senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon moderated a panel featuring Enough’s John Prendergast, Congo expert Tony Gambino, and Mwangi Kimenyi of Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative. Listen to the full event here.

Below we’ve summed up some of the key takeaways from the speakers.

The event started off with John Prendergast’s remarks on Sudan, with an emphasis on the Obama administration’s current handling of the Darfur peace process and negotiations on North-South issues. He described the current efforts underway – coordinated by African Union and United Nations mediators – to build a peace process for Darfur and work with the northern and southern governments to prepare for the referendum in the South and make post-referendum arrangements to ensure that the two sides do not slide back to full-scale war. The U.S. government has surprisingly taken a back-seat role, even though the history of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement provides evidence of the value of having the United States lead a group of countries willing to exert pressure on the Sudanese parties. Here’s that explanation:

We have a successful model in peacemaking in Sudan and that is the CPA, the 2005 North/South deal in which African nations led the peace process with a single mediator who had the confidence of the parties, a general from Kenya, and the United States and a few other countries provided very, very close diplomatic support on the ground 24/7 for a 3-year peace process. This doesn’t happen – you know, people fly in for three days and think they can make any kind of progress. You’ve got to be on the ground, on the ground for a long period of time to get gradual shifts in the tectonic plates that are required to align for the possibility of a peace deal. And so, we don’t have any of that. We’re walking away from the one successful model that exists for peacemaking in Sudan.

Prendergast went on to describe an alternate approach, which hinges on high-level engagement from key Obama administration officials.

Tony Gambino, a longtime Congo expert and former USAID mission director there, took the stage next and discussed the increased instability and violence since Congo’s landmark election in 2006. A number of missteps by the international community, carried out by the U.N. peacekeeping force, have not only failed to curb atrocities by armed militia groups; with tacit U.S. support, U.N. peacekeepers backed the Congolese army in a military operation that resulted in the death and displacement of thousands of civilians. The Congolese army itself is as “notoriously abusive” as the armed groups that Congolese soldiers are meant to target, Gambino said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for one has spoken out about these abuses by the Congolese army, but “nothing has changed.” He highlighted the lack of follow-through shown by the Obama administration:

U.S. policy today towards the Congo badly needs focus. Since [Secretary Clinton’s] trip [last August], the U.S. has sent team after team after team after team of Americans to the Congo to look at what to do. This has resulted in a tremendous amount of activity and things to report on, but is it making much of a difference? I have to say the pithiest critique I have found of the U.S. approach comes from a now-deceased college basketball coach. The legendary John Wooden was known for his aphorisms and I think this one captures the flaw in U.S. policy. “Never mistake activity for achievement.” We’ve seen lots and lots of activity, but we have very, very little to show in terms of any real, measurable, important achievements.

Mwangi Kimenyi commented on the regional implications of the conflicts in Sudan and Congo and suggested that these longstanding conflicts will leave a mark on President Obama’s legacy, in the way that Rwanda haunted President Clinton’s. But he emphasized the role that African countries must themselves play in resolving conflicts.

[Y]ou cannot win the wars in Congo or in Sudan with the United States. Even if the United States was going to enter there with all the military might, that’s not going to be winnable. You would have to work with the African Union, but particularly facilitating the United Nations.

I think where we have seen – and if you compare – look at the case of Liberia, for example. It’s really interventions by the African Union the Nigerian forces supported through the A.U. and U.N., and then through the U.N. itself. So, we have to get the African countries more committed to peace in their region (…)

Mike O’Hanlon’s follow-up questions and remarks from the audience led to other insightful remarks, so the full podcast is worth a listen.


Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in eastern Congo, August 2009 (AP)