The outcome of the November Congolese presidential election has gained international attention and sparked serious legitimacy concerns. In the wake of post-election tensions, Congress has reached across bipartisan lines to call for increased U.S. involvement in Congo.
Last week, members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs conducted a hearing to assess evidence of the positive outcomes of U.S. involvement in Congo thus far. The panel of experts included Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary at the bureau of African affairs; Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary for the bureau of human rights and labor; and Sarah Mendelson, the deputy assistant administrator for the USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance.
The hearing opened with a prepared statement from Chairman Smith who remarked that the Congo has suffered from “predatory leadership” since the 1960s and that the current political tensions raise concern for a potential humanitarian crisis. On the contrary, Congressman Payne noted that this current point in history is an opportune time to change the country’s political direction and shape young Congolese leaders for the future.
Congresswoman Bass voiced frustration on the viability of capacity building in the midst of political chaos. She questioned the Committee’s legitimacy, asking: “What leverage do we have? How many women will be raped in the hour that we have this meeting?”
Despite current conflict, Deputy Assistant Baer highlighted that there has been incremental progress over the last ten years in Congo. For example, in the past, Congo experienced hundreds of deaths a day, but within the last decade the number of deaths have subsided.
Moving forward, the panel noted that the ongoing mining of conflict-minerals and the continued impunity by the Lord’s Resistance Army are immediate concerns that need to be addressed. Furthermore, Deputy Yamamoto stated that improving the relationships between the Congo and its neighboring countries is crucial to increasing stability in the region.
Deputy Yamamoto stressed that it is imperative to political stability that confidence in the electoral process must be rebuilt for the people in Congo. Deputy Baer stated that his office’s approach on this issue is to encourage civil engagement in the electoral process by “improving the execution of elections” and making it a more “inclusive process across the board.”
Congressman Payne ended his questioning by focusing on the importance of this current political atmosphere in the Congo and emphasizing that for “the future of the DRC, what we need is a vision of leadership of the Congo.”
Photo: Donald Yamamoto, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State. (Photo: U.S Congress)