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Advocacy Group Urges Clinton to Address Suffering in Eastern Congo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting the DRC as part of her seven-nation tour of Africa, which is designed to promote democracy and development and strengthen US ties to the continent. Clinton met Tuesday with President Joseph Kabila in the eastern city of Goma, the capital of the volatile North Kivu province.

Kambale Musavuli, national spokesperson for the U.S.-based advocacy group Friends of the Congo, says according to the stated objectives of the State Department, the visit “underline[s] the US commitment to collaborate with the Congolese government, the private sector, NGOs and citizens to build capacity and realize their potential. She [Clinton] is also concerned about gender-based violence in Congo and wants to highlight that during her visit.”

More than 200,000 women have been raped since 1996 in the conflict and violence in eastern Congo, according to the United Nations. Nearly six million people have died in the struggle over the past 13 years, Musavuli says.

Among the perpetrators of the fighting in the area are ethnic Hutu militias accused of committing atrocities in Rwanda’s genocide and civil war nearly 15 years ago, and local Congolese fighters, many from the Tutsi ethnic group.

“We want [Clinton] to listen to the Congolese people…. She’s going to see the victims of the war…. She will see people first hand and it will be critical for her to listen to what the Congolese people are saying,” says Musavuli.

US policymakers are encouraging the governments of Congo and Rwanda to work together to end the violence in eastern Congo.The joint efforts include military cooperation.

But a more African approach, Musavuli says, would include a negotiating framework that would bring together all rebel forces within the country and focus more on a political solution than a military one. Besides regional powers Rwanda and Uganda, it would also include Congo’s other neighbors, some of whom are benefiting from the anarchy to exploit such lucrative minerals as gold, tungsten, and tin, which are often used in cell phones and other electrical products.

Musavuli also wants international corporations to stop practices that Transparency International and other such groups have found to be corrupt or exploitative.

The West should follow the lead of Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada, he says, in bringing pressure to bear on Rwanda and Uganda to be partners for peace.

He also calls for greater support for local institutions and pro-democracy forces in Congo and support for democratization efforts in Uganda and Rwanda, which he says would benefit the entire Great Lakes region.