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Activists, Analysts Express Frustration at US Congo Policy

  • Nico Colombant

Activists and analysts who closely follow U.S. policy toward the Democratic Republic of Congo are expressing frustration with President Barack Obama's administration in the wake of a controversial presidential vote in the DRC.

The U.S. State Department has expressed deep disappointment as the Democratic Republic of Congo's Supreme Court upheld results from November's election without fully evaluating irregularities.

The same expression of "deep disappointment" is being used by activists and analysts who say the Obama administration is not going far enough in condemning the new mandate of President Joseph Kabila. The 40-year-old was sworn in last week after weeks of post-election tensions and deadly street violence.

A Congolese protester at a recent White House rally, Patrick Mubobo, says he feels Mr. Obama is not practicing what he preached during his landmark Africa policy speech in Ghana in 2009.

"He said in Ghana that Africa does not need strong people. Africa needs strong institutions, that is his word. I am quoting him from his speech in Ghana. He needs to respect that. When you are talking about democracy, you have to do democracy and be democratic," Mubobo said.

Mubobo alleges the United States is not pushing harder for an accurate election result because he believes the administration does not like his candidate of choice, second place finisher and former prime minister, Etienne Tshisekedi.

"They think that he is not going to be good for business but that is a total lie. They do not know him. They do not understand him," Mubobo said.

A Congo expert from Morehouse College in the southern state of Georgia, Laura Seay, says she agrees there may be preference from the United States and other donor nations toward Mr. Kabila, who has been president of the mineral-rich Congo since his father's assassination in 2001.

"I do think that to some extent the preference for (Mr.) Kabila that is a correct perception. Western diplomats in Kinshasa are bit uneasy with (Mr.) Kabila but he is sort of the guy they know and they can work with him, whereas (Mr.) Tshisekedi is perceived to be a bit of a wildcard and someone that they do not know whether or not they can rely on him. But the U.S government certainly does not want to come off as endorsing electoral fraud," Seay said.

Congo's electoral commission has asked for outside help, including U.S. assistance, to tally votes in the parliamentary election which was also held in late November, but remains uncounted.

In terms of the presidential vote, observers from the U.S-based Carter Center said the process was too flawed to be considered credible. They detailed impossibly high voter turnouts in some areas, as well as widespread and severe voter intimidation.

But the recent statement from the State Department said it is still not clear whether irregularities were sufficient to change the outcome of the vote.

Another disappointed activist is Monique Beadle, from the U.S.-based Falling Whistles group, which strives for peace in the DRC.

"My biggest concern is the poor way the United States has responded to this crisis. The response from the State Department has been tepid at best," Beadle said.

Beadle was initially disappointed when U.S. officials had little reaction to rule changes which made Congo's presidential vote a one-round contest, rather than having a possible run-off as in the past. Mr. Kabila was credited with winning the November 28 election, but with less than 49 percent of the vote.

One positive development she notes is the recent appointment of a U.S. government special representative for the Great Lakes region, veteran Africa diplomat Barrie Walkley.

"We do not know exactly what he plans to accomplish but I hope that this election crisis is going to be a priority of his and that he will pressure the government in Kinshasa to pursue really concrete measures to resolve this crisis and to respect the will of the Congolese people," Beadle said.

In terms of Congo's recent presidential election, Beadle is hoping for a revote or at least a full recount.

Earlier this year, a collective of civil society and human rights groups made a series of demands concerning U.S government action in the DRC. The first item was to help ensure free, fair and credible elections. Many activists now say that request has not been met.

Other items which they feel the United States has fallen short on include helping efforts to protect civilians in the country's conflict-wracked east and north, increasing support for justice and security sector reform, and encouraging a demilitarization of the lucrative Congolese mining sector.

During remarks this month, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the United States was the DRC's largest donor with a commitment of over $900 million for peacekeeping, humanitarian and development initiatives in the past fiscal year. Many Congolese activists are now calling for some of this aid to be suspended until credible elections take place.