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The Congo’s day in Congress

A somewhat strange hearing took place this week on Capitol Hill. The Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House’s Armed Services Committee had a hearing on the Congo. The aim: to see what security threats for the United States the Congo poses.

I understand the desire to appeal to the meat-and-potatoes issues that US congressmen understand, namely national security. But in the case of the Congo, this means going out on a bit of a limb. Three people were invited to give presentations: Adam Komorowski (Mines Advisory Group); John Prendergast (Enough); Ted Dagne (Congressional Research Service). I have uploaded their presentations, as the congressional page seems to be under construction.

The only piece of information that suggests threats to US national security is the link between Ugandan ADF rebels and the bomb attacks in Kampala. As argued here before, this link appears to be tenuous – while there is little doubt that the ADF, a fairly half-baked, small group based in the Ruwenzoris, has links to radical Islamist networks in the Horn of Africa, I don’t think there is solid evidence linking them to the Kampala bombings.

Otherwise, the presentations must have confused the congressmen and women, who were expecting to hear about links to US national security interests. (The title of the hearing was: Crisis in the DRC – Implications for US national security.) Komorowski spoke about his de-mining organization’s work in the Congo and made a cogent appeal for better stockpile management within the Congolese armed forces. Dagne, the only one to mention the ADF links, gave a basic overview of economic and political developments in the Congo with no underlying policy message. Prendergast used the opportunity to push for concerted action on conflict minerals, including the appointment of a US special envoy to the Congo with a good staff. He also mentioned to need for coherent sector reform.

It seems to me that the opportunity could have been better used. If I had been organizing the hearing, I would have pushed for security sector reform, the one issue that the subcommittee really has the prerogative to address through the Department of Defense’s current training program in the Congo. Lead with this and then include stockpile management, the appointment of a special envoy and a coherent, multilateral approach under this heading.

And don’t even try to make the argument, as some have in the past, that US security interests are at stake. That could lead to misguided, military attacks on inconsequential militia in the Ruwenzori.

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