John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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What Will it Take for the United States and Others to Address the Crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

by John Campbell
February 28, 2013

Congolese children gather in front of a United Nations peacekeeping tank during the global rally "One Billion Rising" which is part of a V-Day event calling for an end to gender-based violence, in Bukavu February 14, 2013. (Jana Asenbrennerova/Courtesy Reuters)


There is a useful new feature on, the Council on Foreign Relations’ website. Ask a CFR Expert invites members of the public to submit questions on U.S. foreign policy, and CFR fellows respond to questions that pertain to their own areas of expertise and research.

The following question was recently proposed to me: “What will it take for the United States and others to address the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo?”

This was my response.

Congo’s natural wealth makes it an African arena of competing ambitions. It is an open secret that senior political and military figures from Rwanda and Uganda sponsor irregular militias in eastern Congo to access its mineral resources for personal enrichment. Corrupt Congolese politicians similarly enrich themselves, while Congo’s government provides almost no security, health services or education. Human rights organizations credibly accuse government agents, the military, and local militias of committing atrocities to coerce the local population.

The United States, Belgium, China, and African states could pressure the Ugandan and Rwandan governments to cease supporting militias. They could urge the Congo government to reform its military and the police and reduce official corruption. With its economic heft in central Africa, China could play a positive role in a diplomatic push against Ugandan and Rwandan support for the militias. But, Congo is not a high international priority, and China is reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of their trading partners. Instead, the international response is to leave Congo to the United Nations to meet minimal humanitarian needs.

Congo’s government would need international assistance for reform and to move against corruption, but it may not have the capacity to challenge the powerful individuals who benefit from the present system. In sum, the exploitation of Congo’s vast resources by competing elites and militaries for personal enrichment promotes insecurity and stymies development. Only very strong Western and African public outcry and a change in China’s nonintervention approach might open the possibilities for change.

I encourage others to submit questions as well, whether they are on U.S. policy toward Africa or other areas of foreign policy.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    Congo has been hurtling from one catastrophe to another since independence.

    We’ve had fifty years of this, so it is time to ask the question: “will Congo ever be a viable state?”. The answer to that question might be yes, but I doubt it.

    Congo is a story of state formation as much as it is a story of state failure. The present arrangement cannot work and “appeals to Kinshasa to reform its Military and move against corruption will fall on deaf ears”.

    How long can this last?

    Africa was partitioned into artificial states by cynical Europeans. Some of these states (despite the best efforts of the West) are on the way to building a national identity and prosperity. Some others WILL NEVER.

    The best thing the international community can do for Congo DRC is accept what category it falls under and help the people of Congo to live in a state (or states) that they can identify with.

  • Posted by Daniel Mamba

    Dear Honorable John Campbell,
    It is with great joy that we have read your reply to the question on what it will take to US and others to stabilize Congo.

    We are amazed by your approach and realism on DRC crisis, mainly in regard to Rwandan and Ugandan Governments meddling at the forefront of the DRC crisis, even though both Rwanda and Uganda continue to deny this public secret .

    We are also thrilled by your realistic sincere and very correct views about the incapacity of the current DRC Government to challenge the powerful individuals who benefit from the system, both nationally and internationally and subsequently eradicate corruption .

    Therefore, there is an urgent need for all international DRC stakeholders and the Congolese elite of change to help establish a new determined, politically willing and capable DRC Government, that can end personal militias, reform financial sectors, defense and security, address social plight, protect all investors and improve working conditions and regulations on international standards. And this will be made in partnership with all DRC partners and allies and in respect of DRC Sovereignty and Territorial integrity.

    Such government of unity is at the corner and needs just a support of true DRC friends.
    Best regards!

    Amélie Phemba Mabika
    Daniel Mamba Tshiamba

  • Posted by Chris Hennemeyer

    It’s the wrong question. Congo’s chaos will not be addressed by the US and others. The international community may continue to bribe, cajole, plead and threaten, but with the same dismal results of the past four decades. The real question is: When will the Congolese themselves tire of their ongoing misery and dramatically change course?

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