This week, President Biden hosted his first state dinner at the White House. His guest was French President Emmanuel Macron. The high-profile visit – with all of its pomp and circumstance – was officially premised on the notion that France is the United States’ oldest ally and a “vital global partner” on a number of critical issues.
It has been reported in the media, and through official White House communications, that both sides planned to discuss the most urgent crises confronting the world today, including Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine as well as climate and energy issues.
A senior Biden administration official went so far as to say that the war in Ukraine would be “front and center” due the scale of the human tragedy unfolding there and its related consequences for the global economy and for the livelihoods of millions of people well beyond Eastern Europe, especially in Africa.
At present, and despite the number of complex challenges in play, there does seem to be a semblance of hope to responsibly address this issue given the growing strategic convergence between U.S. and French policy preferences. This sort of unity of purpose is essential, especially among the world’s established democracies, at a time when authoritarian regimes are deepening their repression at home and expanding their assaults on human rights beyond their territories.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are familiar with this grave reality.
The main difference, however, is that our long-beleaguered people do not share the same sense of hope. How could we? There is not a similar unity of purpose among global policymakers to address the myriad crises ravaging my country – this, despite the fact that events here are now regularly provoking headlines in major media outlets.
While the brutal war in Ukraine certainly deserves attention – and a swift, mediated solution – so too does the conflict that has been raging in the Congo for decades; a recently reinvigorated war that has been fomented by our brazenly selfish, autocratic neighbors, forcing millions of my fellow citizens to flee their homes in sheer terror.
While Washington’s gaze – and the majority of world leaders – focuses on Ukraine, our conflict and our collective agony goes ignored. Yes, we must talk about Ukraine, but we also have to talk about the Congo. Together, we must meaningfully and honestly address the conflagration that continues to spread in the Great Lakes region. The world’s most consequential leaders, including Presidents Biden and Macron, must find the same sense of purpose – and the urgency – they have discovered for Ukraine and similarly apply it to the Congo.
Indeed, millions of lives are at stake; and this, in a conflict demonstrably larger than the one unfolding in Ukraine. So where is the urgency? Where is the global concern for what is transpiring on a routine and daily basis, in eastern Congo?
For a dose of reality: today, there are 5.6 million Congolese people internally displaced across the country. Another 27 million people, including 3.4 million children, are “acutely food insecure.” Going back further, a 2011 U.S. study estimated that 48 women were raped every hour. And multiple U.N. investigators have discovered mass graves.
We are not asking others – not Presidents Biden or Macron – to solve our problems for us. We are merely asking that our plight is acknowledged and our proposed solutions taken seriously, both at a high level and with the same sense of collective urgency that similar conflicts in Europe often attain without a second thought.
The U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) was initiated back in 1999 and exists to this day as a peacekeeping force in eastern Congo with dozens of countries providing military personnel over the years, including the United States and France. Despite MONUSCO’s ineffectiveness to contain the conflict or ameliorate growing tensions, world leaders continue to place faith – and millions of dollars – into its mandate.
Despite its initial intentions, MONUSCO has failed. A stabilization mission cannot maintain stability that simply does not exist. What is needed, therefore, is a peacekeeping mission equipped with a robust mandate to enforce peace in a country that is clearly under attack by neighboring autocrats. This is a sensitive subject for some – I understand this fact well. We know that these long-ruling heads of state are allies of those in Washington and Paris; but what is often whispered in these halls of power must be said out loud. The Congo cannot attain peace nor prosper while under constant assault by neighbors whose well-documented war crimes and plunder of our resources persists with impunity.
Replacing MONUSCO will also help domestically in the Congo. Our president – whose election in 2018 was marred by controversy and allegations of widespread fraud; independent analysis of election data by the Financial Times suggested that he only received 19% of the vote—seemingly uses MONUSCO as a scapegoat to divert attention away from his own failures, including an inability to secure peace and hold aggressors accountable. Put simply, the government has also failed our people—and worse, may have fomented violence against the very people they are mandated to protect.
A well-governed state, with credible leadership, does not outsource its security to others. Instead of mortgaging Congo’s sovereignty and our dignity to countries whose crimes against our people are both written into history and internationally recognized, we must address the root causes of the instability. This necessarily starts with national cohesion, justice, and the end of impunity for serious crimes – including those which may have been committed by our own government.
At the end of the day, peace should not be a luxury, but a lived reality for our people. Congolese deserve more, as do Ukrainians and others across the globe surviving in wartime. We should not be victims to the prevailing prejudice of low expectations and ignorance. We demand dignity and we must work together in harmony – with our friends in the United States, France, and others willing to clasp our outstretched hands – towards securing that reality in the long-term.
Hon. Martin Fayulu ran for President of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018 and is the President of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development Party. He also serves as chair of the Congo-based Commitment to Citizenship and Development. You can follow him on Twitter at @MartinFayulu.
Image credit: Moses Sawasawa