2006.12.19: December 19, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Foreign Policy: Brookings Institute: All Africa: Michael O'Hanlon moderates discussion on Congo Kinshasa

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Congo - Kinshasa (Zaire): Special Report: National Security Expert and Congo Kinshasa RPCV Michael O'Hanlon: 2006.12.19: December 19, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Foreign Policy: Brookings Institute: All Africa: Michael O'Hanlon moderates discussion on Congo Kinshasa

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Michael O'Hanlon moderates discussion on Congo Kinshasa

Michael O'Hanlon moderates discussion on Congo Kinshasa

Michael O'Hanlon, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Congo Kinshasa.

Michael O'Hanlon moderates discussion on Congo Kinshasa

Congo-Kinshasa: The Way Forward in the DRC

The Brookings Institution (Washington, DC)

December 19, 2006
Posted to the web December 19, 2006

Washington, D.C.


Special Representative of the Secretary General in the Democratic Republic of Congo


Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution


Former Director
USAID Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo

Senior Fellow
The Brookings Institution

Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement

MR. O'HANLON: Good morning, everyone. As a former Peace Corps volunteer myself in then-Zaire, it is a great honor for me to be able to just convene this event and to have you all here and to have an incredibly distinguished panel on this very important topic at a crucial time when, as we were discussing before, Congo hasn't quite gotten the press it has often deserved or required in the last few months with everything from the war in Lebanon this summer distracting attention to the ongoing crisis in Iraq.

My name is Mike O'Hanlon. I am going to moderate which really means try to get out of the way as fast as possible to give our distinguished presenters maximum time.

Ambassador Swing will speak first. He has only got about 45 minutes to be with us. He was extraordinarily kind to do this. He left Congo Saturday, Saturday night. He has to be in New York for U.N. business which after all is his employer and has some claim on his time and needs to hear from him early afternoon. So we will hear from him first. He will essentially give a keynote address.

As you all know, he is an extraordinarily distinguished diplomat who worked in the U.S. Foreign Service until his retirement in 2001, posted in five or six major African countries, spending time in Congo as well during that stretch. Upon his retirement, which lasted two months, as I just learned, he immediately was summonsed to go work in Western Sahara by the U.N. to be the Special Representative for the Secretary General there, and he has now been working in the same kind of capacity in the Congo for three and a half years. So we will hear from him today.

After we hear his remarks which will last 20 or 25 minutes, you will have time to directly ask him questions, and we will have about 20 minutes for that Q and A, and then I will introduce our panel consisting of Bill O'Neill, Susan Rice, and Anthony Gambino after that.

Without further ado, we are greatly honored, Ambassador Swing, to have you here. Thanks and we look forward to your remarks.

AMB. SWING: Good morning. Thank you very much, Michael. It is indeed a great honor for me to be here at Brookings. One doesn't get these invitations often, and I wanted to make sure that I took full advantage of it.

What a great pleasure and honor it is for me to be here with both my former boss, Susan Rice, and two former colleagues from the field: Bill O'Neill, we were together in Haiti, and of course, Tony Gambino, we have been together several times in former Zaire and now Congo.

I guess the good news for you is that my slide program is not going to work, so you just have to hear me. I normally have some animation with it, and I apologize. Let me go right to my remarks, and then I will take questions before I have to take off.

Four years ago, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was engulfed in what some came to call Africa's First World War. A lot of these phrases and statistics have begun rather banal from overuse. But it is true; six foreign armies and Congolese factions ravaged the country the size of Europe in the most deadly conflict since the Second World War. Nearly 4 million people died, 800,000 refugees were scattered the 9 neighboring countries, and some 3 million Congolese were internally displaced, and although many of them have come back, displacements continue. State services collapsed, and in an ironic twist, an ironic and cruel twist of history, one of Africa's potentially richest countries became one of the world's poorest.

oday, the sad heritage of this silent war and the preceding years of chronic instability and corruption is still everywhere to be seen. An estimated 1,200 Congolese continue to die needlessly every day even now due to poverty, disease that is preventable, hunger, and violence including, I am sorry to say, continuing shocking levels of gender violence. In these unpromising circumstances, very few observers believed that the Congo, that perpetual heart of darkness, coming out of two wars over a period of five years, with virtually no roads, no history of democracy or multiparty elections in 40 years, no census in 20 years, no I.D. cards in memory, that that country would ever be able to rise to the challenge of ending this conflict and holding its first democratic elections since independence in 1960.

But today, although there is a long road ahead, the country is full of hope and promise. There is a new spirit alive. Following a rather remarkable series of steps toward democracy, December, 2005 saw the completion of a five-month process of registering 25 million out of an estimated 28 million eligible voters and the adoption in February of this year of a new constitution through a popular referendum, a document that most had never seen and very few had ever read in this largely illiterate society. In the two-round election of July and October of this year, Congolese voters chose their leadership for the first time since independence 46 years ago in polls held with surprisingly few security incidents and declared free and fair by all international electoral observer missions, including those from the United State, the Carter Center, Europe, South Africa, and the Southern African Development Community.

The new National Assembly was inaugurated in September, 2006, and the first democratically elected President in the history of independent Congo, Joseph Kabila, was sworn in an inaugural ceremony on December 6th. The Provincial Assembly, shortly to be put in place, will in their turn elect, in January, the Senators and the Governors and Deputy Governors. And so, the Congo now joins the majority of its nine neighbors that have held elections over the past three or four years.

The effects of the successful Congolese elections are already being felt in the Congo and throughout the Great Lakes Subregion. Only this past weekend in Nairobi, the Congo and its neighbors signed a "pact for security, stability, and development in the Great Lakes Region of Africa." There are about 10 protocols in that particular pact -- one on non-aggression and mutual defense, another on illegal exploitation of natural resources, and others on genocide and sexual violence.

That is part one of my presentation. I would like to take it apart now and look at some of the electoral ingredients that went into this election.

Obviously, the credit for the success of the elections lies first and overwhelmingly with the Congolese people. The Congolese people conducted themselves throughout with patience, courage, calm, great dignity, and steely determination. When the violence broke out on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of August, it was confined totally to one district of Kinshasa. The rest of the town of seven or eight million people remained calm, and there was no disturbance elsewhere in the country. Their desire for change after four decades of dictatorship, corruption, chronic instability, and political drift punctuated by two deadly wars has been the main driving force of the electoral process. All of us who had the honor and privilege of witnessing this historic landmark have enormous admiration for the Congolese people in offering this lesson to the world; one senses among them a new sense of pride and refound dignity.

Credit also goes very significantly to the DRC's Independent Electoral Commission and its President, Abbé Malu-Malu. None of the members of that commission had ever voted. Starting from scratch and operating in a war-torn country with little to no infrastructure, poor communications, and limited transportation, it was the IEC, the Electoral Commission, that registered the 25 million voters, held the referendum, two combined elections, and trained and managed 260,000 electoral workers, often in precarious security conditions. It delivered and recovered ballots to 50,000 polling stations across the country under tight deadlines, sometimes using dugout canoes, motorbikes, and bicycles to transport the ballots. Despite criticism, pressure, and occasional threats from diverse quarters, the Electoral Commission was undaunted in carrying out its historic mission.

By way of contrast, there were 890 polling stations in Haiti's recent elections compared to 50,045 in the Congo. It took three helicopters to do the elections in Burundi, and we needed 60 in the Congo.

Credit also goes to the international community. Never in its history, has the DRC benefited from such sustained international support. An international coalition, an unlikely alliance, was forged to accompany the Congolese march to the polls. Five peace accords beginning with the Lusaka Agreement of July, 1999, involving African countries, each accord bearing the name of an African city, more than 35 United Nations Security Council resolutions, South African, African Union, and Southern African Development Community involvement, a half billion dollars in international electoral funding, largely from the European Union and the United Nations peacekeeping budget, all contributed to the success. We should keep that $500 million in perspective.

f you break it down per capita and the number of elections, it costs slightly more per capita than the elections in Haiti and one-third the cost of the elections in either Afghanistan or Liberia. A lot of money, but keep it in perspective.

The DRC is also host to the largest United Nations peacekeeping operation in history, known by its French acronym, MONUC which has now lately been called Monique. While MONUC's air fleet of 100 aircraft is the largest in U.N. peacekeeping history, as is its air safety record of 160,000 safe flying hours, MONUC's 17,000 Blue Helmets constitute the same size contingent as, earlier, the United Nations force in Sierra Leone, a country that is 1/24 the size of the Congo -- a lot of troops, a lot of ground to cover.

It should be noted that the Congolese elections are also the largest elections that the United Nations has ever sought to support in three ways -- the largest country, about the size of the United States east of the Mississippi; the largest electorate with 25 million, about 5 million more than the South African electorate; and the largest challenge, given the infrastructural and historical challenges that I mentioned earlier. In this regard, it is very important to point out that the United Nations at present is undertaking something in the Congo and the Sudan it has never done since peacekeeping began in 1948 formally; that is, to do peacekeeping and electoral support on a continent-size base with a major population—the Congo with 60 million and the Sudan with 40 million plus.

This brings me to my next point. How do you sustain such an operation? At a budget of a billion dollars a year, spending three million dollars a day, how do you sustain that kind of operation since it has never been done before?

Are member states of the U.N. prepared to sustain their commitments in such large countries sufficiently long to ensure that good elections produce longer term stability?

People ask me often: What is the worst case scenario? For me, the worst case scenario is good elections, nothing changes.

Finally, the way ahead: Such tremendous achievements could be at risk should the international community repeat some of its past record. While we have a relatively good record as the international community in post-conflict management leading to elections, we have sometimes neglected the importance of post-electoral support and management. Early disengagement following elections in Haiti and Timor East and elsewhere have resulted in the resumption of conflict a few years later, requiring new, more complex, and costlier international re-intervention. In Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and other countries, however, the international community stayed the course after elections, and today those countries are on a much better track toward permanent peace and stability. The challenges ahead therefore may be greater than those of the just completed transition.

These achievements could also be at risk if the DRC itself fails to learn from its past. Poorly functioning institutions, entrenched corruption, chronic economic mismanagement, repression of opposition, and ill disciplined and uncontrolled security forces led to the country's collapse earlier. Today, democratic elections have restored the legitimacy of the government, and there is hope that the opposition will enjoy political space. But the DRC's newly elected government will have to develop the country's economy and ensure that its vast riches benefit its population. Building a disciplined military and police will also be critical for stability and the rule of law.

The DRC, as you know, is a latent economic powerhouse. It has an estimated 10 percent of the world's hydroelectric potential, more than 50 percent of all the remaining tropical hardwoods, and it is a cornucopia of mineral resources including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, coltan, cassiterite, and much more. With all these riches, the DRC need not depend for long on international aid if it seizes this chance to consolidate peace and start developing its economic potential.

A few concluding words: The DRC is the natural, as yet missing, pole of stability in the historically troubled region of Central Africa. We may not have noticed it, but this is the region, perhaps in all of the world, in which there have been the most number of peacekeeping missions, a total of 7 peacekeeping operations in 10 countries since that wave of independence in 1960.

Those of us on the ground therefore -- and I admit to great parochialism starting my seventh year in the Congo -- we view the just concluded Congolese elections to be the most important potentially for Africa since the 1994 elections in South Africa.

Why do I say that? There is a range of reasons, but I would single out three. First of all, as I stated in my opening remarks, Congo is one of the world's greatest humanitarian tragedies; secondly, it has enormous economic potential which I just mentioned; and thirdly, perhaps most importantly, the Congo is the key to stability in the only region of Africa that has never had a center of political gravity.

If Africa's worst conflict can be overcome, then so can other conflicts. For this to happen, however, the international community should not abandon the DRC prematurely, but instead build a partnership with the newly elected authorities, consolidate peace, and promote economic recovery. The people of the Congo and Africa, in our view, deserve nothing less.

Thank you.


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