Monday, April 10, 2017

Democratic Republic of Congo

War and humanitarian suffering in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have long preoccupied U.S. policymakers, including many Members of Congress. Since the 1990s, cyclical conflicts in eastern DRC have caused regional instability and impeded investment, becoming the focus of international attention toward the country. Since 2015, attention has turned toward DRC’s political trajectory as President Joseph Kabila’s efforts to remain in office past the end of his second elected term in 2016 (his last, under the constitution) have sparked unrest. Unable for now to amend constitutional term limits as other regional leaders have done, Congolese officials have delayed elections on various grounds, asserting that Kabila must remain in power in the meantime. In December 2016, under significant domestic and international pressure (including from the United States), the ruling party and opposition agreed to form a unity government and hold elections in 2017. However, the details and feasibility of implementation are in question. DRC has never experienced an electoral transfer of power between presidential administrations.

In the east, political elites have displayed limited capacity or will to improve security and state administration, while neighboring states have periodically provided support to DRC-based rebel groups. In 2013, DRC and neighboring states agreed to a regional peace framework, and later that year, the Congolese military—backed by a United Nations (U.N.) “Intervention Brigade”—defeated a relatively formidable Rwandan-backed rebel group known as the M23. Despite a subsequent peace process between the government and the M23, however, rebel combatants were never fully demobilized, and some appeared to be reorganizing as of early 2017. New armed groups have also emerged in the central Kasa├» region, a political opposition stronghold.

The United States has provided significant development aid, security assistance, and emergency humanitarian assistance to DRC, and is the largest financial contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping operation in DRC, MONUSCO. As a permanent, veto-capable member of the U.N. Security Council, the United States has shaped the scope of MONUSCO’s mandate and of a U.N. sanctions regime. In 2016, for the first time, the United States issued unilateral targeted sanctions against several DRC government and military officials. The United States furthermore wields influence over the decisions of international financial institutions, from which the DRC government has requested budget support amid a recent economic downturn. Starting in 2013, the Obama Administration maintained a U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, reporting to the Secretary of State, a position held by two former Members of Congress. Whether, and at what level, the envoy position might continue under the Trump Administration remains to be seen.

Congress has helped shape U.S. policy toward DRC through legislation and oversight activities, often focusing on human rights and democracy issues. In the 114th Congress, the House and Senate, respectively, passed resolutions calling for punitive measures to deter President Kabila from clinging to power. Congress has also restricted certain types of aid to countries that, like DRC, have child soldiers in their military), although the Obama Administration largely waived such restrictions for DRC. Between 2012 and 2014, the Obama Administration suspended some military aid to Rwanda, citing its support for the M23 rebel group, consistent with both the child soldiers law and provisions in foreign aid appropriations measures at the time. Members of the 114th Congress separately focused significant attention on the DRC government’s decision in 2013 to suspend its issuance of exit permits for internationally adopted children. Members continue to debate the impact of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regarding “conflict minerals” sourced in DRC and neighboring states.

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