Another DC organization that should be commended for its consistent work on important African issues is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In a relatively rare Friday get together for the DC Africanist think tank community, NED, which houses the World Movement for Democracy, hosted (in conjunction with Open Society) a talk “Addressing Human Rights and Governance in Congo: Civil Society Perspectives.” Dimas Kitenge, Executive Director of Groupe Lotus and Emmanuel Kabengele, National Coordinator of the Network for Security Sector Reform and Justice (both of the Congo) were the featured speakers.
The moderator, Sarah Pray from Open Society, got the event off to a great start, announcing to much appreciation from me that the “Kivu’s (the conflict riddled east of the Congo) are not the Congo” and spoke critically of the 2011 elections. As best as I can recall (I am far from a Congo expert), the Obama Administration gave President Kabila of the Congo a huge free pass following those elections, which were widely seen as fraudulent.
Due to time constraints, I was only able to stay for Kitenge’s presentation. While I’ve never been a fan of text heavy PowerPoint’s, Kitenge showed an instance where they are very handy, as the English language text provided a great counterpoint to his French language remarks (oral translation was also provided).
Despite Pray’s initial comments, Kitenge’s talk did focus heavily on the situation in the east (that may have been a pragmatic choice as few things draw attention more quickly than armed conflict).
Some of Kitenge’s main themes were:
- Strengthen MONUSCO, the UN mission in the Congo
- End impunity, bring the warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the ICC, to trial
- Reform the security sector – ensure the safety of the populace, develop cordial relations with neighboring countries, stop the recruitment of child soldiers, and ensure the territorial integrity of the Congo
- Reform the electoral commission
Overt criticism of President Kabila was not significant in Kitenge’s talk (perhaps due to his own security concerns?). However, Kitenge did conclude the PowerPoint with several moving photos. I hope I have the following descriptions right – I was particularly touched by a picture of a ransacked election office in Goma and that of the burned office of Kabila’s political party in Kisangani.
With Joseph Kabila in power as a result of his father’s own military struggle against the Congolese state, addressing human rights and governance in the Congo will be difficult. I wish Kitenge and Kabenegele the best in what is undoubtedly an uphill struggle. I worry that they may not find particularly receptive ears where it matters most in DC.
To conclude on an interesting aside, the list of attendees had someone from the Zimbabwe Embassy present. I have a hard time speculating what that means given Harare’s history of support for Kabila.