Listening to a live webcast of a CSIS event on ‘Resilience: Learning from Practice Across the Development Spectrum‘ I was struck by the comments of Ambassador William Garvelink, who represented US interests in the DRC from 2007 – 2010 (I also still have no idea what Resilience is, but that’s another matter).
Garvelink noted that 2013 was a good year for the Congo and that generally, the country is moving in the right direction. This instantly raised flags for me as the current president of the DRC is in office as a result of a successful armed rebellion against the State and presided over a deeply flawed election in 2011 (in which he changed the constitution to make his election easier – the same thing that Abdoulaye Wade tried unsuccessfully to do the following year and which garnered much criticism).
Although his time was limited, Garvelink also managed to obfuscate history, noting that as Rwanda and Uganda attempted to overthrow the Congolese government, the Kabila administration is justifiably more concerned with its survival than everyday governance (bizarrely, he even gave kudos to Angola and Zimbabwe for saving the government).
In my view, the very fact that the Kabila administration came to power through an armed insurrection (originally aided by Uganda and Rwanda before they changed sides) provides a challenge to its legitimacy and weakens its credibility. Coming to power through force will mean that continued violence remains a strong possibility and that one’s interests in governing are likely perverted.
It’s generally agreed that US support for the egomaniacal Mobutu for several decades was detrimental to the development of the DR Congo. I think there’s a very good chance that history will tell the same story with the US support for the Kabila’s. Intriguingly, according to Wikipedia, Ambassador Garvelink pursued doctoral studies in history.
Historians generally have perspective. Ambassador Garvelink and perhaps US policy to the Congo on the whole, seems to lack this trait.