President Barack Obama
has repeatedly said that he is against “boots on the ground” in Iraq,
robustly ruled out airstrikes, and reluctantly dispatched some 300
advisers into that war-torn land. As Iraq crisis worsens, the president
demands a primarily political solution—even as Islamist forces surge to
the Baghdad suburbs.
In Africa, that same president is,
fortunately, far more active. Elite U.S. Army units are killing and
capturing terrorists in North Africa (including the so-called Butcher of
Benghazi). Hundreds of
other counter-terrorism trainers are helping African nations (Libya,
Niger, Mauritania, and Mali) to field commando teams to combat Islamist
forces in Africa, which have Islamist ideologies nearly
indistinguishable from the predators devouring Iraq. These new native
units are vital for beating back the Islamist threat to the region.
Hundreds of U.S. Special Forces have been sent to hunt the Lord’s
Resistance Army, a murderous band of militants, in the wilds of Uganda.
Djibouti, on Africa’s Red Sea coast, remains an active U.S. military
base and America’s spies and soldiers help fight Islamists in Somalia
and Kenya. Drones are roaming Nigeria, searching for missing
schoolgirls. And, of course, the Obama administration’s longest war was
fought in North Africa, in the skies and streets of Libya.
When military might matters, Obama seems to have one rule for Africa and another for Asia (especially Iraq).
the most dramatic case of the Obama Administration’s efforts in Africa
is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The onetime Belgian colony
(known in the 1970s and 1980s as Zaire) is a failed state, riddled with
strategic minerals, riven by ethnic factions, and ravaged by a civil war
that killed, United Nations and human-rights advocates estimate,
somewhere between 900,000 to 5.4 million Congolese since 1997. Causality
estimates vary because international observers fear to go into the
field. Most of the death toll stems from starvation and disease caused
by driving millions of families from their homes into the malarial
rainforests. Many others were slain by foreigners with ethnic,
ideological or monetary motives. (Neighboring nations covet Congo’s vast
mineral wealth, estimated as high as $24 trillion in diamonds, cobalt,
copper and gold.) Still more Congolese have been murdered by locals,
often hired by
outsiders to commit atrocities. Congo is also the rape capital of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Obama Administration talks mainly
about restoring democracy—something it rarely mentions outside Africa.
The DRC is ruled by a man, Joseph Kabila, who is hinting that he won’t
leave office when his final constitutional term ends in 2016.
is a one-man summary of what ails Africa. He inherited the presidency
following the assassination of his father, who himself had seized power
with blood and chaos. Joseph Kabila recently gave himself another
five-year term “in elections that were criticized by everyone from the
European Union to the country’s Roman Catholic bishops,” notes J. Peter
Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.
Africa’s worst, Kabila seems to have stolen aid money—meant for some of the poorest people on Earth—on a gargantuan scale. He
seems to have amassed some $15 billion over the past decade in offshore
banks in the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere, according to
accounts in French and German-language media outlets. By contrast, Mobutu Sese Seko,
a dictator who ruled Congo for 32 years, piled up $5 billion. (A
European court recently let Mobutu’s heirs keep their nest egg, finding
that the statute of limitations of colossal theft had run out.) Kabila
controls lucrative offshore drilling and fishing concessions and access
to some of richest onshore mineral claims in the world.
Like his predecessor, Kabila has turned kleptocracy into a family affair, according to Western expatriates and
African experts. His brother, Soulemane Kabila, is believed to have diverted some $300 million from the DRC’s treasury.
Meanwhile, exporters, who are legally entitled to a rebate on the
value-added tax, say that they have been denied millions in
refunds—discouraging foreign investors.
Kabila’s brother and sister, both of whom are members of that nation’s
parliament, apparently own a firm that has been awarded a monopoly
contract to print all government documents. Congo’s recent switch to a
high-tech biometric passport makes this government printing monopoly
even more lucrative. After all, requiring every Congolese with enough
money to travel to replace their passport certainly adds to the bottom
line for the only outfit that can print those new passports.
Kabila seems to want to defy the Congo constitution’s term limits
and stay in power beyond 2016. President for life. Just like the
bloodstained men that have ruled Congo since its independence from
Belgium in 1960.
America’s response has
been unambiguous. The president’s envoy, former U.S. Senator Russ
Feingold, said: “Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong
institutions.” He is right.
Feingold is equally
direct in calling for military strikes against rebel groups that fail to
immediately disarm. “If this drags on through the summer, there’s no
excuse not to take strong action,” he told the New York Times
involved in genocide, who are included in this group, are not entitled
to dialogue.” While Feingold is talking about military strikes carried
out by a
multi-national military force organized under the United Nations, which
has been in the DRC for years, it is clear that there is steel in his
Clearly, Kabila should leave office when his
term expires. The greatest gift he can bestow on his country is the
start of a tradition of peaceful and constitutional transfers of power. A
new history can begin with him.
If not, the U.S. and
European Union should target his assets. Kabila’s ill-gotten gains
should not be shielded in his offshore accounts, but seized for the
people of his ravaged and weary nation—if he fails to leave office when
his term expires. Bribing would-be dictators, with their own money, to
leave office would be a refreshing change.
the Obama Administration
could make a fresh start as well. Upholding American ideals of law and
order, multi-party democracy and social tolerance—and backing those
ideals with international and military action—is a policy that could be
extended far beyond the Congo.
If not, the Obama doctrine dissolves into a contradictory cacophony that knows only what it is against, not what it is for. The Middle East needs an American policy as clear and consistent as the one designed for the Congo.