U.S., U.N. Soft Stance On Congo’s President Queried

Congolese President Joseph Kabila

Both the U.S. and the U.N. have spoken out recently on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s status in the aftermath of November election results widely viewed as fraudulent. But political observers are reading more.

What the superpower and world body are not saying, however, is at least as important as their declarations of concern, analysts said. Neither the US nor UN is calling for new elections or for sanctions to be imposed on the government of President Joseph Kabila. Instead, the DRC’s re-installed leader is being urged to listen to opposition voices and to respect democratic norms.

As high-ranking State Department official Donald Yamamoto told Congress earlier this month, “The importance of the DRC to the United States is multifaceted and profound.”

Independent analysts in Washington also suggest that Congo’s severe poverty and absence of truly national institutions leads policymakers to calculate that superior alternatives to Kabila’s rule are not available.

Even as he called for “formation of an inclusive DRC government,” Yamamoto explicitly stated, “We are not advocating a coalition government.”

Tshisekedi non-factor

Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the main opposition party, is viewed in Washington and elsewhere as volatile and potentially unfriendly. Congressman Donald Payne, an African-American long seen as sympathetic to opponents of autocratic rule in Africa, recently declared that “the future of Congo is not with Tshisekedi. His time has come and passed.”

Taking cues from the Obama administration, the international community seems generally willing to accept continued rule by Kabila despite his questionable legitimacy as president and his government’s violent repression.

The DRC’s enormous mineral wealth largely accounts for this acquiescence on the part of the US and leading European countries. Some major Western technology corporations rely significantly on the cobalt, coltan, copper, gold and tin mined in the DRC. The US and its allies put a premium on stability in Africa. And during Kabila’s 11 years in power, the DRC has at least not collapsed into anarchy.

The chaos that followed disputed elections in Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire has so far not been replicated in the DRC. And the relative quiet has left the US and UN with little sense of urgency.