For Next Steps in Congo, Listen to the Congolese

6879038911_24bdd46f78_o1-300x225Joshua Marks over at the SSRC's Possible Futures project:

It’s difficult to make sense of the reactions of many Western governments and international actors to the disastrous elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on November 28, 2011. Initial responses from the United States and the European Union were muted, and Belgium later congratulated President Joseph Kabila on his reelection. As the extent of fraud and lost votes have became clearer, some governments have come out with stronger criticisms of the elections. US Secretary Clinton was “deeply disappointed,” while EU High Representative Catherine Ashton echoed Clinton’s assessment and said that the EU would “re-evaluate” its cooperation.

Yet today, both Western responses to the elections and their policies are unclear and tending dangerously toward the status quo of the last five years. The US Government, according to some, is very divided on Congo, and its public representatives have recently provided cautious statements on the elections and their aftermath. Consumed by their own economic troubles, no member of the EU has the interest to take the lead on reconsidering Europe’s Congo policy, while the UN stabilization mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) wants to move on from the elections and renew its focus on civilian protection.

However, these signs of policy inertia could prove disastrous, since Western policies have so far done little to strengthen Congo’s governance, a key goal of many bilateral programs. While the Congo’s GDP growth for 2011 was just under seven percent, Congo dropped to last place in the UNDP’s latest Human Development Report, and its business environment, dominated by the corruption-laden mining industry, is considered one of the worst in the world. (It is telling of the personal nature of business in Congo, for instance, that the death of key Kabila-adviser Katumba Mwanke in a plane crash on 12 February has left foreign investors worried.) Above all, the 2011 presidential and legislative elections, which were an important indicator for the state of democratic governance in the country, were so compromised that the final results are called into question.