December 19th, 2006 05:26 EST
Congo Still Needs International Aid, Africa Specialists Say
Washington -- Despite the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC’s) recent successful presidential elections, the international community must continue to help the nation improve its democratic institutions, security and economy, specialists on the region said December 18 at a panel hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington.
In the country’s first open national elections since 1960, the Congolese people voted in presidential and parliamentary elections July 30 and again in a runoff October 29. President Joseph Kabila won re-election and was inaugurated December 6.
The Congolese people conducted themselves throughout the election period with patience, courage, dignity and steely determination, said Ambassador William Swing, the United Nations' special representative to the secretary-general in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The effects of their success, he added, are being felt throughout the nation and the region. But this achievement could be at risk, he said, if the DRC fails to learn from its past, which includes conflicts resulting in 4 million dead, 800,000 refugees scattered throughout nine neighboring countries and the collapse of state services.
The Congolese government will have to develop the country's economy to ensure that the people enjoy the riches that could come from its resources, Swing said. The new government will have to overcome problems such as poorly functioning institutions, intense corruption, chronic economic mismanagement and an ill-disciplined security force, he said.
The panelists agreed that the DRC would risk a return to political instability and conflict if the international community ceases to provide assistance to the country. International donors, led primarily by the United Nations and the European Union, have provided aid, funds and peacekeeping support to the nation.
While the international community has a good record in post-conflict management leading up to elections, Swing said, "we have sometimes neglected post-electoral support management." Leaving a country too soon after elections has sometimes led to a costlier international re-intervention, he said. In cases like Sierra Leone, Bosnia and other countries where the international community stayed involved after elections, the nations are on a better track toward permanent peace and stability, Swing said.
"The international community should not abandon, but instead build a partnership with the newly elected authorities," Swing said.
A big focus of the international community's work will have to be providing security reforms and training an effective and noncorrupt army and police force, the panelists said. "If we do not recognize the security challenges in the [DRC], we'll be resigning [the country] to a repeat of recent history," said Susan Rice, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Several of the panelists said stability in the DRC is essential to stability in its region. A peaceful DRC is important for the United States and other countries as well, Rice said. When a country's economy is weak or a government is unable effectively to secure its borders or provide basic needs to its people, there is a risk the country could become a base for terrorist or criminal groups and the potential for uncontrolled diseases spreading beyond its borders, she explained. Thus, the international community has a great stake in what happens in the DRC, she said.
The DRC will need to embrace the international community's assistance, Rice said. However, Swing said the DRC is a "latent economic powerhouse" with an estimated 10 percent of the world's hydroelectric potential and a wealth of mineral resources, including diamonds, cobalt, gold and copper. "With all these riches, the DRC need not depend for long on international aid if it seizes its chance to consolidate peace and start developing its economic potential," he said.
See related article on Congolese election.
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By Michelle Austein
USINFO Staff Writer