Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ex-US Official: Congo Can Trade Its Way out of War

Herman Cohen, a former assistant secretary of state for Africa under George Bush (41), proposes in today's New York Times that incoming president Obama appoint a special negotiator to develop an economic common market encompassing Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The agreement would allow the free movement of people and trade, and give Rwandan businesses continued access to Congolese minerals and forests, in return for payment of royalties and taxes to the Congolese government. Cohen says that for most Rwandan businesses, those payments would be offset by increased revenues.

People familiar with the history of American ex-officials selling their influence in the region are right to be wary of Cohen, who has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of such charming fellows as Laurent Kabila, Omar Bongo, Robert Mugabe, and even Charles Taylor. But the idea isn't entirely meretricious. Essentially, it offers the various combatants the opportunity to engage in a formal, regulated economy in return for putting down their arms. The immediate problem, of course, is that at the moment there's no power in place capable of pacifying opposing forces and regulating the economy. No one's going to give up their guns without a guarantee that the other sides have too. The other problem is that you don't necessarily want to reward the guys who have taken up arms by entrenching their economic gains.

I have for some years now urged that an amplified Monuc take on direct responsibility for the mining operations in eastern Congo. There are a limited number of highly productive mines and a limited number of airfields and roads in the region. Control these, and you eliminate the militias' source of income. You also eliminate the main reason everyone's at each other's throat. But I've never had the means and the expertise to fully develop this idea, and whenever I've suggested it to Monuc representatives they've always been unresponsive.

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