Friday, March 6, 2009

Did Obama just End the War in the Congo?

That's what Colette Braeckman argues, in this astounding new entry. In July 2008, she says, a delegation of Congolese civil society members met with high officials in the Obama campaign, including Rahm Emmanuel, and with Clinton-era Africa officials, including John Swain and Howard Wolpe. These individuals persuaded the delegation of their serious concern about the FDLR and the LRA, and urged that Congo and Rwanda reconcile in order to eliminate the militia threat. The delegation duly brought this message home to officials in Kinshasa.

As war broke out again in August, the Americans and Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development, launched a diplomatic initiative to facilitate the reconciliation between Kabila and Kagame. In late October, when Nkunda's forces threatened Goma, it was the Americans who pressured Kagame to put a stop to his proxy's advance. And it was Michel who finally brought the two leaders together, at an African Union meeting in Kenya on November 7.

As tensions in the region mounted, and the Europeans finally decided not to send a stabilizing force, the Americans became ever more convinced that the key was to convince the Congolese to allow the Rwandans to do what they needed to remove the FDLR from Eastern Congo. The day after his election, Obama put a call in to the two men. It was time to end the FDLR and FLA's reigns of terror, he told them.

Kabila appointed John Numbi, the former head of DRC armed forces, to lead a delegation comprised mostly of Katangais to Kigali to see if an agreement could be reached. James Kabarebe, a senior Rwandan general, headed the Kigali contingent. Surprisingly, Numbi began the talks by outlining how many problems Nkunda was causing Kagame, before suggesting that they could make common cause. Kabarebe then went to the CNDP and said, in effect, you take orders from me now or the next time you see me you'll be dead.

On 19 January, just days before the American ultimatum expired [editors note: I don't know what ultimatum Braeckman is talking about here], Kabila gave the signal allowing Rwandan troops to enter the Congo. Their official mission: to round up the FDLR. Their real mission: to round up the three battalions that remained loyal to Nkunda. They immediately surrendered and joined in the operation.

Braeckman presents the rest of the story as a denouement. A ceasefire is signed, the government retakes territory formerly controlled by the FDLR. Third party diplomacy with Obasanjo and Mpaka gives way to direct talks between the two governments. Kabila, to defuse the anxiety over Rwanda's re-entry into Congo, gives long interviews on radio and television to explain his decision.

Before long, the CNDP is successfully integrated into FARDC, the other armed groups decide to rejoin the peace process, and the Rwandan forces stage a parade to enthusiastic crowds on their return to Rwanda. Kabila then meets Museveni in Kassindi, and Rwanda and Congo exchange ambassadors. To top it off, the US announces it has budgeted $700 million for Congolese development, far more than the Europeans have offered. One can only imagine, she concludes, what sort of reception President Obama would receive if he were to visit Kinshasa.

What can I say? Wow. Stunning if true. But it just isn't what I'm hearing from my sources. I hope Braeckman's right. I hope everyone can go home happy now and Obama gets treated to the best party of his life on his next trip to Kinshasa. But that's just not what I'm hearing. If you're keeping score, it's my gloom and doom against the sunny Braeckman, NYT, and Economist. Even I don't like those odds.

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