By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
On January 3, 2012 President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 despite his own threat to veto it over exclusions on closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. While most Americans will read this Act for how it affects them, as they should, there is a small portion that has the potential to greatly affect Central Africa.
In sec. 1283 there are specifics regarding Joseph Kony and the LRA and sec. 1284 is specific to any supporter of the M23 which is the current most talked about rebel group in Eastern DRC. This bill was followed closely through both the House and Senate and committees to be sure that this part of the Act was not removed by either chamber. Obama could have vetoed the entire bill based on any item but he did not.
So what does any of this mean for Central Africa? Based on President Obama’s history of inaction in this region of the world the current NDAA for 2013 will most likely have little effect.
President Obama created the most comprehensive bill in regards to Eastern DRC with Hillary Clinton, P.L. 109-456, that specifically states that any country found to be working to destabilize the DRC would be sanctioned by withholding Foreign Assistance. There is a mountain of proof against the Government of Rwanda and their long history of causing wars in Eastern DRC all the way back to 1996. There is report after report proving that the Government of Rwanda has worked tirelessly to destabilize this region in a geo-strategic war for resource control yet President Obama has done nothing to enforce this well written and comprehensive plan. Nothing. Numerous human rights organizations, activists and journalist have petitioned him, took to Twitter to ask him to take action against those who are currently destabilizing the region. Many also sought the ear of Ambassador Susan Rice hoping she would find compassion for the people of DRC and take steps to sanction the key players in this conflict in the Government of Rwanda but she also turned a deaf ear. Although, this move backfired on her when it was discovered that she has a long standing and close personal relationship with President Kagame of Rwanda which clouded her judgment to assist the people suffering, dying and being raped in Eastern Congo.
As President Obama is approaching his second term as the U.S. President many have lost faith in his ability to take any kind of formal action in Central Africa. Recently, the U.S. government took action against Russia under the Magnitsky Bill accusing them of human rights violations against one prisoner who died of an untreated health issue while awaiting trial and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. This prisoner was a whistle blower that found a quarter of a billion dollars had been acquired by a massive fraud involving Russian tax officials.
Now, the death of one in Russia led to cuting millions of dollars in aid to Russia and in turn Russia has ceased all foreign adoptions to U.S. citizens. Now compare that to Eastern DRC where approximately over 5 million people have perished in one of the longest ongoing warzone in recent history and the US government has done nothing besides minor sanction of a few rebel leaders of the M23 who could care less about travel bans and the freezing of foreign assets.
President Obama placed a phone call to President Kagame and stated that any and all alleged assistance and support to the M23 “is inconsistent with Rwanda’s desire for stability and peace.” This same phone call was made to President Kabila of the DRC. Concerned parties can only speculate what President Obama had in mind during this call while others speculate that he was reiterating the talking points given in Undersecretary Carson’s testimonies to Congress. It was made on December 18, 2012 just a few weeks before the NDAA was signed. Did Obama have this Act in mind when he made that phone call? Was it made out of guilt from years upon years of inaction on P.L. 109-456? Only time will tell.
Rwanda is one one-hundredth the size of DRC and has been able to murder, rape, pillage and destroy with impunity while the international community has turned a blind eye. Over the last year the UNSC Group of Experts turned the head of the international community with their damaging reports systematically proving Rwanda’s involvement in Eastern Congo which has led to millions of dollars in foreign aid cuts to Rwanda. But is any of this enough? Rwanda responded with their rebuttal report to disprove the Group of Experts report but, frankly, no one but the Government of Rwanda and her supporters actually believes them and only Rwanda denies the UN GoE report.
There is no doubt that the UN and the UNSC has failed the people of the DRC even in light of the mountains of evidence showing Rwanda as the main aggressive force in DRC and at this point it will take an Executive Order from President Obama in order for any sanctions to be applied to the Government of Rwanda.
Activist, concerned citizens, human rights groups and journalist must all keep pressure on the US government to enforce this section of the Act. Without public pressure nothing will happen.
Will his second term as the leader of the most powerful country in the world prove to be any different than his first term? Only time will tell.