Hey all!

My name is Sahar Durali and I’m a new blogger for Americans for Informed Democracy’s Global Development Program. I’m finishing my last year at Penn State University, where I study History and Political Science and am looking forward to writing about and discussing global development issues with you! Anyhow, I wanted to call all of your attention to the worsening situation in Congo.

A few weeks ago, I read a BBC opinion poll asking readers what can be done to stabilize the crisis-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo and if current UN peacekeeping efforts are enough. Though there were a few responses from South Africa and Nigeria, comments predominantly streamed from the US, Canada and Europe. Many expressed outraged at the prospect of more aid committed to what they saw as a politically-inept, chronically war-ravaged continent of Africa. More than one responder listed recolonization as the only way forward for a continent “clearly incapable of governing itself.”

Yet, many fail to understand the complexity of Western aid relations in Africa.

The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s left approximately one million dead. Countries around the globe recoiled in collective shame at their indifference to intervening in this bloody humanitarian crisis. Today, Rwanda is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Africa. Surprisingly, however, Rwandan officials have been publicly denounced by the UN as exacerbating conflict through backing of Congolese rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be defending ethnic Tutsis.

The New York Times reports the recent resurgent fighting has 250,000 people internally displaced and in need of immediate assistance. In some towns, up to 70 percent of women are reporting to be victim of rape and sexual assault, now recognized by UN officials as the highest in the world.

Congo is the size of Western Europe, and many call it the “fulcrum of Africa.” The conflict has the potential to destabilize much of the continent and has already drawn in neighboring Angola.

The U.S. State Department claims it aggressively pursues a policy of stability and democracy-building in Africa. But so long as the United States and other governments continue to provide support to Rwandan officials without holding them accountable for their share in the violence, the fighting in the Congo will not cease.  The unscrupulous comments of responders to the BBC poll not only overlook the devastating and lasting impacts of colonialism, but also reveal a mass ignorance regarding past and current US foreign policy in the region.

President-elect Barack Obama recently stated that resolving the Congolese conflict would be critical to a prosperous Africa. Let us hope that his administration does not fall trap to the same short-sighted policies of increased militarization of the past, but assumes collective responsibility along with other African governments to ensure progress and a process of peace that protects the political rights of the Congolese people.