Five Reasons to Care about the DRC …

Tom Austin gives reasons to care – even if you aren’t running for president!

1. Our economy relies on raw materials from the Congo. American companies that employ a lot of workers such as technology companies, the aerospace industry, jewelers, and food suppliers have products that contain raw materials from the Congo. Though considered to be one of the richest countries in the world regarding natural resources, the Congolese are among the world’s poorest citizens and face all of the health issues associated with extreme poverty.
Prince Kihangi Kyamwami, a development official in the Walikale region of the DRC, points out: “As everyone knows, over the past decade, the great powers, dictators, private firms, criminal networks and rebel forces have ruthlessly exploited our wealth, plunging most of the population into extreme poverty. The profits from mining haven’t helped local development or local communities.”
As long as our economy relies on raw materials from the Congo, we should as consumers encourage business practices that benefit the Congolese people and not just corrupt leaders.
2. Enlightened leadership matters to women and girls.

The present state of affairs in the Congo has left the country, particularly the eastern region, a very dangerous place for females. Militias and even government soldiers, many caught up in the illicit trade of minerals, continue to rape with impunity. It doesn’t have to be this way. Just look at the difference Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made in her country after all of the destruction caused by her predecessor, Charles Taylor and the militia he’s accused of backing in Sierra Leone. In fact, Sirleaf’s efforts recently won her a share in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. No one can argue that Liberia and the region is a much safer place for women and girls then it was during Taylor’s presidency.
3. For preserving forests, a vast river system, and wildlife. The Democratic Republic of Congo possesses 50 percent of Africa’s forests and a river system that could provide hydro-electric power to the entire continent, according to reports on the country’s strategic significance and its potential role as an economic power in central Africa. Leaders that care more about enriching themselves and their cronies don’t have a long-term stake in the flora and fauna. Read record poaching threatens mountain gorillas. Americans who care about environmental and wildlife issues should care about who is garnering the resources of the Congo.
4. Our high ideals. Official U.S. foreign policy continues to trumpet the American ideals of democracy and freedom, according to the State Department Mission Statement. As the Arab Spring (and summer and Fall) are teaching us, it doesn’t make long-term sense to support dictators in the pursuit of our national interests. The pattern of U.S. political leaders and lobbyists protecting kleptocratic dictators in Africa needs to be challenged. Are we not seeing that citizens of oppressive regimes will eventually — even if it takes decades — oust oppressive leaders and then resent the U.S. for supporting them? As a Congolese friend recently shared, Congolese people are waiting to see if the U.S. will take their side.
5. Finally, the U.S. has some troops in the Congo advising the undisciplined and underpaid Congolese army. Recently, the U.S. sent more troops to the region to assist Uganda in tracking down the LRA, the notorious rebel group led by the fanatical Joseph Kony, that has been terrorizing Congolese villagers who live near the border with Uganda.