guest post: Kate Morris of Falling Whistles
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post from Kate Morris of Falling Whistles. Kate responds to my critique of her New York Post op-ed from last weekend:
Laura, first let me say that it’s a pleasure to hash this out on your digital turf. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.
I believe it’s significant that Sec. Clinton has been committed to funding SGBV treatment and prevention/rights education/legal access programs. Falling Whistles believes long term solutions in Congo will come from the Congolese people. This is why we partner with local leaders in the Kivus who are working toward solutions. But this isn’t enough. At the end of the day, aid money doesn’t fix the root causes of SGBV. This is why we also engage in advocacy and are pushing for more effective diplomacy from the US State Department.
Sec. Clinton may be funding good programs, but she is missing critical opportunities on the diplomacy front. I criticized her Congo policy because she is only using half of the tools in her arsenal. It will take painful reforms of the security sector, justice sector and electoral processes to address the governance problems that create the conditions for rampant SGBV. But governance reforms won’t happen in DRC without assertive external pressure and an empowered civil society. Thus far, the State Department doesn’t seem interested in the type of assertive diplomacy that’s required, especially during this election year.
This year, we’ve seen the State Department choose inaction when confronted with governance-related shenanigans in Kinshasa, precisely when the Great Lakes team should have exercised their budgetary and political leverage. For example, in January, President Kabila’s political party rammed through a sweeping set of constitutional amendments that were highly troubling. Presidential elections were reduced to a one-round vote (with no requirement that a winner secure a simple majority) and the independence of the judiciary and the provinces was curtailed. Under the current constitution, the president can fire governors at will. The State Department’s response to this power grab was muted, to say the least.
In general, the State Department’s work in Congo is characterized by competing agendas and habitual stovepiping. Even the Africa Bureau’s org chart is a mess, as David Sullivan explained recently, leaving Congo on the desks of 3 separate deputy assistant secretaries. An envoy isn't a silver bullet … but a simple rearranging of the deck chairs isn’t likely to fix the problem, either.
What an envoy could do is make substantial steps toward governance reform, and help ensure the legitimacy of this year’s elections. Records of U.S. envoys like Mitchell and Holbrooke suggest that there is plenty they can accomplish that lies beyond the scope of regional ambassadors, whose main function is to preserve good relations with the host country. Even Gration’s role in Sudan suggests that envoys make the difference between stalemate and forward motion. Although Darfur activists were disappointed by his lack of focus on the western region, and Gration’s unorthodox tactics got him into trouble stateside, it’s fair to credit his aggressive shuttle diplomacy with the successful secession referendum in the south earlier this year.
Given what’s at stake this election year, it’s important that Sec. Clinton takes the reigns to deliver a Great Lakes diplomacy team that has the guts to pursue long-overdue governance reforms. If she doesn’t, we’ll likely see shoddy elections in November, followed by unrest and continued state failure.