Washington -- President Bush's October 26 meeting with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will provide an opportunity to underscore U.S. support for the DRC's "remarkable progress" since Kabila assumed office in 2001, including the country's historic 2006 elections, a State Department official said.
Kabila "deserves a great deal of credit" for DRC's transition since 2001, the official said. In six-and-a-half years, the country saw the withdrawal of all foreign armies, the beginning of economic recovery and an internal political dialogue between former rivals and Congolese civil society that led to the first free and fair elections since 1960. "It's really quite a remarkable record of accomplishment," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs James Swan.
Speaking with USINFO October 23, Swan said the United States is interested in "forging a close partnership with the Congo in terms of not only deepening its democratic transition, but also in terms of supporting Congolese efforts to address the continued challenges."
The upcoming White House meeting should be viewed as part of the continued diplomatic engagement the United States has had with the DRC since the late 1990s to support a peaceful resolution of the country's conflict and to "move Congo toward full democracy," he said.
Bush intends to congratulate Kabila and the Congolese people on their accomplishments and will discuss the need to "further entrench functional democratic institutions in the country," Swan said. Although the DRC has not enjoyed a functioning democracy for most of its post-independence history, "we've seen quite significant progress, certainly over the last six-and-a-half years, and we fully expect that progress to continue" as the country decides how its parliament will relate to the executive branch and works to improve the capability of its judiciary.
Presidents Bush and Kabila also are expected to discuss the situation in eastern DRC and "ways in which the United States can be supportive of efforts to bring that situation to a peaceful resolution," including reconciliation efforts. Swan said the Bush administration wants to see the extension of Congolese state authority throughout the country, particularly in the Kivus and the Ituri region, where armed groups have been free to operate.
"We are looking in the near term also at expanding some activities to support intercommunal dialogue in the Kivus, to try to continue with demobilization and disarmament and reinsertion activities in Ituri and northern Katanga as well as the Kivus, and to assist in security sector reform," Swan said. "The Congolese need to have capable security forces if they are going to establish genuine sovereign control over the entire country."
Along with bilateral activities, the United States also supported peace efforts in the U.N. Security Council and is the major contributor to the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUC), the world's largest peacekeeping mission.
Asked about a recent report from the nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch that criticized a slow response to renewed violence in eastern DRC, Swan said the Bush administration takes the recent spike in violence seriously and has had high-level contacts on the issue with the governments of DRC and Rwanda. Also, he said MONUC is "a key element" in trying to resolve the violence.
"While we are concerned about the situation in eastern Congo and while we are working very actively to try to find a peaceful resolution, I think [the recent violence] also needs to be viewed against the backdrop of really quite dramatic improvement in the region as a whole over the last five years," Swan said, including positive developments in Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, as well as the DRC.
Economic development issues also could be on the two leaders' agenda, and Swan said the United States has maintained a "very robust assistance program" in the country for many years, amounting to about $70 million to $80 million per year, and "sometimes slightly higher in recent years."
U.S. bilateral assistance covers humanitarian response activities, such as supporting refugees and providing health care aid to the DRC as it continues to emerge from years of conflict. Swan said there are also a variety of programs designed to stimulate economic growth.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)