On Tuesday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Africa, issued a press release praising her colleagues in Congress for passing a bill calling for leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to release its political prisoners, lift restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly and association, honor the right to peacefully protest, and establish accountability for abuses committed by security forces.
One could argue the measure is timely, but it wanes in the face of DRC’s multitude of current and severe crises, including a military conflict with rebels causing the displacement of about a million people and a national election of which the government has refused invitations for EU observers or help from the international community. Top that with a reported warning by the U.S. Embassy of a “possible terrorist threat” earlier this week at its mission in Kinshasa, which DRC officials called “distrustful information.” And lastly, a new Ebola outbreak that was declared Aug. 1 and has grown to more than 350 confirmed cases this week and over 240 deaths. This is the second outbreak declared this year by the DRC’s Ministry of Public Health.
The DRC, Bass stated, has the potential to be one of the richest countries on earth. African Business magazine reported that in 2009, the DRC’s mineral wealth was estimated to be $24 trillion — equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the U.S. combined. It has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, gold and copper.
So why are the DRC’s people so poor? It’s complicated, many believe, beginning long before winning its fight for independence in 1960 from Belgium, the foreign colonizer that managed the country’s finances while exploiting its resources and committing large-scale atrocities beginning in the late 1800s.
As chair of the Committee on Africa, Bass has kept a watchful eye on Africa and weighed in on issues believed to be in the best interest of the continent and its people. But mandates are only simple resolutions to centuries-old problems.
Now Congo has become the first test site for a Canadian-developed Ebola vaccine licensed and produced by the U.S.-based Merck pharmaceutical company and administered to more than 30,000 Congolese, including children, while a clinical trial of four U.S. developed experimental drugs to treat Ebola are also being tested there. Other countries are continuing to support efforts to quell the outbreak, but the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the region because of the dangers that exist.
We urge Rep. Bass and her colleagues to remember that democracy is important but only when those we are experimenting on are able to live and enjoy it. We believe support, not admonishment, is what the DRC needs now.