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Briefing on the D.R.C.

Special Briefing

Russell D. Feingold
Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo 

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
May 4, 2014

MR. FEINGOLD: Well, we are so pleased, all of us in the U.S. Government, State Department, that the Secretary made the important choice to come here and to also go to Angola later today. These are interconnected visits. Coming here is a statement about how pleased we are about the progress that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made in particular in the last year. Their economic growth is one of the highest in the world. Yes, it’s on a low base, but it is positive growth.

QUESTION: What percentage growth annually?

MR. FEINGOLD: The latest quarter was 8 percent, they’ve had 10 percent. I want to check those figures, but they are positive growth figures, and Prime Minister Matata has been given credit for working with the president to move forward in that direction.

Their military performed admirably in this past year, a military that frankly in the past has not always received the highest reviews, but they performed admirably in going after one of the most important threats to the security of the country and going after the M23 in conjunction with MONUSCO and their intervention brigade. This was not expected that it would go that well and be that complete of a victory. So that was an important step for a country that needs to have a credible and competent military in order to govern the eastern part of the country in particular, that it’s been besieged by instability and violence.

At the same time, they demonstrated a strong diplomatic capacity where they sent a top-notch negotiating team to the Kampala talks, and we were deeply involved, including the Secretary himself on occasion, with phone calls and bringing that to a conclusion. It was very difficult, but it did lead to the Nairobi Declarations.

So this is a moment where the D.R.C., despite its many challenges, particularly in the eastern part of the country, can build on its successes. And the Secretary wants to congratulate them on this and discuss those aspects.

There are a couple of things that are particularly important in making that momentum continue. One is all the armed groups have to be pursued. The M23’s success was a prelude to what is the ongoing operations against the ADF, or ADF Nalu, a Ugandan-based group in Northern – North Kivu. And those are difficult operations that have been continuing, combining the FARDC’s efforts along with MONUSCO.

But the third major group that has to be pursued, frankly in my view, the top priority, is going after the FDLR. And the Secretary already discussed this with Foreign Minister Tshibanda, will discuss it with President Kabila today. The FDLR is the group that includes those who were involved, and are still around who are involved in the genocide, the genociders. They’re just a few hours from Rwanda, where this horrible crime was committed. They have been involved in very significant crimes and violence, including sexually based violence in eastern Congo.

And in addition, the whole idea of this intervention brigade and pursuing these groups was that the intervention brigade would go after all our groups. So that has to include those that Rwanda has a particular concern about as well as the others. And we pledged – MONUSCO, the United States, all of us, the UN – we pledged that this would include going after the FDLR. Those operations need to be taken seriously. The planning has been done. But President Kabila needs to give the green light to say it is time to take them on militarily, at the same time that we work to create the modalities so that if the FDLR is truly ready to surrender, we’re ready to do that. And we are working on that as well, but the two have to go hand in hand. Neither of them can operate on their own.

So that’s one priority. The other priority is the Secretary will be discussing with President Kabila, as he’s already done with Foreign Minister Tshibanda, the upcoming cycle of elections. Critical fact here is that the world was pleasantly surprised – I remember at the time being chairman of the Africa subcommittee in the United States Senate – we were pleasantly surprised by the success and credibility of the 2006 presidential elections. President Kabila came to power in a very difficult situation where people maybe did not expect that somebody who came into power that way would be able to pull that off, but they did.

Unfortunately, in 2011, it was a different story. The international community witnessed an election that lacked the indices of free, fair, and transparent elections, and was largely regarded as flawed, as some people in the country claim it was rigged.

So this is a critical thing that the presidential elections are coming up in 2016. There needs to be a series of elections held between now and 2016 that hopefully will include the first local elections in the history of this nation – they’ve never had election of local officials – the election of provincial leaders, including the governors, and then the presidential election, where a two-term limit is explicitly stated in the constitution. We believe that it is very important for the future of this country and its stability that that constitution be respected.

We also believe that everyone should work together – the Congolese Government, the opposition party members, the international donors – to make sure that a clear schedule for the elections is agreed to, a timeline that it is held to, and that the budgeting for it is transparent, and that those elections proceed and be finished, including the presidential election, in 2016 without any change in the constitution. That is our belief with regard to all of the countries in the region and all across the world, that it is better to adhere to such a constitutional provision and to not endeavor to change it for any individual – that that is a formula for instability, not stability.

QUESTION: Can I just —

MR. FEINGOLD: Yeah. That’s basically the two things I wanted to mention. Now you can ask.

QUESTION: So is that a polite way of saying the United States does not want Kabila to change the constitution and go for a third term?

MR. FEINGOLD: We don’t want – we believe that the constitution should stand, as in all the other countries in the region, in the Great Lakes. This is a message we have given consistently. The President of the United States, President Obama, when he was here last year, made a very important statement. What Africa needs is not strong men, but strong institutions. And one of those strong institutions is a credible method of executive succession, executive term limits. And in most cases, things have gone much better in those countries that have followed that, particularly in Africa, from my experience, having worked in this area more than other areas in the world.

QUESTION: But given that he’s been quite cooperative over the last year, is he looking for a pass from you guys?

MR. FEINGOLD: There certainly hasn’t been any comment to that effect, and when it comes to democracy, it’s about the people. The people of this country have a right to have their constitution respected. They have a right to choose their president in accordance with their constitution. The constitution here provides for two terms. As I’d like to say, it’s not as tough a provision as the one in the United States. Bill Clinton can’t run for president again. This provision actually is only two terms in a row. This is more like the – many other countries. We have a particularly tough provision. That provision should be respected.

QUESTION: What happened between the 2006 and the 2010 elections that you said —


QUESTION: Oh, 2011, right. You said that 2006 went well and 2011 was not seen as credible.

MR. FEINGOLD: There are a variety of analyses of this. Some suggest that the government here itself sought to handle these elections on their own and did not do all the things that were necessary. Others have suggested the international community was not adequately engaged early enough. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

This time, the international community will be engaged. In fact, in particular, the United States, as the Secretary will announce today, is very serious about making sure we play our role, a significant role, in making sure that there are resources available. The Congolese Government has said that they will handle 80 percent of the cost of these elections, but another 20 percent needs to come from donors from around the world. I have taken the view and have gotten tremendous support from the Secretary that we should be upfront about our willingness to help to make sure the other donors also are upfront about their willingness to help.

QUESTION: So can – sorry.

MR. FEINGOLD: That – we have to avoid this chicken – this sort of chicken-and-egg thing where one side says, “Well, we want to know what you’re going to do, but first we got to know what – you tell us what you’re going to do and then we’ll tell you what we’re going to do.” I want and the Secretary wants the Congolese to know that if they create credible elections with proper timeframe, that – as long as that’s happening, that we will help, and I hope that we will – our help will be considered significant.

QUESTION: What kind of costs are we talking about here?

MR. FEINGOLD: I’m going to let the Secretary discuss that later today.

QUESTION: Okay. He plans to?

MR. FEINGOLD: He’ll be talking later today.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: To what does President Kabila attribute his reluctance to give the green light to take on the FDLR militarily? As you say, they are the original genocider, they’ve been around 20 years.

MR. FEINGOLD: Well, he has consistently said he knows that it is not only his responsibility, but in the interest of his country to remove them from their presence in their country. It’s an illegal armed group. It’s harmful to the country. The D.R.C. is a signatory to the Peace, Security, Cooperation Framework that requires this. He will tell you and I’m sure will tell the Secretary that it’s difficult taking on all these different groups, that the operations against the ADF have been – consumed significant resources of his military. But he also has told me, as recently as a few weeks ago, that he intends to give the green light.

But that needs to happen, and so we hope to have a good conversation, that the Secretary will have a good conversation about exactly when and how that can happen. I’ll just repeat again, as Martin Kobler and I did yesterday and when we spoke to the Secretary, that MONUSCO is ready, the FIB is ready, it is time for it to happen.

QUESTION: Can you drill that into specifics about how many people would be needed to do that kind of operation, what kind of money the United States would be able to provide to really go after these —

MR. FEINGOLD: Well, we are already the largest supporter of MONUSCO, and I don’t have any particular information about how much that particular operation will be. I believe the resources are there for this operation to occur. That’s not the problem. The problem is making sure the green light is given. I’ve seen the plans. It’s ready to go.

QUESTION: What’s AFRICOM’s relevance?

MR. FEINGOLD: Nothing in particular.

QUESTION: They’re not training, they’re not providing intelligence, they’re not helping anyone?

MR. FEINGOLD: No, MONUSCO is handling their own operation. They have their overall force that’s been there for a while. The FIB is the force of 3,000 people particularly devoted to this kind of activity with a strong mandate, about a thousand troops each from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania. And they performed well with regard to the M23. Some of them have been helping, I believe, with regard to the ADF.

Yeah, they have, I believe, right? They’ve been helping with the ADF? They’ve been (inaudible)?


MR. FEINGOLD: Yeah. And so this is a reasonably financed – they can’t do everything on their own, but there’s a lot of resources behind this, and I think they have the capacity combined with the FARDC. This is not some (inaudible) whole new commitment. This is just the next task that needs to be taken on.

QUESTION: What about finishing the M23? Rwanda and Uganda are going to have to give up some of the leaders of that group, it’s my understanding, to stand – to face some sort of Congolese judicial accountability. Do you believe that President Museveni and President Kagame will be willing to turn over those people?

MR. FEINGOLD: I’m reasonably optimistic about the follow-up on the so-called Nairobi Declarations. This has been a little slow, but we got a good update both from the ICGLR and from Foreign Minister Tshibanda. It appears that the modalities for most of the people involved, some 1,300 in Uganda and some 600 in Rwanda, are underway. Most of the individuals will be eligible for and apparently are already signing these amnesty declarations and they are being processed. This means that many of these individuals should, in the not-too-distant future, be able to start returning to the D.R.C. where appropriate and go into the demobilization programs and hopefully reintegration where appropriate.

Yes, there are individuals that would not fit in that category, and those individuals should face justice if they have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. That’s the provision of the amnesty law. And I suspect that a reasonable number of those individuals will be returning to the D.R.C. for that process as well, although some possibly could be involved with other forms of justice too.

QUESTION: Mixed too?

MR. FEINGOLD: Mixed – yeah, well, that’s right. As a part of this, in addition to the fact that the amnesty law was passed – and this is another example of the good things that happened in the D.R.C. It’s not always easy dealing with congress or a parliament. But they did the job. The Nairobi Declarations were signed in – on December 12th. By the end of January, they had passed and promulgated this amnesty law. That was a critical first step to create – otherwise, none of this follow-up could be really occurring.

The next step is something where the United States has been really urging the D.R.C. to do something that it appears they’re very eager to do now as well, and that’s to create something called mixed chambers or mixed courts. These are Congolese courts. They’re not international courts. But they’re courts that would include international judges, typically African judges but people with background in international law, who would handle these kinds of cases. They would be a majority Congolese on the court at both the trial and the appellate level, but it would include the expertise of the international community to make sure that these prosecutions and all the convictions or whatever may come out of it is internationally recognized. We also believe it is beneficial to the future development of the Congolese judiciary.

So, we – our government has been very active in advising and working on this, and we think it’s outstanding that there’s a chance that this legislation providing for these mixed courts could pass in this current legislative session of the D.R.C. parliament. This is – would be important to making these examples where justice has to be done actually occur.

QUESTION: Is this session, this legislative session, is this this calendar year, or does it extend beyond the calendar –

MR. FEINGOLD: It, I think, goes till June.

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, it’s current.


MR. FEINGOLD: Started in March.

PARTICIPANT: I think (inaudible).

MR. FEINGOLD: So I’m referring to just the session, as opposed to the whole.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on something? The mixed courts, is that – is there any precedent for that? And also, when you talked about the issue of term limits before, I can’t recall – does the United States usually take a position on countries’ internal constitutional processes of term limits? I can’t remember if the United States comes out and says, “You don’t extend, don’t – “ I don’t remember that happening. Is that the common –

MR. FEINGOLD: Well, first of all, I believe a good precedent – and you could talk to Ambassador Stephen Rapp about this in more detail – a good precedent is Senegal for the mixed chambers, which – he often refers to how that was approached. It’s different than, for example, Sierra Leone, which was an international court that was officed, or set, in Sierra Leone. This is a Congolese court. And the same thing was done with regard to one major prosecution in Senegal.

The United States has consistently said throughout the world and, in particular, in Africa – and I was involved in this on many occasions as a member of the Senate – where we would suggest to leaders directly that it is our experience and our thought that it is far better for your country to maintain term limits for the executive if it is in your constitution, that it is as a destabilizing influence, and it’s reputationally damaging to a growing nation to change that. I personally delivered that message to many African leaders. It’s not the most fun thing to do. I remember once delivering this message to the president of Djibouti, and he said something to the effect of, “I hope I don’t have to continue doing this.” He seemed a little down that day.

But this is – and sometimes we’ve had a successful role in persuading people who may not have been excited about leaving that, really, it’s part of their legacy, and that there are great things that leaders of countries can do after they have been presidents of their country.

So we respect the sovereignty of countries, we understand they can create their own constitutional provision. We didn’t always have executive term limits. But it is our judgment that stability and democracy and growth of the governance, democratic governance of countries, is best served by following those provisions.

QUESTION: And just to clarify, these are term limits for two terms in a row. He could come back in a couple of years later and —

MR. FEINGOLD: That is my understanding of the Congolese constitution.

QUESTION: Okay. And then also, what is the U.S.’ position on – as I understand it, there is a move for indirect elections upcoming, versus direct elections?

MR. FEINGOLD: We have not taken a formal position on this. I can tell you that I spent nine days just listening to people all over this country, particularly in the east. There was almost unanimous opposition to the idea of indirect election of provincial governors.

As a personal matter, if somebody in the United States knows the history of our indirect election of United States senators, that was a terrific way to have horrible corruption that led to the direct election of United States senators. We had even an interesting moment in Illinois not too long ago that had to do with this issue.

So I think – I personally think it would be something they might want to avoid. I think it could be destabilizing as well, just as a personal viewpoint. But I’m not speaking here that this is our official U.S. Government view. But it seems to me the popular election of officials is better. But this is not of the same status, frankly, as the executive term limits.

QUESTION: Okay. And who is putting the idea forward of the direct elections, if it’s facing —

MR. FEINGOLD: It has been suggested by the head of the CENI, the C-E-N-I, the election commission, Abbe Malu Malu, who provided two choices to the national parliament. His first choice was direct local elections followed by – the second year by indirect provincial elections. In other words, the local officials elected and then presidential. His second alternative involved having the provincial elections in the same year as the presidential elections, and making them direct. And these matters are being considered, as I understand, by the Congolese parliament at this time.

QUESTION: Is it more difficult to make the argument for respecting executive term limits in Kinshasa, when this president’s main rival looks to Kigali and Kampala, and two guys that have been there way longer than two terms?

MR. FEINGOLD: It is a message that has to be consistently delivered throughout the region. It is fair for any of the presidents in the region to expect that we would take the position, same position, in all the countries in the region. I am special envoy to the region, and this is a message that we believe applies in all situations equally.

QUESTION: This is – I mean, you’ve been saying already to the president, this is not a new thing that’s going to happen today, the first time —

MR. FEINGOLD: I was asked about this in Kinshasa in January, and spoke very clearly that this was our position. I know the Secretary has already repeated this to the foreign minister yesterday. There are no surprises here. We respect the sovereignty of this nation, and certainly do not believe we should be directing the way they run their country, but we do not believe in, at the last minute, telling people our thoughts about this. We are up front as Americans, and we are up front in saying it is unwise for the future positive movement of this country to change this constitution.

This country has shown that it was capable of having a presidential election in 2006, which defied the expectations of the international community. It would be a terrific thing that it could show that it can follow its constitution and hold free, fair, and transparent elections with the opposition in advance, as we agree to these modalities for the election. It would be a major step forward for the role that I think the D.R.C. is destined to play in Africa and throughout the world.

QUESTION: You haven’t spoken about the LRA yet. Could you bring us up to speed on that?

MR. FEINGOLD: It’s not within my mandate.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. FEINGOLD: I wrote the legislation as a senator relating to this. My senior advisor worked on this issue in the past. I’m pleased that the United States is continuing its efforts in that regard, but I’m not the guy to be holding forth on that today.


MS. PSAKI: All right.

MR. FEINGOLD: Okay. Thanks.