Congolese Intellectuals’ Misguided Reaction to Ambassador Haley’s Visit to the DRC

Immediately after US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s departure from the DRC, the Congolese and international press were reporting great disappointment among that country’s intellectuals and a number of political personalities. They accused Ambassador Haley of assisting President Kabila’s determination to extend his stay in power, as long as possible, well beyond the expiration of his constitutional mandate on December 31, 2016.

This criticism is utterly misguided, and demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of Congolese critics as to how American diplomacy and international relations are conducted. 

The Trump Administration has been in office only since January of this year. His top officials are still learning about their key foreign policy challenges, including the crisis in the DRC. Haley was directed to make the visit by President Trump, who identified South Sudan and the DRC as the “two main crisis countries” in Africa.

In a public statement prior to her departure from Kinshasa, Ambassador Haley said that many people of the Congo are suffering, and it is absolutely necessary, therefore, that a presidential election take place prior to the end of 2018. Critics fail to realize that Ambassador Haley’s public statement constitutes an ultimatum. The fact that this statement was made diplomatically does not make it less than a real ultimatum.

It would have been ridiculous and counterproductive for Ambassador Haley to visit the DRC for the first time, and then go before the press and declare: “Kabila must go no later than December 31, 2017.” Such a declaration would have constituted a formal break in diplomatic relations between the US and the DRC. The US would have lost all capability to influence the Kabila regime moving forward. In addition, the US would have lost all capacity to protect its political and economic interests in the DRC.

Ambassador Haley held a two-hour private meeting with President Kabila. We do not know what she told Kabila during that meeting, but I am quite sure that she issued some very strong warnings on behalf of President Trump.

If the US government does not see substantive preparations for an election in 2018, there is no doubt that current sanctions against Congolese persons in the Kabila government will be expanded and escalated. Increasingly high-level individuals will be targeted – eventually up to the highest level. It is clear that France, Belgium, and the European Union are in agreement with this policy.

I also find it interesting that none of the leading opposition politicians in the DRC joined in the criticism. They understand that United States policy is on their side. 

My message to Congolese intellectuals is to relax. The United States under President Trump remains in total solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.