Amani Itakuya #19: American Advocacy for the Congo – The Importance of Unity

American Advocacy for the Congo – The Importance of Unity

Anand Upadhyaya

The work being done on behalf of the Congo by the American advocacy community is truly inspiring. Being relatively new to Congo advocacy, I have found this group of analysts, academics, and activists to be open and inclusive in sharing their unique perspective and advise. Simply put, much good work is being done. That said, I do feel we have some areas for improvement if one of our principal aims is to aid in achieving peace in the DRC. The following observations are offered in the positive spirit of bettering our efforts.

Disunity seems to be the chief stumbling block to our potential effectiveness. It seems that organisations ultimately exist to serve their particular agendas. Although these individual aims may be positive and groups do partner for certain projects, our overall disunity weakens our leverage in pushing for peace. We lack the identifying elements of a collective movement. The word movement is important not only because it expresses solidarity, but also because it allows for a coherent and unwavering message to the American government of what we want to see happen. Rather than the asking of several disparate voices, movements demand, and thus are more likely to create actual change. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Morel and Casement’s Congo Reform Association. Or, if that model is antiquated, perhaps we can consider other successful social movements to use as a blueprint. As we are all seeking the same ends, it is only in our interest to solidify the frontlines of our activism.

Another symptom of our disunity is our sometimes contentious debates. I do value the wealth of nuanced information that is out there, and challenging each other’s points of view is a necessary exercise, but tone matters. Personally, I am ultimately left with more confusion than insight from the conflict minerals and causes of the conflict dialogues. At times, the mentality of, ‘I am more expert than you,’ rears its unproductive head. The intellectual egotism of ‘nailing someone on Twitter’ does little to further the cause of peace in the DRC. But more importantly, our discordant conversations lead to a confusing picture presented to congress, and this has real world effects. The noblest aim of debate is to arrive at the truth, not to simply win an argument. It seems that we sometimes fail to remember that we are not debating for ourselves; we are debating because we care about the Congolese. Perhaps keeping this in mind is the best way we can improve our ongoing conversations.

Unity is also critical in honing the focus of our prescriptions for peace. Core questions persist: Are we focused enough on governance reform before other initiatives? Do we overstate developments like special envoys and budget withholding because we helped bring them about? Are we sure our aims are squarely aligned with what the Congolese people want? Having consensus on our priorities is paramount.

In all of our efforts we must be wary of sending the message that we are willing to accept less for the Congolese than we would for ourselves Although they will be the ultimate catalyst for peace, we have an important role to play. In order to truly stand alongside them, we must first establish unity amongst ourselves, lest we fall into a pattern of applying only moderate pressure to a situation where crisis has become the norm. I am confident we can rise to this challenge.

Anand Upadhyaya is an independent Congo advocate working for productive change in the DRC through peaceful means. He has partnered with organisations such as Panzi Foundation USA and Friends of the Congo, and is currently developing a feature film dealing with the DRC.

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