Obama, Congo, and the Obama law


KPFA Evening News, 07.22.2012

In mid-April, the Rwandan backed M23 militia resumed the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II. Congolese Americans are asking, once again, why President Barack Obama has never enforced the legislation that he authored as a Senator, which authorizes the Secretary of State to cut aid to any country destabilizing the Congo. KPFA spoke to Congolese American, student and U.S. Navy veteran Benjamin Okongo.



KPFA Weekend News Anchor: Turning now to news from Africa: Three months ago, the Rwandan backed M23 militia resumed fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo fighting has been the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, and has cost over 6 million lives between 1996 and 2008. An annex to the latest UN Experts report on Congo included photographic and other evidence that Rwandan General Paul Kagame’s military dictatorship is behind the M23 militia. This has Congolese Americans asking why President Barack Obama has never enforced the law he helped pass as a Senator, Public Law 109-456, enacted during the George Bush presidency and signed in 2006. 


KPFA/Ann Garrison: George Bush never enforced the Obama law, which authorized the U.S. Secretary of State to halt aid to any countries destabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A move to stop supporting Rwanda’s General Kagame and Uganda’s General Museveni, would have gone up against the last 30 years of Pentagon and State Department involvement in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. KPFA spoke to Congolese American college student and Navy veteran Benjamin Okito-Lumbi Okongo who nevertheless believes that the Obama law can and should be enforced.


KPFA: Benjamin Okongo, Barack Obama is now in the fourth year of his presidency and he still hasn’t made mention of the law that he himself wrote, as a Senator, the so-called Obama law on Congo, during any of these three and a half years. What makes you think that he could, as president, be somehow persuaded to enforce 'the Obama law' now?


Congolese-American, U.S. Navy veteran, and college student Benjamin Okongo

Benjamin Okongo: Well, I think it is never too late, especially when another rebellion has erupted in the eastern Congo, called the M23, and now there is strong evidence, reports from credible institutions, such as the MONUSCO, a branch of the UN, and Human Rights Watch. All these institutions report that neighbor country Rwanda is supporting the rebellion. It is never too late when millions of lives are at risk. The situation is very critical right now and has been for a long time. I don't see it changing, at least in the long term, unless this law is implemented.


KPFA/Ann: In this audio clip from the 2008 televised presidential debates, network news anchor Tom Brokaw, said that the U.S. has no strategic interests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or in Rwanda or Somalia.  


Tom Brokaw: Senator Obama, let me ask you if. . . see if we can establish tonight the Obama Doctrine and the McCain Doctrine forthe use of United States combat forces in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis but it does not affect our national security. Take the Congo, where four and a half million people have died since 1998. Or take Rwanda, in the earlier and dreadful days. Or Somalia. What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United States would send when we don't have national security issues at stake?


KPFA: In 2008, Senator Obama responded to Brokaw’s question as though he agreed, even though the 2006 Obama bill that became the Obama law sharply contradicts it, when it says, QUOTE, “Given its size, population, and resources, the Congo is an important player in Africa and of long-term interest to the United States.” Could you comment? 


Benjamin Okongo: Well, I would like to go 30 years from now, sometime in 1982: the Congressional Budget Office noted that cobalt is critical to the aerospace and weapons industry and that the U.S. has no cobalt worth mining. It went even far into mentioning that 64% of the world's cobalt reserves are in Katanga, in the southeastern province of the Congo and that control of that region is therefore critical to the U.S. manufacturing. And that's just one mineral that's very important in the U.S. industry, including the weapons industry.

Tom Brokaw questions Senators Obama and McCain about Congo, on C-Span, during the 2008 presidential debates.


KPFA: That was Congolese American, U.S. Navy veteran, now college student Benjamin Okongo on the Obama law on Congo, Public Law 109-456, which has never been enforced.  More reporting on the Obama law, can be found on the websites of the San Francisco Bay View, sfbayview.com, and Friends of the Congo.


For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.


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