Ending Some of the World's Deadliest Wars
Conflicts in East and Central Africa, which have claimed millions of African lives and spilled over numerous African borders, will undoubtedly explode early on in Obama's second term. The intensifying civil war within Sudan (playing out against the backdrop of a shaky peace between Sudan and South Sudan) could blow up, as rebels in Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and eastern Sudan all conspire to overthrow a despotic, corrupt regime that has ruled Sudan for nearly a quarter of a century under a head of state that is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The United States will need to keep a watchful eye on Khartoum's support for jihadist networks, especially in the aftermath of a possible Israeli bombing of a Khartoum munitions factory in October. In confronting the volatile dynamic within Sudan and between Sudan and South Sudan, the United States will have to juggle the competing policy demands of peacemaking, counterterrorism, democracy advocacy, and human rights promotion. Peacemaking and counterterrorism cooperation drove policy during Obama's first term. But if that cooperation diminishes, human rights and democracy promotion could take a front seat.
As bloody as the conflict in Sudan is, it is no match in terms of sheer mortality for the ongoing cycle of destruction in eastern Congo, which has claimed more than five million lives since 1998 according to the International Rescue Committee. The Rwandan government is orchestrating the newest round of warfare, which was sparked by the M23 rebellion in April, with support from Uganda, according to a U.N. panel of experts and Human Rights Watch. If the international community fails to muster the will to counter this cross-border meddling, neighboring countries -- particularly Rwanda and Uganda -- will continue to intervene, lured in by the prospect of plundering Congo's natural resources. Numerous armed groups are taking advantage of a collapsed Congolese state, which has been deliberately kept that way by corrupt military and political leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who benefit from mineral smuggling and whose profits would be cratered if there were effective state institutions in Congo like a functioning military and justice system. As the death tolls mounts, pressure -- led by U.S. students demanding phones and laptops that don't contain Congo's tainted minerals -- will increase for more meaningful international action, which presently consists of a meandering peace process, a barely relevant peacekeeping mission, and a set of unimplemented U.S. regulations aimed at creating some transparency in the mining sector for the first time in history. Ultimately, a peace process must evolve that gets at the core interests -- especially economic ones -- of Congolese and regional actors, because sending more peacekeepers and cutting more short-term power-sharing deals are only stopgap measures that have proved utterly insufficient at bringing an end to the conflict.
A third cross-border conflict has captured the imagination of young people all over the United States and around the world even though it is not nearly as deadly as the first two. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, is now destabilizing pockets of civilian populations in Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (the group is also alleged to be in Darfur and threatens to return to northern Uganda). The United States has deployed 100 military advisors to support a primarily Ugandan effort to contain the LRA, but the endeavor -- though admirable -- still lacks a credible mechanism for removing Kony from the battlefield. Obama will eventually face a decision: Should the United States beef up the existing mission or bring the boys home and leave Kony in place to rebuild the LRA and continue his atrocities unchecked?
Preventing Future Crises
Obama can help minimize or prevent future crises in the region with a vigorous and deeper investment in special envoy diplomacy, international justice mechanisms, trade and development partnerships, African institutional capacity building, multilateral cooperation on countering criminal and terrorist networks, and strategic support for democratic transformation. A U.S.-led multinational effort to build and support a credible peace process in Congo, for instance, could have a major impact on stability in the entire Central African region. Partnering with key African states on counterterrorism efforts and then using that leverage to support real democratic reforms and human rights protections could be game-changing. By working with the country's bipartisan coalition and African allies to expand the architecture of crisis prevention in the region, the president can play a major role in helping Africa reach its true potential.