“Museveni [of Uganda] and Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that. The only thing we [i.e., the United States] have to do is look the other way.” – Susan Rice, U.S.Ambasador to the United Nations (quoted by Howard W. French in Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo)
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, considered a strong candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, continues to be heavily criticized for comments she made after the attack on a diplomatic post and CIA headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. However, as was pointed out in class last week, she is rarely criticized for her role in shaping U.S. policy toward Central Africa. A recent Foreign Policy article points out that she was far more involved in forming U.S. responses to the Rwandan genocide, mass violence in Burundi, and two wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo than she was in the Benghazi case.
During a debate about whether or not to call the killings in Rwanda a “genocide” during her first year as a junior official at the National Security Council, Rice was famously quoted as asking what implication using the term would have on an upcoming congressional election. Essentially, labeling the violence genocide would mean they would have to intervene, and calling it genocide when there would be no intervention might negatively impact elections.
“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” Rice stated shortly after. While she has advocated for humanitarian interventions in U.S. foreign policy, her involvement in shaping U.S. policy in Central Africa has fallen far short of “dramatic action,” and has generally been characterized by a refusal to be critical of African leaders, even in the conflict resulting from Rwandan and Ugandan forces in the Congo or M23 taking control of Goma.
In her reluctance to criticize the Rwandan government’s involvement in the Congo, Rice has also blocked a U.N. report that contained evidence of Rwanda’s support of M23, insisting that the government of Rwanda should be allowed to reply first. Further, a Security Council resolution documenting Rwanda’s support of M23 has allegedly been changed to include the phrase “outside support” instead of specifically identifying Rwanda.
American policy towards Central Africa, which Rice played a key role in shaping, seems stagnant and stuck in the past. She is not exclusively responsible for the conceptually outdated and unambitious policies that have emerged, but it seems clear that her role impacted policy formation enough to prevent the U.S. from engaging much more strongly in the Congo.