Laurent Gbagbo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been mired in severe instability and violent conflict since 1994, with rival militias, foreign governments’ proxy forces, and ordinary civilians clashing against a backdrop of underdeveloped social services, lucrative natural resources, and pervasive lack of government accountability. A small step forward came in 2009, when a peace agreement provided for the absorption of a major rebel group into the Congolese national army. Last month, however, the rebels’ former leader, Bosco Ntaganda, defected from the army along with hundreds of soldiers, launching a fresh rebellion and plunging the eastern DRC back into conflict. Violence between the newly baptized M23 rebel group and government forces has displaced at least 45,000 people since April 27, and there are reports that Ntaganda has returned to his past practice of forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

Côte d’Ivoire was once a promising model of economic prosperity and stability for West Africa, but in the last decade alone it has fallen prey to two civil wars, untold human misery, and large-scale impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The complex problems currently besetting the country are linked to the failure of its leaders to both commit to and successfully foster genuine democratic principles and practices.

Back in the 1980s, a Washington attorney named Paul Reichler generated some controversy when he signed on to represent the Sandinistas in various legal conflicts with the American government. Having led a successful guerrilla war against the longtime dictator, Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinistas had quickly moved to consolidate a system akin to a Marxist one-party state. From day one, the Sandinistas embraced an anti-Yankee rhetoric and committed themselves to the anti-imperialist struggle in the Americas. The United States responded by working to undermine Sandinista rule through, among other things, supporting the insurgent movement known as the contras.

The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.

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