New Biden Administration Represents Opportunities for Expanding Cooperation with the DRC

Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, listen as President Joe Biden delivers a speech on foreign policy, at the State Department, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (© Evan Vucci/AP Images)

By U.S. Ambassador to the DRC Mike Hammer, Twitter: @USAmbDRC

On January 20, the world witnessed American democracy at work with the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, first black, and South-Asian American to serve in this high office. In fact, President Biden’s cabinet nominees are the most diverse in American history, and include the first Native American.  President Biden has gotten to work right away, returning the United States to the Paris Agreement reflecting his clear priority to join the international community in combatting the shared, existential, and global threat of climate change.  This represents an opportunity for the United States and the DRC to deepen its Privileged Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (#PP4PP) by cooperating on preservation of the environment, specifically the Congo Basin, which is the world’s second “lung” and vitally important for humanity.  Congolese people depend on healthy forests for food, shelter, fuel, and economic livelihoods; forests also regulate the regional climate and ensure clean water supply.

President Tshisekedi and I have already been discussing how our two countries can work together to protect Congo’s rainforest for the benefit of Congolese and the entire world.  In my visits to the Virunga, Kahuzi Biega, and Garamba National Parks, as well as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, I have observed how those who protect DRC’s natural treasures and precious habitat struggle in the face of vicious armed groups and illegal economic activities like mining, logging, fishing, smuggling and wildlife trafficking.  These criminal activities rob the natural resources from the autochtones and local populations who depend on them.  The State Department recently announced that it will hold wildlife and timber traffickers accountable with visa sanctions.  Our Embassy team, with the help of the FBI and in cooperation with the ICCN, is hard at work to expose the existing corrupt networks that operate in the DRC.  We are also proud to support the work of Virunga’s park rangers and we were deeply saddened by the murders of six of these heroes on January 10.  Led by our Special Presidential Climate Envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States will work with international partners to make this year’s UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) a success.  Bold action is required if we are to overcome the dangers posed by climate change and safeguard the future for our children and grandchildren.

In his first day in office, President Biden also re-committed to working with the World Health Organization, which has been an important partner fighting diseases like Ebola, COVID-19, malaria, measles, polio, cholera, monkeypox and yellow fever in the DRC.  Under the leadership of Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed to stopping Congo’s two most recent Ebola outbreaks, one in the East and the other in Equateur.  Today, we are focused on providing assistance to combat the coronavirus and the United States has already provided over $30 million towards this effort.  And, as the largest provider of health-related assistance to the DRC, our Embassy health experts look forward to our close cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the WHO to save Congolese lives.

On January 6, the United States experienced a jolt to its democracy when insurrectionists assaulted the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.  It was a jarring reminder to all that democracy is fragile and must be nurtured every day.  As 22-year old poet Amanda Gorman described well at the presidential inauguration: “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”  As Americans we recognize that our democracy is not perfect, but we continue to strive to make it better, more just, more equal and to support others on the same quest.  President Biden’s call for a renewal of democratic principles means that U.S. is prepared to lead on matters of consequence, to protect human rights and basic freedoms like freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful protest.  In that spirit, we will continue to work with Congolese authorities, civil society, activists, religious groups, youth, and concerned citizens to deliver change that strengthens good governance, fights corruption, ends impunity, advances peace, promotes gender equality and delivers a better election in 2023 that is transparent, free and fair.  We also will seek to increase trade ties and American investment that contributes to economic prosperity, including through DRC’s recent re-admission into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  Our Embassy team is already coordinating with the Congolese government and the Kinshasa American Chamber of Commerce to inform and guide Congolese businesses so that they can take full advantage of AGOA.  

These priorities drive my continuing mission here in DRC; they are the basis of our privileged partnership.  A partnership that is based on mutual respect and which allows us to speak directly and publicly when problems need to be addressed. Please share with me your ideas and let us continue our conversation on how we can best work together to advance common objectives when you meet me traveling around your beautiful country or by reaching me on Twitter @USAmbDRC.  Working together the DRC and United States can make a meaningful difference.  Let’s make 2021 a great year – Bonana!