Jeff Herbst says no.
The many combatants in today’s Congo have little incentive to form a united country; they benefit from the violent chaos that ensures that so many can pick at the country’s resources. The international community does not have the will or the resources to construct a functional Congo. Nor do neighbors want one Congo, as many find it easier to deal with a plethora of ungoverned parts over which they can exert influence. Rwanda, Angola, and Uganda, for example, have all intervened to protect their security interests over the past decades.
…Given the immense human tragedy, it is time to ask if provinces such as the Kivus and Katanga (which are themselves the size of other African countries) can ever be improved as long as they fall under a fictional Congolese state. Although African states recognize the borders on paper, Congo’s neighbors have often acted as if no such lines exist. The international community is the only remaining player devoting large amounts of resources to the idea of one Congo — with dismal returns.
A solution to Congo’s troubles is possible with a reimagined approach. The West could start by making development and order its first priority in the Congolese territory, rather than focusing on the promotion of the Congolese state. This simple distinction immediately casts the Congolese problem in a whole new light. It would mean, for instance, that foreign governments and aid agencies would deal with whomever exerted control on the ground rather than continuing to pretend that Kinshasa is ruling and running the country. Such an approach might bring into the picture a confusing array of governors, traditional leaders, warlords, and others rather than the usual panoply of ministers. But that would finally be a reflection of who is actually running Congo.
Congo is a mess, and it’s difficult to see, in my lifetime, it emerging as a cohesive state. Independent states it could become, but the path from here to there is murky. Is Herbst’s suggestion a good one? It sounds like a clarion call to opportunists: take effective control of territory, and we’ll shove a fire hose of aid money into your mouth.
I call it The Scramble for Africa, Part Deux.
But I don’t have any better ideas.
Update: Read this excellent comment.