March 8, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, comments on the recent case of the “phantom minister” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Dr. Pham recounts the bizarre episode of how the government of President Joseph Kabila, who was declared the winner in the DRC’s first-ever democratic election last year, apparently appointed a nonexistent person as the foreign trade minister in its cabinet and then failed to notice it for a month—thus underlining, he notes, just “how far Congo is from making a ‘transition to democracy’” that it has been credited with doing with the poll. The affair leads Dr. Pham to raise a series of questions:

First… can the world afford to have such potentially dangerous material [the light fissile isotope U-235 mined in the DRC’s Lumbumashi mines] supervised by a government so corrupt and incompetent that it took a month to figure out that it had awarded an important ministry to a nonexistent person? Is regard for the sovereignty of weak states to be the international law equivalent of what Justice Robert H. Jackson termed the constitution as a “suicide pact”? Secondly… would political correctness have determined that the international community, having hailed “an important milestone toward the successful completion of Congo’s transition to democracy,” must now step back and pretend all is well and fine with the regime reposing quite literal blind confidence in its questionable powerbrokers? Is this the spirit of democracy? Finally, when will we realize, not just in Africa but in every other troubled region in the world where we find ourselves involved—including the Greater Middle East—that democracies do not emerge overnight just because elections are held?

Thus the column concludes: “Without relenting in our commitment to our own democratic principles, the U.S. and its international partners must realistically acknowledge the role played by history and culture and recommit themselves for long-term engagement, especially in those places where the national interest is clearly at stake in helping build the capacities of free, transparent, and legitimate governments.”

To read Dr. Pham’s article, “Phantom Ministers and the Spirit of Democracy,” click here.