Friends and family members of Kevin Surr can sleep a little easier tonight. The USAID official was freed earlier this week after having been arrested at a pro-democracy assembly in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That does not mean, however, that the conflict at the center of his detainment is over. The reality is far from resolution. Along with Surr, Congolese security personnel arrested about 40 others at the same conference where dozens of journalists, activists and reformers were in attendance.
The problem began when Congolese intelligence erroneously informed security that the press conference was a meeting for political insurrectionists. In fact, it had been presented as a meeting point for African civil society groups.
The political climate in the DRC is currently tense with the nearing end of current President Joseph Kabila’s tenure. Many suspect that supporters of Kabila are devising tactics to keep him in office.
Included among the arrests was a member of Balai Citoyen: a grassroots political organization from Burkina Faso that was influential in protests that ousted former president Blaire Compaoré.
This is not the first time that an American diplomat has been endangered or harmed while mediating overseas. A grand total of eight American ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty.
The latest death was Chris Stevens in Libya. Stevens met his tragic demise on the 11th anniversary of September 11, when Islamic militants waged an attack upon the diplomatic compound in which he was staying.
With the recent memory of Stevens’s death in mind, Surr’s release comes as a tremendous relief to the general public. Americans rightfully tend to get up in arms whenever another American is captured or detained overseas.
The problem is that the media hand picks which cases of detainment to focus on. This means that most people who are captured or detained are never given that level of attention.
What set Surr and Stevens apart were their statuses as political celebrities. A dead civilian is a tragedy; a dead politician, often, is a scandal.
Throughout all of this, Africa does not become any less politically unstable or corrupt. Ironically, given its name, Democratic Republic of the Congo is not a safe haven from the well-publicized threats of disease, starvation, war or terrorism.
Indeed, given that its final reinstatement as a “democratic” nation occurred when former President Laurent Kabila dictatorially named himself the new leader, it was easy to see that the DRC would likely fail to live up to its name.
If the Congo’s score of 0.338 on the Human Development Index is accurate, then the nation’s people have a great deal of work cut out for them. Developed by economists Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq in 1990, the index measures variables such as life expectancy at birth, mean and expected years of schooling and GNI per capita. When combined, the three measurements produce a single score between 0.2 and 1.0.
With a score that low, it is imperative that the Congolese have help to improve their national security, since secure nations have fewer incidences of major miscommunications that lead to unwarranted arrests such as Surr’s. By helping, first-world countries can make the world a safer place.
– Leah Zazofsky