Hands Off the DR Congo!
Why are the UN/Imperialists Carving up Congo?
By Thomas Davies
For the past 600 years, the history of Africa has been the history of colonialism, of slavery, of foreign exploitation, and also of people fighting back. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is no exception. One of the largest and most resource rich countries in all of Africa, it has faced intense competition for its resources and the bloodiest war in recent history. Today DR Congo is again faced with bloodshed and the threat of increased foreign military intervention.
DR Congo is the third largest country in Africa. Sharing borders with eight other countries, it is as big as all of Western Europe. DR Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore, and a major producer of copper and diamonds. It also has large deposits of petroleum, gold, silver, zinc, uranium and coal. Significantly, 80% of the world’s known colatan reserves, which are used in the fabrication of electronic components in computers and mobile phones, are found in DR Congo.
Given its resources, the people of DR Congo should enjoy a high standard of living. Instead, according to the World Bank, its almost 63 million residents have a Gross National Income of $140 per capita. This is second lowest in the world, which averages $7,958!
Between 1998 and 2003, the United Nations (UN) estimated that a war in DR Congo led to the deaths of as many as 5.2 million civilians – the bloodiest conflict since World War II. Today, the government and a rebel force fight back and forth, as the largest contemporary UN force in the world has done nothing to ease the conflict.
How did it happen?
On November 15, 1884, an international conference in Berlin attended by 13 European nations and the United States at the invitation of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The conference was basically used to carve up Africa between them and formalized the beginning of intense colonialist competition called the “Scramble for Africa”. DR Congo became the personal property of King Leopold of Belgium, who claimed humanitarian intentions to end the slave trade and bring “legitimate commerce”.
As “the Belgian Congo”, life for the Congolese was still characterized by foreign economic rule, poverty and systematic cultural suppression by the extensive networks of Belgian missionaries who forced their churches and schools on the native population. By the 1950’s, the Congolese people, led by Patrice Lumumba, were demanding their freedom.
In October of 1958, Lumumba founded the Congolese National Movement, the first nationwide Congolese political party. Despite Belgian attempts to forcibly block both Lumumba and the independence movement, the huge groundswell of public support led to Lumumba forming DR Congo’s first independent government on June 23, 1960.
The colonialists did not give up, though. When the mineral-rich province of Katanga proclaimed independence, Belgium sent in an invading force to “protect Belgian nationals”. The UN sent troops to the region, but refused to help in either removing the unwelcome and illegal foreign force, or in controlling the Katanga revolt.
As the UN stood idly, Lumumba was captured and then murdered by the forces of Congolese army leader Colonel Joseph Mobutu. Mobutu seized power, renamed the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He was also able to secure support from the US in return for making “Zaire” into a base for operations against Soviet-backed Angola.
Mobutu’s regime was characterized by immense corruption, human rights abuses, and strong financial and military support by the US, France, and Belgium. When the Cold War ended in 1991, the US and others had little use for his regime and distanced themselves.
The Fight for Power
When Washington cut his puppet strings in 1991, Mobutu was doomed. By 1992, a million people were marching in the capital Kiushasa against his rule, and there was a growing movement led by trade unions, students, and poor Congolese. As the Rwandan forces pushed farther into DR Congo in 1997, he was forced to flee. Rwandan-supported Laurent Kabila seized power, and changed the country’s name from Zaire back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, a rift between Mr Kabila and his former allies caused another rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe took Kabila’s side, turning the country into the immense battleground which claimed the lives of 5.2 million civilians.
Today DR Congo is led by Joseph Kabila, who became president when his father was assassinated in 2001, and won general elections in November 2006. According to the BBC, “Mr. Kabila has enjoyed the clear support of western governments such as the US and France, regional allies such as South Africa and Angola and businessmen and mining magnates who have signed multi-million dollar deals under his rule.” He is opposed by Laurent Nkunda, who leads the National Congress for the Defence of the People, a military force who say their mandate is to protect the Tutsi population of DR Congo from the corrupt Congolese government and its Hutu allies.
Economic, not Ethnic
While many would blame the conflict on ethnic division, the real driving force is the foreign-driven battle for DR Congo’s resources. Seventy-five percent of mining resources in DR Congo are owned by foreign companies – many of which continue to operate and fund opposing sides throughout the entire war and current conflict. A disputed UN report concluded in 2001 that at least 85 multinational corporations had benefited from the war, and that the companies trading minerals are considered to be “the engine of the conflict” in Congo.
In just one example, Le Monde Diplomatique reported that Canadian mining companies Barrick and Banro had been “funding military operations [in DR Congo] in exchange for lucrative contracts.”
Western desires to intervene more directly were recently inflamed by a $9 billion deal between DR Congo’s state-owned mining company and a consortium of Chinese companies to extract 10.6 million tons of copper and 626,000 tons of cobalt in return for improving infrastructure.
As it stands today, there is a continual back and forth, advance and retreat, backroom deals and public statements by the Congolese government and the National Congress for the Defense of the People, all the while under the eyes of 17,000 UN troops. No one knows for sure what sorts of threats or promises are being made by UN Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo behind closed doors with each leader. However, UN officials have now authorized 3000 more troops, and UN fighter helicopters mounted reconnaissance flights and announced they are “are poised to respond to any and all eventualities”.
UN intervention and complicity in DR Congo has always ultimately increased the suffering of the Congolese people. A statement by Congolese Democrats to the 1995 UN General Assembly reminded everyone of this bitter legacy: “The UN acted against the legitimate institutions of our country and even took part in the physical elimination of the few trained people who were politically committed to the building of an independent Congo. It was this participation which put an end to the democratic beginnings of our country.”
Foreign multinationals and the armies backing them have no interest in the well being of the people of DR Congo. As “humanitarian” wars of aggression rage around the world, and with the beginnings of a new imperialist “Scramble for Africa” in Somalia and Sudan, it is more important to expose and oppose their efforts.
It was the Congolese who overthrew Belgian colonialism, and the Congolese who fought until the end of their US-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. It must be and will be the Congolese people who will fight to fulfill their dreams and self-determination, embodied in the final words of a poem by Patrice Lumumba:
“The flood of tears shed by our ancestors,
Martyrs of the tyranny of the masters.
And on this earth which you will always love
You will make the Congo a nation, happy and free,
In the very heart of vast Black Africa.”
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