The war in the Congo has had at best patchy coverage in the mainstream media. Even during the 1998-2003 period, when the existence of a war was ‘officially’ recognised, the coverage was sporadic and shallow. Somewhere in the region of five million Africans died, mostly unnoticed by the world. Since the official arrival of ‘peace’, accompanied by further massacres, starvation and disease, the silence has deepened.
Yet right now, as the saturation coverage of the Tsunami tragedy conveniently eclipses most other news, the Congolese people are facing up to a new crisis in their long struggle for independence from oppression and exploitation. Imperialism is doing all it can to stampede the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into early elections under terms dictated by the west. At the same moment, its proxy Rwandan and Ugandan forces do their best to make the eastern region of the country ungovernable. The Congo stands at a crossroads.
First, some facts about the country.
The DRC is a vast repository of mineral wealth at the heart of Africa. It is about one quarter the size of the USA, and is roughly equal in size to the whole of western Europe. It has 80 percent of the world’s reserves of coltan, a rare mineral which finds its way into millions of mobile phones and laptop computers. It has huge resources of copper, cobalt, diamonds and other minerals essential to the technologies of the modern, developed world.
The DRC also happens to be home to the Congolese people. In the midst of all this plenty, they live in poverty and underdevelopment. Life expectancy is 51 years for women, 46 for men. Infant mortality stands at 126 per 1,000 live births.
Why is this so? Because Congo has been looted mercilessly by imperialism, and continues to be looted today.
When a UN report criticised the behaviour of multinational companies (MNCs) in the Congo, the breakdown of ownership of these companies was like a snapshot of the whole history of this looting, from King Leopold to Bush and Blair. Of the 84 MNCs named in the report, 48 are Anglo-American working out of South Africa, 12 are British, nine are American and 20 are Belgian. It is that domination of the DRC’s national economy for which imperialism is prepared to kill and maim on a massive scale.
Imperialism is prepared to do anything to prevent an independent Congo from taking control of its own resources and raising the living standards of its own people. To know the truth of this, we have only to look at the treatment meted out to Iraq.
But that example also reminds us that oppression breeds resistance, in Kinshasa as surely in Baghdad.
A century of pillage and plunder
A recent BBC Four documentary detailed some of the hideous crimes committed by Belgian imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. King Leopold considered the country and its people as his personal property and his agents set about looting the country and enslaving the population in their quest for cheap rubber – the coltan of its day and very much in demand for the rapidly expanding European and American car markets. Setting impossible targets for Congolese families to achieve, the Belgian imperialists maimed and murdered those who failed to harvest their allotted quota, resulting in a genocide claiming the lives of up to 10m Congolese – half the country’s population at the time. On the later history of the country, however, the BBC is strangely silent.
In the period after the second world war, US imperialism struggled to secure neo-colonial control of the tottering empires of the old European colonisers. In the course of the US efforts to supplant Belgian colonial rule in the Congo, the Congolese people seized the chance to take a leap forward in the struggle for independence under the leadership of the great Congolese patriot, Patrice Lumumba. His overthrow at the hands of the renegade Mobutu in September 1960, and his subsequent murder in January 1961, set the scene for years of bitter struggle, concluding with Mobutu’s ascendancy to the presidency in 1965. After briefly posing as an anti-imperialist and throwing out the European companies, Mobutu called them all back in and settled down into being ‘our man in the Congo’, looking after western interests in return for a share of the loot.
However, this setback for Congo’s national struggle was only temporary. By the 1990s, the excesses of Mobutu’s kleptocratic rule were proving unsustainable for imperialism. Sooner than see an anti-Mobutu revolt develop in a form openly hostile to western ‘interests’, Anglo-American imperialism hoped to effect a controlled ‘regime change’ by supporting and controlling the rebel forces of Laurent Kabila.
In the sixties, Laurent Kabila had fought alongside Che Guevara for the liberation of his homeland. However, he allowed the west to believe that, by assisting his forces in the overthrow of Mobutu, imperialism would see the opening of a more stable field of exploitation. Indeed, a number of advance contracts were signed, supposedly guaranteeing certain multinational companies (MNCs) privileged access to Congo’s mineral wealth should Kabila’s revolt prove successful. Washington even went so far as to mobilise Rwandan and Ugandan troops to assist as its proxies in the overthrow of Mobutu.
It all turned sour for imperialism though, when the triumphant Kabila tore up the paper promises he had made to sell his homeland to the MNCs, instead taking his stand on the ground of the complete independence of the Congo.
He said: “More than 40 years of African independence have offered to the world a sad spectacle of a continent looted and humiliated with the complicity of its own sons and daughters.” This state of affairs he vowed to change.
Those same client states of Uganda and Rwanda that had done Washington’s bidding in supporting Congolese independence forces now plunged the Congo into a long and bloody war – also at the behest of imperialism.
Alongside this war-by-proxy ran another ‘regime change’ strategy hatched in the US. The intended coup claimed the life of Laurent Kabila, but failed to overthrow the independence forces, which now came under command of Kabila’s son Joseph. To the dismay of the west, those independence forces also found military support from Angola and Zimbabwe.
The most important thing to understand about the war in the DRC is that it is above all a war of national oppression waged by imperialism. The armies of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi that invaded and occupied the country to such devastating effect did so as proxy forces for imperialist powers wishing to control and loot the Congo’s mineral resources.
And the independence forces, led first by Laurent Kabila and now by Joseph Kabila, and fraternally supported by those veterans of the frontline struggle against imperialism, Angola and Zimbabwe, have been fighting a just war of national resistance against this war of national oppression.
It is necessary to spell this out clearly, so all-pervasive is the fog of disinformation created by imperialism. However convenient it is for imperialism to blame tribal backwardness and lack of ‘good governance’ for this tragic conflict, or even to blame those friends of free Congo for having dared rally in the defence of Congolese independence, the real responsibility for the war lies squarely with imperialism.
‘Peace’ process and the benevolence of the aid agencies
Since neither murderous war-by-proxy nor coup attempts have succeeded in burying the independence struggle, imperialism now hopes to achieve its ends through ‘peacetime’ terror operations, diplomatic arm twisting and black propaganda.
2003 saw the ‘end’ of the five-year war and the beginning of the ‘transitional process’. Under an agreement signed in 2002, the independence forces led by Joseph Kabila agreed to concede a degree of political power to ‘erstwhile’ rebel forces such as the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), a Rwandan front organisation whose thugs continue to intimidate the Congolese population of the eastern Great Lakes region. In exchange, it was promised that all foreign armies would withdraw from the country.
Since then, there have been a number of troop withdrawals — some more real than others. The Zimbabwean troops that had come to the assistance of the DRC have now left, complying fully with the agreement. Meanwhile, Anglo-American clients Uganda and Rwanda are playing at cat and mouse, running rings around the feeble UN force (MONUC) that is supposed to be supervising the transition process. As Ugandan troops pull out from their positions, Rwandans take their place, notes Ruud Lubbers of the UNHCR.
Apparently another favourite tactic is for the Rwandan army to make a great show of ‘withdrawal’ by day, only to return in stealth by night, now dressed in RCD rebel uniforms. The UN confirms that 30,000 Rwandan troops and Tutsi settlers have poured into Kivu. These incursions from Rwanda have intensified in the last month.
The Ugandan army meanwhile has withdrawn from certain areas, in order to concentrate its forces in Bunia, where it is stirring up fratricidal ethnic clashes between the Hema and the Lendu tribes. Tanzania is supplying arms so that the young people of the pastoralist Hema tribe can be given military training against the cultivators of the Lendu tribe, leading to another vicious spiral of violence to gladden imperialist hearts. In this undeclared war of national oppression waged by proxy, the end result is the deliberate and callous destabilisation of the Congo.
Hand in glove with the terror goes the ‘philanthropic’ efforts of such agencies of imperialist subversion as the altruistically-named USAID (United States Agency for International Development).
USAID works to undermine the sovereignty of the DRC via the good offices of various ‘non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) whose projects it funds.
USAID brags on its website that the NGOs it supported during the time when the Kinshasa government was embargoed are now “seasoned partners”, who are now sufficiently “flexible to work in the fluid environment of the DRC”.
And what work might this be? Why, “developing public-private alliances”!
Under the usual smokescreen of cant about “good governance” and “civil society”, the truth is clear: the aim is to undermine the national sovereignty of the DRC whilst preparing the ground for the renewed enslavement of the Congolese economy to imperialist exploitation.
The struggle continues
In 2005, the DRC faces a new crisis in its national democratic struggle. By the letter of the 2002 agreement, the ‘transitional process’ was supposed to conclude neatly with elections in June this year, though this deadline has now been pushed back to October. The war in reality never ended. Joseph Kabila has been obliged to work politically with ‘ministers’ whose organisations continue to plunder and kill in the east of the country.
And imperialist-backed stooge armies continue to occupy Congolese soil and terrorise Congolese people. For the west to be rattling the ballot box under these conditions is pure provocation. The pressure that the west is now exerting gave a special significance to Joseph Kabila’s New Year message to his people, in which he made it clear that the DRC’s priority right now is to protect its sovereignty, adding that nothing would be spared in performing this task.
In making this stand, the independence forces place themselves in a heroic tradition of national struggle. Days before he was dragged out to face a firing squad, Patrice Lumumba wrote in a letter: “I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakable, and with profound trust in the destiny of my country.” Imperialism will underestimate the strength of this ripening independence struggle at its peril.
The working class in Britain needs to understand and support such struggles as that of the Congolese people against imperialism. As the chairman of the CPGB-ML told the Fourth Congress of ZANU-PF in December 2004, with Zimbabwe in mind: “We have always believed firmly that the struggle of the proletariat of the imperialist countries for its own emancipation would be nothing but a fraud if in its struggle against capital it was not united with the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of colonial and neo-colonial slaves oppressed by its ‘own’ bourgeoisie.”