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Opinions Tue, 30 Nov 1999

Congo Blues!

A major stumbling block to peace in Congo has been removed with the death of Laurent Kabila. Our elders advise not to speak ill of the dead, but it is difficult to muster much grief for the Congo's assassinated president. One can only hope that the passing of Kabila would presage a new era of peace and stability in that huge country. By whatever name it is called, Congo brings memories to Ghanaians and Africans in general. Some of our gallant soldiers did battle in those parts nearly forty years ago. It seems that battle has not yet ended. By all accounts, the good people of Congo have not had a government that included their interests as part of its program. Rarely, has a country been so exploited to serve the interests of a few, while the populace is being subjected to the most sanguinary rule as have the Congolese. In the 1880's era of the Scramble for Africa, king Leopold II of Belgium managed to wrestle the huge territory as his personal property. To put it in perspective, Congo is much larger than the entire western Europe, and a nearly a third the size of the United States of America!
King Leopold's Congo with its capital named Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) was the poster child of the brutalities of European colonial rule in Africa. The atrocities committed against the Congolese in furtherance of king Leopold extracting the wealth of Congo were unspeakable. An estimated three million Africans died as a result of his brutalities. After 20 years, the atrocities shamed Europeans, and particularly the Belgians enough so that, the Belgian government confiscated the land from their king and named it Belgian Congo. That event did not reduce the hardship of the Congolese. Neither did it introduce colonial development such as it was, to Congo. The exploitation of the massive natural resources of the Congo in timber, diamonds, gold, uranium, etc., to enrich Belgium and other foreign interests continued unabated. When the Belgians left hurriedly in 1960, and the country became the independent Congo, there were hardly any educated Congolese to take over the administration of the huge country. In the civil war that ensued, Ghanaian and other foreign soldiers were flown there to maintain the peace. United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjvld of Sweden lost his life in a plane crash in 1961, in what is now Zambia, in the pursuit of peace in Congo.
When the dust settled from the civil war, sergeant Joseph Desire Mobutu, with the help of western intelligence agents such as the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had managed to become the leader following the brutal and disgraceful assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister. Joseph Mobutu subsequently changed the country's name to Zaire, and his own name to MOBUTU SESE SEKO KOKO NGBENDU WA ZA BANGA. Mobutu's fondness for Africa was marched only by his exploitation of Africa to serve foreign interest. Mobutu's Zaire became a by-word for the neo-colonial state in Africa. One of the followers of Lumumba named Laurent Desire Kabila retreated into the bush in the 1965 to fight a guerilla war aimed at the overthrow of Mobutu. Among the international guerillas who went to Congo to assist Kabila was one Che Guevera!
Finally, in May 1997, Kabila with the help of Uganda and Rwanda marched to Kinshasa to claim the presidency after defeating the forces of Mobutu. The people of Zaire had every reason to be ecstatic, and hoped for a regeneration of their naturally wealthy country. It was bittersweet. A follower of Lumumba, an aged revolutionary who had attracted the attention of the legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevera who actually went to Congo to assist Kabila; Kabila had now suceeded in defeating the man who had so disgracefully tortured and killed Patrice Lumumba.. It is for this Che Guevera-Congo connection that president Fidel Castro of Cuba (whom Che assisted in his own Cuban revolution), declared three days of mourning in honor of comrade Laurent Kabila.
Once in power, Kabila followed the script and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo. But there was little democracy in what he offered the Congolese. Kabila banned all political activity other than his own, refused to hold elections, and presided over a despotic administration. Any hope that Congo might emerge from Mobutu's repressive rule quickly dissipated. In the era of democracy and elections in Africa, Congo is the only country not to have organized even a sham elections!
Kabila also took nepotism and cronyism to new heights. After gaining power, he reportedly told Reuters in an interview this: "My long years of struggle were like spreading fertilizer on a field. But now it is time to harvest." To help with the 'harvest', Kabila employed family members to top positions. The Army Commander; the minister of Justice; the minister of the Interior; Kabila's chief military aide, the inspector general of police; and several other top positions went to Kabila sons, uncles, cousins or brothers-in-law. It seemed Kabila had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing about the Mobutu dictatorship he fought against and defeated.
Of all Kabila's lapses in judgement, the most serious one pertained to his decision to turn against his former allies in Kampala and Bujumbura. Uganda and Rwanda had financed and led the rebellion that overthrew Mobutu and put Kabila in power. Rwanda was concerned that the nearly one million Hutus who had fled Rwanda in the wake of the Tutsis accession to power might use Congo as a staging ground for attacks against Rwanda. Uganda had felt the need to support her ally Rwanda, and also stamp out Ugandan rebel movements based in the Congo. Thus, their decision to support Kabila's fight for power. By turning against his one-time supporters, Kabila left them with no choice but to seek his overthrow in order that their borders would be protected from rebel attacks. Rwanda-Burundi, and Uganda now support separate and competing rebel groups in Congo. In all there are said to be at least nine rebel groups fighting against the Congolese Army. Zimbabawe, Angola, and Namibia have come to the aid of Congo. None of these six countries, it may be surmised, have the larger interests of the Congolese at heart. The huge gold and diamond deposits of Congo have fallen prey to greedy interlopers, again!.
The problems afflicting Congo are a microcosm of the problems afflicting Africa. Here is a huge country with interminable resources; and yet mired in poverty. Here is a country with such huge potential to be rich; and yet mired in poverty. Here is a huge country with a large population and resources being held hostage by tiny Rwanda which is a mere footnote in comparison to Zaire. In a rather sad reflection, the problems besetting the Democratic Republic of Congo are the problems of post-independent Africa writ large: misrule, corruption, ethnic rivalry, destructive foreign interference, and mis-application of national resources.
The former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright described the events unfolding in Central Africa as "Africa's first world war". That is not an exaggeration. The conflict in Central Africa has the potential of completing destabilizing the entire region more than it has done presently. While he was alive, Laurent Kabila proved to be the main obstacle to peace in the region. He refused to support the peace treaty signed in Lusaka in 1999 aimed at ending the war. Further, his refusal to hold elections created divisions in Congo and emboldened the rebels massed against him. In the end, Kabila was gunned down by one of his own body guards.
Now that his young son Joseph Kabila has been plucked to succeed him, one can only hope he will be wiser than the Biblical Rehoboam by reducing the yoke that his father had placed on the Congolese!! The people of Congo deserve a government that will create the conditions for peace and stability so that the enormous resources of this huge country can finally be exploited for the benefit of the people. Should Joseph Kabila deviate from the cries for political reforms, and decide to continue the war, he will end up like his father did. The United nations and the OAU should continue to pressure the young Kabila to change course in Congo.

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi