"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Partition The Congo?

The Congo, formerly Zaire, has been a troubled, corrupt, and failed state ever since independence from Belgium. Despite its vast mineral wealth, the Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world with over 70 percent of its people living in poverty. Competition for this wealth, compounded by regional conflicts, most notably the Rwandan Genocide, has resulted either in chaos or in brutal, corrupt, kleptocratic dictatorships.

Even from this fleeting moment of independence democracy began to unravel. On 5 July 1960 a military mutiny by Congolese soldiers against their European officers broke out in the capital and rampant looting began. On 11 July 1960 the richest province of the country, Katanga, seceded under Moise Tshombe. The United Nations sent 20,000 peacekeepers to protect Europeans in the country and try to restore order. Western paramilitaries and mercenaries, often hired by mining companies to protect their interests, also began to pour into the country. In this same period Congo's second richest province, Kasai, also announced its independence on 8 August 1960. (Wikipedia)

Cold war enemies – the United States and the Soviet Union – intervened, and the Congo became a proxy battleground. With US and CIA support, the government was overthrown and Mobutu was installed as the new President.  The Mobutu years were a dark period of rampant pillage and brutality.  As Mobutu became one of the wealthiest men on the planet, the country fell into even worse poverty than before.  The United States, still locked in an international struggle with the Soviet Union, stood by and ignored Mobutu’s depredations.

Once the Cold War was over in 1989, support for Mobutu crumbled, and near anarchy resulted, although the canny Mobutu, through patronage and muscle, was able to remain a political force until 1997 when he was ousted from power and fled the country. 

The First Congo War began as an outgrowth of the Rwandan Genocide.  The Congolese Government, allied by Hutu refugees (Hutus were responsible for the mass killing of Tutsis in Rwanda), took up arms against rebellious ethnic Tutsis in Kivu province.  The civil war was really a regional one.  The Second Congo War was even more international as Uganda, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe became militarily involved.

Currently, a Tutsi rebel group, M23, supported by Rwanda (although Kagame denies any intervention in the Congo as he always has done), is fighting the Congolese government for control of the resource-rich eastern part of the country.  As of this writing, M23 has taken Goma, the principal city of the region. 

J. Peter Pham has written about this current conflict in the New York Times (11.30.12).  Presiding over this catastrophe of war and misery is the current President Joseph Kabila who awarded himself another five-year term in fraudulent elections, is a master of mismanagement and corruption, and who leads an undisciplined and inefficient army, unable to mount any resistance to the M23 rebels.

In recent weeks, a rebel group calling itself the March 23 Movement, or M23, has stormed through eastern Congo, scattering poorly trained units loyal to the government and reducing a huge United Nations peacekeeping force to a helpless bystander as M23 seized control of Goma, the capital of the resource-rich North Kivu province. The rebel advance rekindled fears of a renewal of the bloody 1998-2003 Second Congo War, which drew the armies of a host of African countries as well as countless local militias into what was aptly dubbed “Africa’s world war.”

At particular stake are cassiterite and coltan, indispensable materials for cellphones and computers.  Although Kivu Province is not the only producer of these minerals, it is the major one; and it is clear that whoever controls the Province will control vast wealth.  This conflict hearkens back to the first civil war in Katanga which was then the richest province in Zaire, holding an estimated ten percent of the world’s copper.  While that earlier conflict also had an ethnic dimension to it, this current one is blatantly ethnic with Tutsis, Hutus, and ethnic Congolese all fighting.

Despite years of international involvement, principally United Nations peacekeepers, civil wars, skirmishes, and conflicts persist.  It is no wonder.  The Congo was exploited by its Belgian colonial rulers who left little in the way of infrastructure, civil institutions, or an administrative and legal framework as the British did in India.  Once they left, new rulers operating in an unfamiliar world but tempted by riches beyond their dreams, continued the exploitation and appropriation.  The Cold war facilitated and perpetuated dictatorship based on international allegiances. 

J. Peter Pham suggests that there is no way out of this continuous cycle of war and violence except to ‘let the Congo fail’.

If Congo were permitted to break up into smaller entities, the international community could devote its increasingly scarce resources to humanitarian relief and development, rather than trying, as the United Nations Security Council has pledged, to preserve the “sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity” of a fictional state that is of value only to the political elites who have clawed their way to the top in order to plunder Congo’s resources and fund the patronage networks that ensure that they will remain in power.

This is a disingenuous if not naïve suggestion.  First Pham uses the passive voice – “If Congo were permitted to break up….” Who would do the breaking up? Certainly not the government which has dug in its heels despite the obvious inadequacy of its military forces.  Why should Kabila act any differently than Mobutu? That is hang on, suck the country dry for as long as he can, then depart to live well on his foreign investments. The M23 rebels, especially now that they have taken the principal city of Kivu, will do all in their power to break away from the Congo.  They apparently not only have military control but also the support of the population which seems them as protectors against the depredations of the Congolese military.  Whether or not they will be content to stay in Eastern Congo is another thing altogether.  In the First Congolese War, Laurent Kabila (père), in political alliances with those who wanted to oust Mobutu, marched on and captured Kinshasa. Why should anyone expect M23 to be content with Kivu? ‘Break up’ also suggests some kind of reasonable federalism. An M23 victory will be unlikely to result in a modern, democratic state.

Perhaps what Pham means is to allow the civil conflict to take its own course – i.e. the secession of Kivu and probably the eventual takeover of the entire country by M23 and its national and regional allies. While this goes counter to international received wisdom, it is probably the only solution.  When Americans leave Iraq, still-simmering ethnic and religious rivalries which have been kept more or less in check during the War will explode.  Either Sunnis or Shias will take over the government, but they will have to fight continuous insurgencies with the most likely outcome being a fractured state with Shia, Sunni, and Kurd maintaining separate geographical regions. The Taliban will win in Afghanistan, will take over the entire country, conclude profitable pacts with Pakistan, and the two failed states will form an unholy alliance, but such alliances are the natural outcome of historical conflict.

This federalism, such as it might be, will not come about easily.  The vast oil wealth of the Kurdish region will certainly come into play, as well as a possible Kurdistan, and wars could easily break out again. Still, this may be the only way to proceed.  Let the international community recede completely and let the combatants duke it out.  If the civil wars become too incompatible with international standards, then perhaps US or European forces will again become involve as was the case in the Serbian and Bosnian wars.

The only thing that Americans and the West care about is the cassiterite and coltan.  As long as cellphone and computer manufacturers have access to these minerals, they could care less who governs.  They might well agree to stand by while the fight for dominance in the region goes on, for who ever wins will surely facilitate the exploitation and sale of minerals, taking big, juicy, bites along the way.

However, we must define ‘international community’.  Rwanda is certainly not about to stand by while Congolese Hutus have not been completely neutralized and that an alliance with M23 can give Kagame a share of the vast mineral wealth.  There is no reason for former combatants like Uganda to sit idly by either.

The most naïve and idealistic statement of all is Pham’s conclusion:

Given the dysfunctional status quo and the terrible toll it has exacted in terms of lives and resources, the West should put aside ideological dogmatism in favor of statesmanlike pragmatism and acknowledge the reality that, at least in some extreme cases, the best way to break a cycle of violence is to break up an artificial country in crisis and give it back to its very real people [italics mine].

If the West lets the conflict take its natural course, one thing is certain – the vast majority of Congolese will not benefit, no more than they have benefited at any time before in their troubled history.  The wealth will be concentrated in a few hands as it always has been.  The Congo will remain poor.  A harsh fact, but a fact nonetheless.

1 comment:

  1. Where is the mention of Patrice Lamumba? That is a can of worms...The truth is that when the Congo had a real chance of having real leadership the West (Belgium) couldn't handle it(and neither could the US for that matter..CIA etc). The truth is Africa will continue to have oppressed corrupt leaders who ignore their peoples struggle to cow tow to the West greedy over taking of Africa's resources. The power struggle is HUGE. The assumption that the US and now China only have minimal interest in African resources well ..like Obama told Mitt..is simply NOT TRUE...The struggle in Africa will continue with lack of responsibility from it's people of fight for independence and standing on it's own two feet..it will also continue with this modern day colonialism..this "Massa's gotta save 'em" mentality...with this constant greedy western and eastern hand in Africa's resources..

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