Background to the Congolese elections
On July 30 this year the Congo held its first elections in 40 years – elections which had been promised by Laurent Kabila upon taking power in 1997 and which it has finally been possible to hold after years of civil war and foreign invasion devastated the country. As is well known, Laurent Kabila himself perished in this war, a victim of a cowardly assassination in 2001, but his son Joseph Kabila, a trained and experienced military commander himself, was chosen by the Congolese government as his father’s most worthy successor.
Since taking over the reins of power, Joseph Kabila has remained loyal to his father’s vision of a peaceful, prosperous, independent and sovereign Congo, but it is generally thought that his tactics are different from what his father’s would have been. It has to be remembered that Joseph could not possibly have the nationwide prestige enjoyed by his father after his victorious decades-long struggle to overthrow the vicious puppet regime of Mobutu, and he has had no choice but to tread warily.
Laurent Kabila’s forces were assisted in their bid for power in Congo by various imperialist powers who noticed that Mobutu’s kleptomania was putting their Congolese plunder at risk. Not only was he massively unpopular among the Congolese people, but also he was diverting for the purposes of boosting his personal power and wealth money that ought to have been spent on maintaining and improving infrastructure. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, its support for African liberation movements disappeared, giving imperialism confidence that it could well afford to replace Mobutu. The only problem was that Mobutu had no intention of departing from the scene and had used his ill-gotten gains to build up a power base from which it was hard to topple him. Imperialism forced on Mobutu an end to the one-party state, with a transitional government (of which Mobutu remained president!) which included Mobutu rivals such as Tsishekedi. All were pro-imperialist, and none of them was able to get the better of Mobutu who remained firmly entrenched as President and was able to outmanoeuvre them at every turn. In despair, imperialism was forced to turn to the Congolese guerrilla army led by the anti-imperialist Laurent Kabila, who was apparently prepared to offer concessions in return for the support he received. When Kabila’s forces, in alliance with pro-imperialist governments in Rwanda and Uganda, did finally succeed in overthrowing Mobutu and forcing him to fee the country, the concessions he was actually prepared to make to imperialist concerns did not satisfy them at all, and imperialism very quickly shifted its support to the anti Kabila cabals of Mobutists and people who had opposed Mobutu, but only with a view to taking his place as most favoured puppet of imperialism. By exploiting ethnic and tribal divides, and with the help of Rwandan and Ugandan troops, imperialism was able to cause mayhem in the Congo for a period of 5 years, during which some 5 million Congolese perished in an orgy of bloodletting. They were unable, however, to overthrow the Kabila government., which also, incidentally, received heroic fraternal support from Angola and Zimbabwe.
As a means of overthrowing the nationalist government, the Congolese war proved to be an expensive failure for imperialism, notwithstanding that it had sent its proxies to fight the war for it. It therefore decided that the best way forward was to organise elections in the Congo and hope to be able to buy the result it needed.
Since Kabila’s government had always been committed to holding elections, which had been envisaged to take place in 1999, two years after it took power, but could not be held because of the war conditions, Joseph Kabila was only too happy to agree to this, and to grant some mining concessions to imperialist firms in exchange for peace. However, he also had to accept opponents as his 4 vice-presidents the 4 warlords who had waged war against him, including the notorious Mobutist war criminal Jean Pierre Bemba (supported by Uganda whose interest was in looting East Congo’s wealth) and Ruberwe who was supported by Rwanda. He also had to accept a 17,000 strong UN peacekeeping force. In return, aid to the Congo was upped to $1 billion a year (although one assumes that Joseph Kabila’s government has little if any say as to how that aid is to be spent). Although the peace that has prevailed since 2003 has been imperfect, nevertheless over the last 3 years the situation in Congo has been much better, and all Congolese were delighted with the opportunity to vote in an election, most of them for the first time in their lives. The general feeling is that because they are able to choose their political representatives, these people will be accountable to the people, unlike the kleptocratic imperialist puppets who have had the monopoly over government until 1997.
The 30 July first round
Congo is a country the size of western Europe which has only 300 km of metalled roads. Holding elections is a logistical nightmare. The cost of holding it is $300 million, which will be paid for by Western donors. Nevertheless, it is an election Joseph Kabila was bound to win, because notwithstanding the difficulties he has to face, and the unsavoury concessions he has felt obliged to make, he still stands for national independence and sovereignty, for fair and equal treatment of all Congolese regardless of tribe or region, as well as the demand that a major share of the profits from the sale of Congo’s abundant minerals should be used to improve the lives of Congolese people. He, like his father before him, has a history of implementing these policies. Hence he more than any other leading Congolese politician represents the aspirations of the mass of Congolese people. And in effect, in the first round of the election, whose results were declared on 20 August, he obtained, on a 70% turnout, 45% of the votes, as compared to 20% obtained by Bemba, his closest rival. Moreover, most of the votes obtained by Bemba were obtained on the basis of the latter threatening civil war if he did not win, i.e, people voted for him out of fear that the conditions of civil war would return. To the extent that people did vote for Bemba and other would-be kleptocrats, it was in the western region of the country, where Kabila only received some 40% of the votes – albeit still obtaining significant support even in this area, notwithstanding that Steve Bloomfield for The Independent of 23 August (‘EU sends peacekeepers to quell Congo clashes’) interprets this result as showing that Kabila was “deeply unpopular in Kinshasa”! In the war-torn East, where most of the valuable minerals are situated, the vote was 90% in favour of Kabila.
Under the Congolese constitution, Kabila would have needed to have obtained 50% or more of the total vote to have avoided a second round of voting. As it is, although he received more votes than all his significant rivals Bemba, Gizenga, Nzanga Mobutu, Kashala, Ruberwa and Bululu together (who between them obtained less than 44%), he nevertheless has to go to a second round.
By and large, imperialism is happy with this result. They do not much like Kabila, but believe that with a good level of support remaining for his rivals, Kabila will have no choice but to meet various imperialist demands. And certainly they have no enthusiasm for any of his rivals, who (with the possible exception of the nationalist veteran Gizenga whose vote came to 13%) could only be expected to behave in the way Mobutu did, but Mobutu was the cause of their problems in the first place.
Bemba, taking a leaf out of his former master Mobutu’s book, accused Kabila during the election campaign of being a puppet of foreign imperialism. This is what Mobutu used to say about all his rivals once imperialism had decided that Mobutu no longer served their interests, and had decided to ditch him in favour of a newer and more subtle model. This is, of course, rich coming from Kemba whose father grew rich sharing Mobutu’s ill-gotten gains in the service of western imperialism. But to the extent that the Kabila government has admitted UN peacekeeping troops, has granted mining concessions, regularly thanks the “international community” for their support and received the backing of the Belgian ambassador during the elections, one might tend to wonder whether Bemba might have a point.
A brief glance at the bourgeois press, however, is enough to put one’s mind at rest. Their hatred for Kabila remains reassuringly intact. Thus Richard Dowden in The Observer of 30 July 2006 (‘Warlords in the wings as Congo votes in hope’) writes:
“Congo is one of the poorest countries on Earth because it has never been a nation state, and has been forever looted by outsiders and its own rulers. Laurent Kabila, put in power by Uganda and Rwanda in 1997, continued the tradition of Leopold and Mobutu; so has his son Joseph Kabila, and the other warlords now competing for power”!!! This mean-spirited piece of slander cannot even credit Laurent Kabila with the fruits of years of armed struggle against the Mobutu dictatorship and asserts that he was merely ‘put in power’ by Rwanda and Uganda. If that had been true then when they ‘withdrew their support’ (i.e., when their master, US imperialism, withdrew its support as a result of Kabila’s demand for a higher share of mining profits for the Congolese people), they would presumably have no trouble in removing their puppet. But this proved not to be the case, and it was not the case because Kabila won primarily with the support of the masses of Congolese people, not simply because of his alliance with Rwanda and Uganda, who were quite frankly quite often more of a hindrance than a help. A similar line comes from Paul Vallely in The Independent of 28 July (‘Forever in Chains’) who, after giving quite a good account of Congo’s history as a victim of imperialist looting, claims that Laurent Kabila “turned out to be another petty tyrant”!
The Oh so liberal Guardian is putting its oar in by claiming that the election wasn’t fair: “The Catholic church and several NGOs say they may not recognise the results because of fraud and intimidation” (Rory Carroll, ‘Congo Elections’, 25 July 2006).
With the imperialist press so heavily condemnatory of Kabila, it seems more than likely that notwithstanding the compromises he has been forced to make, Joseph Kabila has certainly not sold out the interests of the Congolese people, and is demanding much better terms for the sale of mining concessions than western imperialism is happy to give. In addition, Joseph Kabila has close links with China, where he received his military training, and would undoubtedly be happy to emulate his neighbour Angola in concluding contracts with China rather than US or European imperialism should the latter continue to insist on imposing excessively onerous terms.
Clashes in Kinshasa following announcement of the results of the first round
The facts, as reported by Vital Kamerhe of Kabila’s Party (the PPRD) are that on Sunday 20 August there was a meeting presided over by the President of the Independent Electoral Commission to approve the provisional results obtained in the first round of the election. The First Vice President of this body, Mrs Rose Mika Ebenga, from Bemba’s Party, the MLC, expressed her disagreement by slamming the door. Later that evening, MLC militia occupied the Forescom roundabout, neutralising the traffic police post present there, disarming those stationed there as well as two members of the Presidential Guard who happened to be passing by. All of them were taken to MLC headquarters where they were severely beaten up. After this, MLC militiamen encircled the Provincial Bureau of the Independent Electoral Commission as well as their Headquarters in a different part of Kinshasa. This meant that the police were obliged to intervene to set free the members of the Independent Electoral Commission, which they did with the agreement of the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Thus, it was possible that same evening to publish the election results late that night on the national television station.
The night was calm, but the following day two members of the Presidential Guard were kidnapped and the Palais de la Nation, where Joseph Kabila, as President, is lodged, was subjected to heavy bombardment by Bemba supporters. Bemba was at the time hosting a meeting of various western ambassadors. The Presidential Guard again had to intervene to protect the President and rescue their sequestered colleagues. Of course they did not know that Bemba was entertaining foreign ambassadors, and one can only assume that the kidnappings and bombardments were provocations designed to bring about retaliation by the National Guard, which could then be misinterpreted by Bemba as an attack on his person by Kabila who wanted to eliminate him as an electoral rival in the run-off election.
This whole notion is absurd. Kabila is so far ahead of his rivals that he could have no possible interest in destabilising the run-off, even if he were inclined to deal with rivals in such a manner. This has not prevented our courtesan press from taking the opportunity to denigrate Joseph Kabila yet again, giving credence to the idea that he was trying to eliminate his rival, even though their imperialist masters are resigned to having to deal with Kabila rather than somebody tamer. Thus the Daily Telegraph of 23 August (Mike Pflanz, ‘EU troops fly into chaos of Kinshasa’) claims that “The clashes … began when the president’s forces apparently attacked Mr Bemba’s residence”.
In the meantime, imperialism’s plans for the region were set out in Der Spiegel of 17 August by Hans-Jürgen Schlamp (‘A Western Protectorate in Africa?), who writes:
“In two confidential meetings, representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund met with emissaries of the United States and the European Union to come up with the blueprint of a future government polices of Congo. No Congolese was invited to attend either meeting. Even before the new government in Kinshasa is formally installed, the European Union and the United States want to ‘condition’ the most important political leaders, as diplomats put it. Much as in Liberia and Mozambique, the new government in Congo will begin governing essentially as a Western protectorate. The country’s major economic project – the construction of several hydroelectric plans meant to provide half of Africa with electricity and the Congo with billions of dollars in revenue – will be placed under Western supervision…” …”The plan is to confront future rulers with a clear alternative: if they don’t accept the West’s guidelines, their financial support will be cut off. … [One] condition for a successful reconstruction of Congo is an efficient use of the funds. Every government contract, all aid money and every public expenditure will have to get the okay from Brussels and Washington…”
This is, of course, a recipe for perpetuating the ruin and misery of Congo. The Congolese people have had more than their fair share of being ruled by leaders groomed by imperialism and they simply will not tolerate a return to the old ways. In the long years of the liberation struggle against Mobutu, large masses of Congolese people have learnt to distinguish friend from foe, and are no longer prepared to listen uncritically to the instructions of imperialist mouthpieces such as the Catholic Church. Their hearts are set on freedom and for the moment Joseph Kabila is their most representative spokesman.
He, in turn, has no choice but to sup with the devil. It is a dangerous game even when armed with a long spoon. We wish him and the Congolese people every success in their bid to free themselves forever from the stranglehold of imperialism, and we stand for the right of the Congolese people to enjoy the full fruits of the sale of their country’s natural wealth, to develop their country into a prosperous modern state providing a decent standard of living to all its citizens.