When Laurent Désiré Kabila, the predecessor and father of the current president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was killed on 16 January 2001, the Western press and political leaders were openly supportive of this killing. “A window of opportunity is now opening” said Louis Michel, the then minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium. In August 1998, Rwanda and Uganda had begun a war of aggression against Congo with the support of Europe and the US. Aldo Ajello, the special envoy of the European Union for central Africa, declared at the end of his mandate in March 2007: “It is true that Kabila was not popular, in fact, everybody (in the West and in pro-Western Africa) would have preferred the blitzkrieg (of Rwanda and Uganda) to have succeeded. But then Kabila preferred to give a military answer (to the aggressors) instead of a political answer. But the Rwandans had the best army in central Africa. They were advancing. Finally the hand of the holy ghost has arrived and Laurent Kabila has been murdered and his son Joseph Kabila has arrived.” (Le Soir, 4 March 2007)
In order to eliminate Laurent Kabila, the West slaughtered 5 million Congolese who died in the war between 1998 and 2003.
Why unleash this cynical barbarity to eliminate one man, the president of Congo?
It was because Laurent Kabila had committed the crime of mobilising the Congolese people in an armed struggle against the Mobutu regime. It was because Laurent Kabila spoke to the Congolese people as a revolutionary who didn’t accept the old colonial and neo-colonial system. It was because Laurent Kabila defended an economic policy that was focused on the problems of Congolese people instead of the profits of Western multinationals: the only economic reconstruction plan for Congo, written by Congolese ministers without the ‘help’ of The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) advisers, was that presented in December 1997 in Brussels at the conference of Friends of the Congo. It was immediately turned down. The final reason was that Laurent Kabila was organising the common Congolese people in different ways: the young people were organised in a ‘national service’ to help build infrastructure and undertake agricultural projects, there were the cantines populaires [people’s canteens] to meet problems of food insecurity in the big cities; and finally he organised the CPP (comités du pouvoir populaire) [Committees of Popular Power] to build a state in which the power would be in the hands of the common people.
After the death of Laurent Kabila, the west expected there to be riots in Kinshasa, and the neo-colonial armies were ready to intervene. On 17 and 18 January, La Libre Belgique was already publishing photographs of the weapons, jeeps and tanks of the Belgian paracommandos flying to nearby Brazzaville, to be on standby for intervention, just as they had in the ‘good old days’ in the 60’s. But the Congolese people supported the political legacy of the person they still call ‘Mzee’ (the wise man). Instead of riots, there was mass mourning by millions of people crying all along the route traversed by the body of their Mzee on his way to his final resting place.
The inner circle of Laurent Kabila’s friends, Abdoulay Yerodia, his minster of Foreign Affairs, and General Lwetcha, the head of the army (FARDC, Forces Armées de République Democratique du Congo) and old comrade from the maquis (resistance) of the 60s, 70s and 80s which fought against the neo-colonial dictatorship of Mobutu, decided to stabilise the situation and to organise the transition of power into the hands of Kabila’s son: Joseph Kabila.
On 26 January, at the young age of only 29, Joseph Kabila took the oath of president of the DRC. At that time the country was divided into at least 3 different parts: one was under the control of the Congolese army, another under the Rwandese army and the third under the Ugandan army. Nine days after his father died, Joseph Kabila adopted a policy that can be summed up as “making concessions in order to preserve the essential”. He defined what was essential in his first speech on 26th January as follows: “ending the war, that has given rise to so many casualties, as soon as possible; to force the armies of the aggressors to leave the country; to restore the unity and the sovereignty of Congo; and to organise elections – thus laying the basis for economic reconstruction.”
The political events since then have been very unusual and paradoxical.
The concessions were enormous. The list is very long, and only the most important will be mentioned. Immediately an IMF staff member became minister of finance in the new government. From then until now, the governmental budget is decided and controlled by the IMF. That means that economic policy is subject to the dictates of the free market, with repayment of the debt as a priority, and private investment being the motor for rebuilding the economy.
Joseph Kabila agreed to negotiate with Congolese collaborators with the aggressors: the so called “rebels” led by Bemba, who were collaborating with the Ugandan army, and also the pro-Rwandan faction named the Rassemblement pour la démocratie Congolaise or RCD.
He agreed to form a transitional government in 2003, in which the nationalists were in the minority and power at all levels of the state was divided between the nationalists, on the one hand, and the pro-Rwandan, pro-Ugandan and pro-western ‘political opposition’ on the other hand. You can compare this to the French resistance after the second world war being required by the Americans to form together with Nazi collaborators a government of national unity. This would be unthinkable by European standards, but as neo-colonialists say: “in Africa democracy is played with different rules than in Europe”. The most revolutionary pro-Mzee militants were carefully kept outside the state-apparatus and also excluded from participation in the elections.
The 2006 election campaign was completely dominated by the Mobutist old guard. It was Bemba’s party that had the political initiative. They launched a malicious campaign by questioning Joseph Kabila’s paternity and nationality. Was he really the son of Laurent Kabila? Was he really a Congolese? They accused Joseph of selling the country to Rwanda. And so on. The camp that was waging the campaign on behalf of Joseph Kabila refused to denounce the war-crimes committed by Bemba. It refused to answer the accusations made. Asked the reason for this very defensive method of campaigning, one member of Kabila’s media staff answered: “The president has given his word to the international community not to polemicise on the war issue.” It was most astonishing to see how the Kabila camp limited itself to saying only: “Vote for Joseph Kabila, period”.
You can say that Joseph Kabila’s victory in the elections with 58% of the votes was like a boxer winning a fight despite his hands being tied behind his back.
The west stays suspicious
In spite of all the concessions Joseph made in the process that began in 2001 up to now, the West remained very suspicious of him. Again and again he had to prove that he would accept the rules imposed by the US and Europe. Mainly it meant: accepting a weak position in a weak state totally depending on the support of the US and Europe. It is remarkable that Joseph Kabila succeeded in attaining the goals he had set out on 26 January 2001, and this without a major rupture in his relations with the west. For example, there was heavy pressure to give guarantees before the elections that the losers would be given important positions in the government and in the state after the elections were over. “The argument was that if you did not give these guarantees, the war could start all over again”. The real aim was to ensure continued division at the helm of the state after the elections. Joseph refused and, in spite of heavy pressure, the militia of Bemba, vice-president in the transitional government was disarmed and Bemba himself was accused of treason and is now in exile and politically dead.
The most important battle is now the battle to control the eastern provinces of Kivu. Notwithstanding the signing of the peace agreement, the formation of the government of national unity and all the other concessions Joseph Kabila made, the troops of Rwandan president Kagame, one of the most important pillars of pro-American forces in Africa, still control large parts mostly of North Kivu. An army well equipped and supplied with smart uniforms, with war-criminal Laurent Nkunda as ‘commander’, is still active as an autonomous force. The argument put forward by Kigali and Nkunda to justify the presence of this army is that the Congolese government and the FARDC, the Congolese Army, still collaborate with the Interahamwe (the militia they accuse of having committed the Rwandan genocide in 1994). Nkunda is described in Kigali as a hero who is defending Congolese Tutsis under threat of genocide. Kagame’s dictatorship is built on the demagogic claim that he is defending the Tutsis inside and outside Rwanda. This is on a par with the Zionist ideology that similarly justifies terror against Palestinians and aggression against Israel’s Arab neighbours. The real aim of Kagame is to maintain the ethnic tension in Kivu and to continue the chaos as long as possible in order to weaken the position of Joseph Kabila. Because of all the crimes that his army has committed since 1994, Kagame knows that he is hated by a large majority of people who live in Rwanda and in neighbouring Kivu. A stable Congo is, therefore, a deadly threat to Kagame. The dream Kagame and his imperialist masters pursue is that of an independent buffer state between Congo and Rwanda.
The position of the President and the government in Kinshasa is that the defence of every community in Congo is the task of the Congolese state alone, and not of any neighbouring state or any autonomous militia. Moreover, Kinshasa is accusing Kagame of continuing to supply arms and soldiers to the Nkunda militia. The governor of North Kivu Province has demanded an enquiry into the source of the weaponry and the uniforms of Nkunda’s soldiers.
The U-turn of the US
Kabila has shown so much patience and goodwill in negotiating with Nkunda and Kigali that today it has become impossible for the US and Europe to require continuous negotiations with Nkunda.
The point of no return for the Western position was reached on 15 October, when Kabila was in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, to prepare a final assault on the Nkunda militia. At that moment the ambassadors of the US, UK, France, Belgium and South Africa, led by William Swing, the head of MONUC (UN ‘peace’ force in the DRC) and CIA-superman, flew 2000 km from Kinshasa to Goma to hold discussions with Kabila.
While insisting for years, months and until the very last day, on the “absolute necessity of there being a political solution to the problem and to avoid a new war at all costs”, they declared after their discussion with Kabila: “We are here to show our support for the government of Kabila and also to support the right of the Congolese state to protect and provide security to all the citizens of this state. We again appeal to all dissidents to lay down their weapons unconditionally and without delay”.
The U-turn in US policy, that was immediately followed by the European Union, was confirmed officially on 26 October 2007, when Kabila visited President Bush at the White House in Washington. Bush, shaking hands with Kabila for the benefit of the press, said: “Mr. President, you’ve said that you wanted there to be fair and free elections, and you delivered. And I appreciate that and congratulate you on being a man of your word. And we look forward to continuing to work with you, sir, to bring peace and stability to the neighbourhood. So, welcome.”
Has the Western position really changed?
For the moment the West was obliged to accept Joseph Kabila as president of Congo in spite of the fact that he will not accept the presence of any military counterweight inside the territory and state of Congo. The results of the conflicts with Bemba and with Nkunda are just the opposite of what the West would have liked to have seen.
First: the policy of making “concessions in order to save the essential” has, for the moment at least, succeeded. It was militarily and politically very risky for the West openly to insist on advocating a weak Congolese state – with rebellion and war-crimes being countered only with “dialogue” and “political solutions”. Since the eighties none of the strategies formulated by the West in regard to the Congo have worked or given the desired results. To continue to support the war-and-chaos strategy it followed since 1998 could turn the whole region, and maybe the whole continent, definitely against the West. The worst nightmare for the West is a recurrence of the massive mobilisation and explosion of anger of the Congolese people as occurred in the beginning of the war of aggression in August 2008 and as occurred during the occupation of Bukavu, in South Kivu, by the Rwandan army under leadership of Nkunda in May 2004. After two days of massive manifestations in every Congolese city, the Rwandan troops got the order to leave Bukavu and the city fell into the hands of the Congolese army with no bullet shot. The reason: the panic in western diplomatic circles was enormous, even the evacuation of the MONUC was considered.
Second: in September, the month before the Western U-turn, a huge investment by China in the Congolese economy of $8.5 billion was announced. This announcement was followed a month later by a visit from the vice-governor of the Chinese bank for development in Kinshasa. There was a second agreement and this time the exact amount was not made public. But amounts of $10 and $14 billion were estimated by different newspapers.
The day after the first agreement was announced, the Financial Times of 19 September in an article entitled ‘Alarm over China’s Congo deal’, said: “Large western mining groups are keen to gain access to these resources to replace their dwindling deposits but have largely held back from investing in the country – put off by continuing unrest, widespread corruption and the lack of infrastructure.
“Alex Gorbansky, managing director of Frontier Strategy Group, a political risk consultancy, said China’s $5bn draft agreement with Kinshasa would put pressure on both the large mining companies looking to get in and the small miners already there.
“‘It will give China a distinct advantage in the Congolese copper belt,’ he pointed out.
“He said large western mining groups, such as Anglo American and Rio Tinto, were spending increasing amounts of time and money weighing opportunities in Congo. But China’s move might mean they had left it too late to secure the best assets.”
So time has come for the Western companies to invest or to take the risk that they will “come too late to secure the best assets”.
The knife always behind the back
Bush spoke kindly of Kabila. James Swan, deputy assistant of State for African Affairs, also spoke kindly of Chinese activities in Africa. On 9 February 2007, Swan spoke at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He told the audience: “China has important interests in Africa, which include access to resources and markets and the pursuit of diplomatic allies. None of these is inherently threatening to US interests. US policy is not to curtail China’s involvement in Africa, but to seek cooperation where possible. For example by finding complementarities in our aid programs.”
So it might appear that the penny has finally dropped. War, military threats and so on have apparently been replaced by goodwill and cooperation between the US, the African governments and China. And Africa is on its way to development. But never underestimate the cynical nature of imperialism. While they are kissing their enemies, they hide the knife and prepare for the next battle.
In fact the Western position on Nkunda was very ambiguous: while saying Kabila has the right to crush the rebellion of Nkunda, at the same time the West insists that there should be negotiation and warned that the Congolese army was “not able” to do the job. And from the first military operation, there was treason. After the occupation by the Congolese army of the village of Mushake, a stronghold of Nkunda, the Indian brigade of MONUC refused to intervene at a decisive moment when soldiers of Nkunda launched a counterattack. There was also treason from inside the army that is infiltrated by former officers of the RCD-rebellion, and the Congolese army lost the village. Immediately there was shouting about a big defeat for the army and the necessity to dismiss the nationalist minister of defence, Chikez Diemu and Dieudonné Kayembe, the nationalist officer who leads the FARDC. And naturally: the necessity to negotiate once again.
And on the front of the political battles, the next time bomb is already ticking for the Congolese State. The Belgian professors who wrote the present constitution, carefully planted this bomb. They prescribed the reorganisation of the existing 11 provinces into 26 provinces. The second article of the constitution says that the frontiers of those provinces will be defined by an organic law.
And in article 175, they wrote that 40% of taxes will go to the provinces and there it will be held at “source”. Of course this option was chosen “to protect national unity”. But in the conditions of Congo it means guaranteeing division, internal struggle, and even instigating secessions. Why? Because everyone who holds a position in the State will fight to the death to control as large a part as possible of state income for the simple reason that according to Mobutist ideology the Chief treats State property as his own. This ideology Mobutu borrowed from the feudal ideology with which Leopold II defended his management of his colonial property and it is still how the overwhelming majority of the present-day Congolese bourgeois – who are evolving from a traditional comprador-bourgeoisie into a bourgeoisie with nationalistic ambitions – in fact think.
In fact article 175 has already caused major problems, because some provinces have interpreted the 40% as a way of distributing the taxes, while the richest provinces of course interpret it to mean that each province has the right to withhold 40% of the taxes it generates and give only the remaining to the central state. The governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi, a man who is advised by the Israeli Mossad and the American CIA, has already led a “rebellion” against the central government over this question. He had to retreat, but he will wait for his next moment.
By February 2010, this decentralisation must be completed. And in 2008 there are also scheduled to be held local elections for the cities and communes.
These will be huge battles designed to weaken central government and, for the moment, the “friendly” Bush administration is already preparing for this battle without losing one second. Jendayi E. Frazer, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, declared before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs on 24 October 2007 that the first area to focus on in the conflict in the east is: “Extending state authority by strengthening civilian institutions through the decentralisation process and preparing for local elections in 2008.”
Kabila’s position remains weak
Joseph Kabila has succeeded, up to now, by making many concessions and hoping that time and inter-imperialist contradictions, combined with the alliance with China and the passive support of the Congolese people will see his administration through.
In order to avoid provoking the ire of the US and European Union, he has buried his father’s policy of relying first and foremost on the support of Congolese people. He has broken with the tradition of Mzee who spent much of his time speaking with the people and the soldiers in the army to explain his policy and to mobilise them. He has dissolved the Committees of Popular Power and has completely broken with the concept his father was defending of people’s democracy and a Congolese state that must be in the hands of the Congolese people.
Instead he has been relying on a class of technocrats, many of whom were trained under Mobutu. The Parliamentary elections returned people who had money and power, the majority of whom had acquired them in the period before the fall of Mobutu.
There is a big question over whether this powerbase will be able to hold out in the next battle for the building of a strong Congolese State that seeks real development in the interests of the Congolese people.
A return to the policy of Laurent Kabila is what we would hope for. But while hoping for this, we must continue here in Europe to denounce the neo-colonial ambitions and intrigues of our governments.