Our Great Work of Civilization: Violence, War and Plunder in the Great Lakes Region of Africa
King Leopold II purchased what became the Congo Free State (CFS) because it contained “unspeakable richness” and was merely lacking an “enterprising capitalist” to exploit its resources. His personal acquisition of the CFS in 1885 gave freedom to Western capital, and death and enslavement to the indigenous population. The recent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while significantly more complex than those of the colonial enterprise, is also primarily motivated by resource exploitation networks and profit. Brutality of genocidal proportions was perpetrated against the inhabitants of the CFS so the proceeds of ivory and rubber would be felt in
The war in the DRC is not primarily a civil or ethnically motivated war. Rather it has diverse international, regional, and local dynamics and transcends state boundaries. The country endured a relatively brief struggle for independence when compared with its neighbours. However this period (1958-1960) was marred by Belgian support to the
Under Mobutu Sese Soko, Zairians enjoyed few political freedoms and suffered severe social fragmentation and marginalisation, while the corrupt regime became wealthy from resource exploitation with the aid of foreign corporate concessionaries.
The catalyst for the recent conflict was the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. In 1995-96 the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries conducted a Western-backed terror campaign in the Kivus against the refugees and the Intrehamwe militia; by 1996, approximately a million Rwandan Hutu had fled into the Kivus in eastern DRC. The migration completely changed the balance of power in the Kivus as those responsible for the genocide re-established political and military structures from their UNHCR camps and conducted sporadic attacks against the new Rwandan government.
Just as King Leopold’s “rubber agents” actively engaged in the genocide of around 10 million Africans, Kellogg, Brown and Root reportedly trained Rwandan army units on the border, Bechtel Corporation provided reconnaissance information so that Kagame could monitor the movements of Mobutu’s troops, and U.S. Special Forces trained the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) in counterinsurgency, combat, psychological operations, and instructions about how to fight in Zaire.
When Banyamulenge militia attacked the ANZ and the southern Kivu refugee camps in September 1996, Rwandan, and later Ugandan, forces officially invaded and the ex-FAR (former Rwandan Army) and Intrehamwe fled westward; fought for the Mobutu regime, and were massacred by the advancing anti-Mobutu armies.
A period of concerted pressure against Mobutu began as
Foreign support for Mobutu was lacking, as from their perspective, the old, Cold War-linked and corrupt leaders had to go, and Mobutu was not only the most important representative of this group, he was its symbol. The
Despite modest support from
The “anti-Mobutu alliance” generally justified their aggression on the pretext of ‘counter-insurgency’; that the Hutu in the UNHCR camps (Rwanda), the UNITA rebels (Angola), and the Lords Resistance Army, West Nile Bank Front, and the Allied Democratic Forces (Uganda), presented a threat to their respective national security. Other governments, such as in
In April 1997 the
Kabila’s authority was by and large supported by Tutsi soldiers, Katangans, and “kadogos” – young men and boys recruited by the AFDL in the westward march to
Under successive Kabila regimes the DRC witnessed the intensification of competing and predatory economic interests revolving around the exploitation of the resources of the country by a whole range of economic agents. The UN Panel of Experts concluded in 2002 that the elite networks that emerged as a result of the conflict have entrenched themselves and “have built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation.”
As a result of the war, there exist real interests in maintaining a situation in DRC that is popularly referred to as ‘no war, no peace’. In other words, if major forces in the region have vested interests in maintaining and expanding the “war economy” then the assumption that every party has an interest in peace-building is highly misplaced. This has been called the ‘logic of plunder’ by Nzongola-Ntalaja, meaning that globalization engenders the “growing tendency for states, Mafia groups, offshore banks and transnational mining companies to enrich themselves from crisis.”
Kabila, in collaboration with some neighbouring armed forces, particularly Rwandans, established the New Force Armees Congolaises (FAC) in an attempt to integrate the various armed units under one command. The
During this period violent conflict in the Kivus continued.
Pressure mounted on Kabila as
The DRC was then divided into three de facto segments and the ensuing political stalemate led to the signing of the
The ‘Second Congo War’ has resulted in an expensive situation for most, yet a lucrative one for some. Foreign elites have consolidated their politico-military status and translated it into economic advantages: Rwanda and Uganda exploit the diamond, gold, and rare metal deposits in Eastern DRC; Angola created a joint venture for petroleum extraction in the Lower Congo and is involved in the massive diamond trade in Kasai; and Zimbabwe has gained considerable control over copper and cobalt extraction in Katanga.
Meanwhile Laurence Kabila established ‘patronage networks’ to serve as resources through which clients could be rewarded for their support, such as the ‘state purchasing company’ that allowed him to bring the country’s revenue under his direct control. In doing so he somewhat alienated Western client companies; for instance, the seizure of Banro Resources Corporation’s assets provoked venture capitalist Arnold Kondrat to comment, “Your President [Kabila] is a crook and this country is going to suffer a lot in a very short time. You Congolese must know that this country and all its minerals are not yours but ours.”
The war is, first and foremost, an imperialist war and like all imperialist wars it is a war about the distribution of wealth and power. Africa is only beginning to experience what Latin America experienced in the late 19th century and
Western powers have maintained a preference for ‘military princeships’ and warlords in sub-Saharan Africa, operating in inter-related networks; the UN found that a complex web of interaction between warlords, diamond plunderers, smugglers and dealers, authoritarian states, gun runners, imperialist countries, weak states, private military companies and money launderers, exist in the region, in a network that extracted and transported diamonds to reproduce the conflict in Angola.
The need for the
There are often direct links between groups exploiting the resources of the DRC, and foreign political establishments. For instance, former-U.S. President George Bush Sr. is a major shareholder of Barrick Gold Corporation that exploits the DRC’s gold reserves. Kissenger Associates (KA) has been involved in the DRC conflict for some time. Kissenger himself is an overseer of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) that produced a report on mortality in the DRC; he is also associated with the Freeport McMoRan gold concern in
The manipulation of statistics regarding the conflict is often carried out by the same persons that stand to gain from its continuation. For example, the IRC report excludes the period 1996-98 from its equations because the Pentagon, along with U.S.-based private military companies (PMCs), Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) and Kellogg, Brown and Root (Halliburton), were directly involved in the violence; and to shield the governments of now military President Paul Kagame, in Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni, in Uganda, and their inner circles and extended networks of syndicated, organized crime. The terror campaign in 1995-96 committed by the RPA and their backers, the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces, MPRI and other mercenaries had Pentagon oversight and resulted in hundreds of thousands of violent deaths in the ensuing invasion.
Slavery still exists in the heartland of the DRC, perpetuated by foreign-owned transportation, shipping, aviation, telecommunications, agriculture, logging and construction empires pioneered by James Blattner in the 1980s.
In 2006 German diplomat Albrecht Conze described the quasi-paternalistic relationship the West has with the DRC as “like being the
There is also evidence of collusion between the UN mission to the DRC (MONUC), foreign concerns, and local warlords. For instance, MONUC was headed by former U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brown who is a director of Anvil Mining. The company has been has been implicated in massacres in DRC.
Professor Laurence Juma terms the interconnections between local and international participants the DRC conflict, ‘Shadow networks’ that comprise: the whole spectrum of transnational entities, legal and illegal; visible and invisible and are sustained by a complex system of economic and political alliances that involves powerful political establishments, multinational corporations, and many other institutions functioning in the international realm. They are not encumbered by local law, police, or courts, but their legitimacy is derived from the international system through ‘institutional dependencies’ and corporate manipulation. The profits of subcontracting arrangements and joint ventures undertaken by these networks becomes legitimate through their laundering via globalized financial arrangements.
The continuing lack of a sustainable peace in DRC is often misrepresented in the West; warfare in
The complexity of the war, when viewed in the context of the international system, negates the simplistic explanations of ethnic or civil “breakdown”. Rather, the warring parties are very much a part of the “war economy” of the Great Lakes Region and, by definition, are guided and motivated by regional and international goals that often defy state sovereignty. For instance, beginning in 2000, the RPA made $250 million in 18 months extracting coltan from the DRC and selling it on the international market; this caused a vicious cycle in which the RPA provided protection and security for individual and corporate plunderers who, in turn, shared their profits with the army to ensure continued protection and exploitation. Recent revelations suggest western corporations maintain an appetite for violent repression in the DRC as Sony Corporation is alleged to be financing extremist groups to ensure the supply of rubber and other raw materials needed to manufacture Playstations and other high end technology.
Congolese Finance Minister Athanase Matenda Kyelu stated that the 2007 draft budget was “in line with what was agreed with IMF services” and their “macroeconomic stabilization” program for the country; the program violates several fundamental charters, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Preamble to the Congolese Constitution. Because of the relationship between various groups in the DRC and their international backers, the threat of full-scale war is imminent; as reportedly
The overriding issue in the DRC, as in much of the world, remains the influence of the Great Powers and, as King Leopold II called it, their “great work of civilization.”
Tags: DRC , Congo , War , Rape , Plunder , Complicity
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