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ZAIRE
A STUDY IN SCARLET

 

Democratic Republic of the Congo- Zaire

 

A STUDY IN SCARLET

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) is significant by African standards, the size of the United States East of the Mississippi, and ranking third on the African Continent. It probably has more valuable resources than any other country on earth; however, it is hopelessly poverty stricken, and one of the most desolate countries on earth. Its envied resources have attracted its neighbors like bees to honey. War here is a constant companion to everyone living here. Congo’s own rulers have pillaged and enslaved it like no other. Nevertheless, literally all of the human rights organizations on earth, along with the United Nations, have made hopelessly futile attempts to end the misery and suffering of the Congolese. 

Travelers to this nation have little rights here as well. What anyone would want to in this land of misery is beyond my comprehension, however if you do, we would strongly urge you to travel the country in a tank. With competing militias everywhere, it is an easy task to become a permanent part of the scenery. Everyone seems to be armed and it is best to travel with protection. There is total anarchy on the streets and the police are of little help when the chips are down unless of course you can afford to buy them. Most people in this hapless country are unemployed ([1]) and crime makes an interesting hobby for them between non-existent jobs. 

However, this has all happened here before and the last time around was even worse if that can be imagined. Years ago Congo had a different name, it was originally called Congo Free State, and during the period of approximately twenty-years at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, ten million people lost their lives. This was during the heartless reign of Leopold II who was at that time, the King of Belgium. Leopold was well aware of Congo’s riches and turned the country into a gigantic forced labor camp in order to insure that the enslaved population would extract the maximum amount of its bounty from the ground. During the present altercation, possibly three million people have lost their lives, a heavy toll in terms of humanity; approximately 5% of the population. During Belgium’s forced labor movement in Congo at the turn of the century, half the population died, most from starvation and exhaustion while they were extracting wood, rubber, ivory and gold. 

The Congo Free State had become nothing other than a massive penitentiary and Leopold’s armed guards set almost unapproachable production quotas for the people, hopping to induce them to extract increasing larger amounts of goods for Belgium. However, when the quotas were not met, the natives were summarily executed and replacements were brought in from surrounding territories to take their places. Moreover, news did not travel very fast in those days and because of the fact that Leopold’s public relations people were able to temporize the claims of the few bedraggled Congolese who had made what Leopold’s publicists described as  “highly exaggerated claims”, not much was ever written about this disaster.  Thus, little is remembered about what had occurred in Congo, roughly a century ago, but the terror that was inflicted on a pathetic and defenseless people by a supposedly civilized country, Belgium will go down in history as one of the greatest mass murders in the history of this planet. 

However, the rape of Congo Free State a century ago only lays a foundation for the endless for what is occurring there today. The pillaging and murder that this country has had to deal with recently is unique and it continues unabated as we speak. Nevertheless, if the carnage was over, we could add up the damage and agree to start over anew and do it right next time around. This is hardly the case and at the present time in Congo, money has literally ceased to have value as inflation is rampant and currently running at a rate of over 200 percent; and that is per month. Diamonds are an excellent means of exchange in this country for large purchases and for the smaller ones American Dollars are always in demand, but make sure that whatever you get back in change is quickly spent because it will be worth far less the next time you pay for something.   

 Wars, sponsored by Congo’s neighbors, are easy to fight in this country, because whole armies can glide across the country’s long porous borders and heavy underbrush at will. These marauders can hide return behind their own reinforced borders should they become entrapped. Each of Congo’s neighbors has its own reason to believe that it is entitled to a share of the spoils of war and in the Congo you really can’t differentiate the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard. There is little difference between the players here though; all people engaged in the rape of Congo are in this game for only one reason, money. The only question is with whom and why are the bad guys are aligned.  The key players in this ongoing soap opera are: 

1.                     The Tutsis              The Tutsis live in the eastern section of the Congo but have also colonized Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Centuries ago, they were a major force in Africa and they had conquered the aforementioned countries. Their rule began to wane as the Europeans, primarily, the Portuguese, colonized and subjugated the region. However, because of their highly advanced civilization, foreign rulers appointed the Tutsis’ to leadership roles in their stead. The Tutsis were not admired by other African tribes in the region, and to this day they feud with other tribes, primarily:  

2.                     The Hutu              The Hutu civilization goes back much further than do the Tutsis, dating their civilization back to 500 B.C. They originally came from southern Africa; however their homeland, while beautiful, was not entirely conducive to agriculture. As a result, the Hutu  became nomadic during the frequent dry seasons.   Their region was originally colonized by the Germans, and Belgium grabbed it after World War I.  After Rwandan independence, the Hutu rose to power in that nation. Their military was not benevolent, and displaced a large portion of the populations of both Rwanda and Burundi. Today, many live in Congo refugee camps in utter desolation. The Hutu act as proxies for the Congolese government’s attacks on Rwanda and Burundi, and also periodically take on the Tutsis. These bloody wars are unlikely to end any time soon. 

3.                     Rwanda and Burundi              These countries were originally friends of the Congo, but when the Tutsis’ were slaughtered by runaway Hutu and the Congolese leadership did nothing to stop the killing, those countries embarked on an undeclared war on the Congo. Although they were all bearing the banner of humanity in announcing to the world that they were there to stop genocide, all three nations soon forgot their original missions and setup mining operations within Congo. Their recovery of massive quantities of precious metals has turned their “humanitarian effort” into a profit making enterprise. An official report by the United Nations accused these countries of dealing in massive amounts of diamonds stolen from Congo and recommended a certification program for them to stop the theft. Rwanda has also made a concerted effort to strip the very wild life from the forests they live in.  

4.                     UNITA              Like Congo, Angola has substantial diamond operations, most of which are under the control of UNITA, which uses them to finance its war on the Angolan Government.  UNITA forces attack the Angolan military, and when out-manned, slip safely into Congolese territory. 

            Angola              Because UNITA could never be cornered in its own country, Angola feared that it would enlarge its small base in Congo and use that country as a jumping off place for raids into Angola. Angola invaded Congo for this announced reason although many felt that Congo was handily competing with Angolan diamond production and that the attack on Congo was also economically motivated. 

6.                     Union of Republican Nationalist for Liberation            Apparently non-aligned, this group has created havoc within Congo, attacking forces from either side with little rhyme or reason.  Most apparently, they are against the Government of Congo because they’re announced raison d’etre is to stop blockade the food supply to Kinshasa, the national capital a city of more than five million people. They have set up a power base several hundred miles from the capital, but control various parts of the Congo, making them a wild card in the pitched battle for control of the country.                                                                                               Mouvement de Liberation Congolese          This group is Uganda’s gift to the civil war raging in Congo. Led by Jean Pierre Bemba, Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) literally controls the entire northern sector of Congo. While the MLC are dedicated to the liberation of the Congo, they do not seem averse to aiding any side that will pay them more money or give them more benefits. This group, along with everyone else fighting in this godforsaken place have little allegiance to anyone, including their Ugandan benefactors.                                                                                            Zimbabwe                         Robert Mugabe, the number one honcho in Zimbabwe who has been getting a little wacky lately, has the best mercenary army in the region. Congo offered Zimbabwe substantial diamond concessions in exchange for its protection. Mugabe accepted and settled in; his army removed mountains of precious stones from Zimbabwe, while occasionally fulfilling its role as hired guns for the Congo. The Zimbabweans have announced no serious moral motives for their actions, making them the most honest of the competing forces. An official United Nations report stated that it is Zimbabwe’s mining concessions that cause them to remain in the Congo War.                                                                                            Congolese Democratic Coalition            These people seemed to spring up from nowhere sometime late in 1998. They operate under several names, including the RCD and the Congolese Rally for Democracy. The RCD are ferociously opposed to the Congolese Government of Kabila. They began in grand style by attacking Kinshasa itself. While particularly unsuccessful in taking the nation’s capital, the Congolese Democratic Coalition, universally supported by all of Congo’s enemies, eventually occupied a substantial swath of the country. However, this motley crew was loosely organized and eventually succumbed to internal warfare, desertions and mutinies. 

10.                   Les Mongoles            Like the pirates along the Barbary Coast, these folks are basically an expensive nuisance. However, in between raids on small army units, they are historically opposed to the Congolese Rally for Democracy, and all else being equal, they will attack the Rally for Democracy rather than the opposition.  In the absence of a real enemy, they will attack anything that looks like a choice target.  

11.                   Maji-Maji Ingillima            The Maji-Maji were a force to be reckoned with early in the 20th century and soon became a large thorn in the German side. At that time, the Germans occupied what is now the Congo.  In 1905 they revolted against German oppression. Their beliefs bordered on black magic;  their talisman in battle is a kind of water (Maji) and a strange looking headdress. Not surprisingly, they eventually got their heads handed to them, but they remained a regional force in the Congo.  They still practice cannibalism, and will attack with a reckless abandon fed by their belief in both invisibility and indestructibility. They are equal opportunity killers and will attack anyone for a price.  

12.                   Namibia            Namibia is an ally of both Angola and Zimbabwe and in this role has sent substantial troops into Congo. While not sharing a border with Congo, the country became extremely concerned with the possibility that the conflict in Congo would turn into a larger regional conflict. However, Namibia was well schooled in the value of the precious stones to be found in Congo and that country paid Namibia well for their half-hearted military support. As an example of one of the payments received, Namibia became part owner of an operating diamond mine with the Congo Government and United States’ interests as token of Congo’s appreciation during their civil war.  The mine is located at Maji Munene near Kinshasa. 

13.                   Sudan            Sudan’s involvement in Congo is probably the most complex of all of the country’s fighting there. Uganda has made several incursions into Sudan and for that reason alone, the government feels that any nation allied with Uganda is their enemy and anyone against them is their friend. In addition, many Sudanese revolutionaries are fighting alongside the Ugandan forces in Congo.  Sudan’s involvement in the Congo is more of that of providing supplies than that of military involvement than active engagement. However, many Muslim nationals living in Sudan have joined with Congolese forces in the fighting. Nevertheless,  Sudan has their own distractions. Military and economic problems tie their hands and they will be able to afford little major involvement in this area. However, that has not stopped them from exporting exotic animals from Congo’s jungles.  

14.                   Chad              Of all of the groups slugging it out in Congo, Chad probably has the appalling reason. In reality, they have no interests to defend and no bounty that they are concerned with. Their forces are in Congo with a substantial force only as a proxy for the governments of Libya and France. Their benefactors have elected Chad to act to defend the Congo Government and it has been said that their arms as well as those from Zimbabwe were supplied by the Chinese Government.  

15.                   Uganda            Much of what formerly has been said about Rwanda and Burundi could be repeated relative to Uganda, but this situation is infinitely more complex. While it is indeed true that Uganda attacked Congo primarily for economic benefit, there is far more to the story. Lately Uganda has shown a substantial amount of adventurism. They have attacked a number of their neighbors, primarily for economic gain. One of the major benefactors of Uganda is the United States and we have given a very substantial amount of money to that country. While the reason for America’s sponsorship of the crazies in Uganda is the simple fact that America bought the support of the Ugandan army to fight America’s enemy, the Sudanese. “Uganda entered the Congo war to prevent a small rebel outfit, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), from continuing their civil war against the Museveni regime from bases within the RC. Sudan was giving financial backing to Kabila (Congo) to maintain these ADF bases as part of its war with the SPLA. “[2] 

16.                   Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army            Another one of those situation similar to that of Sudan. I am a friend to my friend’s friends and an enemy to my enemy’s enemies. This ragtag group of revolutionaries, has a vicious hate on for the Ugandan Government and would do just about anything to get in their face. One of the worst things that they have done in their ardor to inflict pain on the Government of Uganda is conscript children to fight their battles for them. For this, they have received condemnation from most civil liberties groups. However, that is of little concern to them because everyone else in this Alice and Wonderland type war have been ostracized as well for the violation of human rights as well. Ugandan’s Lord’s Resistance Army makes forays into Congo whenever they feel that the time is ripe to kill Ugandans. They do not appear to be ay danger to any of the other belligerents, but this group will pillage, rape and kill innocent victims whenever the opportunity arises.  

17.                   The Simba                        A group of revolutionaries that have been an important force in Congo since its early days as a free country. The United States Government under Lyndon Johnson’s administration sponsored the so-called Simba Revolution that changed the government in Congo. At that time, Laurent Kabila who latter become head of the government was an important element in its victory. The Simba have been supportive of the current Congolese administration.  

There are numerous other countries and groups that are directly or indirectly involved in Congo’s problems. The Chinese, French, the South Africans and Americans are covertly supporting either one group or another. It would take forever to describe each of the other country’s reasoning for being involved here because of the political complexities of the situation. However, aside from the politics, there are other unusual elements present here that have created strange bedfellows. South Africa and Israel are home to companies that are intimately involved in trying to dictate the outcome of this struggle. Oppenheimer and DeBeers both have vested interests in how the struggle affects the international diamond market, as does a major company in Israel that was given the Government’s diamond concessions to operate. 

It would require more space than we have available to truly delve into the interlocking arrangements that exist in this struggle within a relatively unimportant country in the global scheme of things.  However, with the stakes being diamonds and other precious metals, you can begin to understand the tenacity of the adversaries. Franz Fanon a famous writer has put the Congo into simple perspective when he said, “Africa has the shape of a revolver; the trigger is the Congo.” 

The United Nations

 When you consider that there at least nine countries that are United Nations’ members actively engaged in this mess, at first glance, one would probably think that their offices would be the best bet to solve the problem. From a public relations viewpoint, literally everybody agrees that the fighting should be ended including the combatants, but little headway has resulted no matter how much negotiating has taken place. However there has been some agreement among neutral nations relative to sending an independent unit from the United Nations to at least separate the combatants. This idea too has run into trouble:

 “…Congo is a daunting test case, threatening to become not only the most complex peacekeeping operation in history but also the most dangerous. Often called Africa’s first world war, Congo’s civil war has drawn in armies from at least six African countries to a struggle that pits the autocratic regime of Congo’s President Laurent Kabila against three separate rebel groups. The decaying nation lacks meaningful infrastructure, roads are nonexistent, and disease is virulent. Fighting is scattered throughout a country the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. And the often-impenetrable jungle has helped conceal the true death toll. 18.  

That operation, which has been on the drawing board for some time, has never really gotten off the ground primarily because most countries are really not much interested in what goes on in Africa. They are not affected by the bloodshed or the pillaging. Because of that fact, no consensus exists and beyond this, the logistics are an absolute nightmare. Some of the logistical considerations that the United Nations must deal with to make any peace is the fact that for every observer that the UN sends to the front, it will take ten additional UN soldiers to guard and supply them. “The largest expense is the fact that, up to 1,000 aircraft sorties to get the troops and their equipment to four posts. If this initial deployment is successful, the UN will consider the next phase, which could involve 20,000 to 30,000 peacekeepers.” ([3]

The cost of such an undertaking will be monumental ([4]), while figuring out the logistics of the situation many have said is utterly hopeless. The combatants from both sides are all currently getting rich at the expense of the Congolese People and have little or no reason to pull up stakes. Fundamentally what is occurring in Congo is a giant mugging by both friends and enemies alike and we see little reason for change of that position any time in the immediate future. 

            “It is probably the most complex war that Africa has had to grapple with since the post-colonial battles.” ([5]) 

 Mobutu

Mobutu Sese Seko, former leader of Congo and as such, the then longest reigning monarch on earth, recently died in exile at 66 of prostate cancer. He was the ultimate opportunist and by selectively dispatching his friends and remaining contemptuous of all his subjects, set new global standards in corruption, greed and avarice.  Upon ascending his exalted position, he changed the name of the country from Zaire to Congo, he Africanized his people’s names, banned skin coloring, Western music or hair straightening. Congolese people became obligated to address each other as “Citizen” while the dress of the day became a Mao-like outfit composed of tunic and pants.  Mobutu ruled with an iron fist and many of those that did not go along with his program soon were seen floating down the Congo River.  

The rule of Mobutu in Congo is tragic, not because, like Idi Amin in Uganda or Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Mobutu was a madman who brutalized the residents or served them up in stews to visiting dignitaries, but because Congo could be one of the richest countries in the world. It is stuffed like a turkey with resources, from diamonds to cobalt to uranium - and that, naturally, is why Western powers from the colonial Belgians to the Cold War Americans have always been so interested. It is also why those same countries kept propping up Mobutu with great mountains of cash, much of which wound up building African Xanadus for Mobutu, his family and those he sought to buy.”[6] 

Mobutu was spotted early by the CIA as a sterling talent almost fifty years ago. Early reports indicated that this was a man that had no scruples and would do anything for a buck. When he was first discovered, the CIA saw this immoral but eloquent young man as a future leader of the country and an excellent rallying point for the people. They were still under the stifling leadership of Belgian who still considered Congo their territory. The United States was then engaged in what appeared at the time to be a fight to the finish with the Soviet Union, which was attempting to destabilize the African Continent. 

American feared that the Russians had a lot to work with because the Europeans had treated Africa as a piggy bank for centuries and their people as inferiors. They had enslaved the population and had attempted to remove the continent’s resources to their own treasuries. Indeed, they had not done a very good public relations job here and it showed. For this reason, Communism seemed at the time a far better theory than the one that had  been foisted on them by the guys with the tarnished white hats in Europe.

 At the time of the CIA’s concern, Patrice Lumumba had recently been elected prime minister in a relatively free election. However, the nervy Lumumba wasn’t following the American line and soon began sucking up to the Russians who he thought could do more for his people. The CIA went to their agent in training, Mobutu, and suggested that he could run the country if he would accept American money and weapons and keep his mouth shut about the whole affair.  The was Mobutu’s kind of deal. The President to be just couldn’t wait, he had always dreamed of having his own country and here at an early age he was being offered one. 

A plan had to be evolved to get rid of Lumumba, some suggested that Mobutu poison him and other felt it would be better to create a civil war. The public relations folks at the CIA indicated that civil wars can be fought on high moral grounds while poison, which is much cheaper and quicker leaves a bad taste.  Mobutu jumped at the opportunity and immediately joined in following the more complicated plan of overthrowing Lumumba to the letter. However, this turned out to be no easy task, as while the allies threw substantial resources into the fray and while Mobutu controlled the army, Lumumba was the people’s favorite and no easy mark.  In the meantime, the Russians gave him substantial moral support and named a university after him in Moscow. The logistics of helping anyone in darkest Africa just did not work for the logistically light weight Communists.

 “In August of 1960, the CIA plotted to murder a man named Patrice Lumumba - in the early 1960s, the CIA always seemed to be trying to kill somebody - but in this case, Lumumba was a new leader of the freshly independent Congo. He had himself just been deposed. Lumumba had cozied up to the Soviets in his search for cash to help him build what he expected to become a shining example of what Africans could do when Africa was left to the natives, rather than former colonial exploiters. Lumumba was happy to invite the Soviets, but this, naturally, worried the Americans, who helped arrange Lumumba’s forced removal from power and the subsequent ascension of Mobutu Sese Seko.”[7]

 Because of the people’s support and the Russian’s goodwill, America’s allies determined early on that it  wasn’t enough to overthrow Lumumba, he would have to be dispatched. I guest you could call it a combination of plans one and two. With him still alive the CIA was wary of Lumumba’s strong support from his own people along with his supposed willingness to accept readily available Soviet aid could effect Western domination of that continent. With this in mind, the U.S. along with other friendly Western anti-Communist nations prodded Mobutu and his cohorts  to contrive Lumumba’s death. Everyone got their wish, but it took five long years for it to happen.

 In the middle of the plotting however, a wild card appeared from nowhere. Most of the country’s copper came from the province of Katanga, which, in 1960, was seeking to break away from a Congo that was then controlled by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Allied forces were able to use this a launching pad. In return, Lumumba sought Russian assistance in putting down the resurrection. This created a situation that could become detrimental to American interests in Africa said the CIA and action had to be taken immediately. The pistols were drawn and the action commenced. The West who supported Mobutu were in good position because in the meantime he had by now become chief of the army. In the end it would also be he who would be ultimately responsible for Lumumba’s overthrow, torture and death. This engendered a massive civil war in which tens of thousands of Congolese lost their lives in the bitter five-year  war that ensued. Finally, the allied Western powers were victorious and in 1965 Mobutu, seized power.

 



[1] Currently somewhere around 80%

[2]  Congo War Drags On - Uganda and Chad Pull Out by Chris Talbot, WSWS.ORG, 14 May 1999.

[3]  Stepping in where other rear to tread, U.S. News and World Report, Kevin Whitelaw 2-28-2000

[4] Probably in the billions of dollars over a period of time.

[5] Francis Kornegay and Chris Landsberg

[6]  Black Man’s Burden, Michela Wrong gets it all right in this look behind the scenes of a disaster called Congo, Brian Alexander, The San Diego Union - Tribune, 4-22-2001

[7]  Ibid

 

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