The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) surely need reprieve from constant violence and war. From Belgian King Leopold’s crimes against them, through the secessionist wars of the ‘60s and ‘70s, into the ‘90s Congo wars, this country has known little peace. The humanitarian impact of the Congo Wars is staggering, with 5.4 million dead between 1998 and 2008 alone.
Since its independence in 1960, the DRC has been buffeted between international intrigue and domestic maladministration. Successive presidents, since the ouster in 1997 of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (who betrayed DR Congo’s independence Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba), have lost control of the physical territory of the eastern DRC. The Mobutu-esque regression of the state, just as Fanon predicted in the third chapter of The Wretched of the Earth, manifested itself in a single party “dictatorship -stripped of mask, makeup, and scruples, cynical in every aspect…(that) has no other option but to erect imposing edifices in the capital and spend money on so-called prestige projects.” But retreat to the capital, as a governing principle, has its obvious limits.
Today, we hear there are over 100 active rebel armies in eastern DRC, tormenting the population more than skirmishing with the national army. Add to this a number of foreign fighters from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, using eastern DRC as a rearguard base; as well as an affiliate of Islamic State.
All this violence makes it impossible for the people of DRC to develop their resource rich country. I’m sure you’ve seen those maps where several continents are placed within Africa’s borders. Well DRC is so vast that all of Western Europe would comfortably fit in it. It is this size that makes it rich. It is bad governance and greed that makes it among the five poorest nations in the world.
The DRC’s tropical rain forests are our lungs and most likely a pharmacy for curing many a disease that we suffer from. It has the second longest river in Africa, wholly within its borders. The Congo is the deepest river in the world, almost a quarter of a kilometer deep in parts, and by volume discharges more water than every river apart from the Amazon of South America.
If DRC and Africa got our collective act together, hydro-power dams on the River Congo could generate enough electricity for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Put to constructive use, electricity and DRC’s mineral riches are a basis to forecast an indigenous African industrial revolution. In this great future, the phone, tablet or laptop you read this article on, would have been manufactured in the DRC; its key components: tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold- all come from eastern DRC.
It was DRC that was the source of the uranium and plutonium that created the chain reactions in Little Boy and Fat Man, the atomic bombs that ended World War II in the East by destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The chain reaction a successful Congo could set off in sub-Saharan Africa can only be imagined. As Congo with its 108 million citizens goes, so will Africa go. Ending the criminal, surreptitious extraction of their patrimony should be a common goal. Can you imagine the game changer for DRC (and Africa) if it were able to harness its wealth for itself? For a start, it could complete the road and rail network across the Equator of Africa.
While we all laud the Nairobi Process peace talks currently chaired by ex-Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, realism requires that we note there are always dark clouds and thunderstorms rumbling and raging over the governance of Congo. Past peace effort after peace effort failed, and the eastern DRC today remains in the hands of armed groups who are doing no governing, providing the people with zero services, merely extracting the region’s wealth, untaxed, with impunity. What is their incentive for a deal?
The forthcoming 2023 elections in DRC may be the motivation for xenophobic attacks by DRC politicians on citizens perceived to be foreign, in which case the potential for belligerent reaction from Rwanda, for example, is high. Rwanda is already signaling discontent with the international condemnation it is receiving for support of a key actor, which did not attend the Nairobi 3 talks. The March 23rd Movement (M-23) were not at the latest dialogue, having refused to withdraw to previously agreed lines in North Kivu. But even if they were in Nairobi, is there any likelihood of lasting peace without their backers’ (i.e. Rwanda’s) satisfaction with the necessary guarantees from Tshisekedi and the international community?
We should be interested in this issue. If Kenyan troops are to clash with any group in DRC, it will be M-23. Realpolitik dictates that talks include those who count, even if it is behind closed doors at the moment. That’s what the Americans and South Africans understood when they gave in and let the Cubans into the discussions that ended their war in Angola, and mid-wifed the independence of Namibia.
There are no short-cuts. You need the heavies in the room. The rebels in Nairobi (the press calls them militia) appeared bereft of discipline and organization, let alone ideology. A section staged a walkout of the peace talks in Kenya, for reasons which had nothing to do with a negotiation breakdown. Someone somewhere had not paid the rebels their per diem and daily subsistence allowances. Some blame, of course, must attach within the East African Community bureaucracy. It failed to timeously pass on donor funded per diems to the rebel attendees, which President Kenyatta said he had personally fund-raised. More shame on Africa that the funds for this confab had to be raised abroad. In defeating Apartheid, African solidarity was once so strong that countries budgeted funds to support the liberation movements. Today we turn to outsiders to fund African solutions for African problems. Sad.
Kenya has sent 900 of our kin to Goma as peacekeepers. These soldiers are there to help our Congolese brothers and sisters in need, not as a vanguard to usurp the positions of profiteers, past and present.We desperately need a positive outcome to rout the afro-pessimist’s view that Africa still is the heart of darkness à la Mr. Kurtz. So, I say good luck to everyone in the Nairobi Process and to President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom destiny has once again placed in his father’s shoes – Jomo Kenyatta was Chairman of the Organization of African Unity Ad Hoc Commission on the Congo in the 1960s.