Congo: Reverses on all fronts

Publié le par hort

 http://weekly. ahram.org. eg/2008/922/ inter.htm

Reverses on all fronts

Millions of Congolese are in dire need of humanitarian help and the country is not ready for Western-style democracy, contends Gamal Nkrumah

The Congolese debacle is febrile. It seems to happen every time. The Congolese politicians are raring to go, but a cabal of tribal militias is not. The civilian leaders make a hash of things and offer little new. The militia leaders pick up the pieces and like magicians conjure up millions of supporters out of thin air. Thousands of adolescents are being recruited into the tribal militias. The irony is that the youngsters are detribalised and are being indoctrinated by the tribal elders who are determined to sow the seeds of hatred among kindred peoples. The peasants are pawns in wars they have no vested interest in. When will the Congolese stand peacefully on their own feet?

More is at stake around Africa's Great Lakes region -- simultaneously among the most fertile and densely populated, and the poorest and least politically stable on the continent. Congo's eastern neighbours are impacted by the war primarily because of the influx of Congolese refugees. However, it is crucial for would-be mediators to keep in mind that eastern Congo and the countries bordering the vast region have an almost identical ethnic composition.

It is against this backdrop that the summit meeting between Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in the Kenyan capital Nairobi has attracted much regional and international interest. Congo, after all, is one of the world's most resource rich countries with tremendous untapped mineral potential.

Nkunda has again reiterated his threat to topple the democratically- elected Congolese government of Joseph Kabila, even though he has said that "negotiations are the only way to resolve the Congolese conflict." Nkunda considers the government in Kinshasa both corrupt and ineffectual, a confusing amalgam mortally damaging to its legitimacy. Nkunda craves a senior ministerial portfolio in a government of national unity with Kabila as figurehead. The last thing Kabila wants is insurgents worming away his administration from within.

So Congo has a political crisis, is an economic mess in spite of its fabled mineral riches, and an insurgency, the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, that has claimed the lives of six million Congolese since it first erupted in August 1998. The region of eastern Congo is particularly important economically because it produces rare minerals such as cassiterite and coltan -- instrumental in the manufacturing of computers and mobile phones. Agriculturally, Eastern Congo is potentially lucrative. The region's rich volcanic soils and temperate climate could sustain the production of a wide range of commercial cash crops.

Either way, the West can no longer take President Kabila's grudging acquiescence for granted. Several neighbouring African countries are willing and quite capable of coming to Kabila's rescue. They are raring to do so. However, they do realise that finishing the war in Congo would be hard enough. The scramble for Congo's fabled mineral wealth and agricultural potential has been going on since 1885, when the then Belgian King Leopold II exploited the country as his personal fiefdom. After 75 years of savage colonial rule, the country achieved independence, under the charismatic but short-lived leadership of Patrice Lumumba, but then languished in neo-colonial chaos under the misrule and mismanagement of the late dictator Mubutu Sese Seku. His tyrannical autocracy came to an abrupt end with the storming of the Congolese capital Kinshasa in 1997 by Laurent Kabila.

Peace, however, was not to last for long. With the assassination of Kabila, the current president's father, in January 2001, the country plunged into a brutish civil war. Today's fighting is a continuation of the war that at one point involved no less than 13 African countries. The deadly conflict pitted Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe (fighting alongside the Congolese government troops) against Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda supporting the armed opposition groups. The insurgents have split into rival factions including the pro-Congolese government Mai Mai militia and Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People --a Congolese ethnic Tutsi (or Banyamulenge) militia that receives strong support from the government of tiny neighbouring Rwanda headed by President Paul Kagame.

The Congolese government troops, better known by their French acronym FARDC, are 90,000 but they are poorly equipped and ill-organised. The FARDC, supported by ethnic Hutu-based militias including the 3,500- strong Mai Mai, cannot prop up the wobbly President Kabila. There are already rumours flying about that Portuguese-speaking Angolan troops are fighting Kabila's wars in the forests of eastern Congo.

Member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met in South Africa last Friday and pledged support for the beleaguered Congolese president. "If they come and fight alongside FARDC, I am ready to fight them," Nkunda told reporters from his mountain stronghold overlooking the lakeside city of Goma, capital of northern Kivu province. From the outskirts of Goma, Nkunda vowed to traverse the 1,600km between him and Kinshasa and overrun the Congolese capital and usurp power.

The United Nations, like the African Union (AU), is at a loss as far as the elusive Congolese peace is concerned. The UN's 17,000 peacekeeping contingent in the country that operates under its French acronym MONUC "has been a hostage to its own weakness" as Amnesty International so aptly put it.

Low expectations could get lower. The Congolese government and its Banyamulenge adversaries are locked in battle. Both sides can learn some sanity from each other. The Congolese government is all inclusive, pragmatic and flexible. The uncompromising forces of Nkunda and his Banyamulenge hordes are disciplined and focussed. Nkunda knows that he has plenty of ways to make trouble. Like his chief mentor and benefactor Rwanda's Kagame, Nkunda's strategy is to deliberately adopt mood swings that like a pendulum oscillate violently between projections of victimhood and a merciless drive to browbeat.

Indeed, another most serious impediment to peace is the consistent failure of armed men to disarm. The key, however, to unravelling Congo's crises is the economy. Under Mubuto's despotic reign, state companies such as Gécamines monopolised the production and export of copper and cobalt. They systematically emptied state coffers and the proceeds of Gécamines were siphoned off and deposited in Mubutu's personal Swiss bank accounts.

Western companies are today poised to do business in Congo. Their cooperation with the Congolese government will no doubt be hampered not just by conflicting interests but also by stiff competition from the Chinese. Firms, Chinese and Western, desperately need political stability in Congo if they are to make profits. The AU, in conjunction with the international community, is trying hard to tackle Congo's pressing troubles as well as keeping an eye on the longer game.

There are those who consider General Laurent Nkunda a one trick pony. He has his eye on a far bigger prize than eastern Congo -- the mineral wealth of the entire sprawling country. Nkunda claims that his battle is strictly speaking a defensive one. And, not one that he is necessarily winning in the long run. The Democratic Republic of Congo is no Rwanda.

Although Nkunda sounds like a diehard jingoist in the Tutsi mould, he is also a shrewd strategist. He understands that diplomacy must be applied too. Still, the adventurism of Kagame's protégé, Nkunda, might land him in big trouble. It is a risk he has to take -- an improbable political gamble.

Another Tutsi genocide threatens at every turn. An Armageddon of biblical dimensions is a plausible prospect. But none of this has yet come to pass.

How does the world read Nkunda's swaggering demeanour?
The moment fate steps in to block the way, he will retreat into his mountain stronghold. Nkunda is under pressure to deliver the goods to his people. The Kabila administration can better afford to take its time. Kabila is banking on outside intervention. The Chinese, Western multinationals, African neighbours are all waiting in the wings, compounding the challenges facing battle-battered Congo. Amid all the gloom of the world financial crisis, Congo's bloodthirsty militias are on the march again.

Publié dans contemporary africa

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