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The Agony of Congo: made in Rwanda? No - in Europe and America

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The present crisis in the Congo has its roots in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 as well as in the two Congo Wars that followed it (1996-2003). This time, the media and the NGOs are casting ethnic Tutsis as the villains rather than the victims. Keith Spencer explains what lies behind the calls for “humanitarian military intervention” in eastern Congo and why we must oppose this

Over the past months, the United Nations and aid agencies have been warning of a major crisis in the region that has already endured a decade of death and destruction. When rebel forces under Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi, were poised to enter Goma, the capital of Northern Kivu province, the media and the world's politicians responded with a tremendous outcry. The army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had retreated in disorder while the 17,000 strong UN peacekeeping forces, known as Monuc, had, it seems, only a few hundred soldiers in the area. A quarter of a million people had fled the fighting, many into the mountains where it was feared they would starve. Nkunda's forces were reported to have killed several hundred.

The villain of the piece has been presented as Laurent Nkunda himself and his 6,000 strong army of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Nkunda claims his forces have repeatedly had to take military action over the past four years to defend the ethnically Tutsi people of Northern and Southern Kivu against Hutu militias. The latter, after carrying out the Rwandan genocide, fled to eastern Congo, when Rwandan Patriotic Front Forces, backed by Uganda, entered the country and put a stop to the genocide.

Nkunda's initial opponents were the 10,000 strong Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (called the FDLR after its French acronym) an ethnically Hutu militia, many of whom were in the Interahamwe, the perpetrators of the genocide. Since September, he has also been in conflict with the Democratic Republic of Congo's army and has recently talked of marching to Kinshasa and overthrowing the Kabila government. The latter, on the other hand, has refused to negotiate directly with the renegade.

Who is Laurent Nkunda?

According to the UN and the western media, he is a dangerous warlord who wantonly murders civilians. Among his own people he is seen as their only defender. His parents fled Rwanda in 1962 following a pogrom of Tutsis after the country achieved independence. They settled in eastern Congo where Laurent was born in 1967.

Tutsis in eastern Congo had either been living there for several centuries or, like the Nkunda's, fled pogroms in Rwanda or Burundi in the 1960s. Under the long corrupt dictatorship of President Mobutu they were denied political rights such as the vote and the right to form parties, and only received the right to citizenship between 1972 and 1981. In 1994, the Congolese Tutsis' situation worsened when the Interahamwe fled to eastern Congo from neighbouring Rwanda.

The Interahamwe had carried out the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the Spring of 1994 after the murder of the then President JuvÈnal Habyarimana. Habyarimana's aircraft was shot down by a missile while flying back from Burundi following the signing of a power-sharing agreement with the Rwandan Popular Front (RPF, a mainly Tutsi force). The RPF had been fighting a guerrilla war from Uganda for nearly a decade. It was left to the RPF to drive the Interahamwe out of Rwanda and put a stop to the genocide.

The French, who had backed Habyarimana in his war against the RPF, then sent troops to eastern Congo (OpÈration Turquoise) to create a safe zone for the Interahamwe and sections of the Hutu population complicit in the genocide who fled with them. The UN then took over running these refugee camps. For two years, based in these camps in Southern and Northern Kivu, the Interahamwe regrouped and continued attacking Rwanda and Tutsis in eastern Congo. It was during this time that they killed Laurent Nkunda's parents.

After two years of these attacks and the sheltering of the Interahamwe by Mobutu, the Rwandan army retaliated by marching into eastern Congo to drive out the Interahamwe. Laurent Kabila, a long-standing rebel, joined them and the two armies marched on the capital Kinshasha to overthrow Mobutu. This was the first Congolese war. It was during this time that Nkunda served as an intelligence officer with the Rwandan army. (see [INT,0,0,1,0,0]this[/INT] article).

However, the relations between Kabila's government and Rwanda rapidly deteriorated and all Rwandese Tutsis were ordered out of the country in 1998. Kabila also sheltered the Interahamwe and refused to take measures to disarm them.

The result was the Second Congo War, when the forces of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda invaded eastern Congo. The DRC government was backed by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Chad. During the war, Nkunda was a member of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), a mainly Tutsi organisation. In these wars, an estimated 4 to 5 million people have died through conflict, disease and starvation. About another million are living in refugee camps or in the forests. The second war is often called Africa's first world war because of the sheer scale of the destruction.

Eventually, in 2003, a ceasefire was declared and a peace treaty was signed. Joseph Kabila (the son of Laurent Kabila, who had been assassinated) formed a coalition government with the RCD, which had more than a 100 MPs in the Congolese parliament. He promised to disarm the Interahamwe militias and return them to Rwanda and bring in political reforms for the Tutsis in eastern Congo.

In 2005, Nkunda was ordered, as a member of the Congolese army (the various groups having been amalgamated) to leave North Kivu province. This he refused to do, saying that the Tutsis were still under threat. He then set up the National Congress of the People (CNDP), which has operated in North Kivu ever since and clashed with the government at various times.

He rules an area of Northern Kivu where he has set up a statelet: the area has its own courts and churches (Nkunda claims to be a pastor). Over the years, his militia has fought off attacks from the Interahamwe, who are now down to about 6,000 troops but still capable of raiding Rwanda. While Rwanda denies backing Nkunda, his troops are smartly dressed in Rwandan uniforms and armed with Rwandan weapons, its government admits that CNDP plays a useful role as a buffer against raids.

Human rights activists have accused Nkunda of serious abuses: in 2002 (when he put down a mutiny) and in 2005 and 2006 (for the deaths of civilians). However, even the most recent accusations are not different in scale or type from what all other groups have done in eastern Congo. To give some idea of how far eastern Congo has descended into banditry and warfare, at the Goma agreement in January 2008, the Congolese government signed an agreement with 22 armed groups, including the CNDP.

It appears that each ethnic group has set up its own defence units to prevent attacks, including from the Congolese army. Indeed, during the present crisis, journalists and aid workers reported that it was DRC troops who were plundering, killing and raping in Goma and that the inhabitants were as terrified by their "defenders" as their "attackers." That is not to minimise what Nkunda, or anyone else in eastern Congo, has done, but merely to point out the hypocrisy of singling him out as the sole or main problem.

Also, the war crimes for which Nkunda has been blamed have been exceeded by "civilised" UK or US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the idea that the population can be saved either by boosting the fighting capacity of the DRC forces or by sending in European "peacekeepers" is outrageous hypocrisy. In addition, the very "civilised" European countries and their stooges in Francophone and Anglophone African states have, by their rivalry in plundering the region's resources, played the major role in creating these horrific conditions.Struggles over the mineral wealth of the region

The DRC is a country enormously rich in minerals such as tin, coltan (used in mobile phones), diamonds, gold and copper. Proven mineral reserves are worth an estimated £175 billion over the next 25 years. The imperialists have plundered the country ever since King Leopold II of Belgium seized the Congo Free State as his personal possession, running it from 1885 to 1908. Thereafter, it became the Belgian Congo. Leopold ordered appalling atrocities in pursuit of its wealth, so bad that it has become known as the Congo genocide. Estimates of the numbers killed or allowed to perish range between 5 and 10 million. From independence in 1960 to 1965, the Belgian former colonialists and the CIA ensured that radical African nationalists, like Patrice Lumumba, the country's first democratically elected prime minister, did not long remain in power. Lumumba was murdered. In 1965, the army commander Joseph Mobutu established a dictatorship on behalf of the imperialist powers while they continued to rip off the country's mineral wealth. After 32 years of his rule, Mobutu had spirited out of the country some £2.5bn, as well as building a series of obscenely opulent palaces.

Even when Laurent Kabila was liberating the country from Mobutu's rule, in 1997, he was also busily signing contracts with western mining companies.

The wars since 1996 have given other African countries a chance to plunder wealth. Zimbabwe's involvement may have help push the country into ruin but the generals and politicians did well out of securing minerals. Behind these countries are the people they sell to: the multinationals. The connection between war and minerals was pointed out in a UN report in 2002 that named 85 multinationals involved in plundering the DRC and clearly stated that "wars open the way to profits". Nothing was done.Rwanda and Uganda have maintained an interest in plundering the wealth of the DRC. Nkunda is heavily dependent on Rwanda. Johan Hari reported in the Independent (1 November) "Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit." All this fails to add is that the Congolese government has exactly the same motives. The Congolese army itself also runs mines and trades in minerals, often in co-operation with the Hutu extremists of the FDLR. A recent report from the NGO Global Witness highlights the role of these two forces in the mineral trade and how they have coerced local populations into mining or robbed them of food and so on.

It also appears that an incursion of the Congolese army into a mining area in North Kivu province lies behind the recent outbreak of violence with Nkunda's forces. Behind these warring local agents stand rival imperialist corporations and the states which act as enforcers for them, France-Belgium and Britain-US. Both incumbent imperialist blocks are casting suspicious eyes on Chinese advances in Africa

International dimension

However, something else has happened. In the 1990s, there was widespread sympathy for the Tutsis and recognition of the crime that had been committed against them in Rwanda. It was France, which had close relations with the Hutu government in Rwanda and had troops stationed there, that was isolated. Its role in Rwanda and the fall of Mobutu led to major changes in French foreign policy, withdrawal of troops and closure of bases, and the isolation of the country. There were accusations about the involvement of the French government in the genocide.

But gradually Rwanda has become isolated. It fell out with Uganda in the early 2000s. In 2006, it was France that accused the mainly Tutsi Rwandan government (the RPF) of killing Habyarimana and causing the genocide. Now Rwanda is seen as arming a guerrilla group that is intent on overthrowing the DRC government.

France has led the European Union in blaming Nkunda's rebels. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, and Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, visited the North Kivu region at the beginning of November. Kuchner met with EU foreign ministers and told them that the UN's "rules of engagement were insufficient and very restrictive". He suggested the sending of an "EU battle group of up to 1500 troops to restore peace," and has put a motion to the UN for an extra 3,000 UN troops to be flown to the area.

The UK government has also sent out signals about sending troops. Lord Malloch Brown said on the BBC that the government was considering sending troops to the area only to have his boss Miliband utter the more restrained "We're not at the moment looking at sending British troops to join the UN force."

Meanwhile, the US envoy to Africa, Jendayi Frazer, recently said that UN troops have "a Chapter Seven mandate that gives them the authority to protect the civilian population, to protect the peacekeepers themselves and to act very robustly against those negative forces in the Congo."

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the UN mandate was currently to "protect civilians and to support the army in disarming rebel forces".

The target for these troops is clear. It is Nkunda's forces and not the Hutu genocidists of the FDLR. There has been little mention of the continuing presence of the FDLR, its links with the Congolese army and the threat it poses to the Tutsis. Instead, we only have attacks on Nkunda's rebels and their Rwandan backers. In the space of a decade, the Tutsis have gone from victims to villains.

The European Union, especially France and Britain, with the United Nations and the NGOs dutifully in tow, have defined the problem as Nkunda and the CNDP. Yet the DRC forces have proved completely unable to handle Nkunda and, worse, have treated "their own" people as badly as his forces have. Hence the call for the Europeans and "reliable" African states to send more troops. They hoped that these forces would either bring Nkunda to an agreement, such as was struck last January, or if he resists, defeat him.

The aim is to open the region again to "legitimate" foreign corporations from Europe and North America to exploit the mineral wealth and curtail the expansion of China, which has been making major advances in recent years. Western journalists have had the bare faced cheek to describe this as "imperialism." See for example the article by Peter Hitchins in the Daily Mail entitled "How China Has Created a New Slave Empire in Africa."

Well aware of African bitterness at how the old colonialists and American banks and corporations plundered the continent leaving little or nothing in return, China, also determined to gain control of resources, is offering to invest in large scale infrastructure development projects (railway lines, hydroelectric projects, roads schools and hospitals,) in return for long term contracts to supply raw materials (especially cobalt and copper). China is offering aid and loans worth $8 billion for these projects.

Moreover, unlike the hypocritical "good governance conditionality" imposed by the US and Britain in the Clinton-Blair era, or the IMF loans with "market reforms" attached, China, under no domestic pressure, asks no questions about the nature of the regimes or the economic policies they pursue. In fact, the DRC government has launched a strategic review of its mining contracts with US, European and Australian corporations, such as Anglo-American, Cabot Corporation, Freeport McRoRan, First Quantum Minerals, BHP Billiton and Anvil Mining. There is an implied threat that, unless they mightily improve the royalties on offer, their contracts could be terminated in favour of Chinese partners.

As in the First Congo War (1996-7) and the Second Congo War (1999-2003) although the fighting itself is carried out by local warlords, each seeking a cut of the resources, behind them stand the corporations and states of the EU, the USA and China, all eyeing up the mineral wealth.

On 5 November, the press reported that Kabila and the DRC government had finally agreed to direct negotiations with Kabila. It is certainly not excluded that a deal will be done and peace restored for the time being. Nor is it impossible that Nkunda will find favour once again with the western powers and that their media will discover that he was not as bad as they had painted him. The charges before the Human Rights Tribunal will then be quietly dropped. All the EU and the USA are really concerned about is securing "peaceful" conditions in which their multinationals can exploit the country. Moreover, Nkunda also opposes a DRC agreement with China over extraction of minerals. This could make him a useful pawn for the Europeans once again.

In Conclusion

Nkunda and other Tutsi leaders have been clear about their objective of disarming the FDLR and preventing their attacks. Rather than interventions and threats, this demand should be met now. Of course, the demand for security for the Tutsis is a legitimate one, as is the demand that they have full and equal rights to other Congolese citizens. In fact, a people's militia, including all ethnic groups living in the region, should protect its people from looting, raping and murder by the FDLR and Congolese army and Nkunda's CNDP to the extent that reports of the driving out of other ethnic groups is accurate.

We call for all UN troops to get out of the area and we are opposed to any imperialist intervention. It is clear that any UN/imperialist mobilisation is aimed at securing mineral resources; this will only precipitate more mass killings and another African war.

While democratic demands and an interethnic militia may ensure the safety of the ordinary workers and farmers, they will be insufficient to take away the misery and poverty that are a backdrop to these conflicts.

The former state mining company, Gecamines, used to provide free schooling, health care and housing, even under the corrupt rule of Mobutu. Today, the privatised mines often rely on children who have to work because they cannot afford the school fees. Corruption, wars and neo-liberalism have destroyed communities and the country itself.

The Congolese people should demand a mass programme of public works to rebuild roads, homes, schools and hospitals destroyed over the past decade or more. The multinationals, especially the mining companies, have been taking the wealth out of the country and making huge profits; their operations should be nationalised under workers' control.

As long as they are buying the mineral wealth for the world market, they must be made to pay levels of taxation sufficient to develop the region. The western governments, France, Belgium, the UK, should pay Congo compensation for the looted wealth of the country over the last century and more, without any strings. The Congolese government should refuse to pay its debt to western banks and countries.

The NGOs - many of whom, despite their supposed 'non-governmental' character, act as the agencies of the home countries in which their head offices are located, have tried to establish a "right to access" for themselves, overriding national sovereignty. They have become constant advocates of military intervention by the European and North American powers in the name of humanitarian aid. If they wish to bring real aid to the suffering, they should work under the direction of democratically elected workers' and peasants' councils.

Above all, it is vital to build a multi-ethnic party, based on the workers, the poor farmers and the youth that could fight for such demands and unite the exploited people in a struggle for economic and political power. Struggles in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Guinea, and Zimbabwe over the past few years show that it is possible for such forces to fight against governments and neo-liberalism. But a fundamental alternative to imperialist exploitation and to the corrupt local capitalist elites needs to be developed. The new parties should be revolutionary socialist parties with a programme of permanent revolution; linking today's struggles for development and democracy to the creation of workers' governments and a United Socialist Sates of Africa

Congo is an exceptionally rich country in terms of natural potential: that is why the multinationals and imperialists have preyed upon the country ever since King Leopold. When the Congo achieved independence, it was believed it would herald a new dawn of African unity, even socialism, but the imperialists had the radical Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba murdered and put stooges such as Mobutu in his place.

It is time to recover the radicalism of the 1960s freedom fighters but linked unbreakably to the fight for socialism.