With up to five million dead, the wars in Congo since 1998 have destroyed more lives than any other war since World War II. In the end of September, this year, Amnesty International warned that renewed extensive armed fighting could break out.
Formally, a "peace process" started in 2003. A "national transitional government" was formed, with representatives from four rebel groups and the official government, including President Joseph Kabila.
The new government, however, is weak, split and corrupt, and does not have full control of its troops. In June, this year, Human Rights Watch reported "widespread ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rapes and arbitral arrestment". Elections due on 30 June were cancelled.
"The name of the country is Democratic Republic of Congo, but there is no democracy", say refugees from Congo living in Sweden and working with members of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden) in their campaign for asylum.
The discontent with the government was expressed in a general strike, in Katanga, in June, at the same time as riots took place in Mbuji-Mayi.
There have been no real elections since independence in 1960. For 32 years (1965-97) the country was ruled by the dictatorship of Mobuto. He was installed with the support of the CIA and acted as the main alley of the US in the region.
War since 1998
Mobuto’s regime was overthrown in 1997 by rebel troops led by Laurent Kabila, strongly supported by the government and army of Rwanda. The hopes then born, however, quickly disappeared when it was clear that Kabila’s first aim was to enrich himself.
"But Kabila had shown that it is possible to overthrow a government with arms", said a refugee from Congo. New rebel groups were founded, once again with aid from Rwanda. Uganda also participated in the campaign to overthrow Kabila, but soon the troops of Rwanda and Uganda were at war with each other.
Laurent Kabila’s regime was saved by the military intervention of two other neighbouring states, Angola and Zimbabwe. The war in Congo, which commenced in August 1998, was due to many factors, but, above all, a struggle for control over the natural wealth of the country.
From 1998, to the formal end of the war in 2003, 3.8 million people were killed, according to International Rescue Committee. Congolese refugees in Sweden speak about at least five million dead. About two million are estimated to have died as a result of military combat and the rest because of diseases and famine due to conflict. Millions were forced to leave their homes.
In 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated and followed as president by his son Joseph. In combination with extreme war fatigue, this opened the way for negotiations between the government and the rebels. The negotiations, conducted in South Africa, were pushed for by the Western imperialist powers. They wanted to stop the war for several reasons: to bloc instability spreading further; to avoid an increasing flood of refugees; to achieve control over natural resources and to show domestic opinion they were actually doing something.
The coalition government, formed after the agreement in 2003, is doomed to fail in solving the catastrophic situation in Congo. The country’s enormous poverty and underdevelopment was created by Belgium colonial rule and continued under Mobuto/US imperialism. At root, the Congo suffers because of the global division of labour under capitalism and imperialism, in which poor countries are systematically plundered. Today’s rulers in Kinshasa preside over the continuation of this situation.
Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world. Average income, according to the IMF, is 100 US dollars a year. The lowest paid civil servant earns two dollar a month (The Economist, 11 June 2005).
Around 1,000 people die, every day, because of hunger and the lack of a health service (Aftonbladet, 7 January 2005).
Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Aid, Carin Jämtin, describes the situation in Congo as "the worst conflict in the world". She says that the same number that died due to the tsunami in Asia (300,000) die every six months in Congo (Göteborgs-Posten 18 March, 2005).
The trend today is not stabilisation, but rather continued unrest, which can develop into new extensive battles. On 29 September, Uganda’s president, Museweni, warned that the country might send in troops into Congo again, in search of rebel groups.
At the end of September, military officers and politicians were arrested in Katanga province, charged with preparing a coup d’état. Armed Rwandan troops are still in Congo. The eastern part of the vast country, which borders Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, is, in practice, out of government control.
Amnesty International has repeatedly produced emergency reports about assaults, mass murders and rapes in the eastern parts of the Congo. Three Swedish social democratic MPs - Carina Hägg, Joe Frans and Berndt Ekholm - visiting the area, last year, reported on the large numbers of child soldiers.
Congo today hosts the biggest UN force in the world, known as ‘Monuc’. But the 16,000 Monuc troops, which almost exclusively patrol the cities, offer no solution to the despair and fighting.
"Many [Congolese] are disappointed with the UN in the region", concluded the three MPs. In fact, UN soldiers have increased tensions in the Congo. "UN soldiers bought sex with milk and eggs", Aftonbladet reported at beginning of this year.
Absolute poverty and want stand in sharp contrast to Congo’s potential wealth. At the time of independence, in 1960, trans-national companies were ready to take command of the country’s large reserves of gold, cupper and diamonds.
The country’s first resident, Lumumba, was assassinated because US and Belgium imperialism feared he would nationalise the country’s natural resources. This provoked the first Congo war, which eventually ended in Mobuto’s dictatorship.
Today, international big business still targets the Congo’s rich natural resources. In the most volatile province, Ituri, on the border with Uganda (in the northwest), there are big gold fields. In this region alone, 60,000 were killed in the last war and some fighting continues. In February, this year, nine UN soldiers from Bangla Desh were killed in an ambush.
How imperialism values the country is shown by the fact that in 2003, Congo was the biggest recipient of foreign aid from France and the fourth largest from the US. This money is invested in a country run by a Western-friendly regime that supports foreign transnational companies.
Beaten and raped
It is to the war-trodden and extremely poor Congo, where children are forced to become soldiers instead of pupils, which the Swedish state wants to deport refugees.
What happens to someone deported to Congo? "According to reports from returning asylum seekers deportees are held in small cells at the airport," said Congolese human rights activist, Rene Kabala Mushiya. "There are no windows and no light. From here, they are called in to the director of the DGM for interrogation" (The Observer, 10 April 2005).
The Observer reported on 13 refugees deported from England to Congo. When sent back, they were beaten daily by up to six soldiers. One refugee escaped back to Britain and described how he was raped six times while in prison.
"The Swedish authorities say that every refugee will get ‘individual treatment’. But to us they state collectively that it is OK to deport us, since we are from Congo. On the other hand, they advise Swedes not to go to Congo"; a refugee in Sweden told the CWI.
Imperialist division and exploitation
Africa was divided by the European imperialist powers at a conference in Berlin, in 1884, at which only one participant had ever been to Africa. Congo was recognized as the personal colony of the Belgian monarch, King Leopold. From then, the looting of Congo was accelerated. 10 million people were killed under the brutal regime of Leopold, from 1884-1908. The most primitive punishment methods were used by the imperialist rulers (for example, cutting off hands), while no schools or hospitals were built
This ‘heritage’ and continued exploitation, casts a shadow over Congo today. Since 1960, the Mobuto regime was used by US imperialism as a "defence against communism". For imperialism, trading arms with Mobuto and having a stable regime in the Congo were top priorities.
Over the last 20-30 years, foreign debt has been used to strangle Africa. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been paid on debts, without reducing the total amount owed. At the same time, successive governments in Africa have been forced to privatise and use neo-liberal policies, which have increased poverty and blocked real development. This, in turn, has laid the basis for wars and violence.
Capitalism and imperialism cannot "help Africa", since they have created today’s crisis. The governments and politicians of Africa are also blocking development, since they are closer to big business and West than they are to the workers and poor in their own countries.
Africa and socialism
A socialist struggle in Africa is necessary and is the only way out of endless horrors. Natural resources and finance capital must be nationalised and put under democratic worker’s control, with support from the rural and urban poor. Debt payments should be cancelled and the debts abolished. Corrupt regimes and politicians must be overthrown and the rights of all minorities guaranteed. A massive investment in the education system is needed, to abolish child labour, child soldiers and child prostitution. This must receive active support from workers internationally. Global capital today, which is often used for weapon production and speculation, should be confiscated and used for rebuilding education and health services.
Such demands put forward by mass democratic socialist movements in Congo, and throughout Africa, would be supported by workers globally. Particularly important is the socialist transformation of the most developed capitalist country on the continent, South Africa, as well as in the advanced capitalist countries in the West, to aid the struggles of the long suffering masses of the Congo.
This article first appeared in Offensiv (20 October 2005), weekly paper of the Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden)