Balkanisation of Congo begins

FRFI 206 December 2008 / January 2009

Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) in 1996, 1998 and 2004. Rwanda’s fourth major incursion into DRC in 12 years, in October 2008, signalled an intensification of imperialist rivalry between the European Union (EU), which backs current President Joseph Kabila, and Britain and the US, which support Rwanda. The imperialists are battling for domination of mineral-rich DRC and for a stranglehold on the resource-rich region of central and eastern Africa. To camouflage the real reasons for the conflict, once again the distraction of ‘ethnic conflict’ is being promoted. Failure to remove Kabila from power may lead to the de facto annexation of eastern DRC and the balkanisation of the country. CHARLES CHINWEIZU reports.

Rwanda invades again
On 9 October Rwandan tanks entered eastern DRC via the North Kivu province on its border, to aid former Congolese army general Laurent Nkunda, leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The fighting between the CNDP, the DRC army (FARDC), the UN (MONUC) and various paramilitaries actually resumed on 28 August. Since then over 100 people have been killed, including more than 50 massacred at Kiwanja in November. Over 250,000 people were driven from their homes, fleeing south towards the provincial capital Goma, as shelters, clinics and homes were burnt down, refugee camps emptied, women and girls raped and property looted. At one stage 50,000 refugees went ‘missing’, their fate unknown. 12,000 have fled to neighbouring Uganda. This area of eastern DRC is clearly being depopulated – the people driven away in terror – and repopulated by people brought in from Rwanda and Uganda. The presence of Rwanda in eastern Congo is being consolidated so it becomes de facto part of Greater Rwanda.

The total number of people displaced in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo since 2007 is now over 1.2 million, many without access to critical humanitarian aid. Since 2007 cases of cholera and measles have rocketed. Most of those displaced have been on the run for years. Clearly neither MONUC nor FARDC are able to defend the people from attack. In eastern DRC local people attacked MONUC forces fleeing the fighting with stones. MONUC troops have proven better at looting gold and ivory and re-arming the very militias they were supposed to be disarming than at protecting civilians.

EU response
Nkunda’s CNDP marched towards Goma and threatened to go all the way to the capital Kinshasa. On 29 October the government asked Angola for help. After meeting EU ambassadors in Brussels on 31 October, Angola agreed to send troops to DRC to prop up the Kabila government. The Southern African Development Community said a regional team of military experts would be sent immediately, and ‘will not stand by and witness incessant acts of violence... against innocent people’. The Angolan troops will be ‘overseen by the EU’, according to Angolan foreign minister Georges Chicoty. Britain’s Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French rival Kouchner immediately flew to Goma. France proposed 1,500 EU troops, which Britain rejected. The last time EU troops were sent anywhere they were mainly French troops (DRC, 2003 and Chad, 2008). The UN agreed that 3,100 UN troops will be sent ‘in six months’ to support the 17,000 already there. France is not calling all the shots in the EU, and in March Sweden accused French soldiers of torturing civilians in DRC during Operation Artemis in 2003, one of the first EU joint missions.
The EU has invested a lot in Joseph Kabila’s regime; it has been the main donor, funding €167m of the €397m ($460m) total cost of an ‘electoral process’ from 2001 to 2006. It plans to double the €201m ($267m) of aid given in 2002-2007 to €400m in 2008-2013. In 2003 the EU forced a transitional government on DRC and spent €201m in 2006 on legitimising Kabila’s regime through elections. It imposed as vice-presidents two of the very ‘rebels’ who were looting DRC – Bemba (leader of Ugandan-backed MLC) and Ruberwa (leader of Rwandan-backed RCD) – handing them the important ministries of finance, defence and foreign affairs. The EU has demobilised the DRC army and forced 7,000 paramilitaries like Nkunda into the FARDC in so-called ‘integrated brigades’. Nkunda ended up controlling five of the 11 FARDC brigades which received military training from MONUC in three-month cycles from July 2007 at a cost of $4m. Far from ‘integrating’, the brigades organised themselves on ethnic lines and attacked only suspected Hutu militia and civilians in eastern DRC, forcing the DRC government to dismantle them.

Why DR Congo?
DRC is strategically placed at the heart of Africa, sharing common borders with nine sub-Saharan African countries. Controlling DRC is the key to controlling Africa. Tiny Rwanda (population 9m) is clearly imperialism’s bridgehead into DRC (population 60m). The DRC owns a third of the world’s reserves of cobalt, used in jet engines and rechargeable batteries, and 80% of the world’s reserves of coltan, a rare mineral ore essential for mobile phones, laptops and wireless communication as well as aviation and nuclear energy, and one tenth of all copper deposits, essential for electronic, construction and biomedical applications. Significant oil deposits were discovered in Lake Albert, bordering Uganda, in 2006 and Lake Kivu, bordering Rwanda, contains 65bn cubic metres of methane, the principal component of natural gas and a potential source of energy. These resources, in addition to huge deposits of gold, uranium, diamonds and cassiterite (tin oxide), are vital for the developed industrial economies of the advanced capitalist countries. It is control of these resources by the imperialists and their local allies, rather than ‘ethnic rivalry’ between Hutus and Tutsis, that lies behind the constant wars that have raged in DRC since 1996. All the fighting has been around areas where these resources abound, especially deep inside eastern DRC, miles away from the border the Rwandan army claims to be protecting. 1,500 people die daily. Since 1996, over 6.4 million people in DRC have died, the majority from malnutrition, hunger and diseases, as paramilitary forces or ‘rebels’, of which there are about 22 groups, fight over control of the minerals, mines and transportation routes.

Rwanda’s role
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is at the root of the current DRC crisis, but not in the simplistic terms posed by the British media.

Rwanda had been a Franco-Belgian neo-colony since ‘independence’ from Belgium in 1962. The Belgian colonialists had defined the people – between whom there were no blood or cultural differences – as ‘Tutsi’ (if they owned ten cows or more, predominantly ate meat and had straight noses) and ‘Hutu’ (less than ten cows, varied diets and blunt noses), creating two economic and social classes and favouring the minority ‘Tutsis’. From 1959 to 1961 the first Rwandan genocide led to 200,000 Tutsis fleeing to Uganda and Congo, and a new Hutu elite came to power, supported by France.

By 1987, Rwandan refugees had formed the racist Tutsi ‘rebel’ Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with the aim of returning to power in Rwanda. Members included former Ugandan army officer and current Rwandan president Kagame. When Museveni came to power in Uganda in 1986, military training and funding for RPF increased from Britain and the US. French president François Mitterrand increasingly feared ‘an Anglo-Saxon plot to oust France from the region’ (Independent, 3 July 2007).

In October 1990, Uganda invaded Rwanda with Kagame’s RPF rebels leading the way. A guerilla war ensued. Desperate to hold onto its foothold in the resource-rich region, France flew in troops and weapons, and stepped up military training for the Rwandan army (FAR) and a racist Hutu paramilitary force, the Interahamwe. The assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana in April 1994 by the RPF provided a trigger for a well-planned genocide by the Hutu government to be unleashed, with about one million people massacred by French-backed forces. But despite France’s efforts, the RPF took power. France flew in troops to provide safe exits out of Rwanda to Belgium, Germany and France for the fleeing Hutu regime under cover of the peace-keeping Operation Turquoise. French soldiers also massacred many Rwandans and raped many women (Independent, 31 August 2007). The RPF was installed as the new government in July 1994 as the officials and soldiers of the previous Hutu regime fled to Zaire along with two million refugees. The RPF then massacred a further 45,000 people in ‘revenge killings’ to remove any potential opposition to the new regime; these killings were covered up by the UN and the US. Laurent Nkunda fought with the RPF.

Hence France was replaced as the major imperialist power in Rwanda by Britain and the US. Britain has become the largest donor, spending £46m in 2007. In January 2008, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair became a special unpaid ‘adviser’ to the Rwandan government. Former US President Bill Clinton has appointed Rwandan President Kagame to the board of the Clinton Global Initiative. France has gone from being the largest donor before the genocide to the smallest. Britain is also the main donor to Uganda (£70m a year).

France flew in arms to the Rwandan Hutu rebels organised in the refugee camps in eastern Zaire. The ex-Rwandan FAR and Interahamwe remnants raided northern Rwanda frequently. With US backing, Rwanda and Uganda invaded Zaire in 1996 to remove Mobutu using another rebel alliance (AFDL) led by Zairean-born stooge Laurent Kabila, who became president in May 1997. Zaire was renamed DRC. Most of the two million refugees went back to Rwanda. Those left were said by the US and Rwanda to be ‘genocidaires’ (responsible for carrying out the 1994 genocide) and hence fair game: hundreds of thousands of people were massacred.

The presence of these genocidaires has been used since 1996 as an excuse to justify the repeated invasions of DRC by imperialism’s clients. According to the UNHCR in North Kivu, ‘the idea that there are large numbers of Hutu fighters [in the camps] is a fantasy. This has been about seizing territory’ (Observer, 2 November 2008).

In August 1998, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda again invaded using the same recipe, a local rebel group fighting for ‘freedom’, this time the Rwandan-backed RCD and Ugandan-backed MLC. But the support of regional governments saved Laurent Kabila until his assassination in 2001.

Joseph Kabila was installed while Rwanda and Uganda looted DRC’s mineral resources in the north (Uganda) and east (Rwanda) and transported them to Europe. According to a UN Security Council report in October 2002, high level political, military and business networks stole DRC’s gold, timber, coltan and diamonds, and transferred at least $5 billion of assets from the state mining sector to private western companies, including 18 British firms such as Anglo American, De Beers and Barclays Bank, as well as US, Belgian, Canadian, Swiss and German firms (Observer, 6 February 2005). In 2000 alone, Rwanda earned $23m from its main official export earners tea and coffee, but $250m from looting gold, diamonds and coltan.

However, despite his EU backing, in May 2007 Kabila announced a review of 63 mining contracts signed between 1998 and 2006. In March 2008, the Revisitation Committee published its findings that all the contracts would be revoked and renegotiated, or were null and void as they were all fraudulent. This affected British mining giants CAMEC and Anglo Gold Ashanti. In May British firm Tullow Oil had its concessions in Lake Albert revoked.

Then in May 2008, DRC state-owned mining company Gecamines signed contracts totalling $9bn for infrastructure development with two Chinese firms who said their loan was ‘based on mutual benefit and joint development’, in return for a 68% stake to provide 10m tons of copper and 0.5m tons of cobalt to China. Chinese capitalism is a threat to imperialist interests and the US may well have decided to act. On 18 November Nkunda sought a ‘review of commercial contracts’ between China and DR Congo. France, acting through the EU, is not prepared to see Britain and the US carve up all DRC’s resources and control Africa for themselves. Another genocide is looming in DRC and Britain is in it up to its neck.

Bjørn Willum, Foreign aid to Rwanda: purely beneficial or contributing to war? Dissertation, October 2001, University of Copenhagen.


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