OPINION

Congo Connection 2

December 17, 2008
Amitabh Mitra

 It’s warm in Johannesburg in December and so is Kinshasa. Somewhere at a plush estate in Midrand a deal of millions of dollars of armaments is being made. The gun sellers fuel the civil wars in Africa by selling modern weaponry made in the former USSR to all the factions. In turn lucrative deals in mining and contracts are given by the respective parties. The Zimbabwean army’s involvement in the civil war in Congo was done after such contracts were given to the generals and close relatives of the presidency.

But then this is Africa.

The 1994 Rawandan genocide, in which 500,000 ethnic Tutsis were massacred, left the world without any remorse. It was just another group of Africans being killed. The Hutus who took part in the genocide found refuge in the neighbouring Congo.  They formed their organisation, calling themselves the Democratic forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The rag tag Congolese warlords who don’t believe in any politics except money rally behind a group known from the colonial era, as the Mai Mai tribal fighters and now a part of a loose group with the Government Congolese army, calling themselves as Congolese Resistance Patriots Group.

The presence in DR Congo of the FDLR, which has been accused by the UN of taking a leading role in the Rwanda killings, has led to the formation of opposition forces such as General Nkunda's National Committee for the Defence of the People (CNDP).The Tutsis a minority living in Congo are being systematically slaughtered by the Government forces and the Hutu rebels. CNDP was formed by General Laurent Nkunda who is a Congolese himself and allegedly being assisted by neighbouring Rawanda.

Meanwhile at a small private airfield close to the Johannesburg International Airport, an aircraft takes off for Kinshasa. It’s nothing unusual but the aircraft being flown by a white South African took off without any permission and above all without paying for the craft for which a deal was being made. The craft loaded with the most modern weaponry landed safely in Kinshasa.

The Russian mafia in Johannesburg to whom the craft belonged were informed too late after the bird had flown the coop.

DR Congo government forces and CNDP fighters have been battling each other in the east of the country since August. More than 250,000 people have fled their homes to escape the fighting. 100000 have died to malnutrition, disease and the bullet.Government soldiers and Nkunda's men have both been accused of atrocities against civilians.

UN peacekeepers have had little impact in putting a stop to the violence. It’s the same way the United Nations Peace Keepers acted in Rawanda when the Tutsis were being massacred. General Nkunda knows about it and doesn’t worry about the MONUC, the UN Peace Keeping Force in Congo. The MONUC in turn have also been blamed for atrocities and sexual assaults in Eastern Congo. Under the garb of United Nations it is a documented fact that they plundered and resorted to rapes in Liberia.

But let me go back again to the Belgian Congo. Robert Edric is a Britisher from Sheffield, a prolific writer, his book titled ‘The Book of Heathen’ published in 2000 by Black Swan is a gripping story based on the Belgian Congo.His novel starts with these lines -

Imagine how we might now be forced to reconsider our understanding of the situation were the so called heathen of the Bula Matari (Congo Free State) to contain among his multitudes men capable of keeping accounts of these terrible events of this shameful history told only once – imagine his own books and what they might tell us – imagine then how we might be forced to live with our disgraceful part in all of this.

Roger Casement Diary – 20 July 1893

The story narrated in the words of James Charles Russel Frasier is a map maker and a Technical overseer with the ‘Company’ which is the arm of the Belgian Government in Congo. It revolves around his friend Nicholas Frere who has killed a native girl and continues on Frere’s time in the prison.  It is about the robbing of the country and the manipulation of its people by outsiders…and the manipulation of those outsiders by its people. And above all the conflicts between the varying tribes of outsiders who all have their own agenda.

The world around them is changing rapidly. The horrors of the Belgian Congo are becoming known and the flow of its once-fabulous wealth is drying up. Turn of the century and the Belgian Congo is on the cusp of independence... scapegoats must be found for the evils colonialism has inflicted. 

There is mention about the apparent barbarity of the local tribes - the days of cannibalism and witchcraft - against the merciless missionary and heartless trader. The colonial administrators and surveyors are portrayed as well-meaning but ineffectual, hearts in the right place…but with no real concept of the country they have taken to or what or how to deal with it.  

Meanwhile the war in Congo continues abated. I remember the rotund rebel General Laurent Kabila in safari suits who visited South Africa a number of times in failed peace talks, ousted Mobutu in May 20 1997. Che Guevara assisted Kabila for a short time in 1965. He planned to bring a Cuban Style revolution which unfortunately never succeeded. Kabila used the Tutsis from South Kivu to fight against the Hutu soldiers of Mobutu. What followed was mayhem and murder all along the jungle path till Kabila reached Kinshasa.

Laurent Kabila was assassinated by one of his own soldiers on the afternoon of January 16 2001. His son Joseph Kabila became the President and found allies in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. Everything seems to point at controlling the mineral rich resources in Congo.

Paul Pumphrey, the founding member of Friends of the Congo says,

“This problem ... is created around the industrialised world wanting to get their hands on the mineral resources of the Congo," he said.

"Outside forces want to rob the minerals out of the Congo and not pay a fair share for those minerals. And they've used this war as a means to push people off their land and not pay royalties and the government at all. 

"Ninety per cent of [the Congo's] population do not make $100 a year. So where would they buy guns from? These guns coming into this war are coming in from other sources, not the local community.

"Industry works hand in hand with government ... Countries like the United States, like Great Britain, like France, like Japan, these are countries whose governments operate on the behest of their corporations.

"So I hold countries like the United States very much responsible for this war.

"This militia raised millions of dollars to fund their war through the illegal trade in minerals, says the BBC's Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa  

Reference - The Book of the Heathen – Robert Edric, Published by Black Swan 2000

                     -Wikipedia

 

To be continued

An orthopaedic surgeon in a busy hospital in East London, South Africa, I actually belong to Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, its long summers and hectic politics. I edit a print poetry journal called 'A Hudson View' and a journal on African arts called 'Inyathi' and dream of going back to Gwalior.
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#1
Vinod Joseph
December 18, 2008
11:30 AM

The saddest part of the Congolese story is the total absence of role models. Recently, the Congolese community in London invoked Henry M. Stanley, the famous explorer who helped open up Congo to Western exploration/exploitation, as a role model for Congolese youth in London who are apparently turning to knife crime. Read it all here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7758250.stm

Look forward to reading the succeeding parts.

#2
Amitabh Mitra
URL
December 18, 2008
12:30 PM

Thanks Vinod
Congo remains a mystery
I admire General Nkunda and have been in touch with him
Congolese literature is in French but I will try to write about them

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