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After 50 years

Congo still struggles for real independence

Published Jul 15, 2010 10:44 PM

Five decades after the independence of the former Belgian Congo, the genuine emancipation of this Central African state is yet to be realized. Nonetheless, the survival of this state — which has been under assault since 1960 when Patrice Lumumba took charge of the country as prime minister representing the Congolese National Movement (MNC) — is a testament to the resilience and fortitude of the people.

At this year’s independence celebrations, several world leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, were in attendance. The Democratic Republic of Congo national army put on a parade and display of military equipment that involved 15,000 troops.

The DRC is one of the most mineral-rich states in the world. It has been estimated that the Congo has 30 percent of the planet’s cobalt reserves and 10 percent of the copper.

However, despite the tremendous economic potential of this nation, the majority of its people remain poor, living off barely more than one dollar a day. The wealth in mineral resources has always made the territory a coveted area for Western imperialism and its agents, who have taken enormous natural and human resources from the Congolese people.

Beginning in 1876 Belgian monarch King Leopold II established the territory as the “Congo Free State” and administered it as his own personal property. A vicious system of plantation agriculture enslaved Africans to work in rubber extraction; 8 million died in order to create a wealthy ruling class in Belgium.

The consciousness of the Congolese people and the world community eventually led to the dismantling of this form of colonial oppression in favor of a more classical arrangement, with control being formally placed under Belgian governmental rule. Even with these changes, the African people remained the source of slave labor for the Europeans.

At the time of independence there were extreme shortages of skilled personnel within civilian life as well as the police services, where Africans served as subordinate workers to the Belgian officers. The rise of a nationalist movement during the 1950s, of which the Congolese National Movement under Patrice Lumumba was the most progressive, provided hope to the masses of people.

Lumumba attended the first All-African People’s Conference held in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958 and became known as the leading figure in the independence struggle inside the country. In January 1959, the Congolese people erupted in a national rebellion, forcing the Belgian colonialists to eventually negotiate a transfer of power after an election that was scheduled for May 1960.

The MNC faction led by Lumumba received the most widespread support on a national level. Lumumba was made prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu of ABAKO, an ethnically-based political party, was placed in office as president. Lumumba’s determination to utilize the mineral wealth of the country for the people’s interests and his commitment to a pan-African and anti-imperialist domestic and foreign policy made him a target for both the Belgian colonialists and world imperialism, dominated by the U.S. ruling class.

The voice and political will of revolutionaries in Africa remained with Lumumba’s MNC. When in the aftermath of the independence of the Congolese state, the Belgians refused to leave the country and prompted a mutiny within the police and the secession of the southern mineral-rich region of Katanga, Ghana was one of the first countries to condemn the Western machinations aimed at this newly independent state.

On July 12 a high-level delegation from Ghana traveled to the Congo capital of Leopoldville at the behest of President Kwame Nkrumah. By this time not only Belgium but also the United States was carrying out the plot to overthrow Lumumba. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on July 14, 1960, requesting that Belgium withdraw its forces from Congo, but when the international peacekeeping force arrived in this Central African state it was working in conjunction with U.S. and European imperialism to ensure that the country would remain within the Western sphere of influence.

Lumumba had appealed directly to Nkrumah for the support of his government and military to aid the Congolese state. Nkrumah sent in Ghanaian troops as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. As a result of Ghana’s troops being within the U.N. force and the leadership of its military being under the command of Maj. Gen. H.T. Alexander, a British officer inherited from the colonial period, the Ghanaian troops did not play the role that either Lumumba or Nkrumah desired.

Alexander was eventually terminated by Nkrumah, but it was too late to avoid the coup against Lumumba, his kidnapping and eventual assassination. Mobutu Sese Seko and Moise Tshombe were made the dominant political figures in the country. After Tshombe died in an Algerian prison, Mobutu had free rein to aid in the assistance of the plunder of the country until 1997, when he was finally deposed by a coalition of national and pan-African forces.

Civil war and the return of the U.N. (1998-2010)

After the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997, the conflicts within Rwanda and Uganda provided the rationale for the ongoing imperialist intervention in the DRC. Fearing a genuinely independent and united Congo, Washington backed both Uganda and Rwanda’s invasion of the eastern DRC in August 1998.

This aggressive military action by these two states bankrolled and trained by U.S. imperialists prompted the intervention of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia on the side of the Laurent Kabila government of the DRC. This intervention by the revolutionary states of the Southern African Development Community, led by Zimbabwe, beat back the imperialist plot to seize the Congo.

A settlement ended the fighting in 2003. Then the effort at the balkanization of the Congo was carried on through the use of rebel gangs that served as surrogates for the multinational mining interests that continued to loot the country of its natural resources. United Nations Mission to Congo forces replaced the pro-imperialist armies from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as the pro-Congo Zimbabwean, Angolan and Namibian military forces.

Just as the imperialists utilized the United Nations in 1960-61 to undermine the liberation of Congo, the presence of MONUC [the current U.N. military mission in the DRC] over the last several years has not brought peace and security to this area today. Consequently, the Joseph Kabila government has asked MONUC to begin to withdraw from the DRC. An agreement during late 2008 to conduct joint monitoring operations with the imperialist proxy states of Rwanda and Uganda to clear out rebel forces from these neighboring countries has still not created the conditions for real and lasting stability.

Imperialism continues its stranglehold

The imperialist states also oppose any effort to foster relief from conflict and international debt. Leading up to the 50th anniversary of national independence, the Canadian government, defending its mining interests, openly rejected efforts to write off debts claimed by the industrial states against the DRC. “Despite [Congo’s] poverty, the Canadian government has been lobbying the World Bank and IMF not to forgive any of DRC debt until the country ends a legal dispute with First Quantum, a Canadian mining company with lucrative Congolese concessions.” (Al-Jazeera, June 30)

“Canada blocked an $8 billion debt relief deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo in a dispute over mining rights, depriving the African nation of a chance to mark the 50th anniversary of its independence on Wednesday with the accord.” (Reuters, June 30)

This same article points out that “a World Bank decision on the debt was postponed at Canada’s request due to a legal dispute that exploded last year between Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals and the Kinshasha government over mining rights. The accord, which could have slashed Congo’s annual debt service burden to $194 million from $920 million, was to have been a high point of [anniversary] events.”

The only real solution for the Congolese people and Africa as a whole is to break with imperialism and move toward the economic and political integration of the continent. An article published in the Nkrumaist Ghana Evening News on July 14, 1960, entitled “Africa Will Resist Imperialist Aggression,” sums up the role of Western states in the post-colonial period.

The article states, “Imperialists have diverse ways of perpetuating colonialism. With the farewell of political imperialism, economic colonialism is the next phase that has to be attacked but, as it is, this next phase is trying its hands on African fertile soil. ... Political colonialism is going back to one of the original methods of enslaving Africans in the form of playing the part of the ‘good Samaritan’ in extending protection to Africans. Everyone is aware that the so-called protection for Africans means political and economic exploitation of Africans.”