Election in the Congo: Rearranging who controls what
In his speech accepting the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Congolese Doctor Denis Mukwege said, “I am part of one of the richest countries of this planet and however the people of my country are part of the poorest of the world.” Mukwege and his collaborator, Nadia Murad, were awarded the prize for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
Most of the 80 million citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo live on less than $1.25 a day in this fabulously mineral-rich area of nearly 1 million square miles, containing vital elements found nowhere else in quantity.
Mukwege contrasted his people’s poverty and his country’s wealth. The wealth has attracted the interest and intervention of all the world’s imperialist powers. Their interventions, since the 1600s, have reduced the population to abject poverty.
This should be kept in mind when considering Congo’s problems regarding national elections, scheduled first in 2016 and finally taking place on Dec. 30.
To underline U.S. imperialism’s role in the Congo, President Donald Trump sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informing her that he had sent 70 U.S. troops to Gabon for possible intervention in the Congo. The U.S. State Department also warned the Congo about vote “transparency,” which is really just a declaration of U.S. imperialism’s economic and strategic interests in the outcome.
For internationalists in the United States, it is essential not only to follow the developments in Congo but to counteract U.S. intervention in the region.
In the 1600s, British, French, Portuguese and Dutch slave traders began operations in the Congo. The rapacious, personal colonizing efforts of Belgian King Leopold II, begun in the 1870s, were so cruel and outrageous that Belgium replaced him in 1907. Throughout that period to the present, European and U.S. imperialists have been contending over the division of the spoils in the Congo,
Patrice Lumumba was Congo’s first premier after independence on June 30, 1960. The U.N. began its intervention in the Congo that same year and provided a cover for the maneuvers of French, Belgian and U.S. imperialism.
With the active assistance of the CIA and Belgian intelligence, local Congolese pro-imperialist politicians in 1961 first deposed the anti-imperialist Lumumba and then assassinated him in the southeast region of Congo called Katanga.
One of the local imperialist collaborators was Mobutu Sésé Seko. After five years of maneuvering and low-level armed conflicts, and with much help from the CIA, Mobutu seized power in 1965 with a coup and remained in place until 1997, with U.S. support until the last few years. In 1997 a rebellion led by Laurent Kabila, the father of current President Joseph Kabila, and supported by Uganda and Rwanda, drove Mobutu from Kinshasa.
Joseph Kabila was an officer in his father’s army, got his first military training at Makerere University in Uganda and later received advanced military training in China. After his father was assassinated in 2001, Joseph Kabila became president 10 days later.
Joseph Kabila won a runoff election in 2006. His re-election in 2011 was contentious. The Congo’s own Independent National Election Commission (CENI) claimed the results lacked credibility. Election monitoring organizations based in the imperialist countries like the Carter Center — set up by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter — also criticized the elections.
In 2016, CENI declared that due to political instability in the country, the elections would be postponed until 2018. Kabila remained in office throughout that period. Facing increasing pressure from the U.S., the EU and even the African Union, Kabila agreed to elections in 2018.
The Catholic Church organized protests with palm fronds and placards that took place after Sunday mass in Kinshasa to demand elections. They were met with deadly force, according to the Dec. 13 issue of The Economist.
Unable to run for a third term, Kabila supported Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a close associate who directed the repression of those protesting the postponement of the 2016 elections. The EU and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Shadary for his actions then.
The two major candidates that emerged from Kabila’s opposition were Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi. Fayulu is a former Exxon Mobil executive who served in the Congo as well as some other African countries. Tshisekedi is the son of Etienne Tshisekedi, who was a major opponent of Mobutu Sésé Seko, as well as opposing Laurent and Joseph Kabila. Tshisekedi was also a founder of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.
When CENI postponed the election from Dec. 23 to Dec. 30 for technical reasons, it also declared that the elections in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi would be postponed until March, well after the president is confirmed. An Ebola outbreak has occurred in Beni and Butembo, and there was an attack on the polls and election materials in Yumbi, a city on the Congo River. That decision excludes over a million electors.
The Catholic Church organized 40,000 poll watchers for Dec. 30 when the election finally took place. The African Union also had election monitors. The CENI has promised to report on its preliminary count by Jan. 15.
None of the candidates vying for Congo’s presidency has promised to try to stop the U.S. and the other imperialist powers from draining the riches of the Congo and impoverishing its people.