Friday, 15 November 2013


WHY THE PEACE HOPES FOR THE CONGO WILL FAIL

The onset of the rape of a country

Now that the rebel group M23 have stated that they are giving up the fight and are in future going to use democratic methods what are the odds on peace finally coming to that benighted country? Not great I fear. The Congo is a vast country of over 2.3 million square kilometres, [France has only just over half a million]. Its population is about 75 million. Its borders are the result of the 'Rush for Africa' towards the end of the 19th century. There was strong competition for the whole of the Congo region between the French and the Belgians or to be more precise the Belgian king, Leopold 11. In actual fact, his government was not keen on the idea at all. The explorer Stanley had travelled through the Congo region and had urged the British government to move in but, for various reasons, it was not interested. He was then persuaded to visit the Belgian king and agreed to act on his behalf. In the end the French settled for a small part of the territory north of the river Congo and Leopold got his hands on what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leopold promised philanthropy and education to his European critics but, in fact, all he wanted was money. It was he who turned it into a personal fief and then started the brutal exploitation of the country and its peoples just to amass a personal fortune.

Exploitation and punishment

This was not a homogeneous country before the advent of European exploration and colonisation. It was made up of many chieftain-ships and petty kingdoms all of whom were jealous of their patch and ruled it in the manner of tribal rulers throughout Africa. Once Leopold got his way at the Berlin conference in 1885 he was quick to take control by way of his army. Officers moved into the country, recruited locals to act as policemen and the exploitation began. Rubber was the new in product and demand for it was growing throughout Europe and America. The rubber tree grew wild in the Congo jungles and that was the start of the exploitation. Locals were forced to collect raw rubber from the forests on pain of severe punishment if they did not fulfil their quotas. The punishments included amputations and even slavery. By the beginning of the twentieth century Leopold was getting such a bad name throughout Europe and America because of the ill-treatment of the native population that the Belgian government was persuaded to take on the running of the country.

Death of expectations

he elected Belgian government administered the colony between 1908 and 1960 and this was the honeymoon period for the population. However, beneath the calm was a continual tribal ferment which transmogrified itself into parties fighting for independence. The hand-over of the rains of government from the Belgians to the MNC party led by Patrice Lumumba was anything but smooth and the bulk of white administrators fled the country. Internal turmoil began almost immediately as different parties vied for power. Lumumba was overthrown in January 1961 and murdered basically because he had communist leanings. The country descended into chaos from which it has never really recovered. Joseph Mobutu eventually gained power in 1965 with the backing of the army and ruled, as absolute dictator, till he was ousted in 1997. He was able to stay in power for all that time because he had the backing of the USA as they saw him as a bulwark against communist infiltration in Africa. The fact that he exploited his own people in similar fashion to Leopold and led probably the most corrupt regime in the whole of Africa, did not seem to bother the American administration. His overthrow only happened when the Cold War came to an end and the USA had no more use for him.

Corruption of a viable state

Since then the DR Congo has been at war with itself. The current presided Joseph Kabila, son of the last and assassinated president blames Rwanda and Uganda and anyone else who may come to mind but in the end it is tribal warfare and it has killed as many as 5 million people to date, a majority through famine and disease. This is the saddest thing of all because the country is fertile and can grow any number of crops. It is also one of the richest countries in the world in mineral resources. These include diamonds, gold and silver, copper, cobalt, iron and coal and such rarities as germanium, radium and coltan which is worth more than gold.

Many of these are mined in the most primitive fashion with the miners digging with picks and shovels and even bare hands. They seldom receive a wage of more than 10 USD per month whilst the recipients of the products, who are middlemen, reap the huge rewards. The poor in Congo are still exploited to the full by their own kind. It could and should be one of the richest countries in Africa and yet decades of exploitation and total corruption from the top down keep the country in poverty. The internal wars have kept the land from being tilled so food is scarce in a country that could feed the whole of Africa and what little infrastructure there ever was remains shattered. So the surrender of one of the factions, all be it a major one, will not bring peace and the poor will continue to suffer.

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