Thomas Turner is the author of The Congo Wars (London: Zed Books, 2007). He is DRC country specialist for Amnesty International USA. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and should not be taken as expressing the views of Amnesty International.
On June 30, 2010, the Democratic Republic of Congo will celebrate the 50th
anniversary of its independence from Belgian rule. On that date in 1960, Baudouin
I, King of the Belgians delivered a speech in which he praised the colonial
effort undertaken by Belgium, and told the assembled Congolese politicians,
"It is up to you, gentlemen, to demonstrate that we were right to have
confidence in you."
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba then spoke, addressing his remarks to the Congolese people, "combatants for independence, who today are victorious."
We are proud of this struggle amid tears, fire, and blood, down to our very heart of hearts, for it was a noble and just struggle, an indispensable struggle if we were to put an end to the humiliating slavery that had been forced upon us.Lumumba told the Congolese people, "We are going to ensure that the lands of our fatherland truly profit to its children." 1
A few months later, Lumumba had been overthrown in a US-backed coup d'état. A few months after that, he was dead, murdered by the authorities of mineral-rich, secessionist Katanga in connivance with his rivals in Kinshasa and the American and Belgian governments. 2
Baudouin I is dead now, but his octogenarian brother and successor Albert II will travel to Kinshasa to take part in the Independence Day celebrations. No doubt much will be said about turning the page, about putting Belgo-Congolese relations on a new footing, and more generally about DRC's new place in the world. One wishes the Congolese well, but this talk about turning the page should not be allowed to obscure the fact that human rights are violated on a daily basis and the lands of Congo still do not "profit to its children."
CONGO'S RESOURCE CURSE AND CONFLICTS ACROSS THE DRC
Minerals were at the center of Congo's problems in 1960, when Katanga attempted to secede, and they have been the center again since 1996, when the Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded the country and put the old Lumumbist Laurent Kabila in power in Congo (then known as Zaire).
Kabila soon slipped his leash and Rwanda and Uganda felt impelled to carry out a second invasion in 1998, this time to overthrow their unwilling front man. After the second invasion, the Ugandans and Rwandans pillaged their occupation zones, with the help of their Congolese allies or satellites. Laurent Kabila, whose presidency had been saved by military backing from Angola and Zimbabwe, rewarded his rescuers by giving them mineral concessions. In subsequent years, a number of foreign companies obtained exceedingly generous contracts. Then, a seemingly interminable process of renegotiation of contracts began.
In Katanga, which contains the lion's share of the vast mineral
wealth of DRC, Laurent Kabila's son and successor Joseph
Kabila seems to have decided to drive a hard bargain with some of the foreign
miners—the case of Canada's First Quantum eventually wound up in international
arbitration—but to ignore other abuses such as the illegal mining of uranium
from Katanga's Shinkolobwe
mine. That mine now will be operated in conjunction with the French firm AREVA.
Human rights defenders from the Katanga section of ASADHO have been arrested,
apparently for criticism of the manner in which Shinkolobwe has been operated
as well as lack of transparency in the AREVA deal. 3
The entry of China into competition for Congo's minerals, and China's use of barter (infrastructure for minerals) opened up some space for the Congolese government, which may help Kabila in the 2011 elections. But it remains unclear that any of this will mean that proceeds from sale of Congolese minerals will trickle down to the impoverished mass of the population.
Legislation now moving through the United States Congress—the Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 (H.R. 4128) and Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 891)—would map mines in conflict zones and require companies selling products incorporating such minerals to certify that their products are free of "conflict minerals." 4 In May 2010, the Senate bill was attached to the financial regulation bill and duly passed by the full Senate. Any publicly traded companies that uses tantalum, tungsten or other "conflict minerals" would be required to file reports annually with the Securities and Exchange Commission certifying whether the minerals originated in Congo or neighboring countries. 5
The Enough Project, Amnesty International USA, and other human rights organizations have been promoting this legislation. Yet questions have been raised regarding the proposed verification mechanisms. For example mines controlled by an "armed group" at one moment might pass under the control of another armed group that had been incorporated into the Congolese national army, without any improvement in the human rights situation on the ground. 6
To complicate matters further, not all of the conflicts in contemporary DRC are directly linked to the country's extraordinary mineral wealth. The situation is more complex than some Congolese and some foreigners maintain.
The fighting in eastern DRC is certainly fueled in part by conflict minerals including coltan (columbite-tantalite), cassiterite (tin ore) and wolframite (tungsten), metals used in consumer electronics such as cell phones. But the contending forces are also struggling over access to land, and fighting is fueled not just by coltan and gold but also by less glamorous exports such as charcoal. In addition the fighting represents the continuation of warfare in eastern Congo since 1996 or even earlier. The invasions of the 1990s were motivated by the desire of Rwanda and other neighbors to overthrow Mobutu and then to overthrow Laurent Kabila, their replacement for Mobutu. Once the second invasion had been frustrated by the intervention of Angola and Zimbabwe on the side of Kabila, the conflict degenerated into what Nzongola has called a war of "partition and pillage." 7
Violent conflict in DRC is by no means limited to North and South Kivu provinces in the east. Farther north, around Niangara (Province Orientale), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) killed over 300 Congolese villagers in December 2009. Journalists diverged as to how to interpret these killings: Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times described LRA forces "fleeing" Ugandan army attacks (apparently carried out with support from the American AFRICOM—U.S. Africa Command) while Xan Rice of The Observer saw a "resurgent" LRA. Either way, Congolese civilians continued to bear the brunt of the attacks of the LRA forces (which by now must comprise many kidnapped Congolese). 8
To the west, where the Ubangi River divides DRC from the Republic of Congo (aka Congo-Brazzaville), the conflict centers on fishing rights, which are mainly of local interest. A long-standing dispute between neighboring ethnic groups over fishing ponds boiled over into a small-scale war. A militia from the Lobala community attempted first to drive its rivals out of the area, then to attack the major towns of Gemena and Mbandaka. The Congolese army (FARDC) quelled the uprising but thousands of local people remain displaced, some as IDPs [internally displaced persons] in DRC territory, others across the border in Congo-Brazzaville and even in the Central African Republic. 9
Between Kinshasa and the Atlantic Ocean, a politico-religious movement called Bundu dia Kongo [BDK] is agitating for secession from DRC and reunification of the Kongo people of Angola, DRC, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon (sic). It began pressuring oil companies operating in Bas-Congo province to finance local projects, and resist state authorities. Clearly it would be a gross oversimplification to explain their activities just in terms of petroleum. Police attacks on BDK supporters reportedly caused more than 100 deaths. The situation remains tense. 10
In the south, where Bandundu province borders on Angola's Lunda Norte province, Angola has expelled thousands of Congolese from the diamond fields; some of the expellees reported having been raped and robbed. In response, Congolese authorities expelled thousands of Angolans or persons of Angolan origin. Angolan troops reportedly occupied several Congolese villages in Bandundu. It appeared likely that the dispute between Joseph Kabila's government and one of its most important allies involved not just diamonds and the security of the long border separating the two countries, but also DRC's modest share of the vast petroleum deposits along the Atlantic coast (on and off shore). The agreement signed by Laurent Kabila, at a time when he was in no position to drive a hard bargain, might have seemed to his son to be far too generous to Angola. 11
When they were given a chance to express their opinions of the three major bands
of pillagers—the pro-Rwanda RCD
in the East, the Uganda-supported MLC
in the North, and the Kinshasa government of Joseph Kabila in the West and South—the
Congolese voted against all three. Kabila won because of heavy support he received
in the former RCD zone in particular, while he lost to Bemba
of the MLC in the zone he and his father had controlled. 12
The election campaign of 2006 was rather violent but the elections provided a rough idea of what Congolese wanted. Since those elections, the violence has escalated. Supporters of the MLC and the long-time opposition party the UDPS have been targeted in Kinshasa.
Even in the east, where Kabila won strong support in 2006, his popularity apparently has dropped considerably. He did not bring peace to the region. Four years after the elections, the army and various militias continued to battle one another; as before, civilians constituted the bulk of the victims. Worse yet, Kabila re-established good relations with Rwanda, which (in the opinion of many Congolese) was supporting the Congolese Tutsi forces now wreaking havoc in eastern DRC in the name of the Congolese army.
As previously mentioned, the arrival of the Chinese, who will trade infrastructure for minerals, will allow Kabila to show some improvements as he heads toward elections. The authorities do not look kindly on criticism of the Chinese and their dealings with Congolese workers.
Kabila arguably cannot afford to have a truly open campaign and truly fair elections in 2011 (any more than his neighbor Paul Kagame of Rwanda can afford equivalent openness and fairness). Nor can he afford criticism of the misbehavior of the security forces, which are responsible for much of the abuse of civilians in the eastern war zone and elsewhere.
Kabila has asked the United Nations to withdraw its mission MONUC (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo, UN Organization Mission in Congo) by June 2011. Legislative elections will be held in July 2011, followed by presidential elections in October. Withdrawal of MONUC, in particular its civilian staff, will reduce the number of independent observers during the election period.
MONUC has announced that it will begin the process in June 2010 (i.e. before Independence Day), starting with some troops stationed in the west of the country. Amnesty International has said it strongly opposes any withdrawal or reduction of the numbers of UN peacekeepers, as have Human Rights Watch and ASADHO (Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme—African Association for the defense of human rights), DRC's leading human rights organization.
"Instead of requiring the peacekeepers to leave, the government should work with the UN in resolving the many protection challenges that remain," said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Africa Program. Massacres, rape, looting and other attacks on the civilian population and humanitarian agencies by armed forces and groups continue unabated, primarily in the war-torn east of the country. MONUC remains the only force in the DRC capable of providing a measure of protection to the civilian population. 13
This poses a dilemma for foreign governments, including the American government, and for human rights NGOs. The proposed conflict minerals legislation mentioned earlier—H.R. 4128 and S. 891—would require monitoring of DRC mining sites and/or supply chains by which the conflict minerals leave DRC. For example, Amnesty International USA has urged the Congolese government to remove its troops from mining zones and hand over security there to civilian police. It is uncertain that the authorities have the will and the capability to make this important change.
Yet in spite of all, the DRC's rash of conflicts and violence against civilians do not confirm the assessment of Mills and Herbst that the Congolese state doesn't exist. There is a state, but it is too weak to be able to fulfill its responsibilities of protecting its borders and of protecting the citizens within those borders. Englebert offers an alternative formulation according to which Congo is a "vast organized scam." 14 In that case, the problem would not be one of incapacity but of lack of will to exercise sovereignty. In my view the truth is somewhere between the last two possibilities.
That being said, the 50th anniversary of Congolese Independence should offer an occasion for reflection not just on the country's survival, despite recurrent attempts to carve it up, but also on the hope expressed by Lumumba. Clearly, much remains to be done before Congo's lands truly profit to her children.
See my entry on Lumumba's speech in Milestone
Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World.
vol. 4, 1942-2000. Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, eds. Dallas, Schlager
2Thomas Turner, "Crimes of the West in Democratic Congo: Reflections on Belgian Acceptance of 'Moral Responsibility' for the Death of Lumumba." In Genocide, War Crimes and the West. History and Complicity. Ed. Adam Jones. London: Zed Books, 2004.
3 Amnesty International USA, Democratic Republic of Congo: Protect Human Rights Defenders, March 2010.
4 On S. 89l: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s891/text. HR4128: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4128/show
5Edward Wyatt, Congo Minerals Provision Becomes Part of Financial Bill, New York Times, May 21, 2010.
6 Facebook posting by Kambale Musavuli of Friends of the Congo, 28 March 2010.
7 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila. A People's History. London, Zed Books, 2002, pp. 227-232.
8Jeffrey Gettleman, Fleeing Rebels Kill Hundreds of Congolese, New York Times, 28 March 2010. Rice, Xan. (2010). 'Stench of death' in Congo confirms resurgence of Lord's Resistance Army. A rebel group thought to be spent has butchered 321 people—and exposed an international failure. The Observer, 28 March.
9 Camilla Olson and Steve Hege of Refugees International, interview posted by Jason Stearns on his blog, Congo Siasa, Sunday March 28, 2010.
10 Nisma Bounakhla, Government bans Bundu dia Kongo, Institute for Security Studies, 14 April 2008; Bunda dia Kongo and Oil Firms, No 603, 4 April 2009, Africa Energy Intelligence. http://www.africaintelligence.com/AEM/oil/2009/04/22/bundu-dia-kongo-and-oil-firms%2C59596477-ART-login.
11 DRC: Thousands of illegal diamond miners expelled. Kinshasa: IRIN, 30 January 2004; More than 9,000 Congolese expelled from Angola in past weeks. Luanda, AFP, 13 July 2009 (via Yahoo! News Canada).
12Herbert Weiss, F., "Voting for Change in the DRC," Journal of Democracy, Volume 18, Number 2, April 2007, pp. 138-151.
13Amnesty International. UN forces must remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 5 March 2010. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/un-forces-must-remain-democratic-republic-congo-2010-03-05.
14 Jeffrey Herbst and Gregory Mills,"Time to End the Congo Charade," Foreign Policy, August 14, 2009. Pierre Englebert, "Clinton's challenge in Congo: To stop the human-rights tragedy, she'll have to address the political scam." The Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2010.