Congo's instability is deliberate to drain wealth, impoverish, enslave

KDF Chief of Defence Forces Gen Francis Ogolla with KDF Contingent soldiers from DRC Congo peace mission at Embakasi Garrison in Nairobi on December 21, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Few countries attract as many negative images as the DR Congo. It is a place of dreams of imperial grandeur and mysteries, full of natural wealth that is of strategic interest to extra-continental rivals who struggle to deny each other resources that do not belong to them. In the process, rivals have turned Congo into a geopolitical playground in which the Congolese end up as victims of external strategies with little say in what happens in Congo

The contact between the Europeans in the 15th Century with Portugal leading was, as Walter Rodney would argue, an act of under-development in Congo and the rest of Africa. That contact led to poverty creation in two ways. First was through enslavement and the Atlantic Slave Trade that made various competing European countries rich and laid the foundation for Capitalism and second, through establishment of territorial colonialism. Eric Williams, in his 1944 analysis of the relationship between capitalism and slavery, punctured holes into the myth of abolitionist benevolence the same way that six years earlier, in 1938, Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya punctured holes in colonial benevolence.

Both slavery and colonialism made Africans poor and underdeveloped.

While Congo was partly the reason competing imperialists scrambled for Africa in the 1880s, Kenya was partly the reason for decolonisation in white-dominated colonies. They represented the personification of African lands to serve mzungu interests. Congo started its colonial experience as Leopold’s personal property called Leopold’s Congo only for the king to sell it to his kingdom in 1908 after which it became Belgian Congo where the uranium for the atomic bombs in World War II came from. That experience ended in June 1960, at the height of US-Soviet Cold War, with Patrice Lumumba, as a short-lived prime minister, expressing desire to use Congolese wealth to benefit Congo. The US and Belgium fixed him by using Moise Tshombe and Joseph Mobutu to impose neo-colonialism by plunging post-colonial Congo into perpetual instability. Cold War geopolitical interests could not allow real independence for Congo to exist.

Colonial state

Instability in Congo affected Kenya as the inheritors of the colonial state struggled to show that independent Kenya would not be another Congo. They tried to balance between Mau Mau's revolutionary legacy and the need to discard that legacy to prove to the Conceptual West that they were ‘responsible’ leaders. In the balance, they chose the ‘neo-colonial’ and capitalistic path. They issued the 1965 Sessional Paper Number 10 on African Socialism and Its Application to Planning in Kenya as policy paper, and seemingly succeeded in creating what other African countries, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Munyua Waiyaki, termed ‘dynamic compromise’ between ideological extremes. The ability to find ‘dynamic compromise’ made Jomo Kenyatta ideal as mediator amongst warring factions in the Congo region but extra-continental dynamics twice sabotaged his peace efforts in Congo and in Angola. In both instances, Mobutu was key player in perpetuating protection of foreign interests.

Mobutu’s comfort as the neo-colonial point man in Congo, and other parts of Africa, empowered him to be like Leopold. He changed the country’s name to Zaire. He was so rich that he could lend money to his country. He linked up with apartheid South Africa to sabotage Angola’s independence peace agenda, received military aid in doing so. The sabotage, however, could not stop the tides of geopolitical change which made neo-colonialism irrelevant as a doctrine of external control and called for the dumping of neo-colonial leaders who had outlived their usefulness. In the 80s, Mobutu was one of African leaders who did not realise he had outlived his usefulness as an instrument of external control. The very forces that had helped to make him powerful helped to oust him as Congo dug itself in a deep hole in which foreign forces engaged in what Linda Polman termed War Games of wealth looting in Eastern Congo. In exchange for guns and other armaments to militia, war mongers airlifted strategic minerals. Some war mongers pretended to offer ‘humanitarian aid’.

Ousting Mobutu

The countries involved in ousting Mobutu included Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania and seemingly involved such then youngish leaders as Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Musevei, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, and Congo’s Laurent Kabila. They turned the region into a war zone, reportedly supporting different militia against each other and the government in Kinshasa. Rwanda, with memories of the 1994 genocide, turned Kagame into a ‘saviour’ with his determination to deal with the genocide perpetrators who escaped to, and established operation bases in, Eastern Congo.

While dealing with the escaped killers helped to spark the war for ousting Mobutu, different perceptions of what constituted security led to frequent friction between Kinshasa and Kigali over Eastern Congo irrespective of the ruler in Kinshasa or whether it was the Kabila father and son or Felix Tshsekedi. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of arming the M23 militia whose leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, appears to be well connected in Eastern Africa. Many other militias make Kinshasa’s hold on Eastern Congo virtually none-existent.

Although Kenya did not participate in the Mobutu ousting operation, it kept a watchful eye on the Great Lakes region and made effort to adjust to new geopolitical realities. It saw allies turn on each other in pursuit of perceived but conflicting national interests. Allies fought and, in cahoots with multi-national exploiters, exported minerals they did not necessarily have. While the export was by air, much of it closely depended on Kenya’s transport and communication system. This dependency gave Kenya some leverage on regional developments and was even accused of exporting wealth from Congo. With its cultural music influence on Kenya, pulling Eastern Congo into East Africa’s geopolitical orbit appeared attractive.

The roping of Eastern Congo to East Africa as a regional stabilization strategy seems to have been the work of President Uhuru Kenyatta, with his ambitions to create legacies and probably surpass the other three Kenyan presidents. He pushed for reorienting Congo’s geopolitical outlook, to face Mt Kenya rather than the Atlantic. Uhuru also took interest in Congo’s presidential election which Corneille Nangaa, as Joseph Kabila appointed election boss, postponed from 2016 to 2018 seemingly to add Kabila more time as president. Uhuru and his newly acquired 2018 political ‘brother’ Raila Odinga reportedly assisted Tshesekedi to win against Kabila’s preferred choice.

William Ruto, the then Deputy President, was not pleased with the Uhuru-Raila brotherhood. Uhuru was the only African president to attend Tshisekedi’s inauguration. He later worked hard to have Congo join the EAC thereby transferring Congo’s instability problems to the regional body. In July 2022, a month before Kenyan elections which Uhuru hoped Raila would win, the EAC authorised sending Kenyan-led East African Regional Force (EACRF) to stabilise Congo by dealing with hundreds of different militias. Since the EACRF mandate and the source of funding were vague, trouble was in the horizon.

Raila and Uhuru lost the Kenyan election to Ruto which probably affected the Kinshasa-Nairobi relations. Ruto, though insisting he is chief diplomat, has yet to give clarity to his foreign policy direction. He wants to outshine Uhuru and gain ‘acceptance’ in the Conceptual West but he and his ministers at times contradict and confuse themselves. It happened when Kabila’s sanctioned election boss, Nangaa, teamed up with M23 boss Bisimwa in Nairobi on December 15 to launch an anti-Tshisekedi Congo River Alliance.

While Uhuru condemned the alliance, Ruto defended the Nangaa-Bisimwa team. Roads CS Kipchumba Murkomen seemingly went off the line and accused Rwanda of being an autocracy. Rwanda and Congo were not pleased with the remark which probably increased Kenya’s growing sense of isolation in EA.

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