Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-2001
The “First African World War” in the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”:
“Good Governance” for imperialism’s black African raw material deposits
For 2½ years, the armies of six African states and a confusing number of rebel organizations and tribal militias have been fighting a bloody war in Congo. Troops from Rwanda and Uganda occupy the north and east of the country. They are fighting partly against each other over the division of the conquered territory and partly against the Southern Alliance of Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and – as a rather insignificant remnant – “regular troops” from the ‘Democratic Republic of Congo,’ which the successful rebel leader Kabila has proclaimed the successor state to Mobutu’s Zaire. At least occasionally, Chad and Sudan have also intervened on the side of the government alliance and Burundi on the side of the invading armies, which is less known for its strategic objectives than for numerous massacres and counter-massacres. The inhabitants of the neighboring states have to share their usual misery with masses of refugees and are also tormented by scattered militia units.
When she was still US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright called the conflict the “First African World War” and used this phrase to indicate that the world power was extremely interested in the bloody events. In practice, however, the USA has, by its standards, been extremely cautious about intervening in the turmoil. In other cases, it was quick to deploy a few cruise missiles wherever “terrorists” were causing trouble; ready to wage a weeks-long air war wherever a post-socialist potentate was disturbing the peace desired by the leading powers; even active with an entire invasion force on the ground to wrest an illegally annexed oil sheikdom from a “rogue state”; in many third world regions, it generously provides military aid and advisors in order to cut off America’s neglected youth from their sources of drugs; after much hesitation, it responds to the “world war” in the “heart of Africa” with a military mission that, in its own judgment, combines all the elements of despicable inefficiency: a peacekeeping mission under UN command consisting of a contingent of African soldiers with a troop strength of no less than 3,000 men to control a theater of war the size of Western Europe. This does not appear to be a challenge to the world power in the form of a world war, and an imperialist interest of a “vital” nature does not appear to have been violated.
As far as the material interests of the leading states of the world in the war-torn parts of the Black Continent and their impairment by the fighting in the Congo Basin are concerned, the UN report on the war situation provides an important pointer. It accuses the militarily engaged neighbors of the ‘Republic,’ which is nominally governed from Kinshasa, of “systematically plundering” Congo’s natural resources; it mentions copper, cobalt, gold, diamonds and the mineral coltan which is essential for high-quality alloys and semiconductors in the manufacture of aircraft, cell phones and microprocessors. However, none of this remains in the hands of the “plunderers” – what would they do with it? The “natural riches” of the region continue to reliably find their way onto the world market, to buyers with sufficient foreign currency and with the necessary connections to the incriminated “plunderers” – in any case, there have been no reports of a war-related shortage on the coltan market. That business continues as before, when it was conducted even more via Congolese or Zairean addresses, in particular via the presidential palace in Kinshasa, whose long-time resident has, interestingly enough, already been accused of the same thing – not by the UN, but by the morally committed raw materials experts of the democratic world: of “plundering” the country’s resources; which has always included the seamless selling of the “stolen goods” to the hands of the industrial capitals of the metropolises. And this much is clear: as far as the appropriation of the Congo Basin by the global market economy and its need for certain natural ingredients for profit making goes, there is apparently not much of a difference between war and peace. Either way, raw materials are extracted from the earth and sold to capitalist trading companies that use them to do business on the major world stock exchanges. “Warlords,” tribal warriors who are enlightened in weapons technology and have contacts with unprejudiced arms company representatives and army chiefs from neighboring countries, understand this political economy just as well as the henchmen of a native president’s ‘Republic.’ After all, it requires nothing more than forcible access to the place where the coveted materials are deposited – including the miserable figures needed to dig them up and load them. What distinguishes “illegal exploitation” under wartime conditions from regular and lawful “plundering” in peacetime is not even the type of access to a deposit, but in fact merely the origin of the holder of the locally effective power – as well as the account number in Switzerland into which flows the foreign exchange earnings for the carted off “treasures” and from which arms deliveries are paid.
This is what the globalized market economy has achieved: an entire region of the world is not just divided into raw material supplier countries whose bosses use their foreign exchange earnings to buy the means of power with which they secure the continued selling of raw materials and the proceeds from them, and in return enjoy political recognition from the political masters of world affairs. After 50 years of “development,” this type of “integration into the world market” has reduced the middle of Africa, blessed with such enormous “natural riches,” to the status of raw material exporting states, to such an extent that it doesn’t even necessarily require functioning exporting states to serve the relevant commercial interests anymore – that is, central political powers with comprehensive or at least dedicated claims to rule and development programs. The capitalist interests also get by without a regular force monopoly; even other types of power holders, if they are able to assert themselves, do the required service, namely ensure with their warriors and guns that the power of good money is effective even in the remotest jungle. In this respect, capitalistic bartering with those who control the metal pits and mines in Central Africa no longer constitutes a “vital interest” of the world economic powers in state-ordered conditions.
The state formations that were, several decades ago, inherited from the colonial rule of capitalist nations – Belgium in the case of Congo – have of course not disappeared from the scene. In its own way, the “African World War” demonstrates how much of their original raison d'être – namely, the will of a ruling central power to participate in political relations between nations on an equal basis as well as in the riches of the global economy and to ensure the internal “state structures” – still remains. It testifies to the ambition of the rulers who have asserted themselves in the capitals of the countries concerned and who have control over the largest parts of the nominal state territory that they use their means of violence to gain access to even more sources of foreign currency, i.e. marketable resources, as well as to gain the political respect of the real world powers, that is, recognition as the first point of contact for their access requirements. This much has been learned and remembered by the local potentates of Africa from their colonial masters and today’s first world role models: that even and especially in the civilized modern world of states, ultimately nothing else matters as the effective power to control a territory of any interest, including its living and dead inventory. So they act accordingly, crushing competitors who challenge or could dispute their power, supporting opposition leaders in neighboring countries to expand their power there or simply to eliminate outside help for opponents in their own country. In other words, they act as “warlords” with the backing of their own “tribe” in order to establish an equivalent to the bourgeois state’s monopoly on violence – depending on the extent of resistance and visible violence, this situation is then described as a “civil war” by the knowledgeable overseers of the first world. And with these ruling activities that have long been common practice, the main rulers of several Central African states have now quite openly crossed a border that they have not really respected up to now, but have declared to be inviolable, also as a legacy of their country’s colonial past: They are disregarding their own state borders and attacking a particularly large neighbor whose central power has long been unable to control various parts of the country and suppress competing opponents.
Yet – to return once again to America’s phrase about the “African World War” – none of the intra-African sides in the war, but rather the distant world power deserves credit for not just triggering the cross-border slaughter in the Congo Basin, but downright instigating it: it was Washington’s decision to declare the old general chief of Zaire, Mobutu, unfit to continue the desired nationwide business of repression and to organize support for the rebel chief Kabila senior. And it did so without much concern for the nominal external borders of Mobutu’s state: It was not least the leaders of Uganda and Rwanda who had been cast as beacons of hope for a new, more democratic sub-Saharan Africa, who were supposed to and were allowed to get involved in the destruction of the old regime, until the rebel army marched into Kinshasa and proclaimed the guaranteed ‘Democratic Republic of Congo.’ The fact that the foreign accomplices of the coup did not politely take their leave after the deed was done and modestly retreat to their impoverished home regions, but rather remained squatting on occupied sources of foreign currency; that the other neighbors also found themselves challenged and made their contribution to the dismemberment of the Congo Basin, which after all had been opened for re-occupation: this should really come as no surprise to the foreign sponsors of the rebellion. In fact, this transition only speaks for how politically eager to learn those in power locally were: they gladly and not at all improperly took the desire of the world powers for a “new Africa,” and in particular a new rule over Zaire, and seized on the opportunity to increase their “political influence,” that is, their de facto sphere of power, to the best of their ability – with the means of violence at their disposal; what else? With the very means that are now earning them public insults from the UN as money- and power-hungry “warlords” and “plunderers” – as if there were any other way to make a “state” on the basis of raw materials and under the conditions set by imperialism, which have been tightening for decades.
This “changed image” which has overtaken imperialism’s former “beacons of hope” all too quickly has made it clear that the world’s supervisory powers are not at all satisfied with the – necessary! – effects of their intervention to reorganize sub-Saharan Africa democratically and market-economically. They would like a little more from the large sub-continent than basic delivery services to the world raw materials market; not exactly for all of them to become African “tiger states,” but in any case reliable addresses for access to the area, even if it has lost strategic interest due to the lack of a global political opponent, as well as to its natural “treasures” – although there are of course considerable differences of opinion between the competing imperialists about which addresses should be regarded as sufficiently reliable, which could not be overlooked in the great American “democratization” initiative. Not least because of such differences, the dissatisfaction of the controlling powers is not so severe that they would waste even one cruise missile to correct “world-war”-like “wrongful developments” – where would it land? From the point of view of a strategically deterrent world power, blackmailing a well-ordered rogue state with extensive destruction and keeping it down is easy compared to the task of ensuring moral conditions within and between national powers in Central Africa: “state structures” that would allow a clear distinction between war and peace would have to be established there in the first place – and capitalist world powers are not responsible for this at all, so they not only save themselves every exhausted dollar or euro, but also the question of how something like this could even work.
The question should instead be answered by those in power on the ground, with whom we are now so sincerely dissatisfied, and they should provide exactly what the free world misses about their rule: peace, a democratic political culture and a cleanly washed civil society, which accompanies the removal of all natural resources to the centers of world business with kind regards – all this, of course, at raw material prices that are determined to be fair and appropriate by the speculators on the world stock exchanges, and without uselessly wasting valuable loans from the first world ...
The fact that they themselves do not know what to do with the ruined state structures of sub-Saharan Africa, let alone have the means to do so, does not prevent the world powers of globalized capitalism from turning their dissatisfaction with the tumultuous violence and devastation in the “heart of Africa” into a claim against the very “warlords” they themselves hold responsible for the ugly conditions, and from whom they demand the establishment of first world conditions, as if this were ultimately only a question of goodwill. In order to get rid of nothing but this absurd claim, one then receives the son and successor of the first Kabila from Kinshasa, who was first disgraced and then killed, and pretends for two days that he is the head of a real state, who only needs the small matter of a democratic election so that the reconstruction of the Congo Basin can be approached with him on a truly “future-oriented” and equal basis; there are even reports of talks in Washington, Paris and Brussels in which the “young president” is said to have explained his “new economic policy”...
Meanwhile, under the guidance of the UN, a ceasefire is being established in the country, whose responsible citizens are supposed to freely, equally and secretly confirm the president desired by the West for lack of a better alternative; it provides a distance of 15 kilometers between the front lines of the multi-layered carnage, is nowhere bindingly marked and certainly nowhere clear, and thus actually only gives the blessing of the world community to the de facto division of the country. The aforementioned 3,000 men from more distant neighboring countries who earn a few foreign currencies for their homeland with their UN soldiers are supposed to see if they can take care of things. And, of course, the ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’ remains marked on atlases and is represented with a seat and a vote in the UN: After all, there is a “world war” raging right now that the masters of world peace can’t simply leave to their own devices.