Monday, December 01, 2008

Behind the war in the Congo

Matt Swagler looks at how Western imperialism set the stage for renewed fighting in eastern Congo.

Congolese refugees take shelter in a camp in the town of Kibati, near the city of Goma (Remi Ochlik | IP3)Congolese refugees take shelter in a camp in the town of Kibati, near the city of Goma (Remi Ochlik | IP3)

THE LATEST fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) isn’t the result of ethnic rivalries, as portrayed in the mainstream media, but the logical outcome of intervention by Western governments and profit-seeking corporations.

The U.S. is fueling both sides of the conflict–by backing neighboring Rwanda’s support for rebel forces on the one hand, and a United Nations “peacekeeping” operation in support of national DRC troops on the other.

Clearly, peace for the Congolese people is second to securing U.S. economic and political interests in the region.

As of November 11, Amnesty International reported that 250,000 people had fled their homes in response to the fighting, adding to the 1 million refugees already displaced in the province of North Kivu. Almost immediately, cholera outbreaks were reported at refugee camps overwhelmed by new arrivals, of whom 60 percent are children.

What else to read

The renewed violence in Congo and what’s at stake is discussed in “Balkanization and crisis in eastern Congo,” an interview with Congolese political figure Ernest Wamba dia Wamba in Pambazuka News.

Lena Weinstein’s “The New Scramble for Africa,” published in the International Socialist Review, documents how the world’s biggest economies are jockying for control of Africa’s oil resources.

A new book edited by Leo Zeilig, Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa collects essays and interviews that examine political struggle and social empowerment across the African continent.

Zeilig is also coauthor, with David Renton and David Seddon, of The Congo: Plunder and Resistance, a history that documents the devastating consequences of imperialism in the Congo, from King Leopold’s Belgium in the 19th century to the U.S. and other Western nations in the 20th.

The most prominent armed forces in the region are those of the DRC’s government, led by President Joseph Kabila, and the contending army of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), led by Gen. Laurent Nkuda, which has been in rebellion against Congo’s government since 2004, with the support of neighboring Rwanda.

Both sides have been accused of indiscriminate killings of civilians in recent weeks. On the evening of October 29-30, DRC troops were accused of looting and numerous murders as they retreated through the city of Goma. A week later, the Red Cross reported that the CNDP went from house to house in Kiwanja, executing over 100 young men.

On November 8, a senior Congo police officer described a preferred method of torture to the BBC: “You use car jump leads and attach them anywhere on the body, and as soon as you press the button, the current goes through, and they start to shake. It usually produced results.”

An agreement reached last week with Nkuda appears to have mitigated the violence for now, but the truce remains tenuous. The recent conflict has the potential to reignite a civil war that led to the deaths of at least 5.2 million Congolese between 1998 and 2004, an atrocity that is, as author Leo Zeilig put it, “the bloodiest conflict since the end of the Second World War.”

Continued >>

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