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CONGO: THE WESTERN HEART OF DARKNESS
by Asad Ismi, October 2001
'I'm interested in land not [black people]'. Cecil Rhodes
RARELY has Western savagery been more destructive than in the
Congo. After 115 years of Belgian colonialism and U.S. neo-colonialism,
the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today is a war-ravaged, balkanized
country where an incredible 2.5 million people have died during
the last 2 ½ years and 2.3 million have been displaced. OXFAM
called this "the world's biggest humanitarian disaster."
The catastrophic war which began in August 1998 has been imposed
on the long-suffering Congolese by U.S. proxies Rwanda and Uganda
which have occupied the eastern half of the Congo and are plundering
and looting it with most of the proceeds going to the West.
King Leopold and the CIA
Genocide and plunder have been Western policy towards the mineral-rich
Congo since the Berlin Conference of 1885 when European nations
divided Africa between them, and King Leopold II of Belgium got
the Congo as his personal property. Ten million Congolese were killed
under Belgian rule which lasted until 1960. The Congo's population
was cut in half. Belgian domination was marked by slavery, forced
labour and torture aimed at extracting the maximum amount of ivory
and rubber from the Central African country. The people of the Congo
"probably suffered more than any other colonized group."
Their hands were cut off for not working hard enough and on one
day 1,000 severed hands were delivered in baskets to an official.
Women were kidnapped to force their husbands to collect rubber sap
and Congolese were shot for sport. Such atrocities were documented
by George Washington Williams, an African-American visiting the
Congo, who invented the term "crimes against humanity"
to describe them.
The U.S. took over the Congo from Belgium in 1960-61 in a bloody
coup after the CIA arranged the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the country's
first elected leader. In his place the Agency installed its paid
agent Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko who continued the looting and killing
started by Leopold, for another 37 years. The U.S. considered the
socialist Lumumba to be pro-Soviet and President Eisenhower himself
approved his assassination. The CIA sent Sidney Gottlieb, its top
scientist (under the code name "Jo from Paris"), to the
Congo with deadly biological toxins to use on Lumumba. This particular
assassination plot was unsuccessful but Lumumba was killed by Mobutu's
troops on January 17, 1961.
Until his ousting in 1997, Mobutu was Africa's most brutal and
corrupt ruler who massacred and tortured thousands of people, and
plundered his country with U.S. backing. From 1965 to 1991, Zaire
(as Mobutu named the Congo) - got more than $1.5 billion in U.S.
economic and military aid. In return, U.S. multinational corporations
increased their share of Zaire's abundant minerals. Washington justified
its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its
real interests were strategic and economic.
The Congo borders nine African states. In terms of mineral wealth
it is the richest country in Africa, holding the world's biggest
copper, cobalt and cadmium deposits. The Congo contains 80% of the
world's cobalt (essential for jet aviation, defence and other high-tech
production), 10% of its copper, and one-third of its diamonds in
addition to possessing considerable reserves of gold, uranium and
manganese. Other resources include coltan (used in cell phones,
jet engines and fibre optics),timber, oil, coffee, tin, zinc and
palm oil. George Bush Senior was Mobutu's friend for 20 years, and
has interests in mining companies in the Congo. In addition to getting
a share of Congolese wealth, the U.S. used the country as a base
to attack the left-wing MPLA government in Angola after it took
power in 1975.
According to the World Bank, (a long-time supporter of Mobutu),
64.7% of Zaire's budget was reserved for Mobutu's "discretionary
spending" in 1992. Official Zairian figures put the number
at 95%. Such astounding pillage made Mobutu (according to himself)
one of the three richest men in the world while impoverishing Zairians
and destroying the country's infrastructure. One-third of Zaire's
citizens died from malnutrition under Mobutu with "countless
others" suffering permanent brain damage in youth.
A Balkanized Congo
Mobutu's unlimited greed was his undoing. As long as he shared
the looting with U.S., Belgian, French, British, Dutch and other
Western corporations which dominated the Zairian economy, the U.S.
supported him. But, as one observer put it, "when he kept too
much for himself-and became an embarrassment - the U.S. was ready
to see him overthrown." In October1996, the Rwandan army along
with Ugandan troops invaded Zaire and by May 1997 had taken over
the country and forced Mobutu to flee. To give the invasion the
cover of a local rebellion, the Tutsi Rwandan forces called themselves
the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire
(ADFL) and recruited Laurent Kabila, an exiled Congolese Marxist
opponent of Mobutu's, as a figurehead leader. As the Wall Street
Journal put it, "Many Africans [concluded that] the Zairian
rebellion was the brainchild of Washington from the very start."
Rwanda and Uganda are the U.S.' "staunchest allies in the region".
Paul Kagame, the Rwandan leader, was trained at the U.S. Army Command
and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. U.S. Special
Forces had been training the Rwandan army since 1994 in counterinsurgency,
combat and psychological operations. This included instructions
about fighting in Zaire. Rwandan soldiers were also trained at Fort
Bragg, North Carolina (U.S.), in July-August 1996 (just before the
invasion), in land navigation, rifle marksmanship, patrolling and
Also in August 1996, Kagame visited Washington to discuss his concerns
about Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire with U.S. officials. The
Hutus are the majority ethnic group in Rwanda (85%) while Tutsis
make up the minority (15%). In April 1994, the Hutu government had
unleashed a genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and 50,000 Hutus
in 89 days. Kagame's Tutsi rebel force, the Rwanda Patriotic Army
(RPA) then invaded Rwanda from Uganda and took power. A million
Hutus fled to eastern Zaire. Kagame considered the Hutu refugee
camps a "dangerous threat to his regime" because Hutu
militia who had carried out the genocide were amongst the civilians.
As one observer put it, "it was clear to the U.S....that Kagame
was prepared to act and that this was certainly in the U.S. government's
Once the Rwandans had installed Kabila in power in Congo, his relations
with them quickly deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila expelled Rwandan
and Ugandan forces from the Congo. He cited as his reasons a failed
assassination attempt against him and the Rwandan army's killings
of Hutu refugees. On August 2nd, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo
and occupied its eastern half where they remain today having set
up surrogate "rebel" armies called Congolese Rally for
Democracy (RCD-Goma-created by Rwanda) and Movement for the Liberation
of the Congo (MLC-created by Uganda). Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia
sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans
and Ugandans. Thus began "Africa's First World War" involving
seven armies, which has killed 2.5 million people and further devastated
a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination.
This domination is being continued through Washington's use of
Rwanda and Uganda to partition the Congo and loot its resources.
The U.S. backed the Rwandan/Ugandan invasion of the Congo and according
to Human Rights Watch apparently justified it. The Washington Post
has reported that U.S. soldiers were sighted in the company of Rwandan
troops in the Congo on July 23 and 24, 1998. At the start of hostilities,
the U.S. reacted with "a remarkable silence." When a statement
was issued it explained that the invasion was intended to counter
genocide and blamed the Congolese government for failing to deal
with border security. Susan Rice, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
for African Affairs, told Congress that the U.S. "fully understands
their [Rwanda and Uganda's] legitimate security interests in countering
insurgent attacks from Congolese soil." Rice added that foreign
intervention in the Congo was "unacceptable" but Washington
declined to call for the immediate withdrawal of its close allies,
the Rwandan and Ugandan forces, which it has trained, armed and
financed. If foreign intervention really was unacceptable, the U.S.
could have ended it by cutting off its considerable military and
economic support for Rwanda and Uganda and sanctioning the countries.
Instead, Rice pressed for a ceasefire in place and pressured Kabila
into signing the Lusaka Accord which treated the conflict as a civil
war and called for a step-by-step withdrawal of foreign troops (in
180 days) rather than an immediate one.
The result is a partitioned Congo with Rwanda and Uganda still
occupying the eastern half having ignored all deadlines for leaving.
The ceasefire is regularly violated. Kabila accepted the Lusaka
Accord only because of the implicit U.S. threat that "refusal
would be met by even greater assistance to the rebels and the potential
dismantling of the entire country." This message was dramatically
reinforced on January 17, 2001, when Laurent Kabila himself was
assassinated on the same day that Lumumba had been, forty years
ago. Joseph Kabila, Laurent's son, took over as President. Thus
the U.S. has ensured continued Western dominance of the Congo by
destroying the country itself as it existed when Mobutu was overthrown.
Just as in the Berlin Conference of 1885, the West is again redrawing
the Congo's boundaries and this process is once more accompanied
by plunder and large-scale killing.
Armies of Business
According to a U.N. report released in April 2001, Rwanda and Uganda
are looting and plundering the resources of the eastern Congo and
illegally exporting them to the West. The eastern Congo contains
most of the country's minerals. The report titled "Report of
the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources
and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo"
details "mass-scale looting" and extraction carried out
by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the occupied zones between September
1998 and August 1999. During this time, the eastern Congo was "drained
of existing stockpiles, including minerals, agricultural and forest
products and livestock." Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian soldiers
visited banks, factories, farms and storage facilities to remove
their contents and load them into vehicles. In November 1998, the
Rwandan army transported seven years worth of coltan stock (about
1,500 tons) to Kigali (Rwanda's capital). Following the looting
of stockpiles, Rwanda and Uganda have been extracting diamonds,
gold, coltan, timber and coffee from the eastern Congo and illegally
exporting these to the West. Rwanda has made U.S.$250 million in
18 months from coltan exports alone. According to the "Christian
Science Monitor," every day cargo flights full of diamonds,
gold and palm oil leave the Congo for Kigali and Kampala (Uganda's
capital). Seven to ten such daily flights come into Kigali. Most
of their cargo is loaded on to planes bound for Europe. Diamond
exports from Rwanda and Uganda to the West have surged since 1998
yet neither country has any diamond mines. During 1999-2000, Uganda
exported U.S.$3 million worth of diamonds. Diamond dealers in the
Congo provide U.S.$2 million a year to the Rwandan army.
The looting and extraction of resources has been accompanied by
the "constitution of criminal cartels" in occupied areas,
created or protected by top military commanders. The U.N. report
blames Presidents Kagame and Museveni (of Uganda) for "indirectly"
giving "criminal cartels a unique opportunity to organize and
operate in this fragile and sensitive area.;" the document
warns that these cartels which have "ramifications and connections
worldwide... represent the next serious security problem in the
region." Significantly, the U.N. report points out that the
illegal exploitation of the eastern Congo has been abetted by Western
companies, governments, multilateral institutions and diplomats.
Rwanda's coltan exports are transported by Sabena, the Belgian national
airline, while Citibank carries out the required financial transactions.
Ramnik Kotecha, the U.S. Honorary Consul in the eastern Congo, promotes
deals between Rwandan coltan sellers and U.S. companies. Kotecha
himself also deals in coltan.
Uncertified timber from occupied Congo has been imported by companies
in Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland and the U.S. Western governments
rewarded Rwanda for invading the Congo by doubling aid to the country
from $26.1 million in 1997 to $51.5 million in 1999. The U.S., Britain,
Denmark and Germany were the bilateral donors. Rwanda could thus
spend more money on the war.
Rewards have been promoted for Rwanda and Uganda by the the World
Bank too, which has praised the latter's economic performance following
its Congolese diamond and gold exports. The Bank has pushed the
case of both countries for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative
(a new debt relief programme) and dismissed the fact that Uganda's
improved economic statistics stem from its illegal exploitation
of the Congo.
The U.N. report also lists 35 companies illegally importing minerals
from the eastern Congo through Rwanda but does not give the national
origin of these companies. Instead, the report specifies the destination
of the material. Twenty-six of the companies' destinations are in
the West. The firms include Cogem, Transintra, Issa, Finconcorde,Cogecom,
Tradement, MDW, Sogem, Soger, Cogea, Finiming, Cicle, Eagleswing,
Union-Transport and Banro Resources, a Canadian company (see section
below). Ten of the 35 companies are importing coltan to Belgium;
three are importing the same resource to the Netherlands, three
to Germany, two to Britain and one to Switzerland.
Along with plundering the eastern Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have
committed "devastating human rights abuses" according
to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The Rwandan army and RCD Goma "have
regularly slaughtered civilians in massacres and extrajudicial executions"
as well as tortured and raped villagers. As Alison Des Forges of
HRW put it in April 2001, "While Ugandan commanders were plundering
gold, looting timber, exporting coffee and controlling illicit trade
monopolies in the Ituri district, their troops were killing and
otherwise abusing the local population." Uganda's encouragement
of (and participation in) fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic
groups has resulted in 7,400 deaths. Human rights violations are
widespread on the Congolese government side as well including "indiscriminate
attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions [and] rape."
Kabila's allies Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia are also profiting
from the war. However, the Kabila regime cannot be accused of being
a foreign military occupier; nor did it initiate the current war.
Heart of Darkness
The destruction of the Congo says much more about the West than
it does about the Central African country. It reveals most clearly
that the West is largely a criminal enterprise, the prosperity of
which is based on the genocide of Third World people and the theft
of their resources. The Congo is perhaps the worst example of this
but the West has followed the same policy in Asia, Africa and Latin
America for centuries. In this sense, Western countries can be seen
as a murderous mafia led by their godfather the United States government
for which no amount of blood and wealth is enough. Today, the perpetrators
of the Rwandan genocide are being tried in Tanzania. It is time
to try those responsible in the U.S. and Belgium as well for more
than a century of genocide and plunder in the Congo. And that will
just be the beginning of dealing with the West's horrendous crimes.
This article is dedicated to Patrice Lumumba.