As the year 2017 wound to a close, the world received ‘’the announcement’’ that the Democratic Republic of Congo was on the verge of entering a new phase of arms conflicts. It was more of a news report than a prediction. In no distant time, the news had assumed a distressing tone; the UN reported that the DR Congo was reaching a ‘breaking point’, violence had once again enveloped the resource-rich nation, and another humanitarian crisis was looming.
Like many other African countries, the huge natural resources of this beautiful country have become a curse for her citizens. Their political elites have squandered their post-independence years, looting their resources instead of creating structures for nation-building. The perennial arms conflicts in Congo DR is a systematic struggle of her political elites to sustain their control the country’s vast natural resources and continue with the looting spree. Fortunately, there is a time when even the weakest rise in defence of life, even at the cost of life itself. Could it now be the time for the Congo DR?
The present impasse in Congo arose from the refusal of Joseph Kabila to keep to the ethos of democracy at the end of his mandate in 2016 and the decision of the Catholic Church to stand with the people to demand accountability from him. Indeed, the decision of the Church to stand with the voiceless people of Congo is truly encouraging. It is not only prophetic for the people of Congo; it is also an encouragement to the other Episcopal Conferences in Africa who remain silent in the face of injustices, exploitation and oppression of the people by their leaders. Probably, if the Church in Africa had embraced the Holy People of God as she has embraced the Holy Altar of God through the years, Africa would currently be singing sweet melodies.
Meanwhile, recall that the Congolese constitution was created only in 2006; thirty-two years after Mobutu Sese Seko had plundered the resources of the country. Joseph Kabila accidentally ascended to the throne, but he and his coterie appear ready to use all available means to crush, silence and eliminate any opposition to their effort to stay in power to protect their corrupt and ill-gotten wealth. It is on record that the Kabila family business empire alone includes 80 companies and businesses, 71,000 hectares of farmland, the largest diamond permits along 450 miles of Congo’s border with Angola and a 4.8% stake in one of the country’s largest mobile phone networks. Of course, unjustified acquisition of wealth makes such acquisitions vulnerable to the imperatives of democracy; it is therefore not surprising that Kabila is willing to mortgage the lives of the Congolese in defence of his loot.
While we stand aghast at the corruption, lack of vision and the desperation of the African leaders for ill-gotten wealth, we must point out the complicity of the global north in the crime of the African political elites against their people in providing the safe havens for their loot. It is not possible to speak about the looting of the Africa resources by their political elites without the shadow interest of the global north.
In April 2015, Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Director of the UN Environment program, stated that the estimated annual earnings from exploitation of natural resources in Congo by far exceeded USD1 billion. He noted with regret that about 98% of that earning ended up in the coffers of international concerns while the remaining 2% went into the funding of armed groups in Congo DR.
It is known that the link between the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources; and the proliferation of arms is one of the major factors fueling and exacerbating the conflicts in the Great Lakes. One then wonders why it is that the global north is reluctant to bring its gains in democratic principles to bear on their relations with Africa. In 2016, the European Union shied away from complete regulation of the supply chain of the 3TG (Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum and Gold) even in the presence of compelling evidence to the contrary. It is evident that the failure of Syria is not so much the corruption of President Assad as the shadow interests of some countries of the global north. Unfortunately, those picking up the pieces are not the champions of the interests. If the Congo DR fails, the European Union would surely have enormous challenges with which to grapple.
The EU must now rise above their shadow interests to mobilise the international community and pressurise Kabila to step down from power because Africa is her next-door neighbour. Botswana has shown that the African national governments will flow with the tide of international leadership. Not only that, the EU will need to go beyond mere words to reconsider her unproductive paternalistic economic relations with Africa. There are insinuations out there that the presence of Europe in Africa is the best thing that has happened to Africa irrespective of its shortcomings, pointing to the presence of the Chinese who have infested Africa with their ubiquitous presence. One wonders whether this is the theory of a messiah or a vampire. Although the Chinese – who are pushing on all fronts of the African economy – may not be the perfect economic collaborators, at least it is a wake-up call for the former colony owners that a new economic interest has entered the ‘market place’ that was originally their monopoly. What then is the take of the average African on the current multiple economic interests in the continent? In the interim, it provides alternatives; what it would be in the long run is a matter of speculation. While hoping for the best, the continent awaits the later outcomes with mixed feelings and a prayer that it may not become another veiled plundering that leaves the land and its people poorer.
For now, the Congo DR boils, and the poor people are dying in their hundreds. The international media carry the news of killings, maiming, incarcerations and other gory inhuman acts. Immediate and long-term responses are needed. There are also other pockets of state unrest in Africa. Dare we say that the input of the international community towards crisis resolution in Africa is one of the strongest differentiating coefficients between economic partners and plunderers?