“Preliminary results from Congo’s presidential election show incumbent Joseph Kabila leading,” Associated Press reported on December 3. For several reasons, this is not surprising news from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The reasons include election-related violence, in which the police and army were not neutral, and electoral fraud.
Violence escalated in the final days before the November 28 poll.
AP said the DRC “remains on edge after days of violence which left at least 18 dead and seriously wounded 100 more, with most of the deaths caused by troops loyal to Kabila, Human Rights Watch said”.
“The violence peaked on [November 26] when tens of thousands of people descended on Kinshasa’s airport to welcome home [opposition candidate Etienne] Tshisekedi …
“In the government crackdown that followed, at least 14 people were killed … Soldiers fired into the crowd, hitting a 27-year-old mother of five in the head.”
Senior HRW Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said: “Elections don’t give soldiers an excuse to randomly shoot at crowds. The authorities should immediately suspend those responsible for this unnecessary bloodshed and hold them to account.”
All four main opposition candidates have alleged fraud, and international observers reported routine irregularities. These were widely predicted.
Congolese University of North Carolina academic Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja said on Al Jazeera on November 27: “The Independent National Electoral Commission has no autonomy, as it works closely with the government of President Joseph Kabila, who is seeking re-election.
“Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the Methodist minister who heads the commission, is a relative of the president and a founding member of the ruling party … His performance so far has not shown any signs of impartiality.
“The electoral commission has refused to allow for an independent audit of the voters’ roll, which is known to include minors, Rwandan citizens and ghost voters, while real voters have in many instances found their names deleted from it.
“The commission did belatedly release a map of polling stations, but many of these have been found to be non-existent.”
However, these are not the main reasons preventing democratic elections in the DRC.
Much of the country, particularly the north-east, is still being devastated by a genocidal war that since 1996 has, in a country with a population of about 72 million, killed more people than any conflict since World War II.
This multi-sided war involving local and international participants is partly responsible for the extreme poverty of the Congolese people. Its cause is the DRC’s extreme wealth in minerals.
The November 26 Guardian said: “Despite $24 trillion of known mineral deposits, Congo sits bottom of the latest UN human development index: 60% of people live on less than $1.25 a day.”
Life expectancy is 48.
This paradox is the result of over a century of the violent plunder of the country’s resources and exploitation of the people’s labour.
The war that has raged since the 1996 overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko is fuelled by the rocketing global demand for coltan, a mineral used in electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops.
During the Mobutu dictatorship ― and in the violent years preceding its establishment in 1965, during which the US, Belgium and other powers overthrew and assassinated independence leader Patrice Lumumba ― copper was the main prize.
Congo’s long nightmare began in 1877, when it became a personal fiefdom of King Leopold II of Belgium. At that time, rubber was the coveted industrial raw material.
It was obtained by a labour regime that used amputation of limbs to discipline Congolese rubber harvesters not considered productive enough.
Such was the brutality of King Leopold’s Congo Free State (so named because it was based on the principals of “free trade”) that it generated opposition in Europe, despite this being at the height of Europe’s “scramble for Africa”.
In 1908, after a solidarity campaign led by Sir Roger Casement (who was later hanged by the British for his role in the 1916 Irish uprising), administration was transferred from King Leopold’s Free State to the Belgian government. By this time, about 13 million Congolese had been killed.
Patrice Lumumba, who led the DRC to independence in 1960, remains an immensely popular symbol in the DRC and throughout Africa.
However, his vision of development controlled by, and for the benefit of, the Congolese people themselves was immensely unpopular with the resource-hungry Western powers.
In an intervention involving Belgian paratroopers, the CIA, Western mercenaries and several coups and separatist movements, Lumumba was overthrown and assassinated in 1961. Mobutu, the head of the armed forces, was installed in 1965.
By the time of his overthrow in 1996, Mobutu had accumulated $5 billion in personal wealth. He did this by skimming the profits of the booming foreign-owned mining industry and the military aid that flooded in from the US and France, for whom Mobutu was a key Cold War ally.
Mobutu plundered aid intended for development in its entirety.
Infrastructure disappeared ― not only social services such as education and health but that necessary for normal commerce, such as transport.
Mobutu’s overthrow was accomplished by a broad coalition of external and internal forces.
The leader of the coalition, Laurent Kabila, commanded a small guerrilla group ― a remnant of the pro-Lumumba resistance of the 1960s.
However, by 1965, when Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara linked up with them, they had already degenerated through corruption and involvement in smuggling to such an extent that Che wrote them off and left.
Kabila became president in 1996, and remained so until 2001, when he was assassinated by his bodyguard. His son Joseph took over.
Several of the DRC’s neighbours got involved, including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe. For some, the motivation was cleaning up loose ends from the Cold War when Mobutu was the conduit for US and French assistance to several rebel movements.
For example, Angola, a Cold War opponent of the US but by 1996 on better terms, took the opportunity to eliminate the remnants of formerly US-supported guerrillas.
Angolan soldiers remain in the DRC, enabling access by international diamond interests.
The main foreign forces were from Rwanda and Uganda (both US allies). They have been operating in the coltan-rich east and north-east.
Rwandan forces initially entered the DRC in pursuit of the French-backed forces responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
However, coinciding with the huge global proliferation of electronic devices containing coltan, the economic opportunities proved too tempting.
Rwanda, Uganda, the Kabila government and a bewildering array of proxy militias fell out with each other in competition for the spoils. Local militia groups, known as mai mai emerged to defend communities but they too often turned predatory.
The result has been an escalation of violence and a continuation of the underdevelopment of Mobutu years. “GDP per person was 50% higher at independence in 1960 than it is today,” the November 26 Economist said.
Estimates of those killed in the post-Mobutu conflict range between 5 million and 9.5 million. The United Nations has described the DRC as the “rape capital of the world”.
Like the violence of King Leopold’s rubber collectors, mass rape is used as a means of labour discipline. This is why rape typically occurs with the community being forced to line up and watch.
Huge profits are being made from coltan mining. “Armed groups earn an estimated $8 million a year,” Planetgreen.com reported in April last year.
Ugandan and Rwandan military and business interests are making profits in the billions, says litigation by the DRC government. But the biggest profits are made by Western corporations.
The October 30, 2008, Independent said: “The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them.”