Perhaps it is because of the civil war, reported to have caused the deaths of more than 3 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003, that something has changed in global politics. Maybe this is why the French government suddenly cares about the plight of ordinary Congolese people. And it would seem that the mainstream media finds the DRC conflict newsworthy.
I do not mean to be cynical, but the swiftness with which the mainstream media and the serious manner in which international political leaders responded to the recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) leaves me thinking that there is more to their response than meets the eye.
A historical context is in order. The 1998 – 2003 civil war was fuelled by sophisticated networks of high-level political, military and business persons in cahoots with various rebel groups, according to the U.N. For five years, millions of innocent people died in the DRC without the media making half as much noise as it is making at the moment.
During those five years, the EU did not consider sending in an ‘EU battle group of up to 1500 troops to restore peace’ as Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, would like the EU to do in the wake of the recent conflict in the DRC.
So, one has to wonder: what has changed this time around?
Laurent Nkunda, the rebel leader who is behind the renewed conflict in the DRC, has been engaged in a low-level conflict with the DRC government since 2004. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report (2004), ever since the establishment of the government of National Unity in the DRC in June 2003, peace has eluded eastern parts of the DRC.
Referring to the 2004 fighting, the HRW report points out that the fighting "in Bukavu is only the latest event in a pattern of deteriorating security and massive violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. …for millions of Congolese citizens who live in the highly populated eastern region and face daily struggles for survival, there is no peace."
The recent fighting that started last month is part of the ongoing low-level conflict between Laurent Nkunda and the DRC government; and it began four years ago. In the four year period since the start of the conflict, Laurent Nkunda and his men have committed untold atrocities against the innocent people of the DRC .
Sadly, the international community is only starting to pay attention to the conflict now. And my feeling is that the only reason people like Kouchner want to send in EU troops to ‘restore peace’ in the DRC is because of the current global economic crisis. The latest fighting in the DRC happened just as the Indonesian tin producers announced that they were cutting back on production due to falling tin prices.
It is reported that the cutback on tin production, which has forced tin buyers to rely on the metal from the DRC, is likely to remain in effect until the rest of the year. According to Reuters, the renewed fighting in the DRC has had a ‘disproportionately large effect on tin prices as international buyers increasing rely on the relatively small producer’ – the DRC as major producer Indonesia cuts output. "Benchmark tin prices on the London Metal Exchange (LME) <MSN3> closed at $15,225 per tonne on Wednesday, up 31 percent since Oct. 27, the day after heavily-armed rebel troops began marching toward major eastern city and tin trading centre Goma" says Reuters.
AFP reports that what prevented Laurent Nkunda and his men from completely taking over Goma was the UN peacekeeping forces, which used helicopter gunships to stall the rebel advance. The idea of Laurent Nkunda capturing the city of Goma makes global capitalists anxious to say the least.
Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, is quoted as saying that Laurent Nkunda and his men " …should not go into Goma, they will be held accountable for actions taking place (there)." Bernard Kouchner has made it clear that the EU ought to replace the UN peacekeepers in the DRC with ‘different soldiers’. "… in any case we need different soldiers and different rules of engagement ….We need to change things…We need to be a bit more offensive."
To understand what Kouchner has in mind, one only needs to take a look at the history of the French in the Central African Republic (CAR). For over 40 years, the French government involved itself in the CAR’s political affairs. The French army helped install dictator after dictator in that country since CAR’s independence from France in 1960 (Hari, 2007). CAR has strong ties with its former coloniser, France and for many years it was reported that France had a 1 200-strong garrison based in CAR. The same garrison engineered changes of government over the years and supported the governments of the day, which kow-towed to France’s agenda, to quell dissent.
Surprisingly, Kouchner was one of twelve people who founded Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF). You would think that a person who helped establish an organisation such as the MSF would advocate for peaceful and not military solutions in the DRC. It is no wonder then that MSF does not want to be associated with the Kouchners of this world.
A few days after Kouchner was appointed as France’s minister of foreign affairs, MSF released a press statement pointing out that: "For nearly 30 years, MSF and Dr. Kouchner have had public disagreements on such issues as the right to intervene and the use of armed force for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, Dr. Kouchner is in favor of the latter, whereas MSF stands up for an impartial humanitarian action, independent from all political, economic and religious powers…."
In the final analysis, Kouchner and Laurent Nkunda care about one thing, and that is control of the natural resources of the DRC. Kouchner uses the humanitarian intervention argument to disguise his motives for calling for a military solution of the problem. Laurent Nkunda, on the other hand, claims to be fighting on behalf of the Tutsis who he says are being persecuted. The HRW cautions that "in the ongoing struggle for power in eastern DRC, ethnicity frequently serves to cover other motives for action."
In its investigation of the 1998/2003 DRC civil war, the UN found that big battles during the civil war were fought in areas of major economic importance; for example, towards the cobalt and copper-rich area of Katanga and the diamond area of Mbuji Mayi. These areas made millions of dollars for whoever had control over them.
This time around the area of major economic importance is the city of Goma. Next year it will be another area – and things will continue like that until the source of conflict, that is the economic dimension of the conflict is addressed.
i In his e-book ‘Laurent Nkundabatware. His Rwandan Allies, and the ex ANC mutiny: Chronic barriers to lasting peace in the DRC’, David Barouski subjects Laurent Kunda and his followers to a detailed analysis.