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The failure of an African political leadership


Professor Wamba dia Wamba is a leader of the Rassemblement Congolais la democratie (RCD-Kisangani), and is based in Kinshasa, the capital town of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development in recognition of his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa.” He has written innumerable articles in various scientific and non-scientific journals on the politics in Africa. He has taught at Harvard University and at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, to name but a few. At the beginning of this month (July 2003) I approached him, via email, for an interview, and what follows is what transpired.


What does the Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Kisangani-) stand for?


 Since November 2000, the RCD-Kisangani/ML, after Mbusa Nyamwisi [who was once an Executive council member of the Rally for Congolese Democracy] and John Tibasima failed putsh (3-17Nov. 2000) there are two major tendencies in the movement, one led by me and the other by Mbusa.


I am the only one to have been elected by the assembly of the members. Our tendency does not recognize the putshist leadership of Mbusa. Now, the movement has to change and become a political party; our tendency will soon announce our party’s name and philosophy. We are not going to be with militarists. We will have a federalist orientation; the right to self-determination at all levels is the only meaningful political framework to have a consistent democracy and avoid the politics which are separated from the people and often facilitate dictatorship.


In your view, what are the problems facing the transitional government in the Democratic Republic of Congo   (DRC), please explain?


The transition has taken off with the formation of the government. Because of the way it has been formed, it is like an airplane taking off with on board, pilots who do not know well how to pilot planes as they have been selected on other criteria than competence or integrity; with bicycle mechanics standing for airplane mechanics, etc. The landing at the destination is not assured and those who are not on board may be safer.


The basic issues of the Congolese crisis have not been dealt with: people have no confidence in the existing institutions and their officers. Nothing inspires that confidence even now. Leaders themselves do not have trust in each other; as the power-sharing is conceived in zero-sum game perspective: one wins, not with the others, but at the expense of the others. The necessary atmosphere of trust is lacking. The 4 vice president based cohabitation, requiring great mutual trust, is likely to be a form of continuation of war, hopefully without real arms. When the overall system is based on mediocrity and irresponsibility, each leader has no self-confidence. There is complete absence of a sense of Statecraft and workmanship.


There are people in the government who have acted as real criminals at the local and regional levels and now as leaders at the national level. Some of them have occasioned the massacres of their own distant relatives and the destruction of their own cities; it is not clear how they will become more respectful of people of other regions; they are in the government only to continue to have access to resources. This makes the national reconciliation process difficult.


Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi, a former foreign minister once sought by a Belgian court for inciting genocide, is now one of the four deputy presidents in the transitional government. Does this not compromise the reconciliation and the peace process in the DRC?


The whole issue of moral integrity, political responsibility and accountability and impunity has not been at the center of how people have been selected to assume positions. In fact the whole issue of the profile of people has not been at the center of the discussions at all. Might is right has been the rule. One must satisfy all those likely to continue creating problems at least to end the war and the balkanizatioin of the country. There was no conception in view of strategic positions to enhance chances of sustainable peace and reconciliation and to give to credible people with integrity and commitment.


The president of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, for example, is a person that has been less conciliatory and in fact practised exclusion in the process of attempting to implement the Sun City Accord. There will probably be many people to be brought to international criminal court. If this happens, it might redirect the airplane for a better and safer taking off, rather than compromising the process. Vice president Ndombasi may not be the only case.


The USA is apparently making it difficult for the court to do its business; this may reinforce the compromising tendency. Anti-Tutsi racialism seems to be a real problem with some Congolese due to the war campaign made especially by the government side and the effects of ideologies of hatred spread by the consequences of the Rwandese and Burundian genocides. Many people have not taken a firm stand against such genocides. There must be a way of dealing with the issue, to embark ourselves on a road towards a consistent democracy free of all racialist prejudices.


What do you make of the solution being advanced in reply to the military question, the fact that the rebels and the government must share posts in a unified military posts, with president Joseph Kabila having a prerogative to choose the armed forces chief of staff and the head of the navy, while the RCD-Goma has been granted a right to nominate the head of the ground forces, and the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo heading the air force?


Fundamentally, granting political partisan influences in the unified army is not a good way of creating a professional and republican army. The unification could have started with the real army  (from ordinary soldier to the colonel) drawn from all the belligerent components and given a neutral command and training before the transitional government could organize more correctly the take over of the command from the neutral command provided, for example, by UN expertise.


The army power-sharing scheme, no matter how balanced, will still create political spheres of influence inside the army more likely to cause problems. Especially since what exist now are various militias with few professionally well trained soldiers in a situation in which promotion to higher ranks has not been based on professional criteria, creating a malaise inside the armies and lack of moral credibility. The fear of a coup d’etat becomes more real with the way the whole issue has been handled.
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Is it possible to put the continuing fighting in Bunia and Kivus into a context? In Kivus, it is reported that the fighting is between the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD-Goma) and the RCD-Kisangani-mouvement de liberation


The context is basically one of the lack of political will to solve the Congolese crisis on both sides of the war and hence the lack of commitment to ending the war. There is also a misunderstanding of what the Lusaka Accord refers to as negative forces.


It is said that the Kinshasa government allied with Mbusa tendency of the RCD-K/ML still works with the Interahamwe [remnants of the former Rwandan genocidal militia based in the DRC] and provide them with arms, the same way as they are said to provide their other client, the MaiMai [one of the rebel groups in the DRC], with arms to continue fighting the positions of RCD-Goma, to continue weakening the RCD-Goma’s position.


Mbusa being used by the Kinshasa government, first to attempt to weaken the MLC [Movement for the Liberation of Congo] and now to weaken the RCD-G, uses the continuation of war as a way to gain stronger bargaining position in the power-sharing process. It is even said that he had dreams of being the vice president as compensation for what he has done for the government component. Even after the multinational troops arrived in Bunia, they were still arming the Lendu to fight UPC [Union des Patriotes Congolaise] seen as being supported by Rwanda.


However, there are many people linked to regional mafias benefiting from the trafficking of arms, apart from the violent access to resources (primitive accumulation). The movement of troops by the Kinshasa government closer and closer to RCD-G positions has made RCD-G to also continue fighting.


The multinational force that was deployed to Bunia on authorisation of the Security Council is due to withdraw in September, do you think fighting will have stopped by then?


Unless there are positive developments in the direction suggested above where real political will and commitment to end the war on the part of all the actors involved are achieved. A neutral administration established, justice for all becomes a norm and enough resources for national and local reconciliation are provided; furthermore, the arm-trafficking, mafias controlled industry should be done away with. Otherwise, the war will continue.


What conditions do you envisage for a sustainable peace in the DRC?


Regional commitment and political willingness to have sustained peace in the great lakes region. The International Conference on the great lakes region must come up with a Marshall type Plan for the regional rehabilitation.


 Firm commitments on the parts of the political actors in the region to equity and inclusive and equitable representation, democratization and social justice. For the DRC, structural changes are necessary: meaning a move from an economy governed by the extractive problematic-entertaining, violent production relations under the cover of market (forced labor, great wealth produced without taking care of the life reproduction of producers nor the maintenance of the country, continuous non-payment of salaries-not even living salaries, Congolese majority poverty stricken), the continuous militarization of the politico-administrative structure since the colony and reinforced since the coups d’etat; and a promotion of culture of peace and truth and reconciliation.


Moreover, a move from politics from the point of the state to politics from the point of the people from all origins. Necessity to democratize the country’s politics and to move towards a federal form of State. To get to this level of commitment, we must develop a national debate on crucial issues so that a truly patriotic and committed pro-Congo political current develops and comes to the national leadership and serves as the basis of creating the necessary confidence in promoting dialogue and peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.


A four page document written by you, dating August 2002, calls for the Belgian Royal family as related to King Leopold IIís legacy to be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal. Do you think this will ever take place? And what will such an action accomplish?


The main thing is to dramatize the ignored holocaust that was done by King Leopold’s Free Congo State, analysed, for example by Adam  Hochschild (King Leopoldís Legacy, 1998). The continuous impact of this legacy on our country has to be addressed and responsibilities established. This helps humanity to become more humane and reinforces equality and real democracy. Belgians have started some sort of self-criticism over the issue of their involvement in the assassination of Lumumba and colleagues and the dismantling of the nationalist regime. This is helpful beginning. We should go beyond.


The diamonds, also known as “blood diamonds”, how did they contribute to the four-year war that is reported to have killed more than four million people?


It is the clearest illustration of an economy totally based on extraction of natural resources, the cheapest way of doing it is through violence. To an extent that nature is seen as valueless, forced labor can be reduced to its lowest by gun point.


The context is easily exploited by the world criminal economy seeking ways for money laundering. It was the struggle of monopoly control over diamond purchasing which initiated the Rwandese-Ugandan confrontation in Kisangani. The war started with the attack by Rwandese soldiers on the Ugandan based diamond dealer comptoir. But, of course that is not the only thing responsible of the continuation of the war. But continuous access to the resources fuelled the war.


Any plans to take the companies who kept this trade booming, while millions of people were being killed, to the International Criminal Tribunal?


Files on this matter will be organized little by little with the help of worldwide justice interested jurists and lawyers by consistent democratic regional and Congolese forces. The Case of South Africa will inspire people.


Can you talk a little about the Ota Benga, the International Alliance For Peace in Congo? What is the rational behind it? What does it aim to achieve and what has it done so far? Also, I understand there is a fascinating history behind the name Ota Benga?


Our Ota Benga:Centre pour la DignitÈ Humaine is in a process of being set up. Some parts are more ready than others. It aims at developing consciousness and promoting human dignity.


Ota Benga, a Congolese of the so-called Pygmy race, was taken to the USA by an American anthropologist who used him as an illustration of a link in the evolutionary chain between the primates and human species. He was put on exhibition in museum and at a Universal Exposition in Saint Louis. Finally he was put in the Bronx Natural Zoo (NY) with the primates. It was the Afro-Americans who led the protest, which eventually led him to be taken out of the Zoo. He ended up with a black poetess who took him to her home.


My late son interviewed a lady who, as a young girl, knew him and was a friend of his. He could not find anybody to help him go back to the Congo as he so dearly desired. One day in 1916, he committed suicide. We are still searching to identify his burial place. This is one of the worst cases of violation of the sovereignty of one’s humanity and dignity. We have adopted the name for a center that wants to promote human dignity.


We have a structure which is concerned with the empowerment of rural communities. We already have one such a community at Boko Bas, Congo. We have together with the people there built a source of potable water. We have plantations growing cassava roots and onions. We are planning to build together school structure for kids not in school and an emergency health care center. The idea is to get people in dire conditions to be empowered and live like humans.


We are planning a house of cultures to promote the diversity of cultures and mutual respect of each other as a way of enlarging each person’s identity. The slogan is: roots and wings. One must be rooted in a culture and travel also (temporally and spatially) through other cultures. Plans to have a Weekly Newsletter are in place. Also, we have a small law office to provide legal aid to the poor, and we have in place a structure called Coordinating Committee, a campaign for a sustainable peace in the DRC.


What contributed to the split-up of the Rally for Congolose Democracy into what it is today: the RCD-Goma and RCD-Kisangani-Liberation Movement?


The RCD was actually a front regrouping three adversary tendencies in agreement minimally on the need to overthrow Laurent Kabila’s dictatorial regime: The Mobutist tendency who had lost power and wanted to return to power, the ADFLists [Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo] who had lost in the struggle for power within the ADFL regime and who wanted to redirect the ADFL regime by removing Kabila and the Democrats (from inside and abroad) who have fought dictatorship since Mobutu’s Coup d’etat.


The RCD was not organized as a front with recognized autonomy of tendencies, but as a politico-military structure of the liberation movement type, with almost no cadres at all. The minimum program was often understood as the maximum program. Conflicts had to develop on essential issues: relations with allies, relations between political and military victories, management of resources, relations between the movement and the people; conceptions of the conduct of war, etc. The first two tendencies tended to give privilege to military victory as they did not feel confident to get to power through elections. The third tendency, led by me, promoted the notion that armed conflicts are due to unresolved political fundamental problems which can only be resolved politically. As the people are not ready to support the war, we must seek ways of getting to direct negotiations with the government and force it to come to intercongolese dialogue and organize eventually elections.


Briefly, the split took place between militarists and democrats- with opportunists being on both sides as well. In the end, the democrats’ thesis won but the democrats lost in the power-sharing, which is essentially based on might is right.


What solutions, politically and economically, would you like to see the Democratic Republic of Congo take?


 Note that this is not a short answer question. I have a ten point political program. Roughly politics must cease to be separated from the people, physically and socially i.e., pro Congo, pro-Congolese people and pro-pan-africanist politics.


An income raising productive economy based on the Congolese majority implemented, a break from an extractive problematics and lootcracy dominated economy; and a Federal State for all Congolese- after the transition.


Is there something I did not ask that you would like to add?


It is sad to note that despite all the killings, massacres, genocides of Congolese people and other people in the region, the African political leadership has had no urgent strategy to implement and counter-act so as to make positive difference. It eventually was sidelined from the very peace process of Lusaka Accord which it initiated. It being a neighbour of a country that has lost 2.5 millions people in 4 years and not being ultimately concerned does not give hope in the African unification.

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