30 Jul 2006
The Democratic Republic of Congo has just concluded an historic election (July 30th 2006) that should normally usher in a period of stability and progress, but most observers of the African political scene including me have serious reservations about Congo’s future. DR Congo is too rich, too vast, too weak and awash with arms to be stable.
DR Congo (pop. 60m) is situated in the heart of Africa and shares borders with nine countries. About 60% of the country’s area of 2,344,885 sq km is covered with the equatorial rain forest. She has abundant and varied animal species and fertile volcanic soil in the highlands. Africa’s second longest river (R. Congo) runs through the country. Very few countries in the world can compete with Congo in terms of the variety and quantity of minerals she has beneath her soil. Some of them include Cobalt, copper, uranium, gold, diamonds, silver, tungsten, zinc and coltan (used in mobile phones and laptop computers).
Among the 33 candidates vying for the post of the president are former rebels that were offered posts as vice presidents during the transitional period so as to reduce the level of violence in the country caused by militias headed by these individuals. The trio Jean-Pierre Bemba, Azarias Ruberwa and Arthur Z’ahidi Ngoma are unlikely to accept a future arrangement in DR Congo that excludes them even if they lose elections woefully because they know they can turn to their old ways (armed insurrection) to make the country ungovernable. Nzanga Ngbangawe Mobutu (son of the late dictator that helped bring Congo to her knees) is also in the race for the presidency. People like this (and they are many) that must have benefited from the ‘kleptocracy’ of the late Mobutu have enough cash to destabilize Congo if they choose to.
Congo has been in a state of war for about ten years and about 4million people have reportedly died from the conflict. Different militias are either fighting wars of greed to control mineral wells or fighting proxy wars for neighboring countries like Rwanda and Uganda. A 17000-man UN peacekeeping force stationed in the country has been unable to stop the atrocities committed by the different armed groups. In a recent interview with CNN, the UN force commander likened the situation in Congo to a “tsunami every six months”. There are reportedly 10000 people with arms in Eastern Congo alone and these people have instilled a culture of violence in the area with women particularly bearing the brunt of sexual violence (see story of rape victims at this link http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/articles/article/2076046/51225.htm
Congo’s 25 million registered voters have cast their votes in the hope that the new leaders that will emerge from the whooping 267 registered parties would create conditions that are conducive for them to live in peace. They are hoping that local and foreign predators will allow the elected president and 500 parliamentarians to carry out the function of governance in the people’s interest with little interference. How I wish that could happen not only to Congo, but also to other resource-rich African countries.
Unfortunately, the history of this continent has shown that natural resources are some sort of a curse to countries that harbor them. Those of us observing from the sidelines will be pleasantly surprised if the wish of the Congolese people to govern themselves is respected by those internal and external forces that have held the country hostage for years.
Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone are recent examples of countries that have gone through the pain of war because of diamonds. In the case of Sierra Leone, the late rebel leader Foday Sankoh preferred to be a warlord roaming around diamond fields than being the vice president of his country. He had more power and more money by controlling some of the country’s diamond wells for himself than being a vice president and letting them be exploited by the government. These types of people are many in DR Congo and some, like General Nkunda (holed up with his private army in the bushes of eastern Congo) have even refused to participate in the political process. These people are waiting for the least opportunity to justify their preference for the rule of the gun. They and their sponsors will not like a stable and strong central government to see the light of the day in Congo. That is why I have little hope and no excitement about the outcome of the elections.
Njei Moses Timah