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Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2006 13:26:11 -0500 (CDT)
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Subject: [NYTr] Congo: Rich Land, Impoverished People
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Rich land, impoverished people

By G. Dunkel, Workers World, 13 July 2006

In Congo, imperialists intervene in many ways

The Congo is scheduled to hold elections for president and its parliament July 30, the first real elections since 1965. There are 33 candidates for president, with the current president, Joseph Kabila, considered the favorite, and 10,000 candidates for parliament.

International donors will be spending $400 million on this election. Most of the ballots are going to be distributed by air, since the country has less than 300 miles of paved roads.

The United Nations has 17,000 soldiers in the Congo in an operation called MONUC. The European Union, in its first major foreign deployment, has sent 2,500 soldiers to back them up, calling its operation Eufor-RDC. (RDC are the French initials for the Congo's official name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

President Kabila has said he would prefer soldiers from the Southern African Development Community. Mosinuo Lekota, South Africa's defense minister, speaking about Eufor-RDC, told the press in February, “The presence of foreign troops in the Congo is not necessary. If need be, the SADC, of which the Congo is a member, can send some.” German Defense Minister Franz-Joseph Jung, in defending Eufor-RDC, had what he considered a decisive argument: “The stability of this region rich in raw materials will be profitable for German industry. “ (Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2006)

The European imperialists want their own troops on the ground to protect their own interests. The United States also has a long history of involvement and interference in the Congo.

The elections have drawn attention from major newspapers in the United States and Britain, as well as France, Belgium and Germany—the former colonial powers in central Africa.

These articles paint a vivid picture of the recent history of the Congo. The July 1 New York Times even went so far as to call the civil war that raged from the fall of Presi dent Mobutu in 1997 to 2002 “the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.”

But the Times did not give the figure— 4 million deaths— that lies behind its assertion. This count was published in the Lancet, a British medical journal, and is accepted as authoritative by the UN.

While these press reports raise some of the motivations that lie behind this extraordinary intervention in the Congo—namely, that it is potentially the richest country in Africa and has a strategically important location in the center of the continent—they don’t put them in a historical context of imperialist interventions.

The “Congo Free State” was officially recognized by the 1885 Berlin Conference as the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium. The U.S. government had recognized Leopold's claim the previous year. The CFS responded to a number of revolts with bloody suppression and killed millions of people to produce rubber, coffee and other agricultural products and bring them to market. It then was converted into a Belgian colony in 1908, when its mineral wealth became apparent and Leopold's viciousness became a hindrance to investment.

The Congo was a huge source of wealth and profits for Belgium and its French and German partners, but the African liberation movement began to challenge its control in the late 1950s. Patrice Lumumba founded the National Congolese Move ment in 1958 and then became prime minister. When he declared he wanted to work with the Soviet Union and other progressive countries to develop the Congo, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Aug. 18, 1960, authorized his assassination.

While the CIA and the U.S. government have never confessed to this, a previously unpublished interview with a White House minute-taker surfaced in 2000. The minute-taker, Robert Johnson, had told the staff of the Senate intelligence committee that “he vividly recalled the president turning to Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, `in the full hearing of all those in attendance, and saying something to the effect that Lumumba should be eliminated. There was stunned silence for about 15 seconds and the meeting continued.’” (Guardian, Aug. 10, 2000)

In December 1960, with U.S. and CIA support, Col. Joseph Mobutu and Gen. Kasavubu overthrew the government. Lumumba fled but was caught and turned over by UN forces to Mobutu's troops, who let a firing squad of Belgian soldiers and cops kill this outstanding African patriot in January 1961. The UN and the U.S. then managed to cobble together a “unity” government which lasted until Mobutu openly seized power in 1965.

The Lumumba forces had reorganized in 1963 and managed to take Kisangani, an important city in the eastern Congo. Che Guevara and other Cubans gave them military training for some months. Then the U.S. dropped Belgian paratroopers and provided air cover to a mercenary column that took the city back for the government.

From 1965 through 1990, Mobutu, who now called himself Mobutu Sese Seko, ruled without much serious opposition, although the Lumumbists managed to hold on in the east and wage a low-level guerrilla war. He enriched himself, some of his cronies and the Belgian-French-U.S. mining companies that exploited the Congo's mineral wealth, while providing essential logistical support to the U.S.-backed Unita forces that were trying to seize Angola and its oil riches for big oil. But he lost favor with the imperialists, partly because his price tag was too large and because opposition to him was growing.

The post-Mobutu transition began in 1990 and ended when Laurent-Disiri Kabila, who was one of the Lumumbist leaders in the eastern Congo and the father of the current president, was installed as president by a force consisting mainly of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers in 1997. The role the U.S. played in the fall of Mobutu and the installation of Kabila came through its influence in Uganda and Rwanda.

A year later, Kabila dismissed the Rwan dan commander of his army. When a Ugandan and Rwandan column tried to seize the Congolese capital, Angola, Zim babwe and later Namibia stepped in and kept Kabila in power. But the civil war and its millions of casualties was on.

The opposition to Kabila's central government soon split into at least four movements that fought each other as well. They managed to finance their struggles by selling diamonds, some gold and especially coltan, a rare mineral used in cell phones and laptop computers. Kivu, a province in the eastern Congo, had 80 percent of the world's supply.

All these minerals could be produced by thousands of workers digging in individual pits, picking out the diamonds or the gold, or processing the coltan without heavy investments or technology. As the political chaos in the Congo grew more intense, Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January of 2001. The market for what the Congo was producing shifted and the Western interests that were making big profits realized they were going to have to make some big investments. That is something they are very loathe to do in a politically volatile situation.

The Western imperialists also get the World Bank to monitor the financial practices of poor Third World countries and keep them from requiring large foreign-owned companies to provide housing, retire ment benefits and health care to their workers.

They could replace the hundreds of thou sands of miners working around Lubum bashi, who make a dollar or so a day, with a few thousand workers using heavy equipment and not making much more. They also can make the heavy investment that developing new mines elsewhere will require.

That was the reason for the peace treaty signed in Sun City, South Africa, in 2003, which was supposed to be finalized by a national election held July 30, 2006.

The imperialist interests hiding behind the World Bank and the upcoming elections are not going to get a free ride. Besides the miners protesting upcoming job losses, the port workers in Matadi, the Congo's only deep-water port for oceangoing vessels, struck for two weeks in early June and forced the government to replace their bosses.

The people of the Congo have been struggling many ways since their country was seized back in the 1880s. All signs point to the struggle continuing.