DR Congo: Elections for the West, Not the People

(309)

The presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were the first national vote in the country for more than four decades.

The first round of the election saw the sitting president, Joseph Kabila, take a 45 percent share. As Kabila did not win an absolute majority he now faces a run-off in a second round on 29 October with Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Some of the striking images from the election were of people queuing to vote for the first time in their lives. Sadly the elections offer little in the way of a real alternative for most Congolese - rather the run-up to the elections has seen a further phase of plunder.

A deal signed at the end of 2003 between the Kinshasa government in the DRC, rebel groups and the political opposition agreed to the formation of a Transitional National Government. Fighting, however, continued. Estimates show that approximately 3.8 million people died between the beginning of the war in 1998 and April 2004.

The "peace" signalled by the transitional government triggered two important processes. The first saw the return of some multinational companies to regions that they had previously watched from a distance. There were attempts to reintroduce gold mining and to start oil exploration.

A company heavily implicated in the war was the gold mining AngloGold Ashanti, a subsidiary of the mining giant Anglo American. AngloGold Ashanti was connected to a rebel group, the Front Nationaliste and Integrationniste (FNI), who assisted the company's access to gold reserves around the town of Mongbwalu. In return the rebels received money and logistical support.

AngloGold Ashanti's Charles Carter explains his company's role: "While this is obviously a tough environment right now, we are looking forward to the opportunity to fully explore the properties we have in the Congo, believing that we now have access to potentially exciting growth prospects in Central Africa."

The peace agreement saw the central government attempt to reclaim control over the country's resources. It signed oil exploration licences with the Canadian-British Heritage Oil Company which, mindful of the region's political turbulence, made contacts with local chiefs in one eastern province in 2002. One of them, Chief Kahwe of Mandro, explained in February 2003, "I have been contacted by the Canadian Oil people who came to see me. I told them they could only start work in Ituri once I had taken the town Bunia from the UPC (Union des Patriotes Congolais)."

Business

The second process tied to the 2003 peace deal was just as predictable. Rebel commanders responsible for much of the killing and slaughter in the war were incorporated into the Congolese army.

For example, Jean-Pierre Bemba is a product of the global forces that were at work during the war. His rebel group, Mouvement de Liberation Congolais (MLC), emerged in the first two years of the war. Bemba was promoted for his business connections and organisational skills in early 2001 by Uganda, a regional player in the war.

Groups such as the MLC clashed as they fought for control and access to minerals. These minerals were then exported through Rwanda or Uganda, and bought by Western multinationals. The relative calm of the transition to the elections has led to the further direct involvement of multinationals.

The West's recent interest in Congolese democracy has been determined only by a desire to secure access to the country's wealth. The EU decided to send a multinational force to help oversee the elections. But the German defence minister made the real intentions clear: "[European] industry would benefit from the stability of a region rich in raw materials."

However, in the rush to assist the Congolese, the EU forgot to consult the African Union and the DRC. The Congolese media accused the West of interference, stating that without an invitation the EU force would be seen as an occupation. Western intervention - in one form or another - has been the cornerstone of the war since 1998.

The effect of generations of plunder is reflected in the political choice that was on offer in the elections. Ludo de Witte, author of The Assassination of Lumumba, explained, "The political class today reflects the degeneration and the exhaustion of decades of Mobutu dictatorship under the orders of imperialism. What do we have? Some clients, some neo-colonialist politicians, all who are living out of the hands of the West. You have a small clique of warlords who have been brought together in the capital, and receive funds from the international community. The proof is that there is not one Congolese politician who has been vilified in the Western media - a true test of credibility in Congolese politics."

The only hope for real change rests with the Congolese people themselves, who have a magnificent history of resistance to both the degenerated political class in the Congo and the international plunderers.


Leo Zeilig is the co-author of The Congo: Plunder and Resistance to be published by Zed Books in November.