Is it the Case of Darkness before Dawn in the Congo?

Jonathan Power

*International Affairs Correspondent

Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s largest and richest country, is caught up in the aftermath of its election, the first proper election since independence in 1960. Towards the end of last year, after years of non-stop wars and massive carnage, the country was 90% free of fighting. The authoritarian regime of President Joseph Kabila was still in power. But it had been pressured into calling an election.

Held on December 30th 2018, the election seemed at first peaceful and reasonably well organized. But then as the ballots were counted and the winner eventually announced, it became clear that Kabila could still pull strings. True to form Kabila used his influence with the electoral commission to push the emerging winner to second place, and pull up Felix Tshisekedi to first place.

The well-placed Catholic Church had closely monitored the election from the word go. As the ballots closed the Church announced it knew who had won the election. Two weeks later when official results were at last announced, the Church came out to say, it considered Martin Fayulu the victor. The Financial Times in a detailed on-the-ground survey of leaked polling data, reached the same conclusion. The African Union said there were “serious doubts” about the validity of the election and called for “the suspension of the proclamation of final results”.

Hours before the African Union statement the Southern African Development Community issued its own statement supporting the official election result. The South African government under President Cyril Ramaphosa, was one of signatories. Was this surprising?

It’s inevitable that the Congo will now face another bout of upheaval. The crowds and the riot police may well continue to confront each other in Kinshasa, although at the moment things are reasonably quiet. There will for certain be widespread passive resistance. Over the last decade or more there has been an upwell of a grassroots movement. Foreign investors, fearing instability, will wait and see. Maybe the UN will refuse to recognize the new government. That would be a momentous step. The UN is heavily involved in peacekeeping. It first ever was in the Congo when civil war broke out after independence. In the last eight years the Congo has it has seen UN’s biggest peacekeeping deployment ever.

From the immensity of the corruption problem, it is plain that the Congo is in as bad a way as ever. In their new book, Congo Stories, Prendergast and Fidel Bafilemba write, that “the roots of [the problem] go back to colonial-era depredations, as well as more than a century of massive bribery and kickback schemes by multinational corporations.” The Belgian colonial regime was perhaps “the ugliest chapter in all of Africa’s colonial history”, the authors write.

Here is the paradox. A turbulent Congo is the last thing the multinationals will want. The same multinationals whose exploitative behavior in the Congo has brought about present chaos. The world needs Congo’s riches. Key raw materials needed for cell phones, laptops and video games, all come from the Congo.

Upon Congo’s independence, the Soviet Union made a big effort to win over Congo’s new political leaders and push aside the US and the old colonial power. Russia supported Patrice Lumumba, Independent Congo’s first leader. Congo was the first African country to become part of the tug-of-war between Russia and America.

Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, ordered the Congo’s station chief, Ambassador Burden, to eliminate Lumumba. And this was done in January 1961. As it turned out, both Burden and Dulles had huge financial interests in the Congo. All this is well documented.

Following the murder of Lumumba, the US, Britain, France, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund started giving General Mobutu, enormous amounts of aid. John Kennedy received Mobutu in the White House. Ronald Reagan called Mobutu “a voice of good sense and good will”. H. W. Bush’s called Mobutu “one of our most valued friends”. Over his 32 year corrupt and autocratic rule, Mobutu amassed for himself a fortune.

Let us hope that this time around in the Congo, it is the case of that dark hour just before dawn, although history tells us otherwise.