'The Effects of the (End of the) Cold War on Central African Politics: How a Cold War turned into a very Hot One'
A. Conflict, which conflict? Conflict with many layers or several conflicts?
People often ask me: what is the central point in the conflict in Central Africa. The question is extremely hard to answer. There is not one conflict. In eastern Congo, there are at least three layers of conflict that come together in a context which is already in itself very complicated. The three layers overlap and mutually reinforce each other, but none of them can be reduced to one of the other ones.
a. First, there is the struggle for the power in Kinshasa after the dismantling of the Congolese state. Within weeks after independence, Congo fell into a constitutional and institutional crisis, the country became a pawn on the chess board of the Cold War, the state was taken care of with such a degree of bad governance that we had to invent the word kleptocracy for it; state institutions and public mandates were (and to a large extend still are) considered as tools for personal enrichment. The result is a crisis of legitimacy, a ruined state that needs to be rehabilitated from nearly zero and the total absence of the normal instruments of a state to impose the rule of law. The rehabilitation of the Congolese state is a condition for sustainable peace in Central Africa
b. The Rwandese war and genocide which has been exported to Congo after the flight of two million Rwandese Hutu. Rwanda’s involvement in Mobutu’s fall, the war of 1998-2002. The permanent presence on Congolese soil of Rwandese armed opposition who, until today are responsible for much of the suffering of the population of eastern Congo and remain a threat for Rwanda. The maintained presence of Rwanda-supported armed groups lead by Congolese Tutsi.
c. The rat race for the natural resources of Congo, whose exploitation has long escaped the control of the state because the mining and commercialisation were organised through parallel and illegal networks. The nineties did not create the illegal exploitation of natural resources but changed its direction: Kampala and Kigali became the main axes for minerals, coming from Congo and sold on the world market, often passing through East African harbours, the Arab countries or the Indian subcontinent.
These three layers come on top of a complex local situation, with complicated relationships between communities and a land problem with a lot of population pressure.
B. International politics after the Cold War: a more complex game with more players
At the end of the eighties, the classical bipolar scheme that had dominated international politics since the Second World War disappeared. Perestroika and the Soviet Union’s economic failure led to its disappearance. In the Autumn of 1989, one after the other of the Eastern European states went through some form of velvet or more violent revolution. The Soviet Union took more time to disintegrate and was dissolved in 1991. That was the formal end of a world where two superpowers dominated the global agenda.
A wave of optimism was palpable in international politics. Finally the arms race could end and enormous amounts of money which were previously used for building up military power could now be invested in sustainable development and the struggle against poverty. The one remaining superpower started to behave as if it could safeguard a new world order. The United States saw itself as the global policeman with a mission to spread and protect peace and democracy in the world. Its intellectuals predicted the end of ideology and the end of history, and very soon even the end of national states.
But as had been the case of the Pax Romana and the Pax Britannica before, the Pax Americana was very soon perceived by the rest of the world as a unilateral domination of a superpower to safeguard its own geo-strategic interests. It was not going to last.
Of course there were a number of worrying events and tendencies. Extreme right wing parties re-emerged on the political scene in Europe for instance, as part of a more general rise of nationalism which would lead in the early nineties to the wars in former Yugoslavia, and the rise of orthodox Islam. We all were fully aware of those tendencies and events, but we saw them as phenomena linked to the end of the Cold War, and were not aware enough of the signs that the new world order was soon to turn into disorder.
In Africa, civil wars resulted in the implosion of states in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia, and those of Central Africa. The old demons of nationalism, extremism and ethnic cleansing were not dead, they were only sleeping, and they woke up with a lot of noise. The international community lacked the operational power and/ or the political will to stop massive crimes against humanity, stop humanitarian disasters, stop genocides. The United Nations lost an important part of its credibility and its moral authority.
The Pax Americana turned out not to exist. The United States probably still is the biggest power on the planet , but apparently that is not enough to impose its will, not to mention a world order. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11. 2001 gave clear evidence of this.
Europe also has been through a lot of changes in these twenty years. The European Union has become an important player in terms of economics and development even though it turned out to be difficult to translate this economic importance into a coherent political voice on the scene of world politics.
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we are living in a multi-polar world. Some countries until recently considered as developing countries are growing fast and have become the engine of world economics. Russia is coming back on the world scene. China, Brazil, India, Egypt and Russia have economies that grow much faster then the western industries. Ambitious multinationals from these countries are climbing fast in the rank order of world companies, and soon these nations will claim more space in international politics.
C. Dramatic events as the immediate consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Central Africa
Congo went through thirty years of neo-colonial dictatorship under Mobutu, supported by the West for two reasons: (a) to safeguard western economic interests in the mining sector; and (b) as a bastion against communism in Africa on the geo-strategic chess board of the Cold War.
a. He committed a coup d’état and consolidated his power in a period where a number of African heads of states declared themselves adepts of African socialism, such as Kwameh Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Milton Obote, Muammar el Ghadaffi and even such people as Léopold Senghor, Jomo Kenyatta, or Gafar Nimeiry. In the early seventies, more radical, armed movements inspired by Marxism such as Frelimo, MPLA, PAIGC organised themselves successfully in Lusophone Africa, later followed by ZANU/ ZAPU in Zimbabwe and Swapo in Namibia. Mobutu received western support because he was considered as a barrier against such developments.
b. He tried to give his regime its own content through the zairification, which was supposed to be a kind of cultural upgrading of the African identity as an attractive alternative to African socialism. But its main impact was economic, in a very negative way: the expropriation of expatriate owned industries and other enterprises in the medium run was the economic suicide of Mobutism, because the means of production were divided among the elite of the regime, often people without the vision, the competence or the will to manage what had been entrusted to them in a responsible or sustainable way.
After the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, Mobutu and many of his fellow presidents in Africa lost their relevance for the west, and all of a sudden (with the speech of President Mitterand on the Summit of the French-speaking countries in La Baule, in June 1990 as an important milestone) the western countries pressurised their African allies to democratise and to respect fundamental human rights.
This is neither the time nor the venue to go into the details of the history of Central Africa during the nineties, but, as in some other countries on the continent, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo faced a situation where the accelerated democratisation processes led to the implosion of the state and conflicts which were different from those that had existed earlier. The tensions in the different countries polarised and started to overlap, which gave space to a lot of ad hoc alliances, often very irrational and most of the time based on the adage “the enemy of my enemy should be my friend”, even if today’s enemy sometimes turns out to be tomorrow’s friend. The result was a network of unstable coalitions between armed groups and political players that interlinked geographically every African country between Angola and the Horn.
At the end of the nineties, all these antagonisms, conflicts and alliances crystallised around Congo, which thus became the battlefield of what soon came to be called the First African World War, opposing an alliance Kabila/ Mugabe/ Dos Santos/ to an alliance Museveni/ Kagame/ Buyoya/ Congolese rebels.
D. Profound changes in Central Africa since the mid-nineties
From a culture of violence towards total impunity
In the night of the 21st to the 22nd of October 1993, the democratisation process that should have brought peace and stability in Burundi after decades of ethnic exclusion and cyclic violence came to an end with the assassination of the newly elected President Melchior Ndadaye. It was the start of an open civil war which continued for more then a decade where hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and many more injured, raped, dispossessed or displaced.
In April 1994, the political, ethnic and social tensions in Rwanda came together in four months of extreme violence and a genocide causing the death of between 700,000 and a million people, mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutu, and ending in the military victory of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) and the exodus of two million Hutu to the neighbouring countries, especially Congo (then Zaire). In 1997, rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila took power in Kinshasa after an eight month insurrection against Mobutu, with the support of Rwanda and Uganda, and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fifteen months after taking over the country, Kabila fell into disgrace with his former allies: Rwanda and Uganda started a new military campaign against their neighbour on August 2nd 1998. The expected fall of Kinshasa did not take place, and the war continued for many years, formally until the withdrawal of Ugandan and Rwandese armed forces in 2002.
The entire region entered into a very violent decade, the existing tensions within and between countries of the region polarised and led to huge, orchestrated outbursts of extreme violence, characterised by the enormous numbers of civilians among the victims as well as among those who committed the violence. The violence was not in the first place committed by regular armies but by armed groups which were sometimes very difficult to identify precisely, often combining a very vague political agenda with an ethnic profile which had much clearer economic interests. The violence caused not only massive waves of displaced people and refugees, but also the total destruction of the state and its instruments, thus leaving the population in total disarray, with the disintegration of social and institutional networks. The living conditions of a huge part of the population dropped to a previously unseen low level.
As far as the DRC is concerned, very early in the war, mortality rate surveys were carried out, in the first place by the American NGO International Rescue Committee. Different subsequent studies have revealed the conflict to be the deadliest since the Second World War. Although the Congolese war officially ended in December 2002 with the signing of a peace accord, fighting and insecurity have continued in large areas of the east of the country. Up to January 2008, a total of 5.6 million deaths had been attributed directly or indirectly to the conflict. This figure dwarfs the death tolls of all the high-profile natural disasters and acts of terrorism of the past decade – in fact, it is more than four times the total number of deaths from all such disasters combined over the past ten years.
The events in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo changed a culture of violence in these countries into a state of lawlessness and total impunity, where justice ceased to exist, where militias are organised, disintegrate and escape from any form of control, where regular armies become the major source of insecurity and where rape is commonly used as a weapon of war. Living for years under extreme violence and total impunity changes an individual, a community, a nation, a region from within. It affects the culture, it affects the values.
From an informal economy towards a militarised economy
During the second war in Congo, from 1998 until its official end in 2002, natural resources became more and more the stake of the conflict, for the countries supporting the rebels as well as for the allies mobilised by the government in Kinshasa. In both cases the plundering of Congo was systematically organised with the help of the Congolese elites. Between April 2000 and October 2002, a Panel of Experts with a mandate from the Security Council produced three reports on the illegal exploitation of natural resources. They worked in the first place on the exploitation of the resources in the eastern part of the country by Rwanda and Uganda (gold, diamonds, cassiterite, coltan and timber) but also on the plundering by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, thus paying back their support of the Congolese government by helping themselves through mining concessions..
The eastern provinces were formally under control by the RCD rebels, who were too weak and too small to govern. In practice, control was carried out by the Rwandese army (with more and better trained soldiers) and civil servants. In Rwanda itself, a Congo Bureau was set up to deal with the exportation of the Congolese natural resources which in reality was a channel for military and political leaders to commercialise a part of the Congolese minerals without passing through the official accounts of the Rwandese state. Thus, the Congolese natural resources generated not only the funds to cover the military expenses, they also were the main source of personal enrichment of the Rwandese elite. As the Report of the Expert Panel of October 2002 stated, the activities around the Congo Bureau contributed 320 million dollars to the military expenses of Rwanda, and had a huge impact on Rwanda’s foreign affairs policy and other official decisions. The panel estimated that 60% to 70% of the coltan that left from Eastern Congo was exported under the direct supervision of APR commanders, from small airports in the immediate surroundings of mines to Kigali or Cyangugu.
Within the mining areas, Congolese civilians were forced to work without payment, or forced to sell the minerals to Rwandese officers at a very “preferential” rate. High quality surveys and reports have been produced by specialised international NGOs such as Global Witness, Raid and Ipis, on top of course of the excellent work done by the Panel of Experts.
The consequence was that the informal economy in Eastern Congo, as the result of decades of kleptocracy and dismantling of the state, was militarised to the point that the continuation of the state of lawlessness, with all its consequences in terms of security and human rights, became a condition for the continued and systematic plundering of the natural resources.
Maintaining a war economy after the war
After the official withdrawal of the Rwandese troops in September 2002, Rwanda installed a series of mechanisms to control the economy in Eastern Congo without the open presence of the Rwandese army. Rwandese businessmen have replaced Congolese directors in charge of parastatal enterprises; a number of soldiers have stayed behind to continue to work in the mining sector, changing their uniforms into suits. Different sources reported to the experts of the UN Panel that RCD officers, now formally part of the regular Congolese army but still loyal to Rwanda used the security sector reforms and the integration of the army to bring Rwandese soldiers into the FARDC and into the local defence forces.
But the most important instrument for Rwanda to maintain, during the transition in Congo and after the elections of 2006, a climate of impunity was the CNDP (Conseil National pour la Démocratie et la Paix) of Laurent Nkunda. The last report of the Expert Panel of the United Nations (December 2008) described in great detail how this rebellion received support from commercial networks in Rwanda, and from political and military authorities within the Rwandese state. The joint operation carried out by the Rwandese and Congolese national armies after January 20th 2009, was supposed to dismantle the FDLR as a rebellion and integrate its soldiers into the national army on the one hand, and to dismantle the FDLR as a military threat to Rwanda.
How successful this and following military campaigns have been is not something everybody agrees on. We don’t see any sustainable solutions as a result of these campaigns. On the contrary, we find them counter-productive. I will come back to it in my final remarks.
E. Towards new power balances and new mechanisms of non-violent regulation of conflicting interests?
Opportunities for multilateralism – the regional level
So where were we? International politics have changed, and Central Africa has changed. The events since the fall of the Berlin wall changed a culture of violence into a state of impunity, and militarised an informal economy.
What are the possibilities for a non-violent, negotiated multilateral arrangement? The problems in the region are so interlinked that it is difficult to imagine a sustainable solution for one of the countries if it is not part of a larger, coherent regional approach. On the stability of Congo will depend the stability of its nine neighbours, some of whom are held to be very strategic countries too. Angola for instance, is classified by the Pentagon as an area of national interest because it provides 8% of the oil imported by the United States.
Since Kabila took over power from Mobutu, southern Africa has become a major player in the DRC. South Africa had already replaced Belgium as the main provider of consumer goods in Congo in the nineties. President Mandela tried to mediate between Kabila and Mobutu, who was already suffering from the disease that would kill him a few months later. Only four months after Kabila took office, Congo joined SADC, the Southern African Development Community, which covers areas of cooperation such as energy, trade, transport and water. Mining and construction firms based in South Africa are present in different places in Congo but especially Katanga. Exports of mining products from Katanga and Kasai go through South African ports. Twelve years after Mobutu’s death, South Africa is a major partner or Congo.
Angola is a major partner too. Angola provided support to Kabila during the war of 1996-1997, and responded to Kabila’s invitation in 1998 by sending troops, together with Zimbabwe and Namibia, to help Congo to stop the Rwandese/ Ugandan intervention. Angola was very heavily present and visible in the days after the assassination of President Kabila in January 2001, in maintaining security in the capital. Since the transition, Angola has been, like South Africa, an important partner in the security sector reforms, contributing to the training and integration of the Congolese army.
Congo will always be important to its three eastern neighbours in the Great Lakes region, who have a problem of overpopulation. Because of its water, Congo will be important for the countries of Southern Africa who struggle with a chronic drought problem and a serious energy deficit. Congo will be important for all its neighbours because of its natural resources.
Different structures for multilateral economic partnership exist in Central Africa and at this point, there is some competition for influence. Rwanda and Burundi are now part of the East African Community; Congo is, as we have seen, part of SADC. The three of them, together with other countries, were member of the CEEAC, the Economic Community of Central African States, but Rwanda recently left. Some countries, especially Belgium, are promoting the idea of the CEPGL, the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region, with Rwanda, Burundi and Congo as members.
The idea of these structures is very similar to the ideas that inspired the founding fathers of the European Union, to create a common interest through economic integration, and a network of agreements, relationships, procedures and protocols that make war virtually impossible. Will this work? We shall see. What we already see is a lot of expectations. A lot of bilateral and multilateral donors are committed to invest in it. We cannot be against it.
Nevertheless we regret that the enthusiasm about the regional economic networks seems to go hand in had with a withdrawal of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which was meant as a political framework for conflict regulation between its 11 members (Kenya, Congo and the nine neighbours of Congo).
The European NGOs always supported the idea of an International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) as a viable framework to address the fundamental issues regarding the conflicts in and between the countries. The Declaration of Dar-es-Salaam of November 2004 and the Nairobi Pact on security, stability and development of 15 December 2006 remain major tools for the creation of conditions of security, stability and sustainable development between the member states. We regret the hesitancy we see among some of the donors in confirming or renewing their commitment.
We continue to consider the ICGLR as a very relevant structure with a unique mission and a clear added value; we do not believe that economic networks can replace the multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary perspective of the ICGLR, which links in a unique way the dimensions of peace, security, good governance, human rights and economic development. We do not see any other structure taking up the issues which are important for us, such as the struggle against sexual and gender based violence, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, and trans-border insecurity.
Opportunities for multilateralism – the international level
Also the international partners around Congo have changed.
The European Union was extremely active during the transition in the DRC. Along with its Member States, it held an important place in the CIAT during the transition. It was the most important of the election’s financial backers and it had an enormous cooperation budget. EUFOR’s deployment, in its function as a deterrent force, contributed to security during the two rounds of elections. At the promulgation of the new constitution, the EU acted as the proud godfather beside the Third Republic’s crib. During 2007, this godfather gradually disappeared into the wings. Other parents have made a grand entrance into the chambers of the new Congolese democracy. China, for example, has signed massive agreements with the DRC. Also the United States have been very active on Congo. First at the end of 2007, just before the Joint Declaration of Nairobi of November 2007 and the Agreements of Goma of January 2008 and more recently again with their role in Umoja wetu.
Hillary Clinton’s visit to Eastern Congo and the nomination of Ambassador Howard Wolpe as a Special Envoy are remarkable facts. There are a lot of expectations about Peace Nobel Price Winner Obama. Of course, the changes that his presidency will bring remain to be seen. Obama’s presidency is happening at a time when the balance of power is shifting between nations. The United States has dominated international politics for decades, in a bipolar world during the Cold War and the mono-polar environment afterwards. For the immediate future, countries that are undergoing rapid growth will become more powerful. Soon, they will require more weight to their voice on the stage of international politics.
For those of us interested in developments in Central Africa, the realignment of international relationships causes us to question what the implications will be for the region. We are also waiting for change, but we are aware that many of the new president’s circle originate from Bill Clinton’s entourage whose term in power signalled a particularly disastrous period for the Great Lakes region. Not only did the region’s states break down, but the international community’s efforts to manage the consequences of this collapse also failed. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether Obama will treat Central Africa from a regional perspective, rather than favouring the visions and actions of a single country, as his predecessors did.
The true momentum of Obama’s election in relation to Central Africa could be in the fact that it could contribute to revitalise the multilateral approach. Pax Americana and the Bush doctrine made the planet more dangerous and less stable, but the new president seems to favour a diplomatic and multilateral route. In the multi-polar world which is currently being forged, Europe is still an important force in the international arena and it can maintain this position with clear and immediate action to protect the population and the peace process in the Congo, provided that it succeeds in finding internal coherence and the will to play a proactive role in its foreign policy.
In the mean time: the military operations:
One year ago, Congo was world news, because of Laurent Nkunda. Now, a succession of diplomatic and military events has greatly altered relationships in the region. Of course we are happy that Congo and Rwanda have come closer to each other: unless these two countries resume normal relations there will never be durable peace in Central Africa. Conceptually, we did not have difficulties with military action: we have always maintained that there could not be a purely military solution, but that a diplomatic approach would never be respected without real pressure from the military. Now, however, we have problems with the triumphalism of the Rwanda and Congo governments.
The joint operation has only partially succeeded in attaining its two objectives. It is true that Laurent Nkunda is no longer present but until now the CNDP has not been fully integrated into the FARDC. Part of the CNDP was never integrated, and the other part only underwent “ultra light” and superficial integration, similar to the mixage from the beginning of 2007 which was meant to neutralise Nkunda but only made him stronger. In fact, the obvious question on the integration of CNPD forces into FARDC is: “In the end, who integrated who?” On the ground, not only are the CNDP’s chains of command still intact, but the CNDP has also kept its hold over the zones which it previously controlled, maintaining barriers and parallel administration in several places.
As far as the FDLR is concerned, the military operations have solved nothing. The FDLR made a strategic withdrawal to avoid conflict, then afterwards took back most of their positions, taking revenge on the population with more violence than they had used for several years. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the successive waves of fighting have fled to escape from actual or potential violence. In the mean time, we see that the FARDC continues to disintegrate, and that deserters are recruited by FDLR and militias other than the regular forces.
We started this lecture with different layers of conflict. One was the dismantling of the Congolese state for nearly half a century. Are we any closer to a solution? Not really. The Third Republic is ill. Nothing much happened since the historic elections of 2006, we continue to plead for local elections and progress in decentralization. The army is not in a better position than before to play its role, and remains much more a part of the problem then a part of the solution. Performance of national and provincial governments and assemblies are not impressive, to say the least.
We talked about the Rwandese conflict. Do we believe that Rwanda is making progress in solving its main contradictions? I’m afraid we don’t. There is hunger and famine in parts of the country - caused by export-driven agricultural modernisation policy, excluding the small scale farmers who remain the large majority of the population. People often mention the Rwandese ‘miracle’ in economic growth, at a time when living standards and buying power (including those of middle class Rwandan professionals) are being eroded. Justice deals with genocide and with the crimes against humanity of one side, but on the crimes against humanity of the other side there still remains an immense taboo. The democratic space is still under the tight control of a government that leaves no space for dissident opinions. De facto, the country is run as a one party state.
I said we are strongly in favour of the CIRGL and associated projects such as the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL). Such structures must not become a framework which would legitimize the dominance of the regions stronger states over the weaker ones, for example by appropriating natural resources to themselves. The Congolese population can only take advantage of these structures if the Congo participates as a strong state, which it is not. Therefore, it is very important to continue building the institutional and constitutional framework of the Congolese state, and that means that local elections need to be organized and the decentralization process carried forward.
Kris Berwouts, Director EurAc
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