The Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis

For the last 100+ years that phrase has been repeated so often that it has become institutionalized as if conflict and the Democratic Republic of Congo (or truly any part of Africa) are inseparable entities. This view of the DRC is unquestionably reinforced by capitalist dominated narratives that consistently seek to absolve colonialism and capitalism for all ills connected to Africa, instead blaming all of the issues in the DRC today on corrupt leadership as if that leadership operates within a vacuum without being systemically manipulated and coerced by international imperialism.

Kwame Ture was fond of saying that “capitalism lies all of the time. In fact, the only time capitalism tells the truth is as the result of a double lie.”  This refrain by Ture is certainly true as it relates to the DRC. It is correct that leadership in the DRC and all throughout Africa is corrupt, but as is always the case, very few people take even a few moments to question how this corrupt leadership came to be and how they are able to continue to function despite their incompetence as it relates to cultivating the stability and security that Africans desperately desire and deserve.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Colonial History

The correct history of the DRC, and really all of Africa, easily answers these questions. For the DRC in particular, we only need to look at the period before the invasion of Belgium into the region. Before that, although there was certainly interethnic conflict, there is no definable history of the type of intense conflict that we have come to see within the DRC in the last 60+ years. What the Dutch brought to the DRC was a desire to exploit the then hot resource available in plentiful supply in that region – ivory from the tusks of elephants. To accomplish control over this ivory, Belgium brought a vicious strategy of division between Congolese ethnic groups like the Mongo (central region), the Kongo (west), Luba (south central), the Bemba (southeast), Kasai (southwest), and the Bantu people who lived in the north and northeast such as the Ngala, the Buja, Bira, the Kuumu, and the Lega. Belgium understood that without a strong divide and conquer strategy, they would never be able to control the DRC. With all of Congolese territories representing four times that of all of Belgium, the Europeans implemented a reward and punishment system that permitted them to gain a fast and complete stranglehold over the entire country.

As it did for all European colonizing countries, the 1884 Berlin Conference solidified and legitimized Belgium’s claim over the DRC for any competing colonizing interests. The subsequent installation of King Leopold as the undisputed ruler over the DRC ushered in decades of unprecedented terror against Congolese people. This terror is typified by conservative estimates that between 1900 and 1920 approximately 20 million Congolese were murdered under the direction of the Belgium colonizers and another 30 million people suffered the amputation of limbs which was the colonial regime’s primary practice of terror control. 

Belgium’s grip over the DRC was sustained through these terror practices, but also through its practice of ensuring the Congolese remained dependent upon Belgium for everything. This reality is exemplified by the fact that by the time of Congolese independence in 1960, the DRC had less than 100 Africans nationwide who were qualified to serve as technical skills persons, doctors, engineers, educators, etc. Thus, when the Congolese National Movement (MNC) emerged in the late 50s with its dynamic young leader Patrice Emery Lumumba, it faced an incredible uphill battle on all fronts.

Patrice Lumumba, the National Congolese Movement (MNC) and Independence

Heavily inspired by then Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s strong Pan-Africanist vision for all of Africa during his attendance at the 1958 All African People’s Conference in Ghana, Patrice Lumumba became Nkrumah’s mentee, a relationship that would continue until Lumumba’s assassination in January of 1961. Yet, history has certainly taught us that Lumumba and the DRC’s opportunity for independence was derailed before it ever got off the ground. Belgium, U.S., French, and other imperialist forces began actively working to attack Lumumba’s influence as early as the country’s independence ceremony in July of 1960. During that ceremony, then Belgium King Baudouin’ gave a disgraceful and disrespectful speech that praised King Leopold and credited Leopold for leading the DRC during the early part of the twentieth century. Lumumba, incensed by this, rose to the microphone. He was the newly elected prime minister through the MNC in the DRC’s fragile coalition government, but he was not originally scheduled to speak that day. Still virtually unknown to the outside world, Lumumba immediately caught the attention of the entire planet by launching into a prideful display of Congolese and African dignity along with a striking criticism of King Baudouin and Belgium’s terrorist history in the DRC. 

Within weeks of the independence ceremony, confirmed efforts to sabotage Lumumba and the MNC were apparent. Joseph Kasavubu, the leader of the opposition party that participated in the coalition government, was declared president. He was encouraged by the imperialist countries to denounce Lumumba and the MNC’s efforts to unify the country. He did that just months after the national election by “dismissing” Lumumba as prime minister. Moise Tshombe, the leader of the opposition elements in Central Congo, was encouraged by imperialism to lead the then Katanga region, the most resource rich region in the DRC, to secede in a clear attempt to discredit Lumumba. By this time, the widely coveted resource within the DRC was uranium which imperialist countries needed as a source for atomic power during this cold war period where nuclear weapons were at the center of the power battle for world control. 

During this period, the only true allies Lumumba had were the radical Pan-African countries like Ghana (Nkrumah), Guinea (Sekou Ture), Egypt (Gamal Abdul Nasser), and Mali (Modibo Keita). Those countries met secretly during this period in efforts to support Lumumba and the MNC and they did everything that they could, but again, the legacy of colonialism limited even their capacity. Each of those countries relied completely upon military and technical leadership which was trained and developed by the imperialist colonizing countries. Consequently, the colonist trained military personnel in the DRC retained their loyalty to those colonial/capitalist power structures. An example of this was Nkrumah’s British military Commander of Ghanaian forces operating under United Nations (UN) jurisdiction in the DRC – General Alexander – who did everything he could to covertly disobey Nkrumah’s orders to protect Lumumba and the MNC, instead working closely with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the entire crisis. By the time Nkrumah became aware of this betrayal, it was just a matter of time before Lumumba would be captured by the forces who intended to eliminate him. In fact, it must be said that were it not for the initiative of the Ghanaian and Guinean troops assigned on the ground to the UN force in the DRCS, it is highly doubtful that Lumumba would have lived as long as he actually did.

Of course, Lumumba was assassinated, the MNC was removed from electoral power, and the next several years consisted of a battle of MNC forces attempting to win back control from imperialist backed neo-colonial forces who solidified their control by installing strongman Mobutu Sese Seto as Congolese Central Intelligence Agency’s man to lead the DRC.

The Results of Imperialist Sabotage in the DRC

Despite heroic efforts of MNC leaders Antoine Gizenga and for a time, Laurant Kabila, with noble support from Ernesto Che Guevara and dozens of Cuban combatants, to revive the MNC through battle against Mobutu’s military, the support of imperialism for Mobutu’s efforts to hold the DRC for their interests resulted in 37 years of unbelievable instability within the DRC. During this period, the elements necessary to effectively build a society like functioning social services, schools, etc., were incapable of maintaining sustainability. 

In 2007, the DRC had its first national election since Patrice Lumumba was elected in 1960, but since that time, the instability within the region has continued to be the norm. Today’s hottest Congolese resources are coltan – used for internet communication, and cobalt, used for car batteries, especially for electric vehicles. Imperialism, as it always has, works overtime to ensure these resources remain under their control. In addition, imperialism has fomented the latest series of instability in the region by inviting zionist Israel into the region to wreak havoc in Rwanda and Uganda which has spilled over into the DRC creating unprecedented strains on Congo’s already slight resources to provide services for people. Meanwhile, militias fight for control of resources while Congolese people today are subjected to daily terror that rivals the days of King Leopold. Women are terrorized and exploited as policy and with militia groups from the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda battling out throughout the countryside for the aforementioned resources, the conditions are as unstable as they were 60+ years ago.

The DRC today is a classic example of why revolutionary Pan-Africanism is so essential. Imperialism has used surrounding countries to encourage instability within the DRC so without question, they understand that the situation within the DRC cannot be resolved by just looking at what’s happening within Congolese borders. Borders that were created at the Berlin Conference. In 1960, Nkrumah and the other Pan-Africanist leaders had the right idea. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Their experience with the United Nations at that time was an organization that was only 15 years old, and through the Congolese independence crisis, facing its first major world conflict. An organization that most people worldwide thought would truly serve as an independent voice for justice. Also, Nkrumah could not have envisioned that his British Military command in the DRC for Ghana would act outside of his orders in ways that worked to sabotage Lumumba to set him up for assassination.

In an effort to learn from those experiences, Nkrumah provided us with his “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare” as his response to the Congolese situation and the CIA overthrow of his own government. Our power will come only from the organization of the masses of African people, not corrupt neocolonial African governments or even dynamic individual leaders. The work needed is consciousness raising among Pan-Africanist formations on the ground throughout Africa and their unification and mass consciousness among the African masses as Nkrumah laid out in the Handbook. This approach is the revolutionary solution to the problems plaguing the DRC, the rest of Africa, and the entire African world.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.