Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hell On Earth (Part 3)

Couresty: BBC

Hell On Earth: Understanding the Congo
Part 3: The Inferno Rages On

See Part 1 here

See Part 2 here

The Rule of Mobutu

Mobutu encountered two main problems once he became the ruler of the Congo: legitimacy and an underdeveloped military. To deal with his military, he “began modernizing the army with new equipment to provide prestige to the military and to accommodate the senior officers with whom he seized power in 1965, and the acquisition of modem equipment paralleled the enlargement of military spending.”[1] Mobutu also sent large amounts of officers to Western military schools. All of this was done with the goal of building an apolitical institution in the Congo.

To gain legitimacy, he absorbed 22 civilians from all over the country and across political parties into his government and appropriated Lumumba’s nationalism by declaring him a national hero and nationalizing the Mining Union of Upper Katanga, which, to the ordinary Congolese, looked like a revival of nationalist principles. Politically, he created a political party called the Popular Movement of the Revolution and amended the constitution to institutionalize it as the only legal political party.

The Mobutu regime was marked by massive corruption, with the ruling elite using the state for self-enrichment. During Mobutu’s 32 year reign (1965 to 1997), the country “accumulated an external debt of roughly US$ 14 bn. At the same time the living standards of the vast majority of Congo's people deteriorated from an already low base” and by the 1980s, 70 percent of the population was impoverished.[2] While all this was going on, “Mobutu and his associates amassed remarkable personal fortunes” with “Mobutu's own assets reportedly [peaking] in the mid-1980s at US$ 4 bn.”[3] Mobutu and his cronies were not the only ones to benefit. The US benefitted greatly as while they gave Zaire more than $1.5 billion in economic and military aid, US companies “increased their share of the ownership of Zaire’s fabulous mineral wealth” and on a geopolitical level, Mobutu “a stabilizing force and a staunch supporter of U.S. and Western policies.”[4] The regime was also aided by the French as they “contracted for a number of prestige infrastructure projects- major contributary factors to Zaire’s national debt which would top $8 billion by I 996 - in exchange for guaranteed French protection for Mobutu.”[5] However, Mobutu’s ill-gotten gains would not last long as he in 1997 he would be disposed.

Civil War and the End of Mobutu

The fall of Mobutu occurred due to a number of factors. Externally, due to a withdrawal of US support and a war between the joint forces of Uganda, Rwanda and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) led to the collapse of the regime.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War, and with it the threat of Communism, officially ended. The US began to change its foreign policy in order to encourage democratization around the world. With regards to Africa, the US “announced that future foreign assistance to Africa would be conditioned upon democratization”[6] and made good on this promise by cutting Mobutu off in 1992. The US further withdrew from Africa due to “Somalia Syndrome” regarding the Black Hawk Down incident. “Reeling from the debacle in Somalia, and with the Rwandan genocide already unfolding, Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 25, which sought to strictly limit future U.N. missions, and especially U.S. participation in them.”[7] Thus, with the lack of US support, Mobutu was left to fend for himself. Yet, he was soon to be affected by outside forces within the region.

Around this time the genocide in Rwanda was already well under way and the “genocidal forces made up of the remnants of the army of the ancien régime and the extremist Interahamwe militias” fled to the Congo. The Rwandan military pursued them, but needed Congolese allies to give its incursion into the Congo some legitimacy. This alliance was found in the form of “Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a retired revolutionary involved in cross-border business ventures, and among the Congolese Tutsi, who were fighting for recognition of their citizenship.”[8]

A number of nations in addition to Rwanda, including Uganda, wanted Mobutu out of power as the Congo “served as a rear base for attacks by armed movements against Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi; and the support offered by Mobutu to the Angolan rebel movement UNITA had not ceased with the 1994 Lusaka peace accord.”[9]

There was an ethnic component to the war as well. The Congolese Tutsi were viewed by Mobutu as being more loyal to Rwandan Tutsis than to the Congo. This led to pogroms and a small level of ethnic cleansing in the Kivu region, which is directly west of Rwanda. The Tutsi resisted with the aid of the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The Congolese Tutsi took part in the 'rebellion of the Banyamulenge' which started in September 1996 and was the start of the campaign that put Kaliba into power.

Yet, it was not just the Tutsis that aided Kaliba, but also the United States due to the strategic location and natural resource wealth of the Congo. Kaliba was visited by the Political Counselor to Kinshasha, the capital of the Congo, and US Ambassador Peter Whaley. The leader of the Rwandan rebels, Paul Kagame, “was trained at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.”[10] Soon economic ties were established with the rebels as soon as the rebels took Kisangani, the capital of Orientale Province, North American mining companies rushed to get generous contracts; among them was the “Canadian-owned Tenke Mining Corp, which in May 1997 won a contract of $50 million to exploit the world’s largest copper and cobalt deposits” and “America’s Mineral Fields which signed a contract of $1 billion with the ADFL.”[11] Thus, a Kaliba victory was also a victory for the United States.

The fight against Mobutu’s forces was not difficult as they were unpaid and Mobutu had “kept [them] weak and divided so that it would not pose a threat.”[12] This resulted in the swift overthrow of his fleeing to Morocco, where he died in September 1997. In his place, Kabila came to power.

Second Congo War

Rather than establish the democracy that many had hoped for, Kaliba quickly established a one man rule and used public enterprises to “rapidly generate finances through indiscriminate concession granting;” overall his rule was marked by “corruption, patronage, and lack of accountability.” [13]

The Kaliba regime was quickly drawn into conflict, however, as rebel groups from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continued to use Congolese territory to launch attacks from into their respective countries. Rwanda did not take these attacks lying down as then-Vice President of Rwanda stated that “if the international community was unable or unwilling to stop the delivery of weapons to the ex-FAR and Interahamwe and the military training in the refugee camps, the Rwandan government could decide to take preventive military action.”[14] The final split between Kaliba and the Rwandan government came when Kaliba dismissed a Rwandan military chief of Tutsi descent as the chief of staff of the military and sent all of his Rwandan allies packing in July 1998 in order to avert the possibility of a military coup against him.

In the very next month, August, troops from Rwanda and Uganda entered the Congo and the Second Congo War began, with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi on one side and the Congo, Angola, Chad, Nambia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe on the other.

The war lasted from 1998 to 2003, even though a ceasefire had been brokered in 1999 and UN troops deployed the year after. The war finally ended with the signing of the Pretoria Peace Accords in 2003 which called for an end to hostilities between Rwanda and the Congo and the rise of a transitional government, which was formed in July of that year.

During the Second Congo War, Kaliba was assassinated in January 2001. His son, Joseph Kaliba, took over and was even elected President in 2006. Unfortunately, the violence in the Congo would continue as the Kivu conflict arose.

Kivu Conflict

While the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, there was still resistance in the aforementioned Kivu region. At the end of the Second Congo War, Laurent Nkunda, who had been an officer in the rebel group Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), was made a colonel in the transitional government and promoted to general in 2004. Yet he soon turned against the government to support the RCD.

Starting on May 26, 2004, clashes took place “between soldiers loyal to Colonel Jules Mutebutsi, a commander from the Rally for Congolese Democracy” and “pro-government forces of the newly created Tenth Military Region under the command of General Mbuza Mabe.”[15] Nkunda was stationed in the north Kivu region and sent 1,000 soldiers to support Mutebutsi. There was an ethnic aspect to this as Mabe’s forces had been killing Congolese Tutsis and thus Nkunda, being a Congolese Tutsi himself, sent forces to protect his fellow Tutsis. From there a number of atrocities have occurred, from rape to the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

While the fighting continued until 2009 and ended with the capture of Nkunda in January[16], it is a wonder that they were able to sustain themselves for that long and thus the resources within the Kivu region and foreign companies played a role in sustaining the conflict must be bought up.

The main minerals that are exploited are “gold, cassiterite, wolframite, and columbite-tantalite (coltan).”[17] These minerals, especially coltan, are “needed to manufacture everything from lightbulbs to laptops, from MP3 players to Playstations”[18] and often change hands numerous times so that it is virtually impossible for the average consumer to find out if their devices are being powered by conflict minerals.

Even though many companies are attempting to clean up their act by avoiding the use of conflict minerals, there are still problems as “while major US-registered electronics firms are outwardly pledging to end the use of conflict minerals some of these same firms belong to industry associations that are seeking to water down the disclosure requirements under Dodd-Frank,”[19] which would force corporations to disclose the fact that they are utilizing conflict minerals. The situation has not fully been worked out yet and thus the violence- and suffering- continues.


1: Kisangani N. F. Emizet, "Explaining The Rise And Fall of Military Regimes: Civil-Military Relations in the Congo," Armed Forces & Society 26:2 (2000), pg 209
2: James K. Boyce, Leonce Ndikumana, "Congo's Odious Debt: External Borrowing and Capital Flight in Zaire," Development and Change 29:2 (1998), pg 195
3: Ibid

4: Ellen Ray, "US Military and Corporate Recolonization of the Congo," Covert Action Quarterly (2000), pg 6

5: Mel McNulty, "The Collapse of Zaire: Implosion, Revolution, or External Sabotage?" Journal of Modern African Studies 37:1 (1999), pg 62

6: Letitia Lawson, "US Africa Policy Since The Cold War," Strategic Insights 6:1 (2007), pg 1

7: Lawson, pg 3

8: Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, "The International Dimensions of the Congo Crisis," Global Dialogue 6:3 (2004), pgs 1-2
9: filip Reyntjens, "The Second Congo War: More Than A Remake," African Affairs 98:391 (1999), pg 241

10: Francois Ngolet, "African and American Connivance in Congo-Zaire," Africa Today 47:1 (2000), pg 70

11:  Ngolet, pgs 70-71

12: Heather Congdon Fors, Ola Olsson, "Congo: The Prize of Predation," Journal of Peace Research 41:3 (2004), pg 325

13: Ibid

14: Christian R. Manahl, "From Genocide to Regional War: The Breakdown of International Order in Central Africa," African Studies Quarterly 4:1 (2000), pg 19

15: Human Rights Watch, D.R. Congo: War Crimes in Bukavu, (June 2004)

16: Matthew Weaver, "Congo and Rwandan Forces Arrest Rebel Leader Laurent Nkunda," The Guardian, January 23, 2009 ( )
17: Relief Web, Democratic Republic of the Congo: Mineral Exploitation by Armed Groups & Other Entities, (June 7, 2013)

18: Elizabeth Dias, "First Blood Diamonds, Now Bloods Computers?" Time, July 24, 2009 (,8599,1912594,00.html)

19: Nick Heath, "How Conflict Minerals Funded A War That Killed Millions, And Why Tech Giants Are Finally Cleaning Up Their Act," Tech Republic, April 1, 2014 ( )

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Duty of Journalists

The Duty of Journalists: An Interview with James Corbett

Journalism today has, in many cases, become nothing but a joke. Many so-called journalists are essentially stenographers for the government and don't bother to truly look into a story, instead choosing to 'toe the government line' in order to maintain access to officials. It is this problem that has led me to interview independent journalist James Corbett regarding the duty and responsibility of journalists, how people can insert themselves into this ongoing conversation, and why independent journalism is important.

1. What do you define as a journalist? How does this conflict with what the mainstream media defines as a journalist?

The term "journalist" is not a job description and it does not define a fixed set of skills, duties and responsibilities the way "auto mechanic" or "accountant" does. Instead, it's a term used to describe a role that is determined by prevailing social relations in a given cultural context. The popular conception of a "journalist" in China is different from that in Qatar and different again from that in Montreal. Also, what we think of today as a "journalist" is different from what was thought of as a journalist 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Going back more than 500 years, it is difficult to say that anything we would define as "journalism" even existed. So in order to understand what we mean today by journalism we have to understand our own cultural context and expectations.

The primary factor underlying these relations today is the technological platform for the delivery of information. Just as the invention of the movable type printing press made something like a newspaper possible, so, too, is the internet making new forms of journalism possible. We are still living through this transformation and the new media of journalism (video reports filed by eyewitnesses via cellphone cameras, podcasts, liveblogging of events on social media, etc.) are still in their infancy, so it would be fair to say that we still don't know what a "journalist" in our current era looks like, only that it looks quite different from a "journalist" of 50 (or even 20) years ago.

This concept of course differs markedly from the mainstream definition of journalist, which means something akin to "one who reports for a mainstream media outlet." This concept is tied in with an institutional structure that includes a post-secondary education at an accredited institution that gives recognized qualifications and feeds into traditional print and broadcast media through well-recognized outlets. This was the primary concept of "journalism" in North America in the 20th century, and for whatever good it may have done on various stories it is widely acknowledged that by the end of the century media consolidation had left the industry in the hands of a handful of corporations, leading to the unanimous and unquestioning reporting of government-approved information we saw in the run-up to the Iraq War, in addition to other notable failures of reportage.

The current deconstruction of this concept of "journalism" by the internet and associated technologies is having the effect of broadening our idea of what constitutes "journalism" and who can be a "journalist," leading perhaps to the most radical conclusion: in our current media paradigm, anyone with access to the requisite technologies (even just a smartphone with internet access) can become a journalist.

2. What would you say are the responsibility of journalists? Would you say that any journalistic integrity still exists?

The obvious answer is that journalists should be faithful to the material they are reporting, meaning that what is reported should be factual and evidence-based. But it is not enough to say this. There is also the question of context, meaning that a fact presented in isolation might give a certain impression of a subject, but presented in a greater context might give a wholly different (perhaps even contradictory) impression.

The problem of contextualization is not a minor one, because it is almost infinitely scalable. The problem is not merely providing context, but what context to provide and how far that context should be explored. The problem also extends to the nature of "news" itself, what is reported on and what is not reported on. There is no objective viewpoint from which these answers are ultimately decidable, meaning the outdated concept of "journalistic objectivity" has to be seen as nothing more than a ploy to make one editor's (or a group of editors') editorial decisions seem like they are unbiased. But why report on this piece of legislation and not that one? Why interview this person about the subject and not that person? Why include this quote from this government official and not this quote from this government detractor?

Instead of the old concept of "objectivity" in reporting, we are moving toward an era of intense subjectivity. "News" is more and more being sourced from (or at least filtered by) unabashedly biased organizations and individuals. If you follow the US State Department's Twitter feed you know exactly what to expect from them, just as you do when you follow the RSS feed of an organization like the Centre for Research on Globalization. Although this trend is lamented by those caught up in the outdated paradigm of journalistic "objectivity," this era at least potentially empowers the individual to arrive at a more thorough understanding of world events by seeing the various arguments presented directly by their sources (and exploring the source documents online), allowing for the creation of a type of "intersubjectivity" that is more honest than the supposed "objectivity" of old.

In this new paradigm, journalistic integrity involves not only being faithful to the facts, but also up front with the audience about biases and issues of context and viewpoint. Journalists who pretend not to have a position on various issues are decreasingly trusted by the public, and those who come from a clearly defined point of view are viewed as being honest. This is a profound transformation in expectations.

3. Would you say that independent journalism is in danger with the rise of the federal Shield Law and the death of net neutrality?

Independent journalism, especially online journalism, represents a profound threat to a status quo that has been bolstered by a highly regulated and highly censored corporate news system. As a result, it is no surprise at all that there are several different vectors from which independent online journalism is under attack. The so-called "Shield Law" being debated in the U.S. is dangerous if for no other reason than that it would set the precedent for the federal government to define specifically what type of journalists would or would not be covered by various legal protections, thus potentially limiting the scope of First Amendment protections to those journalists thus described. This opens the door to accreditation or employment being considered a necessary prerequisite for a "journalist" and thus threatens to return us to a 20th century paradigm wherein the major newspapers, tv and radio stations (and, in our current era, their affiliated websites) would have no effective competition.

Similarly, the elimination of net neutrality threatens to create a system whereby those who cannot afford to pay for top-tier bandwidth (i.e. non-corporate, non-foundation funded entities) would be relegated to a slower, less accessible tier of the internet, thus necessarily reducing their potential audience. This would again create a de facto mirror of the former media paradigm whereby prohibitive publication costs (the cost of a printing press or tv or radio station in former times, the cost of upgraded internet service in modern times) would create an uneven playing field between corporate/foundation/government media and their independent competitors.

4. Due to there being so many different views on current and past events (eg People supporting Putin because he is against the West) as well as polarizing figures and pseudo-alternative media outlets, do you think it's still possible for the alternative media to make a major impact?

It is possible for alternative media to have an impact, of course. However, there is the possibility of genuinely important and unique information and perspectives being drowned out in the flood of noise being generated from all corners of the internet. It is a question of whether or not one has faith in the ability of the crowd to filter out the noise and promote the content worth promoting through the concept of "spontaneous order." For those who do not believe this to be possible, they will yearn for a system whereby the flood of noise is filtered out through some type of system (government-approved journalism, cost barriers for top-tier internet service, etc.). For those who do believe in the "wisdom of the crowd," the fact that so many people are participating in the grand conversation that is happening online is not something to be lamented, but celebrated. From this perspective, the more viewpoints that exist for us to consider and choose from, the better.

I am of the latter variety, in that I believe in the principle of spontaneous order, and do trust that the genuinely newsworthy and important information will rise to the top when everyone is allowed to participate freely and evenly in the process of news gathering and interpretation. This is not a popular point of view.

5. What are some of the reasons you think independent journalism is important? What do you think of credentials and the role they play in shaping the media?

Independence in journalism is vital in a society where there are so few people with such large megaphones for disseminating their point of view on any subject. Rupert Murdoch owns newspapers, film production companies, television news outlets and publishing imprints that literally span the globe in terms of reach and influence. Michael Bloomberg, Sumner Redstone, Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar and other billionaire media owners are now involved in bringing people "all the news that's fit to print" via established media outlets from CBS News to the Washinton Post to supposedly "adversarial" online entities like First Look Media. It is a simple truism that these outlets will never report anything from a perspective that is fundamentally damaging to the business interests of their owners.

Now, thanks to the rise of internet technologies, we have for perhaps the first time in human history a relatively level playing field between these media monarchs and the average person blogging from their living room in Hoboken, New Jersey or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The phenomenal nature of this revolution is only now beginning to be realized, and the power of the independent media is being glimpsed in raising levels of awareness on issues (like "false flag terrorism") that have previously been verboten in the status quo media. We, as a species, are on the cusp of a monumental moment in our history; either we will seize this opportunity to overthrow the previous paradigm wherein the rich and well-connected had a stranglehold over what information we receive on a daily basis, or we push this revolution to its end and eliminate the gatekeepers altogether. As with many such struggles, the choice is ultimately ours to make, but if we don't recognize the importance of this decision it will be made for us by the very rich and well-connected who stand to gain the most from the preservation of the old status quo.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hell On Earth (Part 2)

Image Courtesy of History 365

Hell On Earth: Understanding the Congo
Part 2: Bloodshed

Part 1: Independence

After the Congo had been under a brutal colonization by Belgium, it finally seemed that their independence was at hand. However, there were a number of hiderances which created the Congo Crisis, a situation that had the characteristics of a secessionist war, a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and a UN peacekeeping operation with the backdrop being the fight for Congolese independence.

Military Mutiny

It must first be noted that in the Congo, the military had only whites in command positions, even though there were “three African sergeant-majors in an army of 24,000 soldiers and non-commissioned officers, 542 officers, and 566 junior officers.” This was because due to a limited education, few Congolese officers had the proper experience to lead the military and thus the European officers needed to be retained. Even nationalist Patrice Lumumba “felt the need for continuity in the army-that is to say, for the retention of European officers” and stated as such to the Congo Executive College two months before the Congo became independent. Specifically, he stated that the military must stay “exactly as it is-with its officer class, its junior officers, its traditions, its discipline, its unique hierarchy and above all its morale unshaken."[1]

With the average soldiers realizing that they would remain in the same situation of obedience, rather than having opportunities for advancement, they rose up in a rage, seeking not only increased authority, but also an increase in pay. The mutiny began at the Thysville military base and quickly spread across the country. Once the mutiny had started, “stories of atrocities against whites surfaced in newspapers around the globe” and due to the fact that mainly Belgians were fleeing the Congo, the Belgian government brought in troops to restore order[2], even though Lumumba had denied a request from the Belgians to do so. This violated the friendship treaty between the two nations which stated that Belgian troops “may be used on Congolese national territory only upon the specific request of the Government of the Republic of the Congo, in particular, on the specific request of the Congolese Minister of Defense.”[3] It was around this time that the situation became even more unstable with the secession of the Katanga region.

Katanga Secession

As has been noted beforehand, the Katanga was quite an important part of real estate in the Congo due its large mineral wealth. Yet, there were much greater problems than just natural wealth at play.

Economically speaking, while the Katanga region did have a large amount of mineral wealth, the capital was held in the hands of one company: the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga (translated as Mining Union of Upper Katanga, UMHK). Having immense economic resources that are controlled by one company would have serious political implications both generally but especially for secession, namely, that Belgian aid was needed as the region was so dependent on Belgian technicians and investments.[4] Some sectors of the Katangan population viewed the province as “’ the cow that the other territories never tired of milking.’”[5]

The economic status of the province played into the ethnic tensions of the population. Industrialization of the Congo was mainly within the southern region of the province, where the three major mining centers were located, creating a rather large amount of uneven regional development. This was reflected in the uneven distribution “of social overhead capital-commercial centers, communication facilities, schools, hospitals, etc.”[6] This uneven development created ethnic tensions as the UMHK received much of its labor from neighboring Kaisai province. For example, the Luba of Kaisai, even though they were ethnically related to the Luba people of the Katanga, formed their own unique culture and this presence of ‘aliens’ helped to make both groups more conscious of their differences.

Besides the ethnic tensions between Congolese, another factor was the presence of Belgian settlers who had their own agenda. The interests of the settlers lined up with those of the economic elite as the settlers formed the Special Committee of Katanga, “whose principal function was to promote, in every possible way, the development of an agricultural colony. To serve this purpose, a [Frontier Syndicate of Katanga] had been set up in 1920, thanks to the financial backing of the UMHK, [the Congo Company for Trade and Industry] and several other large-scale capitalist enterprises.” In addition to this, besides the corporate interests, the settlers themselves had personal political and economic interests as they desired the special administrative status with a Vice Governor General, which acted as a representative of the Belgian monarchy.

Economically, they felt that “the proportion of public expenditures devoted to the Katanga appeared minute when compared with the over-all contribution of its taxpayers to colonial revenues.”[7] Thus, through a combination of ethnic tensions and economic interests, when the province finally decided to secede, it was “supported by a Belgian mining company and was backed by Belgian troops almost from the very beginning.”[8] Moïse Tshombé, a pro-Western anticommunist, was elected to lead the breakaway province and Katanga officially seceded on July 11, 1960. It was due to this secession and the Belgian intervention due to the military mutiny that Patrice Lumumba appealed to the UN to intervene.

Both Premier Patrice Lumumba and President Kasavubu went to the UN Security Council to plead their case for military intervention, with the goal of “[protecting] the national territory of the Congo against the present external aggression which is a threat to world peace.” They also alleged that “the Belgian Government of having carefully prepare the secession of the Katanga with a view of maintaining”[9] a hold on the Congo. The Council voted in favor of intervention, with there being only three abstentions of China, France, and the United Kingdom out of concern for Belgian interests.

From there, “contingents of a United Nations Force, provided by a number of countries including Asian and African States began to arrive in the Congo” and “United Nations civilian experts were rushed to the Congo to help ensure the continued operations of essential public services.”[10] The UN force would remain in the country for the next three years. However, it is rather interesting that both the USSR and the US would even agree on something like this, thus it is time to explore each of their respective interests in the Congo.

Foreign Interests

On a regional level, the US and Soviet Union both viewed Africa as important as “The question of independence for the colonies was championed by the USSR,” while the US and its allies can up with ways to “either delay the granting of independence and/or to involve the newly independent countries in their [the West's] global anti-communist crusade.” Demands for freedom by colonized populations were viewed as “a communist inspired movement, thus implicitly suggesting that the colonized peoples preferred to remain colonized.”[11]

The focus on independence allowed for the Soviets to gain a foothold in Africa as it could be seen as wanting equality and independence for oppressed peoples around the globe. The Soviets viewed the liberation movements sweeping Africa and Asia as “damaging to the West and therefore beneficial to World Communism—if it could be properly exploited.”[12] Thus, their goal in Africa was to aid the expansion of Communism. When Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union in August 1960 for aid to battle the Katanga secession after the UN refused to intervene[13], he was immediately seen as a Communist sympathizer or a useful fool for the Soviets in the eyes of the West, though it aided the Soviets in expanding their influence and building a reputation as supporting independence for oppressed peoples. While this would come back to haunt him, for the Soviets, it worked quite well to boost their credibility in the eyes of countries fighting colonialism.

The United States had a number of interests in the Congo. From the very start the West had been hostile to Lumumba as they saw him as over-nationalistic and an unreliable ally in the East-West conflict. When he accepted aid from the Soviet Union, this view only intensified. The US also had a number of economic interests in the region as well, with there being a number of high-level connections to corporations and the US State Department and other organizations.

For example, the Liberian-American Mineral Company was led by “Bo Gustav Hammarskjöld, brother of the U.N. Secretary General” and “Under-Secretary of State George Ball, who was directly in charge of making U.S. policy in the Congo,”[14] was a former member of Fowler Hamilton’s law firm, which represented the International African American Corporation, a UN mineral syndicate in the Congo. The aforementioned Mining Union of Upper Katanga had stock held in it by “American companies like Lazard Freres, the New York investment house” and “Allan A. Ryan, an American, [who] was director of the Belgium-American Banking Corporation” held 25% of the shares in Mining Union and “the Rockefeller Brothers [held] less than 1% of [Mining Union] shares.”[15] While Howard Kersher, a newspaper reporter, did not find a smoking gun linking these people to the problems in the Congo, it was quite obvious that they all had financial interest in the Congo and thus a stake in what was going on in regards to the Katanga secession.

From a geostrategic perspective, the Congo was important to the US as Congo could have a serious influence upon its neighbors, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, and Sudan. US officials were worried that if a pro-Communist government came to power, it could set the tone that other African nations would follow and on a larger level, aid the Soviet Union in spreading Communist ideology. The Congo was valuable from a military perspective in that a key front in WW3 would be the Middle East and they assumed that Soviets would attempt to block routes to that theater and “Soviet generals and planners would understand the importance of the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and even the waters surrounding the coasts of South Africa” to overall US strategy and that “any Soviet attack would make security of these routes integral to its plan.”[16]

Overall, the US “detested Lumumba and were determined to overthrow him, and this became the principal objective of US policy during the first six months of the Congo Crisis.”[17] CIA Director Allen Dulles warned of a “communist takeover of the Congo with disastrous consequences ... for the interests of the free world” and “authorized a crash-program fund of up to $100,000 to replace the existing government of Patrice Lumumba with a ‘pro-western group.’”[18] While the superpowers did have their respective interests in the Congo, the situation would intensify with the secession of South Kasai.

South Kasai

The South Kasai region, like the Katanga region, was rich with mineral wealth, mainly diamonds. Until the mid-1970s, it produced one-third of global output of industrial diamonds. Though mineral wealth was important due to the economics of the Congo, it was mainly ideological differences and ethnic conflict that caused the secession.

Ideologically, the secession was led by Albert Kalonji, who had been prominent figure in the Congolese National Movement party, but later split off from Lumumba to help form a more moderate wing of the nationalist party, which came to be known as MNC-Kalonji. Like the Abako political party, the Kalonji wing of the MNC preferred a centralized system in favor of autonomous provinces based on ethnic lines.

With regards to ethnicity, the secession “can be traced to the territorial expansion of the Baluba beyond southern Kasai to the Lulua area in the late-nineteenth century, which created animosities between the Baluba and the Lulua.”[19] This territorial expansion of Baluba peoples due to lack of cultivable land saw the Baluba move permanently into the region and attain most of the clerical colonial jobs. “The fear of domination by the Baluba prompted the creation of the Association of Lulua-Frères in 1951 by a Lulua chief, Sylvain Mangole Kalamba.”[20] Tensions eventually reached a crisis when “the local administration proposed to resettle Baluba farmers from Lulua land (an economically booming center province) back to their impoverished homeland in southern Kasai.”[21] Kalonji exploited these ethnic tensions for political gain and declared secession of South Kasai.

The Rise of Mobutu

While the country was wracked with political turmoil, it provided the perfect atmosphere for a coup. On September 6, 1960, President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba and appointed Joseph Ileo as the new Premier. However, his reign was not to last as the Army Chief of Staff, Joseph Mobutu, would soon take power in a coup with foreign help
Mobutu already had ties with the CIA that dated back to “his role in the pre-independence negotiations in Brussels where he both reported to the Belgian Sûreté and made his first contacts with Lawrence Devlin,”[22] the CIA station chief in the Congo. These ties only grew during the Congo Crisis when the US and other Western powers funded Mobutu, who, in turn “distributed large amounts of money to the officers and men under his command; through this arrangement he was able to establish bonds of loyalty among his soldiers.” It also didn’t hurt that his unit “was virtually the only really functioning element of the Congolese National Army.”[23] The US aided Mobutu’s rise to power as, has previously been mentioned, they viewed Lumumba as a Communist sympathizer and they needed to get rid of him in order to ensure that the Soviets would not gain a sphere of influence in Africa.

The first time Mobutu took power was regarding a constitutional dispute. Kasavubu had dismissed Lumumba. Though, both the US and the UN had influence on this action. Andrew W. Cordier, a UN official, and Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary-General, “coordinated their activities with the State Department” overall and Cordier for September 6, “arranged for UN troops to close the airport -- to preclude any airlift of loyal troops to the capital by Lumumba” and then “ordered UN forces to close the radio station as well, which prevented Lumumba from broadcasting an appeal for support.”[24] This encouraged Kasavubu to act against Lumumba, however his plan would backfire as Lumumba would receive full vote of confidence from the Congolese Parliament whereas Kasavubu’s appointment, Joseph Ileo, would not.

Due to this situation, the US became even more focused on getting Mobutu into power and advocated for a military coup. On September 14, Mobutu removed Lumumba from office, dissolved Parliament, but quickly “turned the government over to a College of Commissioners composed of the few college graduates the country possessed.”[25] He placed Lumumba under house arrest, but Lumumba was soon freed by loyal Congolese troops. Mobutu then again captured Lumumba and placed him under house arrest with a UN guard.

Upon hearing that Lumumba had been place under house arrest, Vice Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga set up a rival government in the eastern city of Stanleyville with the help of pro-Lumumba forces. On December 12, 1960, Gizenga declared the nation of Stanleyville, with its capital of Oriental City, to be the only legitimate government of the Congo.

Gizenga quickly turned to the Soviet Union for aid. In a telegram, he asked the Soviets to “immediately, without delay, to help us in military equipment and foodstuffs’ in order to repel the invasion of Mobutu’s troops ‘who unleashed the civil war against soldiers and units loyal to the legitimate government.”[26] Factoring in that they had attempted to aid the Lumumba government and failed, the Soviets took their time in replying to Gizenga. When they did respond, they sent $500,000 in aid as due to the blockade on Stanleyville, they could not transport aid directly to the fledging government and due to infighting among the USSR and its regional allies, and little else was done.

The situation was then where there were four competing governments in the Congo: Joseph Mobutu and Joseph Kasavubu in Léopoldville, supported by Western governments, Antoine Gizenga in Stanleyville, Albert Kalonji in South Kasai, and Moise Tshombe in Katanga.

The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba

As has been previously mentioned, the West had never been particularly fond of Lumumba, especially after he sought aid from the Soviet Union. His assassination came as a surprise to many, but it had already been planned from the very beginning as the US was determined to get him out of the picture, as were the Belgians.

With regards to the assassination, on November 27, 1960, Lumumba left UN custody to make a break for Stanleyville and join his supporters there. However, he was captured by Mobutu’s forces only days later and imprisoned him. In early January 1961, forces loyal to Lumumba invaded “northern Katanga to support a revolt of Baluba tribesmen against the Tshobme government.” Due to ‘security’ reasons, “the CIA and Mobutu decided to transfer Lumumba from Leopoldville to Katanga,”[27] where he and two aides were subsequently killed.

The United States had plans to eliminate Lumumba that went as high as the President himself. In August 25, 1960, a subcommittee of the National Security Council, known as the Special Group, met; Thomas Parrott, the secretary of the Group, began the meeting by outlining the CIA operations that had been undertaken in ‘mounting an anti- Lumumba campaign in the Congo,’ with the meeting ending with the group “not necessarily rule out of any particular kind of activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba.”[28] The very next month, CIA Station Officer Victor Hedgman received a cable from Bronson Tweedy, the Deputy Director of the CIA, in which “he advised [Hedgman], or [his] instructions were, to eliminate Lumumba” and that the orders came from the President himself.[29]

While a Senate report did that there was “no evidentiary basis for concluding that the CIA conspired in this plan or was connected to the events in Katanga that resulted in Lumumba's death,” some doubt still remains as the CIA did have a plan to poison Lumumba and possessed “advance knowledge of the central government's plan to transport Lumumba into the hands of his bitterest enemies, where he was likely to be killed.”[30] The US government, at the very least, played a role in the killing of Lumumba.

The Belgians also had wanted to kill Lumumba and were somewhat involved with his assassination. Specifically, they were involved in “weapon deliveries; supporting the arrest of Lumumba; action 58316, (the outline of which is unclear but within which an attack on Lumumba could be relevant); and the kidnapping of Lumumba.”[31] They also had information that the leader’s life was in danger due to being in the Katanga, but the Belgian government did not take any action to protect him; in fact, when Lumumba was executed, it was in the presence of “a Belgian police commissioner and three Belgian officers who were under the authority, leadership and supervision of the Katangan authorities.”[32]

With Lumumba dead, it was only a matter of time before the Congo would be reunited under the rule of Mobutu.

The Fall of the Revolution

During late 1960 and early 1961, it became obvious to the Western powers that “the provisional government of Kasavubu would not last without reconciliation with Katanga, and the U.S. pressed for a federated Congo government which would include Katanga.”[33] The US pushed for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution demanding an end to the Katanga secession. This was passed in the form of UNSC Resolution 161, which stated in part that the UN should “take immediately all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo.”[34]

However, this was undermined by Belgium and other involved American interests, which didn’t want the secession to end. Thus, they formed an organization called ‘The Committee to Aid Katanga Freedom Fighters,” which allowed Tshombe to “build an army which could resist the UN, financed by Belgium,” yet this armed force also had reactionary forces within it from a number of places. They came from “the United States (Cuban exiles), Britain, France (ex-Foreign Legionnaires), West Germany (ex-SS men), South Africa (fascists), Rhodesia--and, of course, Belgium.”[35]

In February 1961, Kasavubu put an end to the Mobutu reign and appointed Joseph Ileo and Cyrille Adoula heads of the new government, with him remaining as president.. The very next month, Gizenga attempted to make peace with the Congo, but he was arrested by Kasavubu and imprisoned, while Tshombe was forced into exile. Three years later, in 1964, the UN left the Congo Tshombe came back to rule the Congo. During his leave of absence, Tshombe “conferred in Brussels with Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak and the U.S. Ambassador,”[36] which allowed him to return to the Congo and replace Adoula as Prime Minister. Yet, this government would not last. Mobutu would take power in November 1965, once again with the aid of the CIA.

The US became worried in 1964 regarding the competition between Tshombe and Kasavubu, both of whom hoped to rule the Congo after the civil war ended. This concern heightened when Kasavubu “sought ‘an opening to the left’ by dismissing Tshombe and appointing a government ready to consider not only the dismissal of mercenaries, but also the recognition of Communist China and improved relations with left-nationalist African states”[37] and the CIA backed Mobutu as to ensure that no leftist groups gained power.

However, there was also internal politicking as well. The coup itself was a collective decision by senior officers of the Congolese military. They backed Mobutu as “they believed that the army was above partisan politics and their immediate demand after the coup was an increase in the fighting power of the army.”[38] In order to satisfy the military, Mobutu would increase the size of the military and enhance is prestige. Yet, while it seems that Mobutu had finally become the ruler of the Congo, there were internal struggles that he would have to deal with.


1: Claude E. Welch, “Soldier and State in Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies 5:3 (1967), pgs 307-308

2: US Department of State, Office of the Historian, the Congo, Decolonization, and the Cold War, 1960–1965,

3: Africa Today Associates, “Conflict in the Congo,” Africa Today 7:5 (1960), pg 8

4: Rene Lemarchand, “The Limits of Self-Determination: The Case of the Katanga,” American Political Science Review 56:2 (1962), pg 405

5: Lemarchand, pg 406

6: Ibid

7: Lemarchand, pg 409

8: M. Rafiqul Islam, “Secessionist Self-Determination: Some Lessons from Katanga, Biafra, and Bangladesh,” Journal of Peace Research 22:3 (1985), pg 213

9: Joseph Kasavubu, Patrice Lumumba, UN Security Council Resolution S/4382, United Nations Security Council, (July 13, 1960)

10: United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Republic of the Congo- ONUC Background,

11: Natuf, pg 355

12: William G. Thom, “Trends in Soviet Support for African Liberation." Air University Review 25 (1974), pg 36

13: BBC, The Congolese Civil War, 1960-1964,

14: Kiama Mutahi, “The United States, The Congo, and the Mineral Crisis of 1960-64: The Triple Entente of Economic Interest,” Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2013., pg 33

15: Mutahi, pg 32

16: Davis, Erik M., "The United States and the Congo, 1960-1965: Containment,
Minerals, and Strategic Location" (2013). Theses and Dissertations--History. Paper 8., pg 578

17: David N. Gibbs, “Secrecy and International Relations,” Journal of Peace Research 32:2 (1995), pg 220

18: William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since WW2 (London, United Kingdom: Zed Books, 2003), pg 156

19: Emizet Kisangani and Léonce Ndikumana, "The Economics of Civil War: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo," Political Economy Research Institute Working Papers 47 (2003), pg 8

20: Ibid, pg 9

21: Ibid

22: Götz Bechtolsheimer "Breakfast with Mobutu: Congo, the United States and the Cold War, 1964-1981," PhD Diss., The London School of Economics and Political Science (2012), pg 64

23: Gibbs, pg 220

24: Gibbs, pg 221

25: Michael G. Schatzberg , “Beyond Mobutu: Kabila and the Congo ,” Journal of Democracy 8:4 (1997), pg 72

26: Sergei Mazov, “Soviet Aid to the Gizenga Government in the Former Belgian Congo (1960–61) as Reflected in Russian Archives,” Cold War History 7:3 (2007), pg 429

27: Tom Cooper, “Congo, Part 1: 1960-1963,” Air Combat Information Group, September 2, 2003 (

28: U.S. Congress, Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, 1975, 94th Congress, 1st Session, November 20, 1975 (Washington D.C.: GOP 1975), pg 60

29:: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pgs 24, 26

30: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pg 48

31: Belgian House of Representatives, Parliamentary Inquiry on the Circumstances of the Assassination of Patrice
Lumumba and on the Possible Involvement of Belgian Politicians, Report of the Commission of Inquiry, pg 6

32:, pg 8

33: Dick Roberts, “Patrice Lumumba and the Revolution in the Congo,” The Militant, (July 23, 2001)

34: United Nations Security Council, UN Security Council Resolution S/4741, (February 21, 1961)

35: Roberts, July 23, 2001

36: Ibid

37: Stephen R. Weissman, “CIA Covert Action in Zaire and Angola: Patterns and Consequences,” Political Science Quarterly 94:2 (1979), pg 273

38: Kisangani N. F. Emizet, “Explaining The Rise And Fall of Military Regimes: Civil-Military Relations in the Congo,” Armed Forces & Society 26:2 (2000), pg 211 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hell On Earth (Part 1)

Hell On Earth: Understanding the Congo
Part 1: Independence

This was originally published on the Hampton Institute.

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a long one, marked with political intrigue among nations, outside influences, ethnic tensions, and staggering amounts of violence. It is something that is often ignored in the mainstream media - even among the Obama-era 'humanitarian interventions' - even though it is the theater of the deadliest post-WW2 conflict (over three million people have died and many are still dying). [1] The Congo has become a hell on earth; and to understand how the situation became as it is, a historical examination of the nation is needed and overdue.

Colonial Rule

Having been quite late getting into the Great Game, Belgium moved with purpose in the early 1900s in trying to acquire an African colony. In 1906, the Belgians annexed the Congo, making two separate zones: Belgian Congo and the Congo Free States, the latter of which became King Leopold's own personal fiefdom where he had complete control. His forces engaged in horrific acts such as holding "the [families] of [men] hostage until they returned with their rubber quota. Those who refused or failed to supply enough rubber often had their villages burned down, children murdered, and their hands cut off." [2] Leopold's main concern was the ivory and rubber trades. Eventually, the atrocities that occurred under his watch became widely known and he was forced to fold the CFS into the Belgian Congo. It was among this time that Congolese became politically awakened and active, namely in Leopoldville.

Before discussing the political awakening in Leopoldville, it would be pertinent to first understand the economic situation of the Congo. During World War 2, the Congo was "an important source of raw materials, especially of copper, tin, industrial diamonds, rubber, and palm oil." Afterward, due to the ever-increasing price of raw materials, the Congo economy expanded greatly: "In 1952 the value of exports was put at 20,000 million francs - an increase of 88 per cent as compared with 1948 - and by 1956 it had reached 28,000 million francs."[3] However, almost a decade later, a global decrease in the prices of the same raw materials caused the economy to stagger and created a large increase in unemployment (from 4,300 in September 1957 to 16,000 in March 1958), particularly in the Katanga region, a significant mining location.

While this economic downturn contributed to the political awakening of the Congolese, they had already become politically active. In January 1945, the first indigenous newspaper, La Voix du Congolais (The Voice of Congo), appeared in Leopoldville; and in 1955, Conscience Africaine was introduced. In July of the following year, the Conscience published a manifesto which suggested that within 30 years the Congo should be independent. Several weeks later, "a cultural association of the Lower Congo, known as ABAKO (founded in 1950), led by M. Joseph Kasavubu, improved on the 'manifesto', demanding complete and immediate emancipation and entirely rejecting the idea of a thirty-year preparatory period." [4] This political awakening soon manifested itself in the Leopoldville riots.

Though the riots became political, they were economic in origin. Due to the decline in the prices of raw materials, the budget dropped to a 5 million-pound deficit in 1957, and tripled to 15 million pounds in 1958. In the face of runaway unemployment, the government denied there were any problems. On January 4, 1959, following economic turmoil and the government's refusal to recognize such, riots ensued and lasted for three days. The force publique (the gendarmerie) was used to prevent the rioters from entering the European town.

These riots forced the Belgian political establishment to acknowledge that there were in fact a multitude of problems, and to embrace reform. In seven months, "from January to August, forty acts and ordinances containing discriminatory regulations were abolished or changed," although discrimination still remained in the European towns.

The Congo was given a charter of freedom and, "for the first time, freedom of assembly, of the press, and of speech was finally recognized."[5] Local elections formed and the first municipal elections took place in Leopoldville and several other towns in late 1957 and early 1958. Also in 1958, the Congolese National Movement political party was formed by Patricia Lumumba. The Movement focused on Congolese nationalism and created a large political rift in domestic Congolese politics, "[dividing] those who [wished] for a strong unitary state from those wanting a federal system of largely autonomous provincial governments based on primary [ethnic] alliances." [6] After the riots, three Abako leaders, including Kasavubu, were arrested and flown to Belgium to face trial - a trial that would only worsen the racial tensions in the colony.


The move to reform forced a decision by the Belgian government to hold a roundtable conference in January 1960, which allowed for face-to-face meetings with Congolese political leaders. At the conference, "the Congolese delegates had presented a common front in their desire for immediate independence, no matter how divided they were on other issues," and the Belgians awarded the Congo full independence on June 30, 1960. However, the Belgian government limited this independence to the political realm. Economically, the intent was to retain the Congo "as a neo-colonial country whose resources would be exploited for the development of Belgian and West European economies, and the continued underdevelopment of the Congo." [7]

Nevertheless, the announcement resulted in a scramble to form political parties. The result was that in May 1960, "Of the seven major 'parties' in the Congo, none gained enough seats in the election to assure it of even 30 percent of the votes in the Chamber of Representatives. Patrice Lumumba, whose MNC party won some 38 of the 137 seats, emerged as leader of the largest single bloc." Of the other parties, "the Abako, under Joseph Kasavubu, the Conakat party of Katanga, led by Moise Tshombe, and a dissident wing of the MNC led by Albert Kalondji in Kasai Province, together garnered about 27 votes, but were allied chiefly by their growing opposition to a tightly centralized, unitary type of government."[8] Ultimately, the philosophical conflict between having a centralized government versus a nation of largely autonomous provinces was a major source of division in the formation of the new Congolese government.

A spat between Kasavubu's Abako party and Lumuba's MNC quickly escalated. Based on the weak elections of the MNC, the Belgian Resident Minister allowed Lumumba to look into forming a coalition government. However, Lumumba was unsuccessful as he was unable to persuade Kasavubu and his Abako party to join him, thus the offer was given to Kasavubu. Lumuba refused to work with the Abako party. On June 20th, it was reported that "a 'deal' was apparently taking shape, whereby Mr. Lumumba would head the Government as Premier and Mr. Kasavubu would become Chief of State." [9] Lumumba would eventually become Premier of the Congo, after being offered the Premiership by the Belgians; however, more drama was to come in the form of a military mutiny, two secessions, and a UN intervention.


[1] Integrated Regional Information Networks, DRC: Conflict Deadliest Since World War II - Aid Agency, (April 8, 2003)

[2] Yale University Genocide Studies Program, Congo Free State, 1885-1908, (2010)

[3] Majory Taylor, "The Belgian Congo Today: Background to the Leopoldville Riots," The World Today 15:9 (1959), pg 354

[4] Taylor, pg 358

[5] Colin Legum, Congo Disaster (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1961, pg 59

[6] Legum, pg 66

[7] Omajuwa Igho Natuf, "The Cold War and the Congo Crisis, 1960-1961," Africa: Quarterly Review of Studies and Documentation of the Italian Institute for AFRICAE the East 39:3 (1984), pg 358

[8] Byron Fairchild, The Congo 1960, Historical Division Joint Chiefs of Staff, (July 1961)

[9] Ibid