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Ch. 16 Wars in Africa since 1989. A continent crumbles

posted 21 Jan 2013, 03:19 by Admin uk

We want the president’s trip to turn the spotlight on the other Africa,

the new forward-looking Africa,

the Africa that is eager to play a full part in the global economy.1

Madeleine Albright

US Secretary of State (1997-2001)

on President Bill Clinton’s trip to Africa in 1998

For those who live in areas where the state has lost control, most of the things associated with civilisation cease to work. The electricity grid collapses, roads fall into disrepair, drains become blocked (and often contaminate fresh drinking water in the process), schools close down, and healthcare becomes a distant dream for most people. Brutality takes the place of civilisation. Between March and September 2003 alone, some 7 000 women were brutally raped by roving bands of militiamen and soldiers in South Kivu, an eastern province in Congo-Kinshasa.2

“I’m in pain all the time,’ says Yvette Bukuru in a low voice, almost a whisper. ‘I can’t sleep, I can’t sit down and I can hardly walk. I can’t even cook for the family. I’ve no hope left.’ And yet – perhaps there is still hope. If she could only reach the hospital in Bukavu. We passed five roadblocks on the 60 kilometre journey between Bukavu and Kamanyolo. Five separate negotiations and de­mands for permits and papers. In fact, it was money they wanted – ultimately, it was all about dollars. How on earth is Yvette going to cope with the journey to Bukavu, lying up there on sacks of cassava and miscellaneous boxes and bundles together with twenty or thirty other passengers on the back of a swaying, clapped-out pick-up truck that veers along heavily pitted, wind­ing roads overlooking steep slopes and precipices?”

In these areas there are no laws, no courts, no administration. Gang leaders (or warlords, as they are usually called) rule according to their whims. They are constantly fighting one another for control of raw materials, smuggling op­erations and the local population. Those with the guns call the shots – openly and without shame. Wars have ethnic, national or religious labels attached to them, and they grind on for year after year with no solution in sight.

In places where social structures have disintegrated, disease spreads epidem­ically. The victims of war, starvation and disease have become so numerous that there seems little point in trying to determine the actual figures.

The old and the new barbarians

History shows that progress is not automatic. Here, it is as though these societies have been pitched back hundreds or thousands of years into a state of barbarism. Not just in the usual sense of the word, meaning that people live in terrible conditions. Rather, the armed gangs can be compared with Genghis Khan’s hordes of barbarians who killed, raped and pillaged wherever they rode.

The earliest human societies were classless. People helped one another to gather food, hunt, and at a later stage, to till the soil. There was no need for any machinery of state (government, police, law courts, prisons, sol­diers). Conflicts were resolved by means of discussion, and through the natural authority of the elders. With the emergence of private ownership of livestock and later of farmland, the old way of solving problems came under attack. During famines, cattle-herding nomads – the forerunners of Genghis Khan and his men – lived by looting and plundering instead of by herding cattle. These communities were hierarchical in structure, but they were not class societies in the Marxist sense. The chiefs were not an elite group which, through ownership of the means of production, lived off the labour of others. Rather, these were societies in which privileged individu­als were able to acquire the bulk of what had been stolen from others. The similarity with today’s “failed states” is striking, although modern robber “states” incorporate elements from all of human history – slavery, feudal­ism and capitalism.

Not until some 5 000 years ago, following the establishment of private property in land, did communities begin to split up into classes with con­flicting interests. Slaves worked, while the rest of society lived off what they produced. It was at this time that the state emerged as a separate armed force in society. It took upon itself the task of managing the rules of hu­man coexistence – for better or for worse. It is often claimed that Marxists believe the state exists in order to keep the underclass in check. This is cor­rect, but it is a simplification. The state is also needed to sort out conflicts within the ruling class in a peaceful manner, via laws and courts. When the state disappears without the working class assuming power and abolishing both private property and class society, the conflicts of the elite result in total chaos, and it is this we see in Africa (and Afghanistan).

One of the best analyses of the new barbarians is provided by a World Bank report.3 It makes clear that such gangs are primarily to be found in the poorest countries of the world. Poverty is the decisive reason for gangs, not religion, nationality or ethnic origin. There is a statistical correlation between ethnic origin and the existence of gangs, but the opposite of what could be expected – the greater the number of ethnic groups in a given country, the fewer gang-based civil wars there are. Ethnically speaking, So­malia is one of the most homogenous societies in Africa, yet it was the first country to descend into barbarism in the early 1990s.

Gang leaders are not motivated by political or ideological goals, although they often dress their real aims in such clothing (and some warlords may once have cherished political ideals), and nor are their motives ethnic, religious or national. They do, however, use ethnicity, religion and national­ism to create a sense of affiliation. In northern Uganda, Joseph Kony’s child army, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has been wreaking havoc since the late 1980s. The LRA originally presented themselves as Christian fundamentalists. Each member was to abide by the Ten Commandments to the exclusion of all else. But when the Islamic government in Sudan began financing the LRA (because the Ugandan government supported the Christian warlords in southern Sudan), they stopped eating pork and began turning towards Mecca to pray.

According to the World Bank report, the warlords’ prime reasons for be­having as they do are that they “fear the potential consequences of struc­tural exclusion or are tempted by imagined wealth”. In plain English, this means that as the trough grows smaller, those with their snouts in it are scared of being pushed away, and seek to improve their competitive posi­tion by arming themselves. Either that, or they are simply greedy. For most workers and peasants, however, life is mainly about getting at staples like rice, cassava and millet.

Whenever an economy is in crisis, the divisions in the upper class also tend to deepen in the most highly developed countries. In 2007, it took 196 days for a new Belgian government to be formed after the elections. Debate may rage, but the machinery of state – the civil service, the law courts, the police, and the military – is expected to be above these conflicts, view them objectively and seek to maintain stability.

For the weaker economies in the Third World, however, the machinery of state itself is one of the stages on which the various factions act out their battles. In Pakistan, for instance, there is a power struggle between those that earn a fortune in the illegal economy and those that have to make do with the smaller legal economy. This has been seen as a struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and liberals, but in fact it is a struggle between thieves of different kinds over the share-out of the plunder.

The fundamentalists control the ISI, Pakistan’s secret police, and the liberals the parliament. But the fundamentalists are deeply split internally, as are the landowners and business leaders who oppose them. Consequently, the state is more or less powerless, and lurches from one crisis to another.

In the poorest countries of the world, the struggle is so fierce among the elite that they actually tear apart the machinery of state. Barbarism develops when all the ties holding together the elite are cut.

How private armies are created and armed

Those sections of the elite that do not control the army or parts of the army are forced to put together armed gangs of their own. Most of the recruits in these gangs are young, uneducated men. They differ markedly from their leaders. Strikingly many warlords were educated in the West. Charles Taylor, ex-president of Sierra Leone, studied in the US. Ahmed Tejan Kabbar, his successor, trained as a lawyer in Britain, and Johnny Koroma, former head of the Sierra Leone junta, attended Britain’s prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy. In southern Sudan, gang leader John Garang took his doctor’s degree in the US, while his rival, Riek Teny-Dhurgon, acquired a doctorate in Britain.

The poor foot-soldiers who join the gangs do so for different reasons. In Nigeria, a ‘prophetic’ leader, Marwa, deliberately turned to the homeless and the displaced, whose upkeep he guaranteed. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, on the other hand, recruited drug addicts as it considered them easier to control. One way of holding on to these recruits is to force them to commit atrocities where they were born. This means they can never return home. Children are easiest of all to recruit by force. The LRA in Uganda kidnaps children; many of them are under ten. They are taken from their homes at gunpoint. The boys are given weapons and forced to fight against the Ugandan army. Girls become the sex slaves of the LRA leaders.4 Where extreme poverty is present, the children do not even have to be kidnapped. They are easily purchased. Street children can be bought for 500 dollars in Kenya. Many, both children and adults, join voluntarily. A career with one or other of the gangs is preferable to starving to death or dying of a disease that can be easily treated.

One alternative to scraping together a gang of your own is to hire an inter­national company. Private Military Firms (PMFs) are a phenomenon that gained in popularity in the early 1990s. The employees in these firms are ex-officers and soldiers who lost their jobs during the 1990s, when, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, disarmament was widespread. States and companies are customers, and the demand for PMFs appears to be substantial. The US government has used them in both Krajina and Colombia.

In Sierra Leone, two PMFs were involved in the conflicts. The first was the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes. Their role was to fight on the side of President Ahmed Kabbah against the RUF rebels, and they in fact managed to keep him in power in 1996 and 1997. Once they left the country, he was rapidly deposed. The British PMF Sandline International moved in and made sure that he was reinstated in 1998. Although Sandline thereby breached the UN’s weapons embargo, the ac­tion had the tacit support of both the British ambassador in Sierra Leone and individuals in the British Foreign Office. Sandline’s bills were paid by the Sierra Leone government, and there is speculation as to how large a share was paid in the form of mining shares. The mines in question are diamond mines.5

If the gangs did not begin as breakaway groups from the army, they faced the problem of finding guns. In Somalia, where the government was weak, the gangs managed to loot military supply depots. But the bulk of the weapons that have fallen into the hands of African gangs came from East­ern Europe. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, arms have been freely exported.

In some African countries, a Kalashnikov – the classic weapon of the guer­rilla fighter – costs just six US dollars. The number of small arms such as Kalashnikovs has grown exponentially in recent years, as has the number of landmines. Africa has the greatest concentration of landmines, totalling more than 30 million. They have killed and maimed countless people, many of them children. But advanced technology is not needed to commit geno­cide. Machetes will do.

Purchases by African states of heavy equipment such as attack jets, heli­copters and tanks, fell from USD 4 270 million in 1988 to USD 270 million in 1995. Most gangs cannot afford such hardware. Prices, therefore, have tumbled. When Ugandan president Museveni wanted to buy tanks in 1999, he found that T-55s were available for USD 30 000 apiece, which was less than the cost of a Land Rover.6


Maintaining an army is an expensive business. A private army cannot levy taxes to raise money for equipment, clothing, food and lodging for its sol­diers. In the poorest countries, not even the state can afford the cost. Then there are the soldiers’ wages. Some choose not to pay their soldiers at all, but to let them live on whatever they can loot. This, however, makes sol­diers less reliable. Armies must therefore become what the World Bank calls business organisations to finance their activities.

“The question then arises, what type of business activity can rebel organisations compete with? Unfortunately, rebel groups have only one competitive advantage, which is their usually ex­tensive capacity for violence. As a result, the business activity to which they are best suited is blackmail of different kinds, or activities that only require them to maintain military control over a certain area. These business affairs are usually linked to the exploitation of raw materials.”

Examples include timber in Liberia, diamonds in Sierra Leone, oil in Con­go-Brazzaville and coltan7 in Congo-Kinshasa. In Afghanistan, opium has been the warlords’ business choice. Following the fall of the Taliban, Af­ghanistan has been restored to its position as the world’s leading producer.

The market for all these products is in the rich countries. In one way or another, therefore, the warlords have to link up with the major international corporations.8 For example, coltan is taken from the Congo-Kinshasa un­der the protection partly of the Rwandan army (which thus helps finance its presence in Congo) and partly of Congolese warlords. Then coltan is shifted via numerous go-betweens in the US, Kazakhstan, China, Germany and other countries to the factories making Ericsson’s mobile phones, In­tel’s computer chips, Hewlett Packard’s printers and Sony’s Playstations.

Communication between the gangs and the multinational corporations is more or less direct. Some gangs have learnt from the international finance market and sell future rights to their booty. In Congo-Brazzaville, ex-presi­dent Denis Sassou-Nguesso was able to finance his private army thanks to the USD 150 million paid to him by the French oil company Elf-Aquitaine for the future rights to his country’s oil reserves.9 The fact that the US company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) already had an agreement with the government of the current president, Pascal Lissouba, made no difference to them.

Laurent Kabila, who succeeded Mobuto Sese Seko as president of Congo-Kinshasa, once boasted that all he needed to take power was ten thousand US dollars and a satellite phone.10 The dollars were needed to recruit a small army. This cost little, as Congo-Kinshasa was one of the poorest countries in the world. The satellite phone was needed to do business with foreign companies. In point of fact, he signed a contract with American Mineral Fields Inc. (AMF) in April 1997 worth a billion US dollars. The contract was for copper and cobalt, and the modernisation of a zinc mine in Kipushi in the south-east of the country, where AMF wanted to build the world’s largest zinc smelting plant. In exchange, the company lent Kabila a private jet, a satellite phone and a million US dollars in cash. A month later, he had seized power.

International business is not alone in supporting the gangs. The govern­ments of neighbouring countries, which are often on the brink of bar­barism, also want a chance to get rich. They can either finance and arm gangs to further their influence, or they can intervene themselves. Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Libya, Burundi and Chad have all been involved in the Congo-Kinshasa. Such interventions tend to suck sur­rounding countries into the barbarism. Armies in occupied areas of Congo have transformed themselves into gangs who do business with multina­tional corporations on a more or less independent basis.11

Barbarism is competition with gun in hand, which leads to wars that never seem to end. Inevitably, the number of casualties increased in the 1990s.

While much of the World Bank’s analysis of the mechanisms behind civil war and the growth of the gangs is astute, their report does contain some fundamental flaws. Firstly, the authors have no perception of the role of imperialism (and their own role) in creating the poverty that caused the col­lapse of one society after another. They ignore the fact that the warlords were supported not just by international corporations, but also by imperial­ist governments. Nor do they mention that competing imperialist countries were supporting competing warlords. Imperialism not only deepened the various crises, but also prolonged them and made barbarism inevitable. The countries principally responsible for this were France and the US.

Former colonial masters: France

Africa’s share in world merchandise exports fell from 6.3% in 1980 to 2.5% in 2000. 12 Its share of global foreign direct investment, FDI, remained at about 3% in 2005. 13 In other words, Africa is an insignificant part of the global economy. However, for France, Africa is important. In contrast to Britain, it has kept a grip on almost all its former African colonies follow­ing independence. In addition, it has taken over Belgium’s role as the major influence in the former Belgian colonies. France is the country that invests most in Africa.14

Jacques Chirac, when he was President of France, described France’s role in Africa in the following terms: “France is not one of those countries that rediscovers Africa from time to time. We don’t suddenly drop in when there’s a political or economic crisis, or when there’s a natural dis­aster. For an extremely long time now, France has been a caring partner… Let there be no misunderstanding: France will not abandon Africa, we’re in for the long run.”15

In practice, this long-term commitment has been a case of France support­ing its protégés in Africa through thick and thin. It has not mattered how corrupt, unpopular, or tyrannical the governments in question have been – France has backed them to the end.

The regime in the small, oil-rich republic of Gabon on the African west coast is one such protégé. Although most of the houses in the capital of Libreville lack running water, and one child in seven dies before the age of seven, Gabon has the highest consumption of champagne per capita in the world. Omar Bongo, the country’s leader for three decades, was handpicked by the advisors of French president de Gaulle. When forced to stand for election for the first time, in 1993, he lost. He travelled to Paris to seek guidance, and was instructed to simply ignore the elections results in the capital Libreville, and only count those in rural parts. He got the result he was looking for.16

Another of France’s protégés for three decades was Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo-Kinshasa (previously known as Zaire). In the 1960s and in 1977 and 1978, French troops were dispatched to the country to save Mobutu. His regime was one of the most hated in Africa. Mobutu and his cronies were masters at feathering their nests. In fact, a new phrase was coined to describe his rule –kleptocracy (rule by theft).

Congo-Kinshasa could be one of the richest countries in Africa. Besides coltan, the country is a world leader in the production of industrial dia­monds. A quarter of the world’s cobalt is produced there, and the country has 80% of the world’s cobalt reserves. Congo-Kinshasa is also the sixth largest copper producer in the world. It possesses 13% of the world’s hy­droelectric power potential, as well as oil reserves and coal deposits.

The country’s natural resources are yielding colossal returns. The Mbuji May diamond mine alone has annual profits of USD 450 million. Mobutu amassed a personal fortune of USD 5 000 million. In 1994, the Congo-Kin­shasa had a national budget of USD 300 million, while Mobutu’s income was USD 327 million.17

France’s strategy of selecting its leaders and then supporting them by all means created a degree of stability in the 1950s and 1960s. Other sections of the elite usually played a subordinate role, albeit reluctantly. Economies grew and created the means for a larger share-out among the privileged up­per classes. The alternative was being deprived of their fortunes by Soviet-backed rebels. In the 1990s, everything changed, and the French strategy led to the worst case of genocide since the Second World War.

The word genocide is often used casually to describe attacks on a particular ethnic group. But genocide is not simply a case of killing a large number of people. Genocide is the “deliberate extermination of a race, nation etc”.18 This means it makes no difference if one submits, if one is four years old or seventy, or if one changes ones religion or nationality – one is murdered all the same. That is what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

The Rwanda genocide

When Rwanda gained independence in 1962, the Hutus’ Freedom Party came to power. The Freedom Party introduced a form of apartheid, openly discriminating against the other main ethnic group, the Tutsis. Economic growth was sluggish. Most people tried to live off the land, but agricultural plots were too small. Bloody clashes occurred time and again.

In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana seized power in a coup. Right until the geno­cide began,

“he had powerful friends and champions throughout the western world. The most steadfast were from France, and included President Mitterrand, his son, and many other important diplomats, politicians, officers and senior civil servants. In Kigali, Habyarimana had a strong, loyal ally in French Ambassador Georges Martres, whose dedication to the interests of the regime led to the joke in local diplomatic circles that he was really the Rwandan ambassador to France.”19

“French troops assisted in the expansion of the Rwandan army from about 6 000 on the eve of the invasion to some 35 000 three years later. French troops interrogated military prisoners, engaged in counter-insurgency, provided military intelligence, advised FAR20 officers, and offered indispensable training to the Presidential Guard and other troops, many of whom became leading genocidaires. Throughout this period, the French army worked closely with Rwandans widely known to be associated with, if not guilty of, murder and other human rights abuses.”21

In 1991, the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an invasion from bases it had built up in Uganda. French troops played a key role in preventing a RPF victory. After the invasion attempt, the leaders of the Hutus decided to put an end to the rivalry once and for all. This was to be achieved by exterminating the Tutsis.

The French were fully aware of the careful planning that preceded the genocide. A commission of inquiry in the Belgian senate concluded that the Belgian authorities had known of these preparations as early as 1992, and had informed France. But the French government had continued to arm Habyarimana’s troops. In January 1994, the UN Peacekeeping Office in New York had been warned by its own forces in Rwanda that training and planning for the murder of 1 000 Tutsis every 20 minutes had now been completed.22 But the UN made no move. The head of the Rwandan UN office was Kofi Annan. Nor was the US willing to back UN interven­tion, having just burnt its fingers in Somalia. Instead, following the deaths of ten of its troops, the UN reduced its force in Rwanda from 2 500 men to 270.

When President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in April 1994, the presidential guard and Hutu militiamen launched their massacre of the country’s Tutsis.The Hutu militiamen were able to attract others to help them. This can partly be explained by the desperate lack of food and sup­plies. In 1989, American coffee wholesalers, aided by the US administration, successfully lobbied for the abolition of the International Coffee Agree­ment. This agreement had kept prices up. When it was terminated, prices tumbled to half their former level, and remained there for the next four years. Rwanda’s export income was also halved, as coffee made up 60% of the country’s exports. At the same time, the World Bank and the IMF forced upon Rwanda one of their Structural Adjustment Plans.23

Malnourishment increased in the country and only two thirds of the popu­lation had access to clean water. Almost one child in five died before the age of five. According to the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, the Hutu militias hoped that they would be given land, if they exterminated or chased out the Tutsis. Mass murders with machetes and knives spread rap­idly. Many were forced to kill their neighbours. Panic-stricken Tutsis fled to Christian churches, but were caught in death-traps when the Hutu clergy let the killers enter. Not even young children were spared. After three months, almost a million people had been killed, and some 220 000 children had been orphaned.

Even after the genocide had begun, France secretly continued to supply the Rwandan government with arms for at least a month.24

Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, declared himself amazed at France’s involvement from beginning of the genocide to the end. ‘’We repudiate the position of the government of France, the position that asserts they had no responsibility,’’ he said. ‘’They were closer in every way to the Habyarimana regime than any other government. They could have stopped the genocide before it began. They knew exactly what was happening.’’

Worse, he said, the French peacekeeping mission eventually sent to the region allowed a huge number of Hutu attackers to flee the country to neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa, ‘’thereby ushering in the larger Great Lakes catastrophe.’’

‘’There is almost no redemptive feature to the conduct of the government of France.’’25 All this took place while France was ruled by a ‘socialist’ president – François Mitterand.

The Hutu militias were finally put to flight. Following their departure, the French army, with the support of the UN Security Council, established a protected zone in the south-west of Rwanda where many of those re­sponsible for the genocide took refuge. Several hundred thousand Hutus subsequently fled via the French zone into Congo-Kinshasa. The Hutu militiamen who were principally responsible for the attacks took control of refugee camps in Congo, and used them as military bases for raids against the new Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government. After a while, the refu­gees became hostages. The Hutu militia prevented them from returning to Rwanda once the situation had calmed down, using them instead them as human shields. They also attacked the Banyamulenge ethnic group in Congo-Kinshasa. The Banyamulenges were Tutsis who had been living in Congo-Kinshasa for centuries. This development led to what has been called Africa’s First World War.

The US enters the fray

Before discussing that war, another actor has to be introduced on the Af­rican stage – the United States. Africa has always been at the bottom of the list of regions that the US was interested in. In 1996, while Europe had investments totalling USD 400 billion in Africa, American investments there were worth only USD 8 billion. In the latter part of the 1990’s, the US began to display a growing interest in Africa. A comparison between US investment in 1983-87 and in 1993-97 shows a five-fold increase. The greatest magnet was the discovery of oil. In 2000, about 14% of US crude oil came from Africa, against 18% from the Middle East.26

Compared to their positions on Iraq, the US and France could be said to have more or less changed roles in Africa. In Africa, it is the French who behave arrogantly and are openly brutal in their actions, while the Ameri­cans have been more cautious and sought to present themselves as peace brokers. In practice, however, the US has been as cold-blooded as France. The US has lent support to various dictatorships and gangs in order to strike at others, and improve its position. Washington’s closest ally in Africa has been Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. His economic reforms have been held up as a model for other countries to follow. Museveni took power in 1986 on the back of a civil war. Ten years passed before he held his first elections. When he finally did so, he only allowed candidates from his own party. It was scarcely surprising that he won almost 70% of the vote.27

The Americans’ awakened interest in Africa set them on a collision course with France. Eduard Balladur was the French prime minister at the time of the Rwandan genocide. When discussing the atrocity with a French parlia­mentary committee of inquiry, he noted that key figures in the Tutsi-led RPF troops had received American military training, while serving in the Ugandan army. RPF leader Paul Kagame had also been trained in the US. In several cases, the US and France have ended up on opposite sides in African armed conflicts. Such a confrontation between different imperialist powers had not been seen since the Second World War.

It was the RPF that took control in Rwanda once the killers in the Hutu regime had been overthrown, although formally speaking the country was ruled by a coalition. The RPF enjoyed good relations with the US. So, de­spite investing heavily in Rwanda, both economically and militarily, France has lost ground. Bernard Debre, a minister in Balladur’s government, could not disguise his bitterness at this development: “This must be said: if France was on one side, the Americans were on the other. They armed the Ugandans, who armed the Tutsis. I don’t wish to present it (the genocide – authors’ note)as a power struggle between the French and the Anglo-Sax­ons, but the truth must be told.”28

Africa’s first ‘great’ war

In Congo-Kinshasa, Mobutu’s French-backed regime was in a state of col­lapse. To divert attention from his corrupt rule, Mobutu decided to ally himself with the Hutu militia controlling the refugee camps in the east of the country. Together, they began driving all members of the Banyamu­lenge ethnic group into Rwanda. The Banyamulenges defended themselves, and an alliance was formed bringing together a broad spectrum of oppo­sition groups of differing ethnic origins. The leader of this coalition, the ADFL, was Laurent Kabila. The alliance was supported by the Rwandan government, which wanted to put an end to the attacks launched by the Hutu militia from Congo-Kinshasa. Uganda, too, supported the ADFL, as Mobutu had backed Islamic rebels in that country. And backing Uganda and Rwanda was the US, anxious to curtail French influence in the region.

Angola also lent its support as UNITA had bases in Congo. UNITA was a bandit gang originally financed by South Africa to fight against the Stalinist regime in Angola. Its leader, Jonas Savimbi, managed to become one of the richest men in the world.

Kabila’s alliance crossed the whole of Congo-Kinshasa, from the border with Rwanda in the east to Kinshasa in the west, in just seven months. Mobutu’s ill-paid and corrupt army collapsed like a house of cards once Kinshasa had been captured in May 1997. But Kabila scarcely had time to change the country’s name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic Congo, before the alliance foundered. Kabila (who had fought with Che Guevera in Congo) established friendly relations with the leaders of Cuba and China, and talked about nationalising parts of the economy. This caused the Ban­yamulenges to revolt. They swiftly won the backing of both the US and France, who had no problems uniting against any attempts to remove the possibility of nationalisation.

Kabila lost control of the situation, and began to support the Hutus instead. Namibia, Zimbabwe, Libya, Burundi and Chad all entered the conflict, as did mercenaries on both sides. In addition, the Sudanese government has sent troops to the Congo-Kinshasa to fight Uganda, which supports the guerrillas in southern Sudan.

Complete chaos. The various alliances were fragile, and the various groups in them changed sides whenever it suited them. Laurent Kabila was eventu­ally murdered and replaced by his son, Joseph Kabila. Rwanda and Uganda, who both helped start the bloodshed, later began warring with each other in pursuit of greater influence in the region. The Congo-Kinshasa fell apart. 5.4 million died according to one estimate.29The largest amount of casual­ties for any single war since the Second World War.

Barbarism or socialism?

These wars are by no means exceptions in Africa, there have been many more involving Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burundi and others. In most conflicts, the same ingredients recur: imperialism’s destruction of the economy and society, desperation born out of extreme poverty, battles for control of raw materials, barbaric tendencies, and conflicts between various imperialist powers. Also present are such nightmare elements as child armies, mutilation and huge numbers of destitute refugees.

“If you want to know the value of a diamond, you should take all the arms and legs they have cut off and place them on one side, and all the diamonds that have been dug up over the past ten years and place them on the other side. Then you divide one by the other, and that is the price of a diamond in Sierra Leone.”30

Barbarism does not benefit imperialism, even if it is imperialism that is responsible for its development. Imperialists would prefer to exploit the Third World in peaceful, controlled circumstances. So they became increas­ingly obliged to intervene militarily in Africa. The British military moved into Freetown (Sierra Leone), the French into Abidjan (Ivory Coast), and the Americans into Djibouti, as though establishing a succession of coloni­al trading posts. They more or less managed to quell the gangs within these cities, but rarely outside them. Thus Africa has began to be re-colonised. It has become more and more difficult for the major powers to rule by proxy. They are no longer able to trust local rulers, but are obliged to step in and exercise power themselves. This is hardly likely to lead to peace.

People hope to receive protection as a result of their ethnic, religious or national affiliation, and their leaders seek to build on this and exploit it – only to betray their supporters whenever there is the slightest chance of lining their own pockets. To place one’s faith in a better life on affiliation to a group, which has no capacity for constructing a non-exploitative society is to fall into a deadly trap. But what is the alternative?

In South Africa, people of all races, religion and ethnic affiliation were or­ganised by the COSATU union movement, by the ANC national liberation movement, and by the Communist Party. All listed socialism as an objec­tive. The successful struggle against apartheid was waged principally by the working class, by means of a series of bitter strikes and protests. The South African regime sought to split people up into races and ethnic groups. That was the whole point of the apartheid system. Blacks were not the citizens of a unified South Africa, but had their own ‘homelands’ based on their tribal affiliation. In these Bantustans, blacks were to develop separately and decide their destinies for themselves without any interference from the whites, who would decide over ‘their own country’. The South African apartheid government also encouraged violence between different ethnic groups, using Zulu Chief Buthulezi and his Inkatha movement to try and provoke tribal conflict. This tactic failed. The only reason why apartheid collapsed was that the working class was strong in South Africa. The need for solidarity is not a matter of taste or a moral question for the working class, but is built into the material fabric of society. ‘United we stand, di­vided we fall’.

In the rest of Africa, the working class is very weak, excepting Nigeria and Egypt. But by uniting the working class throughout Africa behind the goal of a socialist federation, this problem can be overcome. Such a strategy would result in the working class receiving the support of Africa’s farmers and peasants, who are the majority of the population, and who would for the first time be given an alternative to meaningless slaughter. It was this that the Bolsheviks managed to achieve in Russia in 1917.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote the following in The Junius Pamphlet31 midway through the First World War.

“Friedrich Engels once said: ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’ What does ‘re­gression into barbarism’ mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means.

This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses towards its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war.”

Unfortunately, the choice has already been made in large parts of Africa, but not by the people. The inevitable consequences of imperialism have been forced upon them: depopulation, desolation, degeneration, and socie­ties that are beginning to resemble great cemeteries.


Time, Classroom Edition, 30 March 1998.

Dagens Nyheter, 2 November 2003. Congo was divided into two nations.

Both have changed names many times. To make things simple we follow the custom of identifying them by the names of their capitals. Thus we call the Democratic Republic of Congo: Congo-Kinshasa. And the Republic of Congo: Congo-Brazzaville.

3 World Bank: Breaking the Conflict Trap, 2003

The Economist, 6 September 2003

Axess, September 2002

6 Steven Metz: Refining American Strategy in Africa, 2000

7 Coltan is a mineral combining two metals, columbite and tantalite, and is

used in mobile phones and computer chips.

8 International Peace Information Service, Supporting the War Economy in the

DRC, 2002

9 World Bank Report: Breaking the Conflict Trap, 2003

10 www.moles.org/ProjectUnderground/motherlode/gold/fried.html

11 IPIS: Supporting the War Economy in the DR Congo, 2002

12 http://www.europaworld.org/week179/africacalls28504.htm

13 http://www.unctad.org/TEMPLATES/webflyer.asp?docid=7460&intIt


14 www.arabic.news.com 11 November 1998

15 BBC special report, December 1998

16 Ibid.

17 Jordi Martorell: Mobutu Overthrown: What next for the new Congo1997

18 The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 1977

19 http://www.visiontv.ca/RememberRwanda/Report.pdf

20 Forces Armees Rwandaises (Armed Forces of Rwanda)

21 http://www.visiontv.ca/RememberRwanda/Report.pdf

22 Länder i fickformat, Rwanda Burundi, 1999

23 Website of the International Coffee Organisation, and the Michigan

State University Agricultural Economics department’s special website on Rwanda Food Security Research, quoted in Internationalen, 5/04.

24 Reports in the conservative French daily, Le Figaro, cited on the BBC, 21

April 1998

25 New York Times, July 8, 2000

26 Steven Metz: Refining American Strategy in Africa, 2000

27 www.afrik.com/article2401.html

28 Therese LeClerc: Who is responsible for the genocide in Rwanda1998

29 Washington Post, January 23, 2008

30 Socialist Appeal: Sierra Leone: The nightmare legacy of imperialism, 19 May


31 Also known as The Crisis of Social Democracy