Ota Benga Alliance, 3 November 2008
Following is an interview on October 31, 2008, by Pambazuka News editor-in-chief Firoze Manji with Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, founder and director of our sister organization, the Ota Benga Center for Human Dignity in Kinshasa, DRC. The interview will appear in a forthcoming issue of Pambazuka News, but we are posting it early because of the critical events now taking place in the DRC.
Manji: After many years of silence about the killings in the DRC, the world’s attention has suddenly turned to the current sweeping of Laurent Nkunda’s forces around Goma. What’s brought about this kind of attention?
Wamba: I think that the change of the balance of forces on the terrain is part of the reason. The scope of the humanitarian catastrophe forces many western people connected with media, with humanitarian organizations and also the rising interest in the situation of the DRC around the US elections. One hears that the incumbent regime would like to create hot situations either to help the Republican candidate or to create faits accomplis for the new regime to deal with. Around certain universities in the US, for example, for the first time a trend has developed to take up the issue of the silence on killings in the DRC. And, we have to add also the need for western capitalists, after the Chinese contract with the DRC government, to re-assume their control over the Congolese resources. We hear that the idea of a Kosovo is being played, but, if it materializes, it will not be for Congolese peoples’ interest but to have control over very important mineral and agricultural potential resources of the area.
Manji: The mass media in the west predictably seeks to portray the conflict as tribal. But what is this conflict about? What are the political and economic factors behind the conflict?
Wamba: Tribal differences have never been a cause of conflict; other conditions must prevail to transform differences into discriminations and these to lead to conflicts. There are of course many unresolved issues since the Rwandese genocide took place and many, including genocidaires, moved maassively to the DRC as recommended by the international community. Nkunda, for example, does use the presence of the FDLR [Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda], still committed to retake power in Rwanda and perhaps carry out genocide, as one reason for his war. The truth of the matter is that we have to distinguish between the main objective–access and control over the resources–and the conditions facilitating that objective—the existence of genocidaires creating havoc among the innocent people, the sentiments of exclusion still felt by the Tutsi Congolese, the involvement of the DRC government with those genocidaires (used as the government’s marines, according to someone), and the possible alliances between business people aligned with government officials of States in the region. Most of our regional governments are actually led by security officers allied to businessmen. It is said that Rwandese businessmen, among others, have been financing Nkunda to keep control of the mines and continue exploitation of minerals–coltan, nobium, etc., very much sought by transnational enterprises producing or distributing mobile phones, satellites, etc.
The subsoil of the whole country–DRC–has almost been sold out with contracts to so-called partners. Quite a few family members of people in power, from the summit on, find themselves on those contracts. One suspects that in zones where there is no firm control by any State, weapons decide everything. In a sense, Kivu is now the weakest link of the globalisation chain. We need to identify the different contradictions converging there. The absence of a real State authority, apparently willed by some who are in the State, facilitates the agents of the world economy of crime.
Manji: What are the roles of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Angola in this conflict? What’s in it for them?
Wamba: After having experienced the destabilization experiences by a Mobutist gendarme State, many neighbouring countries would rather prefer having a weak Congo around, especially if they can even benefit from that weakness by engaging also in the looting of resources of the Congo. The invisible alliances in business facilitate those kinds of pursuits. Certain officials in Uganda and in Kinshasa at some point did have joint business going on. Rwanda has an interest it uses contradictorily: the presence of the genocidaires to claim that its security is threatened and keeping a situation of anarchy to have access to resources on which its businessmen have been enriching themselves. Their participation in the last two rebellions made them taste the resources available in Congo and in fact want to continue enjoying them in one way or another. The task of organized government in Kinshasa would have been to find ways of legalizing participation in the common exploitation of resources. This process has been very slow and one feels that the anarchy is found more profitable in the short run.
Manji: We have witnessed attacks from within Sudan by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army]. How does that play into the situation?
Wamba: On the issue of LRA, I do not know much. It would seem to me that it may just be a case of banditry connected with the war zone; LRA has been accused of looting resources and children to carry the loot and use them also as fighters.
Manji: The European Union and other countries are deeply engaged in exploitation of DRC’s resources? To what extent are they culpable in the current crisis?
Wamba: Certain transnational enterprises were identified by the UN panel some time back: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers, etc. The nature of the minerals being exploited in the area can only be used by advanced enterprises, and Africans are just intermediaries. The campaign against the DRC-China contract by the West is an indication of their willingness to control the Congo’s resources. The sad part is that, profitability through bloody coltan being higher, they do not really care about the life of the innocent Congolese, only to reduce the miseries through so-called humanitarian punctual aid–not to eradicate violence altogether.
Manji: Are we witnessing the ‘balkanisation’ of the DRC?
Wamba: The rebels are occupying an area of about three territories. It is not clear whether in negotiations they will accept to give it up. If the DRC government does not succeed in getting that territory back, and if external forces support the keeping of the territory by the rebels, a small but very rich country will be formed and the impact on the rest of the country may lead to a real balkanisation. The government is being asked not to give up to that demand if formulated. Congolese people are firm for their territorial integrity.
Manji: Does the Kinshasa government have any control of the situation?
Wamba: Not really, that is why it has been criticizing the MONUC [United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] for its own failure to arrest the war. Because of the nature of leadership we have, mostly interested in looting resources and staying in power, condoning impunity,etc., institutions hardly function. Most of what it promised to do is not being done, including national reconciliation and building of a real national army. Even the new government being sworn in does not seem to inspire confidence in the population. Much useless dead wood (but behaving as if the Republic is their private property–the so-called the parallel government) has been re-included.
Manji: What should be the response of pan Africans to the present situation?
Wamba: Call for a regional African peoples’ conference, if there is a way to make this happen. What is needed even for democracy to be built in the area is that the people do agitate to really build a post-neoliberalist developmentalist State. In the short run, we should agitate against any possible balkanisation, for the application of the Nairobi agreements, for the exchange of embassies between the DRC and its neighbors Rwanda and Uganda, and for an urgent humanitarian intervention.