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Congo in crisis: What President Obama can do to right past wrongs in U.S. policy

November 29, 2008

by Kambale Musavuli

Kamabale Musavuli is student coordinator and a spokesperson for Friends of the Congo,
The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, has been entangled in a humanitarian catastrophe for the past 12 years. Some of us remember the first elected prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, as he brought to the world the vision of a prosperous Congo where this beautiful land will benefit the Congolese people and not world corporations.

For many of us, our memory of the Congo is the “Rumble in the Jungle,” when Muhammad Ali pulled off the improbable victory against George Foreman in 1974. Today, there is plenty of rumbling in the Congo, and it does not bode well for the people.

A modern day holocaust is occurring in this picturesque land of abundance. This central African country, which sits in the heart of Africa, straddles the equator and is bordered by nine other African countries. It is the size of Western Europe and pivotal for the entire African continent; as Congo goes, so goes Africa.

Suffering in the Congo stems from the greed for Congo’s wealth, primarily by U.S. corporations and government. President-elect Obama knows what Congo needs and can stop the suffering of this little girl and all the Congolese people.
Since 1996, it is estimated that nearly 6 million people have died in the Congo, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped as a tool of war, and Congo’s enormous wealth has been plundered by the international community. The United Nations says that the conflict is the deadliest since World War II. Unfortunately, the conflict has been presented to our community through the pathological lens of the mainstream media, much the same way stories are presented about issues of violence in urban America.

We have been led to believe that this is a case of depraved Black people wantonly killing each other. As a result, we shy away from the issue in shame. The truth is 6,000 armed rebels backed by U.S. ally Rwanda are holding a nation of approximately 60 million peace-loving people hostage.

The central cause of the conflict is the scramble for Congo’s spectacular wealth of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, tin, zinc, coltan – a mineral that is central to the functioning of cell phones, lap top computers, video games and many electronic devices. The issue at hand is who is going to control Congo’s wealth and for whose benefit. This has been the main issue in the Congo since the late 1880s and what led to the assassination of Congo’s first freely elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, by the U.S. and Belgium.

President-elect Barack Obama is intimately aware of the current situation in the Congo. He sponsored a bill on the Congo as a senator, which passed in 2006. He is clear about the importance of the Congo to the entire African continent. He says, “If Africa is to achieve its promise, resolving the problem in the Congo will be critical.”

In light of the current upheaval in the Congo that has resulted in unbearable suffering for a beleaguered people, President-elect Barack Obama should put the Congo at the top of his list of foreign affairs issues to tackle. In addressing the Congo, there are concrete policy prescriptions that he can pursue which would put the Congo and the Central African region on a path to peace and stability.

1. Stop giving President Paul Kagame of Rwanda carte blanche to intervene in the Congo. Kagame invaded Congo twice, in 1996 and 1998, and occupied Congo for six years, from 1996 to 2002, and the biggest fight he had in the Congo was with his ally Uganda over minerals and not the so-called Hutu rebels who participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which he uses as a pretext for invading the Congo.

2. Call for a political process that leads to the democratization of the Rwandan political landscape, which would allow disaffected “Hutus” to leave Congo and go back to Rwanda to participate in political life. Lack of democracy in Rwanda feeds instability in the Congo

3. A radical change is needed in U.S. policy, which currently favors corporate exploitative interests – see Dan Rather’s “All Mine” report – and has contributed to the exacerbation of the problem in the country.

The International Crisis Group study of July 2007, “Consolidating the Peace,” clearly documents how the U.S. skewed the electoral system to favor former rebel leaders, one of whom is Joseph Kabila, who is now the president of Congo. Kabila had no political history whatsoever in the Congo, yet the West provided him nearly unconditional support to ascend to the head of government.

Many brilliant Congolese leaders who truly care about their people have been systematically sidelined because the U.S. is not confident that these Congolese men and women will serve its corporate interests. Hence, the U.S. assured the victory of a weak “leader” who would guarantee unfettered access by U.S. corporations to Congo’s wealth.

4. The solution to the current crisis is political and not military, as is being proffered by many European states. Should the U.S. tell Kagame to stop its support of proxy rebel forces in the Congo, the killing and mass displacement of the people would stop. The U.S. has enormous leverage over Kagame yet has not exercised it.

5. Finally, the U.S. should support national reconciliation in the Congo and support the rightful ownership of Congo’s wealth for the people of the Congo. The Carter Center and the United Nations have made clear policy recommendations that would further this policy but the U.S. government has refused to act on those recommendations, which would ultimately give the Congolese more control over their own wealth and set them on a path to self-sustainability.

For President-elect Obama and the newly strengthened Democratic majority in Congress to act on the above prescriptions, they must be made aware that there are people throughout the country who care about what happens to Black people in Africa. Join the global “Break the Silence” movement around the Congo and let our leaders know that change must come to Congo if Africa is to move forward as a continent.

Congolese activist Kambale Musavuli is student coordinator and a spokesperson for Friends of the Congo. He can be reached at

13 thoughts on “Congo in crisis: What President Obama can do to right past wrongs in U.S. policy

  1. Ann Garrison

    Great picture of Kambale, who speaks to the imperial Congo crisis most every day now on one radio station or another, including local NPR stations, though not yet on national NPR. That would really be a break in the silence.

    Today, a former head of the UN Peacekeeping forces in Congo agreed with Kambale, that there is no military solution in Congo, only a political solution.

  2. Paul Reynders

    Best kambale,

    I ve just finished reading this article and to be honest about I am quite dissapointed in it s simplistic analyse of the geopolitical situation in Congo.

    First off all the suposed alegations that Rwanda is having a carte blanche to invade the ” democratic “republic of Congo, true the means of rebel leader Nkunda is unfounded. Many distinguished foreign politicians and regional supervisors have cleared the Rwandese governement of direct implications in the Congolese conflict. It is imperative to make a distinction between sympathy for someone s call and a direct involvement in the matter.

    A position not quite shared by the Congolese regime which has allied themselves openly with the mai mai a xenophobic militia movement driven by the will to clear the lands of kivu from any minority and the FDLR an organisation well known for it s genodicical past. An alliance found back in the governemental structure of the province where key positions as well as lands have been given to persons known for there implications in these militia s.

    Demonising president Kagame won t solve the problem in eastern Congo, but maybe a good step in that direction would be the long promised disarment of the FDLR by the Congolese regime as promised in the Peace agreement. Wich in all accordance forms the base of Nkunda self proclamed legitimity in the region.

    let s have it about the democratisation of Rwanda s political landscape. I didn t really understood on what base you where making these allegations and it quite francly reminded me of the comments of Rwandan Hutu rebel leader Edmond Ngarambe denouncing the “dictatorship” in his own country. Someone I fear shouldn t been followed in his dogma.

    But fine maybe I am the one wrong on this subject, but as far as I know it democracy is achieved when fair and free legislations are hold and if we look back at the Rwandese elections these took place in 2003 and Kagame was elected for a period of seven years whitout major disturbations or critics of the international observers. Democracy or not?

    Secondly it also came to my attention that Rwanda has grown under his guidance from a country thorn by ethnic rivality and poverty to a country with a political stability and a spectacular economic growth of arround ten percents in 2008 due to the private led policy in the agricultural and construction sectors (so not by plundering the natural ressources of Congo).

    Even if I am no expert in Congolese democracy I have an idea on how to qualify the murdering of aprox. 500 and jailing of aprox. 1000 oponents of the regime during and after the last elections.

    To put things right, I hate war and I dislike Nkunda’s role in eastern Congo. But in a country led by ethnic warlord’s ,Congolese government included ,the Congolese (that is what in the end they are) Tutsi minority needs one to protect itself.

    It should be wise for the Congolese regime to attend to peace talk with Nkunda, stop there support of different militia’s, stop blaiming there neigbours and trying to regionalise the conflict. Even if Rwanda was none existant I fear this region would still be prone by violence, due to bad policy, governance, ethnic rivality’s, all side effects of a country to big in each aspect to govern. Maybe a solution similar as that of Yugoslavia could assure long lasting peace, let not forget that the actual land of Congo is a reminisance of the colonisational past where no demographical facts where took into consideration.


    I am an humanitarian worker writing from Goma.
    I mainly agree with all your post. I wonder what Barack Obama is going to do about the situation here, and my perspectives are not very positive (I´ve been deceived too many times by bright and full of hope politicians).

    All the best


    I am an humanitarian worker writing from Goma, DRC.
    I mainly agree with all your post. I wonder what Barack Obama is going to do about the situation here, and my perspectives are not very positive (I´ve been deceived too many times by bright and full of hope politicians).

    All the best

  5. Ann Garrison

    I agree with everything Kambale says here, except that President Barack Obama has the power to stop the war in Congo and encourage a political solution.

    If Barack Obama were to acknowledge that the U.S. has been fighting a proxy war in Congo, using Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan Army, and General Laurent Nkunda as its proxies, and withdraw U.S. military support for this war, he would be dead, really fast, and not because he’s Black.

    Because the stakes are too high. Congo’s geostrategic mineral wealth is so enormous that surrendering control of Congo would mean surrendering the security of the US military industrial complex itself.

    Barack Obama is now surrounded by enormous institutional, military, military-industrial, and corporate force. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about what he, one man, can do. We can ask where there might be any openings for those of us would would like to see peace and justice in Congo, but I think we should keep in mind that the challenge in Congo is far larger than that of bringing down apartheid in South Africa, because the security of the U.S. military industrial complex itself are at stake.

  6. Paul Reynders

    I get it stop the military/financial support to Rwanda and there will be peace. What of the borders, the economic rennaissance and the national security of Rwanda these are non important matters I guess.

    Maybe Rwanda should just put down the borders, forget about the misfacts of the FDLR and hand them the keys to power. They will come back and everything will be nice and shinning in the region.

    What is hapening in Congo right now is a tragedy, but the solution isn t lying outside the country’s borders. It has to be a national solution. The official stand of the governement is to tick at all doors for military support in this conflict, in a way trying regionalising it, instead of decent try to negotiate or finding a consensus in the balance of power that this region has.

    What makes this conflict so hard to solve is that there is not a bad and a good side, only victims of a kind of trias politicas based on ethnicy.

    In the end yes, money always plays a role altought only meant as a tool for more regional power.

    A little side line maybe out of context but you guys should watch in the agreements China has with different african country’s, including the so called infrastructurel aid, they never follow there commitments and the cash just flows in the hands of the people in charge. So no illusions over this. The reason african leaders are so enthousiastic about trade agreements with China is that they don t include humanitarian clausules as most of the agreements with western powers do. No illusion on this.

    If we pin point the reality, the man in power in Congo is a teanager on high chaire. This man didn t get any proper education, hasn t any vision and just doesn t know how to govern.
    In this actual conflict it is sad to aknowledge how invisible and inactive he has been. It is even more dissapointing that there is no adequate control of the regular forces ( in fact just an assembling off demobilised militia’s allegied to there various chief’s or how you wanna call them).

    The resources in the region are important to all the parties but for the same reason controle over the other side.

    It is maybe sad to say but I think that to achieve long lasting peace in this region there aren t that many options. Peace agreements won t have a long lasting stand in a state wich such a complex geopolitcal reality.

    Maybe I am wrong but recent developments in foreign country’s with a compared demogrophy tend to show that more autonomy would be a possible solution. It could be in the form of a federacy or more drastic as independance of Congolese provinces.

  7. Ann Garrison

    China does not build military bases all over the world to control its political life and secure access to the resources. The U.S. has 700 military bases in the world, including one in Kigali, from which it fights its imperial resource war in Congo, fought by its Rwandan proxy army.

  8. Paul Reynders

    I guess blocking military intervention under U.N. mandate in a country with an actual genocide going on as in Sudan, isn t an imperialistic war for ressources. In the end China doesn t have multi billions contracts with the sudanese regime.

    Anyway before accusing rwanda come with facts please. I d like having some concrete arguments

  9. Ann Garrison

    There is no mining, or none that I can find any trace of, in Rwanda. Yet 39% of Rwanda’s exports are mineral exports, and, that 39% is based on their dollar exchange value, which, I suspect, is an extremely unfair price.

    The principal mineral exports are coltan and cassiterite, which are well-known to be plentiful in Congo’s North Kivu Province, on the Rwandan border, although Congo, according to export statistics, now exports no coltan or cassiterite whatsoever.

    How could it be that Rwanda, a U.S. ally, with a President, Paul Kagame, trained at the Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, military base in the U.S., could
    be exporting so much coltan and cassiterite, even though there are no known reserves in Rwanda, and, that Congo could be exporting none?

  10. Paul Reynders

    I honesty would like to know wich sources you use to guide yourself, of a matter of fact the natural ressources of rwanda are gold, cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), methane, hydropower and arable land. So there is an active mining industry directed by a ministery of mining and energy, altough it would be fine to precise that this sector has been privatised.

    An other point off attention is that Rwanda is dependent on significant foreign aid. Exports continue to lag far behind imports. So statistics about export rates should be regarded in that context.

    What honestly surprised me was that U.S. involvement quoting global edge; American business interest in Rwanda, other than in tea and telecommunications, is weak, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has yet to make a significant impact in Rwanda.

    Out of the Cia world factbook it also seems that the major export partners of Rwanda are China 8.9%, Germany 6.8%, US 4.9%, Hong Kong 4.8% (2007). U.S. interests are quite limitated it appears.

    It even is stranger that in the CIA world factbook (btw updated on 4 december) they affirm that the export commodities are diamonds, copper, crude oil, coffee, cobalt.
    So I honestly dont know where you got the information that Congo wasn t exporting any minerals.

  11. My 2 cents

    Ann you say:

    “Because the stakes are too high. Congo’s geostrategic mineral wealth is so enormous that surrendering control of Congo would mean surrendering the security of the US military industrial complex itself.”

    You affirm that US has control of Congo’s wealth through Rwanda and Nkunda. I don’t agree for the simple fact that if Congo had control of it’s minerals to whom would we sell it to? ….. to the WEST on the open market. Furthermore the mining in the East is done manually, so it is highly ineffective, it was made profitable by high commodity prices, now that prices have gone down dramatically….. does that mean that the war will end soon?

    What is the amount of minerals that are exported through Rwanda? How much is it worth? $300M-$500Millions? I don’t believe that the US will bend over backward for so little.

    I believe that some Rwandese and Congolese businessmen are profiting from the war, Nkunda is using the mining to fund his movement, Kagame is using Nkunda to get to the FDLR AND for other reasons.

    In my opinion the reason why we have those issues in Congo:

    #1 WEAK government that has not been able to form an army after 9 years in power!
    #2 We Congolese are responsible for voting into office someone who during the campaign CLAIMED to have attended:
    The Washington International University: See for yourself: This is a non accredited “school” or to put it bluntly a diploma factory.
    #3 Congolese are victim of their leaders bad judgment. It was a HUGE mistake to allow fleeing Hutu’s ARMED into the
    refugee camps in 1996. (but it served Mobutu political needs well to allow the Hutus in) Corrupted generals of the Zairian army helped or let those hutus re-arm to make a quick buck.

    #4 Rwanda has its share of responsability:
    They have occupied Congo for years why didn’t they
    go after all those FDLR? The Current head of the Rwandan army was the head of the Congolese army when
    Kabila the father took over. (James Kaberebe) This indicates
    to me that Rwanda has not only issues with the FDLR but
    has other plans for Congo!

    #5 Nkunda is a proxy of Kagame, Congolese did not commit genocide against Tutsis.

    Paul Reynders,

    Read the new UN report it states that Rwanda is helping Nkunda, it is clear just as Congo is helping the FDLR. The only difference is that Congo is helping the FDLR to fight the enemy it has not been proven that Congo is helping the FDLR to go and take over in Rwanda. Congo has the right to associate with any groups to defend its territory. But let me stress again we have weak government, that has no vision, no plans is incompetent.

    Congo has more than 200 ethnic groups, the largest ethnic group account for 10% of the population. So there is no MAJORITY, everyone is a minority. There is no ethnic problem in Congo, there has been some strife between groups but nothing to the scale of what is going on in the East of Congo. What is happening is going to make it even more difficult for other Congoleses to accept Tutsis..

  12. Paul Reynders

    My 2 cents,

    I dont try to justify war, but within each conflict there are causalties that have to be considered and biased information can t be part of long lasting solutions. One oft he factors of this ongoing conflict is the historical context. As we all know the genocide in Rwanda took place in
    1994, the reasons, the scale and the conditions are also widely recognized.

    You claim Congo never wanted to commit genocide against the Banyamulenge( as the Congolese tutsis are known), I am sorry to say it but you are wrong.

    The first Congo war started with the vice governor of South Kivu ensuing in an order to the Banyamulenge to leave Zaire on penalty of death.

    Genocide (I will be pasting it)_:

    The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

    Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

    1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and

    2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.”

    Article III described five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.
    It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

    I think that under this definition we can acknowledge that the political machine under Mobutu was committing an act of genocide.

    This also the space of time when the ” tutsi rebellion” started with the implications of yes Rwanda and James Kaberebe. Altough backing up Kabila in overthrowing the Mobutu regime.

    I ll come forth now with the social contracts and the so called nature laws. As an individual you accept in giving up certain aspects of your freedom to some institution ( can also be read as government) in exchange of ” basic” security. If the government doesn t the full fill this role it is legitimate to rebel against that institution.

    Now about the second Congo war, it is said it started with Kabila sending out of his government ALL Tutsis, not only the Rwandese. It should also be stated the in that specific time frame the public lynching of ethnic tutsis happened massively (also in the streets of Kinshasa), stronger even on 12 august a loyalist army major broadcast a message urging resistance from a radio station in Bunia in eastern Congo: “People must bring a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones, and the like, in order, dear listeners, to kill the Rwandan Tutsis.”

    We both know where such a call was holded before and what happened afterwards.

    Backing up with Hutu militia’s also clearly defends the thesis that the government wasn’t only planning on fighting a foreign enemy but where aiming on the extinction off ethnic tutsis( or fellow Congolese) on their territory.

    If you ask me the right of life weights much more then the right of sovereignty.

    Just the fact that you end with: What is happening is going to make it EVEN more difficult for other Congoleses to accept Tutsis.. Shows that there is an ethnic issue the tutsis you refer to are Congolese, even if across the border in Rwanda their are tutsis to witch they are related.

    I agree with your statement that there are 200 ethnic groups but you forget to state that the tribes are majoritarely Bantu what can make the understanding or the finding of a consensus easier.


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