Congo has long been the focus of resource exploitation. The first era of colonization in Africa, beginning in the mid-1880s, was most pronounced in this central African country. Like many African nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering under this new era of neocolonialism, where natural resources belong not to those who live on the land but to those with power and access to global markets.
The pursuit of true independence and liberation in Congo will continue until foreign nations cease their policies of exploitation.
When Patrice Lumumba began agitating for independence in early 1960, there was great hope that Congolese people would benefit from the resources of their land, lifting the country out of poverty and into an era of prosperity. Instead, after nearly three months in office as Congo's first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba was deposed in a coup and four months later killed in a plot orchestrated by the Belgian government with the complicity of the United States. Mobutu Sese Seko, a staunch opponent of communism, took power in a CIA-backed coup and became one of Africa's most brutal dictators. He drove Congo — which he named Zaire — into ruin.
Meanwhile, the world has come to depend on minerals such as tungsten, tin, and coltan, used in electronics and sophisticated weaponry, which come primarily from the Congo. Western love for the Congo has always been for its resources, never its people, which explain the lack of any genuine interest in helping to build Congo's state capacity.
Lack of transparency or regulation in the mining industry in Congo makes it nearly impossible to prevent the sale of conflict minerals in electronic products. And although many companies have expressed interest in disclosing their supply chain information, tracing which minerals come from the conflict zone in eastern Congo remains a significant challenge.
The United States can do much more to promote true security and prosperity in Congo. However, time and time again the United States has been part of the problem.
In 2008, the United States was among a group of nations that negotiated the premature and hasty integration of former rebel forces of the Rwanda-backed rebel group, the National Council for the Defense of the People into the Congolese national army. These Rwandan troops, as part of the national army, today represent a serious threat to sustainable peace in eastern Congo.
Meanwhile, the US-Rwanda relationship continues to be very problematic as far as peace and stability in Congo is concerned. From 2000 to 2009, the United States provided 1.034 billion dollars to Rwanda when its government was occupying large territories in Congo and plundering Congolese resources. While Washington argues that it never intended to aid the Rwandan invasion in the Congo, US financial support possibly helped the Rwandan government secure money within its budget to wage the deadly war.
Sweden and the Netherlands, after looking at the evidence of Rwandan involvement in the conflict in the Congo made available by a UN panel of experts' report in 2008, threatened to withhold their financial support to Rwanda. This action, which drew international attention to the issue, held the Rwandan government accountable by requesting an immediate withdrawal of its troops from the Congo. Instead of following suit, the United States participated in the misleading and failed integration of former the National Council for the Defense of the People forces into the Congolese army. So far, the Obama administration shows no sign of implementing the legislation that Senator Obama worked so hard to promote. The key to the US relationship with Rwanda is rooted in access to Congo's resources.
All governments must enact strict laws against the import of products that fuel conflict, use child labor, or otherwise support human rights violations in Africa. Companies should also be forced to pay fines and reparations to communities they have damaged in the creation of their goods. But at the same time, and equally as important, governments must work to engage Africa in the global economy in a way that encourages human security. Although coltan and tungsten fuel deadly conflict in eastern Congo, they also provide local people with jobs and some means of income. The Congolese government, with the support of the international community, should ensure that those local people reap the true benefits of their labor, which requires strict attention to worker's rights. In this way, Congo and the outside world can partner to advance resource sovereignty and local ownership.
Congo is the heart of Africa. Yet, after 50 years of political independence, it still does not beat on its own. Nor does it sustain the health of other African counties. Patrice Lumumba once famously said, "Free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese." The liberation of Congo requires that people in countries that profit from Congo's wealth stand in solidarity with those who rightfully own it. That means, most importantly, taking action as citizens and pushing governments to create more responsible policies toward central Africa regarding the use of its natural resources.
(By Bahati Ntama Jacques, policy analyst at the Africa Faith & Justice Network in Washington, DC)