The Congo Conundrum: Truth Catches Up With Obama – OpEd

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By Antoine Roger Lokongo

As US President Barack Obama’s re-election bid approaches, his supporters are making sure that ‘the wretched of the earth’, the Africans, accustomed to unending plights (HIV/Aids, ‘civil wars’, poverty, resource curses, corruption, militias…) in their ‘hopeless continent’, as Western media depicts it, boost the chances of the ‘first African president in the White House’ to secure a second term. The supporters are exploiting Obama’s ‘militarisation policy’ of expanding America’s role in Africa not only to secure Africa’s abundant natural resources needed to revive the American economy hit by the global financial crisis caused by the corruption within the Anglo-Saxon financial system, and for which the whole world is paying a price; but also in order to monitor ‘aggressive’ China in Africa, as secret US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in December 2010 confirmed. [1]

President Obama announced on 14 October 2011 that 100 troops would help Uganda track down the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel chief Joseph Kony and other senior LRA leaders. The fight against the LRA has brought together in the US Congress a consensus from all wings of the political process – from one extreme to the other. The legislation was sponsored by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold and involved almost every humanitarian NGO and outraged citizen groups arrayed against the depredations of the LRA. [2]

This prompted African analyst Dr Gary Bush to raise legitimate questions regarding the new US deployment in Africa: Why now? Why is the US suddenly interested in being militarily involved in the pursuit of the LRA’s Joseph Kony, when in fact the most vicious period of the LRA rampage is years behind? Why now when in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) worst atrocities occur daily, committed by militias far more brutal than the LRA, which were created and sustained by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame? These two US-backed dictators have been able to siphon billions of dollars of Congo’s wealth by sponsoring mayhem — massacres, mass rapes and mutilations – in the vast country through their allied militias. Rwanda still harbours one of the most sadistic of these killers, Laurent Nkunda. Long considered one of Africa’s most brutal rebel groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago. But the rebels are at their weakest point in 15 years. Their forces are fractured and scattered and the Ugandan military estimated earlier in 2011 that only 200 to 400 fighters remain. In 2003 the LRA had 3,000 armed troops and 2,000 people in support roles. Their history is brutish, violent and criminal. [3]

In fact, it is Congo now that is teaching America a lesson. In late 2008, the National Security Council authorised African Military Command (AFRICOM) – or rather Africoma, because it puts African people into a coma; if your only weapon is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, they say – to support a military operation (one of the first publicly-acknowledged AFRICOM operations) against the LRA, which was believed to be in Congo at the time. AFRICOM provided training and $1 million in financial support for ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ – a joint endeavour of the Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudan forces in Congolese territory launched in December 2008 to ‘eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)’. According to the United Nations, the offensive ‘never consulted with partners on the ground on the requirements of civilian protection. Stretching over a three-month period, it failed in its mission and the LRA scattered and retaliated against the Congolese population. Over 1,000 people were killed and up to 200,000 displaced. [4] After this disastrous failure, which led to additional massacres of Congolese civilians, the Congolese army on its own managed to chase the LRA out of Democratic Republic of Congo to the neighboring Central African Republic; so much so that the LRA no longer poses a threat in Congo.

‘We have reduced the capacity of the LRA. For us it’s no longer an issue of defense. It’s a public order issue. The Americans are supporting the Ugandans (against the LRA) and the Ugandans want to benefit from that support,’ General Jean Claude Kifwa, who is in charge of fighting the LRA in Congo, told journalists in the capital Kinshasa. [5] The comment followed a complaint by nearby Uganda that Congo was obstructing its US-backed hunt for Kony. [6]

Despite the many civilian casualties and the Ugandan government’s poor human rights record, NGOs such as Resolve Uganda, the Enough Project and Invisible Children have been lobbying Congress for a renewed military operation to help the Ugandan government ‘finish the job.’ ‘Given the close US relationship with key actors in ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ — in particular Ugandan President Museveni and Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir — the United States is uniquely placed to support better targeted military efforts’, wrote Enough and Resolve Uganda in a joint policy brief in January 2009. [7]

And while the above-named US lobby groups characterise LRA leader Joseph Kony as the spoiler who refused to sign a final peace deal, they fail to acknowledge that the Ugandan government itself has not yet signed the agreement. President Museveni has consistently thwarted peace efforts (1985, 1994, 2003) when he sensed that they did not serve his interests, which centre primarily on maintaining power. He has used his close ties to Washington to build and maintain a favourable image, hiring the DC lobby firm The Whitaker Group (TWG) to do his bidding. Between November 2006 and June 2007, Museveni paid the firm $75,000 to publicise the government’s commitment to peace. Jendayi E. Frazer, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Bush, now works for TWG under a $1 million contract with the Ugandan Ministry of Finance. In an August 2009 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled ‘Four Ways to Help Africa’, she called on President Obama to ‘galvanise US efforts to end the militia violence of Rwandan and Ugandan rebel groups still operating in the Congo.’ As a paid consultant for the Ugandan government, Ms Frazer is clearly suggesting Museveni’s preference for a military solution. [8]

As the US presidential election campaign is approaching, San Diego-based ‘not-for-profit group’ Invisible Children does not want to miss a share of the cake out of the billions of dollars American billionaires are pouring into the Obama campaign to support his re-election bid. Invisible Children has just re-ignited a new ‘Stop Kony’ campaign, under the pretext of bringing awareness about the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony by uploading a 30-minute documentary called ‘KONY 2012’ to the YouTube website on 5 March 2012. Celebrities such as actor George Clooney and comedian Chelsea Handler were quick to chime in and voice their support on Twitter using the hashtag ‘STOPKONY.’ [9]

But the reality behind this ‘raging inferno or firestorm spread across the Internet’ as Invisible Children puts it, [10] is that the US wants to have a share in the newly-discovered abundant oil reserves in Uganda, in the Lake Albert fields. Dr Gary Busch suggests that ‘despite being a ruthless and corrupt dictator the US has decided to anoint Museveni’s head with oil; perhaps hoping that he will share the oil with the United States of America’. [11] Yes, Kony is killing in Congo, but so are Museveni and Kagame and as a Congolese, my aim in writing this article is to denounce in the strongest terms possible the United States of America’s selective ‘humanitarian justice’, not just in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also all over the world.

The US-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) is now ethic-cleansing Libya of black Africans; yes, in Libya where Obama has deployed 12,000 troops to safeguards the United States of America’s oil interests. [12] Those black Africans whom the NTC goes so far as caging in a zoo, force feeding them flags, [13] are not the concern of the ‘first black African president in the White House’. Only oil is.

More than 5 million Congolese have been killed as a result of Rwanda and Uganda’s invasion and aggression against Congo. In fact several UN reports have used the word ‘genocide’ in Congo. Why is Barack Obama not lifting a finger to back a special criminal tribunal for Congo to try and punish those responsible for crimes against humanity in Congo? Isn’t it because he is shielding Museveni and Kagame from accountability?

Moreover, we are still waiting for a congressional inquiry following an incident in Congo where Kase Lawal, an Obama-appointed US trade adviser, was linked to an illegal deal in Congolese gold. Lawal, a Nigerian-born US oil tycoon, orchestrated a deal to buy gold worth millions of dollars from the notorious rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda and transferred millions of dollars to him between December 2010 and February 2011 as part of the deal, as a report by the UN’s Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) states. If true, this would be a contravention of UN resolutions banning individuals or organisations from financing illegal armed groups in the war-torn eastern DRC. [14]

Coincidence? A Manhattan federal jury on 2 November 2011 convicted Russian arms trader Viktor Bout of four counts of conspiracy to sell antiaircraft weapons and other arms to purported Colombian rebels to kill Americans. [15] Bout was also involved in many wars in Africa, including in Sierra Leone and Congo but that is Africa, not the US. Moreover, Ukraine is now supplying the UN Mission in Congo with strategic helicopters, but that mission is also involved in the trafficking of minerals and abuses of Congolese women.

Ironically, to safeguard its interests in Congo, the United States has not hesitated to use warlords, terrorists, mercenaries and dogs of war to safeguard those interests. There has been a massive US air presence in Africa, especially in the Congo. After the fall of Stanleyville (now Kisangani) in the hands of Lumumbist forces, the US was prompted to expand it capabilities. This included the delivery of four C-130, a group of B-26 bombers (totaling seven or eight by January 1965), and arms and equipment for Mobutu’s ground troops. Fast patrol boats were provided to intercept arms shipments (and personnel movement) across Lake Tanganyika. Even maintenance was provided, with a staff of 50 to 100 Europeans employed by another CIA proprietary, the Liechtenstein-registered company WIGMO (Western International Ground Maintenance Organization).

The US air power and weaponry supported a force of some seven hundred mercenaries (Europeans, South Africans, and Rhodesians) assembled by Katangan secessionist leader Moise Tshombe, the CIA and the Belgians. Some of the better-known of the Congo mercenaries, like the former French NCO Bob Denard, who took over command of the French-speaking Six Commando that had fought for the Katangans in the war of secession, were later recruited by the United States to work in Angola. The exiled Cuban pilots (anti-Castro) based at WIGMO flew regular bombing runs in B-26 bombers across the Congo and later against regular Cuban forces in Angola. This militarisation extended to the anti-MPLA fortresses in the Caprivi Strip. [16]

Africa is being recolonised under the cloak of humanitarianism in the broad-day light and Africans do not even see it! An exceptional insight about this tragedy came from Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda who raised this issue with former South African President Thabo Mbeki following his address at the Makerere University, Uganda in January 2012. He asked:

‘Whether it is in literature, philosophy, politics, economy or art, there is very little output about Africa by Africans themselves. Our ‘freedom’ today is fought for by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; our ‘press freedom’ is fought for by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders; our ‘civil wars’ are ended by UN peacekeepers; our ‘refugees’ are fed by UNHCR; our ‘economic policies’ are determined by the World Bank and IMF; our ‘poverty’ is fought by Bill Gates, Bono and Jeffery Sachs; our ‘crimes’ are adjudicated upon by the ICC; our ‘liberation’ is achieved through NATO war planes [our ‘elections are monitored by Europe and America’ and they are the judges]’. [17]

Where is the change after all? Who are the drivers of the ‘African stability’ fought for on our behalf? Are Africans themselves the drivers of that stability? And if they are not, whose interests is that stability safeguarding? $50 billions is siphoned out of Africa every year. Do we have to believe that that money is stolen by ‘African corrupt governments’ alone without Western accomplices? No! Isn’t it like a person who steals the food, eats it to his satisfaction and then rubs the oil around the mouth of a hungry person whom he accuses of having stolen the food?

After Libya and Ivory Coast, we have to change the nature of our relations with our former colonial powers before it is too late and regain our place in the world. We have got to work with China (China has already stood up). I believe we can do it because during this global financial crisis it is China and Africa who are saving the world. China with its huge foreign reserves and natural resources like rare earth and Africa with its abundant natural and energy resources. China is now the second most powerful economy in the world and Brazil has just kicked out Britain to become the world’s sixth largest economy. The Chinese have succeeded because they had to face the pains of relying on themselves after independence (1949). Unless Africa goes through the same pain China went through to determine our own future, we will remain forever last on the queue.

China invests its own money in Africa. I am not sure where the money of Western investors comes from. I am convinced that Western powers who looted Africa for centuries and are still looting the wealth of Congo and other African countries, got very rich out of Africa’s wealth, and now are coming back to Africa with money generated in Africa to ‘invest’ in Africa. We have to live with these contradictions as if there is nothing we can do about it! And what investment are we talking about? They just have to bribe African elites and they get what they want.

We have to speak with one voice and refuse to be used one against the other – divide and rule – as Rwanda and Uganda backed by US and Britain have just invaded Congo, killing 5 million people, looting Congo’s wealth and raping women; and that war was aimed also at kicking China out of Congo; we have to reject the Washington consensus, rely on ourselves in cooperation with our true friends, China, South America…) in order to bust those mechanisms (Churches, IMF, World Bank structural adjustment mechanism, Africom – again, I call it Africoma because it puts Africa into a coma – civil societies and NGOs both local and international all financed from outside , aid agencies…) which have been put in place to keep Africa always down and last on the queue. And as the financial crisis bites, cunning Western powers are adding new mechanisms such as telling African countries ‘to ensure a better environment for business’. That is a ploy, because they want to revive their economies, and as Libya and Ivory Coast demonstrate, they will not hesitate to use military power to grab African resources in order to revive their economies hit by the global financial crisis.

We have to go the South America way. South American countries are succeeding exactly because they have reached their own consensus instead of trusting the Washington Consensus. As Noam Chomsky puts it, in the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss for America. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all U.S. military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as ‘the backyard’. [18]

Where are the African Krumahist, Lumumbist, Laurent Kabilist, Mondlaneist, Gaddafist, Sankarist … progressives?

Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Centre for African Studies, Peking University, Beijing, China.

NOTES:

[1] BBC. 2010.Wikileaks: US monitors “aggressive’ China in Africa. BBC World-Africa news.
[2] Al-Bulush Samar. 2011. US legislation authorises military action against the LRA in Uganda. Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News.
[3] Busch Gary. 2011. The United States and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Ocnus.net.
[4] Ibid.,
[5] Hogg Johnny. 2012. Kony’s LRA rebels mostly out of Congo, general says. Reuters.
[6] Biryabarema Elias. 2012. In spotlight, Uganda says Congo slows hunt for Kony. Reuters.
[7] Busch Gary, Op. Cit.,
[8] Ibid.,
[9] Santiago, Brandon. 2012. ‘Stop Kony’ campaign ignites firestorm.Hanfordsentinel.com.
[10] Ibid.,
[11] Busch Gary, Op. Cit.,
[12] Algeria-ISP.com. Libye – 12.000 soldats Américains en attente à Malte pour rentrer en Libye. Algeria-ISP.com.
[13] RT.com. 2012. Libyan rebels cage black Africans in zoo, force feed them flags (SHOCK VIDEO). RT.com.
[14] Jones Pete. 2012. Obama-appointed US trade adviser linked to illegal deal in Congolese gold. 5 February.The Guardian. World. News. UK Edition.
[15] Lynch Colum. 2012. Arms dealer Viktor Bout convicted. 3 March. The Washington Post. Word News. Home Edition.
[16] Busch Gary 2012. Uncivil Aviation in Africa. Nigeriavillagesquare.com.
[17] Gyezaho Emmanuel. 2012. Africa: Thabo Mbeki Speaks On African Problems… The Monitor.
[18] Chomsky, Noam. 2012. The Imperial Way: American Decline in Perspective. TomDispatch.com.


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