What the Greedy U.S. Imperialists Want in the Congo

Revolutionary Worker #910, June 8, 1997

In mid-May, Mobutu Sese Seko was finally ousted from power in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo)--after 30 years of amassing billions of dollars in his own bank accounts through graft and corruption, brutally suppressing opposition to his rule, and closely serving the interests of the United States, France and other major powers. A new government was formed by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), led by Laurent Kabila. Starting at the end of last year, the ADFL began defeating Mobutu's troops in the eastern region of the country and then quickly advanced westward. They took control of the mining areas in central and southern Congo and finally the capital, Kinshasa.

Under Mobutu's rule, the masses of people in Congo faced great hardship and suffering. The regime built no schools or hospitals, and roads and electricity are practically non-existent except those serving the capitalist mining operations. Malnutrition and diseases kill almost one in five children before the age of five. Unemployment is reportedly around 80 percent, and the annual income is only about $150 per person.

After decades of backing Mobutu, the U.S. and other powers now talk of their "humanitarian" concern for the people in Congo and promise various kinds of "aid." But these international oppressors have no intention of helping the Congolese people become truly independent and make basic changes in society.

Even before the ADFL finally entered the capital, the big-power vultures were already swooping in on Congo and scrambling to take advantage of the "post-Mobutu era." In particular, they have had their hungry eyes on the huge deposits of valuable minerals in this country. An April 9 article in the New York publication Journal of Commerce was headlined, "Western investors anxiously wait for the dust to settle on war-torn Zaire." The article goes on to talk of a "potential mining boom" in this country "once stability is restored." The British newspaper Financial Times commented in April, "Zaire may be short of many things, but untapped mineral wealth is not one of them."

The Journal of Commerce pointed out that Congo "is rich in minerals coveted by industries in the West: cobalt, copper, cadmium, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore and coal, as well as 90 percent of the world's small industrial diamonds." The imperialists are also looking at the Congo River as a source of electric power for capitalist "development" in this part of the continent. According to the British magazine The Economist, "The Congo River's hydroelectric potential would be enough to provide all east and central Africa with energy."

Mobutu had been a willing accomplice of his imperialist backers. But his utterly corrupt regime and the weakening central power in the last years of his rule made it difficult for the international capitalists to operate in and extract profits from this country. The Journal of Commerce noted: "By some estimates, mineral production is currently running at about 10 percent of capacity, with most of that coming from scrap and tailings. Zaire's share of the world market for cobalt--a strategic mineral used to make high-temperature steel for jet engines--slipped to just 8 percent by the end of 1995, down from 67 percent in 1985. The decline was matched by Zaire's copper output, which fell to less than 1 percent of world production by 1995, down from 6.3 percent, or 550,000 tons of ore in 1986."

With the fall of Mobutu, the Western imperialists have been maneuvering to more deeply penetrate Congo, exploit the people and steal their resources. As soon as the anti-Mobutu forces took control of the mining regions, executives from multinational corporations rushed to sign contracts with the ADFL. And U.S. corporations have been at the head of this flock of vultures.

In April, America Mineral Fields Inc. (AMF)--based in U.S. President Clinton's home town of Hope, Arkansas--signed a $1 billion deal with the ADFL. According to Time magazine, "The agreement involves copper and cobalt operations and the modernization of a zinc mine at Kipushi in southeastern Zaire, where AMF intends to build the world's largest zinc smelter. The AMF is set to own 51 percent of the shares, with the state-owned mining monopoly, Gecamines, taking a 49 percent cut...." AMF's majority stockholder reportedly loaned his private jet to ADFL leader Kabila for several weeks.

Various other corporations from the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Africa have held talks and signed agreements with the ADFL. Mining is not the only area of the economy targeted. The Washington Post reported that New Millennium Investment--based in Washington, D.C.--entered into a joint venture with the ADFL to open the first bank and develop telecommunications in Goma, a main city in eastern Congo.

Corporations that had contracts with Mobutu switched over to the ADFL forces. For example, the Canadian-based mining subsidiary of Eurocan Consolidated Ventures had signed an agreement with Mobutu last December to build a mine in Tenke Fungurume, which holds large deposits of copper and cobalt worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Shortly before Mobutu fell, the company shifted its dealings to the ADFL and reportedly made an initial payment of $50 million.

The details of the Kabila government's economic program have not become clear yet. The ADFL is a coalition of a number of groups and forces, and there are probably different views and lines within the new government. Kabila explained in a recent interview that his goal is to "create an economy friendly to private enterprise which will share [Congo's] riches with the people." In an oppressed country like Congo, an "economy friendly to private enterprise" can only mean an economy controlled by the imperialist powers and the domestic exploiters closely tied to the imperialists. And the interests of these oppressors are fundamentally and directly opposed to the interests of the masses of people.

In the main, the U.S. and other powers have been giving the ADFL favorable reviews for its "open" economic policies. But when the alliance seized the assets of one company--the Sizrail railway in the southern province of Katanga, owned by South African and Belgian interests--Kabila came under a storm of criticism from capitalist investors and publications like the Wall Street Journal. Never mind the fact that the railways are vital to the functioning of the economy in this country, or that some Congolese unions have accused Sizrail of hiding profits and underpaying fees and taxes. Even this single case of the government taking control of a privately run company was attacked by the foreign powers as an intolerable and dangerous sign of "collectivist" ideas!

U.S. Moves in Africa

Aside from a greedy grab for valuable minerals, the U.S. moves in Congo are also part of its efforts to extend and strengthen its overall imperialist interests in Africa. The U.S. gains in Congo have come at the expense of the French imperialists, whose main "spheres of influence" have historically been in Africa. The Economist wrote on May 10: "There is no doubt now who is the coming outside power in Zaire. While an American diplomat, Bill Richardson, has been striding around the region talking to Mr. Kabila's backers, the once-influential French have looked on as observers. They would have liked their ambassador in Congo to attend last weekend's shipboard talks [between Kabila and Mobutu]... But, South Africans apart, only one nation had its man there: the United States with its Mr. Richardson."

In recent years, the U.S. has stepped up its involvement in a number of countries of central Africa, including Rwanda and Uganda. Last December, Newsweek described the current Rwandan government as "about the best friend Washington has in Africa these days--so good that French diplomats mutter darkly about a plot to create an Anglophone [English-speaking--RW] empire stretching from Cape Town to Cairo."

The Ugandan government headed by Yoweri Museveni is put forward by the U.S. as a "model" for other African nations, including Congo. Museveni has obediently followed the instructions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to carry out "market reforms" of the economy--in other words, to create a better situation for capitalist exploitation. As a reward, the IMF/WB promised to cut $385 million from Uganda's foreign debt. In March, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a much-publicized visit to Uganda and expressed strong U.S. support for Museveni. There have been reports that Museveni has closely backed Kabila and the ADFL--and it seems the U.S. has tried to influence the ADFL through Museveni.

Another way the U.S. has tried to influence the situation in Congo is by manipulating the issue of refugees. In 1995, the Hutu-dominated government in Rwanda fell to a Tutsi-dominated force. The Hutu regime was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, mostly Tutsis. With protection from the French imperialists, the defeated Hutu officials, soldiers and militias mixed with hundreds of thousands of refugees and fled into eastern Congo. In the early phase of the ADFL's offensive against the Mobutu regime, France called for an international force to go to Congo--supposedly to help the refugees from Rwanda, but in reality as a pretext for French intervention. The U.S. government downplayed the refugee situation and was instrumental in blocking a French-led intervention.

But now, U.S. officials and media are putting some focus on the refugee situation. For example, a front-page article in the May 27 New York Times said that many witnesses had come forward with allegations that ADFL troops have been carrying out mass killings of Hutu refugees in one region of eastern Congo. The particular area has been sealed off by the troops, and it is unclear exactly what is going on. The ADFL forces do include Tutsi troops, and it's possible that revenge killings against Hutus--whether authorized by the leaders or not--could be going on. But what is clear is that the "humanitarian" concern by the U.S. for the tens of thousands of displaced people is totally phony. For the cold-blooded U.S. rulers, the refugee issue is merely a way to publicly pressure the new government in Congo. And it should be remembered that military intervention under a "humanitarian" cover has become an often-used tactic of U.S. imperialism in recent years.

The U.S. has also tried to exert direct pressure on Kabila. U.S. officials have warned that Kabila must hold elections soon and bring into his government traditional "opposition" figures with established ties to the West. A few days before the ADFL entered Kinshasa, Bill Richardson--the U.S. ambassador to the UN--told CNN, "The jury is still out on Kabila. He needs a lot of seasoning in the democratic process." This disgusting hypocrisy comes from an imperialist power that propped up the brutal Mobutu regime for decades with billions of dollars and several direct military interventions. It was the U.S. which engineered the assassination of nationalist prime minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and backed the rise of Mobutu to power. What right do the U.S. rulers have to lecture anyone about "seasoning in the democratic process"?!

When those like Richardson talk about "democracy" in the Congo, they clearly don't think that the masses of Congolese people should have control of the government, economy and other aspects of society. What they are really demanding is that the new government be "open" to U.S. influence and control, and bring about a "stable" situation for imperialist domination of the country.

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