Every time I give someone my email address, or tell them the title of my blog, I get a raised eyebrow or a shocked look. Now, telling people the title of my first book has the same effect. For that reason, I've set up this blog to have "Why Killing Train?" and an explanation about the new book very prominently available on the front page.
When Belgium realized in the 1950s that, given that France and Britain were losing their African colonies, it would no longer be able to hold on to Congo, it set about trying to guarantee continued control over the strategic aspects of the economy, especially the mines. At first, it sponsored its local political groups, but lost control of these. The next step, just after the Congo became independent, was mercenaries and proxy warfare – a huge international crisis and United Nations mission that was, in the 1960s, called “The Congo Crisis”. The political strategy accompanying the acts of Belgium's mercenaries (many of which were from apartheid South Africa) was to support the secession of Katanga province from the Congo. Once a dictator, Mobutu, came to power, the international community allowed him to crush the secessionists.
Decades later, the international community was not capable of stopping a real genocide in Rwanda. After the Rwandan genocide, when the victors in the Rwandan civil war took over that country and the losers of the civil war fled into Congo, the international community helped Rwanda invade the Congo. Rwanda's reason for invading was to force the Rwandan refugees to return and stop them from continuing to threaten the new Rwandan regime, headed by Paul Kagame. Rwanda's reason for staying in the east, however, was economic control. In the 15 or so years that followed, Rwanda has effectively controlled the eastern provinces of the Congo. The mining business goes through Rwanda. Several political and armed groupings (the RCD-G, the CNDP, now the M23) work on Rwanda's behalf to control the east and provide a local cover. Each time the Congolese government tries to assert control over the east, there is a flare-up, a rebellion, in which the Rwandan proxies rise to the challenge. The latest flare-up, in November 2012, in which M23 took Goma and are now negotiating with the Congolese government in Uganda, was indicative of this pattern.
The Economist analyzed this latest round accurately as follows:
“Goma’s fall humiliated Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who yet again watched his army crumble and a chunk of his ramshackle country fall into rebel hands with Rwandan support. But nor was the M23’s victory a rousing success for Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame. Foreign donors have cut tens of millions of dollars in promised aid to his country as punishment for helping the rebels.” (1)
Rebels, called the M23, have taken Goma, the main city of North Kivu, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s eastern provinces. Their plan is to march to Bukavu, the main city of South Kivu, and from there, they say, across the massive country to Kinshasa, the Congo's capital.
A geographical note is in order. The DRC's principal cities are part of greater urban areas that cross international borders. Look at the capital, Kinshasa, on a map, and you will see Brazzaville, the capital of the other Congo, right next to it.
Ha-Joon Chang is a development economist with a special interest in economic history. His most recent book, “23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism”, as well as previous books, have critiqued neoliberalism and laissez-faire economics. I interviewed him by telephone on August 9.
Between economic austerity and riot stories, my reading is out of sync with the headlines. I've been reading more about African conflicts, especially very recent and ongoing ones. Specifically:
-Allen and Vlassenroot's book on the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
-Jason Stearns's book on the Congo war, "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters".
-My friend Lansana Gberie's "A Dirty War in West Africa" on Sierra Leone, and a book he critiques, Paul Richards's "Fighting for the Rainforest".
-Assis Malaquias's "Rebels and Robbers" on Angola's civil war.
Paul Kagame is headed for a landslide victory at the Rwandan polls. Exit polls indicate 93% of the electorate voted for him. If some Western media commentators could vote in Rwandan elections, the number would likely be even higher.
Take Stephen Kinzer, who wrote a biography of Kagame subtitled “Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed it”. Earlier this year, Kinzer wrote in the UK Guardian about the stakes of Rwanda's election:
Report Back: Congo Briefing
A report from the Eastern DRC by Justin Podur
Wednesday July 29, 2009, 7pm Tinto Coffee House
89 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto
Writer Justin Podur visited Bukavu in South Kivu in the eastern DRC in June/July 2009 and interviewed human rights defenders, mining researchers, and medical and legal experts on sexual violence.