Is the World Ready for a Democratic Republic of Congo?

The Lumumba statue stands on Boulevard Lumumba, the thoroughfare leading from the Kinshasa airport to downtown
The Lumumba statue stands at a busy roundabout on Boulevard Lumumba, the thoroughfare leading from the Kinshasa airport to downtown

Given the response of the Obama administration and other western governments to the incumbent regime’s manipulation of the Congo’s electoral process, it seems clear that the West still does not support democratic rule in the most resource-endowed nation of Africa.  In a mid-February commentary for the “African Futures” blog,  Joshua Marks reports that the West’s position on the flawed election remains “dangerously in favor of the status quo of the last five years”. Marks concludes that the failure of current aid for Congo is thereby assured: “these signs of policy inertia could prove disastrous, since Western policies have so far done little to strengthen Congo’s governance, a key goal of many bilateral programs”.

Official acceptance of yet another rigged election in Congo by the U.S., Belgium and the other western powers raises the question of whether the West is yet ready to accept democracy (“rule of the people”) in Congo.  After fifty plus years of independent nation status, the reverse question of whether the Congolese people are ready for democratic rule still determines the West’s policies toward Congo. With the dismal record of Belgian colonial authorities in the field of higher education as the background, that question was repeated again and again in western media in the days leading up to the first election of 1960.

Although the question with all its racist overtones may still underlie the anti-democratic postures

In a cynical gesture to nationalism, worthy of Mobutu, Joseph Kabila had the statue and monument to Patrice Lumumba erected
In a cynical gesture to nationalism, worthy of Mobutu, Joseph Kabila had the statue and monument to Patrice Lumumba erected in 2002

and policies vis a vis Congo of the western powers, the 1960 voting results should provide decisive evidence that yes Congo was then and remains ready for self rule. In spite of the West’s attempts to silence and vilify him, Patrice Lumumba was the clear choice of the people in the Congo’s first national election.  Lumumba’s eloquently expressed vision of a free and independent Congo remains the charter for social and political progress in the nation today.

Contrary to the charges that Lumumba’s brand of militant nationalism excluded whites from Congo, the public record of his speeches (see Lumumba Speaks  , Jean Van Lierde editor) indicates that again and again the powerful orator envisioned cooperation of progressive whites in the development of Congo.  The public record is also clear that the attempts to shove aside Lumumba after his election as Prime Minister were met again and again by mass support in nearly every corner of the nation.  He was without question the leading spokesperson for the unity of a Congo free of foreign control.  And it is important to note that Congolese politicians of every ideology and stripe extol his legacy today.

One aspect of this legacy comes to the fore in the aftermath of the conflicts in eastern Congo now widely referred to as “Africa’s world war”.  Patrice Lumumba’s vision of an independent Congo free of foreign control was often related to his vision of a united Africa.   True independence for the formerly colonized nation states of Africa depended,  in Lumumba’s view, on the creation of a continent wide body strong enough to protect and advance the interests of the diverse peoples of the continent.  With the hindsight of more than fifty years of seemingly fruitless effort to establish a nation free of foreign control in the former Belgian colony, Lumumba’s prescient vision may represent the only way to ensure that the Congolese people truly benefit from the vast resources of their homeland.

Participation in the plunder of Congo’s resources by Uganda, Rwanda and other African nations betrays Lumumba’s vision, but it may well be that the day will come when Africa sees that its peace and progress depends on a strong, united and peaceful nation at the continent’s heart.  While the words Lumumba wrote to his wife just before his death may now seem more ironically tragic than prophetic, there can be little doubt that they will be extolled and recited by those who finally take part in Congo’s liberation,

“We are not alone.  Africa, Asia, and the free and liberated people in every corner of the globe will ever remain at the side of the millions of Congolese who will not abandon the struggle until the day when there will be no more colonizers and no more of their mercenaries in the country.  I want my children to be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that their country expects them, as it expects every Congolese, to fulfill the sacred task of rebuilding our independence, our sovereignty; for without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.”

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Dear Mr. President: Help End the Violence in Congo Now

29 Year Old Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 with no training or experience in governing
29 Year Old Joseph Kabila took power in 2001 with no training or experience in governing

In support of the Catholic Church in Congo’s call for resistance to the Kabila administration’s control of the election results, and in response to the Presbyterian Church (USA) urgent call for action in support of democratic rule in Congo, I’ve written the letter below to President Obama.  I’ll be mailing copies of the letter to Secretary of State Clinton and all members of the Senate and House Subcommittees on Africa.

Add your voice to those advocating an end to the cycle of violence in Congo. To assist us, a packet with sample letters and a sample script has been compiled by the Presbyterians. Access the 26  pages of resources by going to this web address:

http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/global/pdf/materials-congo-advocacy-pack.pdf

Included in the packet is the powerful message of the Congo’s Catholic Bishops “to the Catholic faithful and to all the Congolese people”. Let us keep in prayer Archbishop Monsengwo and other clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, who will be calling for an end to the violence in Congo on February 16 and beyond.  Our prayers and expressions of solidarity with them and all those standing up for free and fair elections in the country will strengthen their efforts.

Dear Mr. President:

Next week people in the Democratic Republic of Congo will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of another massacre of fellow citizens in their beleaguered, tragic march toward truly independent self rule.  On February 16, 1992, at least thirty persons were killed during a peaceful demonstration in the streets of their capital city of Kinshasa.  They were holding candles after leaving worship that Sunday, signifying their hope that the Sovereign National Conference would be reconvened.  Once

Voters such as those pictured here in Kisangani waited for hours to vote in the November presidential/legislative election
Voters such as those pictured here in Kisangani waited for hours to vote in the November presidential/legislative election

again, the Congolese hunger for peace and justice to rule in their country had been denied by the forces of the reigning dictator Mobutu.

When the U.S. finally made clear its opposition to Mobutu’s rule in 1996-97, it was too late.  Upwards of eight hundred thousand people had been slain in Rwanda, and the rape and pillaging leading to five million deaths in Congo were to soon begin. Since Congo’s independence in 1960, successive U.S. administrations have backed authoritarian, repressive rule in the country. Our support as the DRC’s foremost international “friend” has helped to deny the highest aspirations and fundamental rights of the Congolese people.

Since the accession to power of 29 year old President Joseph Kabila, two elections have been held in Congo and both have supposedly resulted in the people’s endorsement of this young man’s rule.  The Congolese people don’t buy the fiction of his victory in either election and see both elections as expensive charades which mock and oppose their rights and their will.

At the time of his rise to the presidency as the son of his assassinated father, Joseph Kabila was a virtual unknown.  When the election was held in 2006, he still did not speak Lingala, the language of the capital city where nearly  ten million people live.  Many saw him as an outsider who had spent  most of his adult life in neighboring countries.  He was far from capable of representing the aspirations of the Congolese people with no credentials or background for leading a complex nation with over fifty million people and the greatest wealth in natural resources on the continent of Africa.

On December 14 police round up Tshisekedi's UPDS supporters in Lubumbashi
On December 14 police round up Tshisekedi's UPDS supporters in Lubumbashi

To turn our backs on the Kabila administration’s most recent staging of a sham exercise in democracy would be to condemn this tragic nation to further violent repression of the people’s rights.  It would be to allow once again the hope represented by those thousands of candles lit twenty years ago to be snuffed out.  It would be to condone the continuing cycle of violence caused by dictatorial rule and the support of the U.S. for such rule.

Having followed and studied the background to events in the Congo for more than forty years, I would call your attention to the conclusion of the leading U.S. political scientist on Congo regarding the November presidential polling there.  It is, according to Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja, “now or never” for the people of Congo.  Should the Kabila administration be allowed to fortify its hold on power with another bogus election there is no stopping Congo’s further descent into chaos and death as the people struggle for self rule.

Mr. President, your hands are not tied and there is another leader ready to take power in Congo.  At present, we are planning to put $900 million in aid into Congo.  Surely we can do more to advance democracy in Congo by withholding such aid until the people’s support for M. Etienne Tshisekedi’s leadership is recognized. M. Tshisekedi may not be the choice of the U.S. to lead the Congo.  But since Mobutu removed him from the position of Prime Minister in 1991, he has embodied the people’s aspirations for an end to military dictatorship. Help turn the hope of the Congolese people into joy by a clear affirmation of his right and the people’s right to a free and fair election of their nation’s President.

Join with the people of Congo in honoring the memory of the martyrs of February 16, 1992 by withholding aid from Congo until a coalition government begins rule in Congo and prepares for the next presidential election in five years. Join in holding aloft the torch of liberty represented by our nation and help bring to an end the cycle of violence in Congo.  Join in stopping the bleeding at the heart of Africa. It’s “now or never” Mr. President.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Douglas W. Smith

Worldwide protests against the Kabila Administration's rule have recently been organized.  Antwerp's demonstration is pictured here
Worldwide protests against the Kabila Administration's rule have recently been organized. Antwerp's demonstration is pictured here