One Man Can’t Rule the Congo

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By Andrew Matjila FORTY years ago, the Congo met its nemesis when, without preparation, it opted for independence to be led by men whose leadership qualities and political savvy had not withstood the test of time. Danger was lurking in the dark passages of state building of Leopoldville. Nearly five decades later, the constitution should of necessity be changed to accommodate a federal state, where all the stakeholders could become involved. So many politicians, hungry for power for forty years, and just dropped by the roadside, does not auger well for the future of that country. Two men are now facing each other, with thousands or perhaps millions of their supporters spoiling for a fight. Why should this great country not be divided into federal states for the sake of good governance? Smaller countries than the DRC have federal states, e.g. Germany, Nigeria. Of course, they have far larger populations than the DRC, but the latter is not an ordinary country as I would point out here. No one man, no matter how political astute and matured, physically fit, mentally sound and a visionary to boot, can rule the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) alone. A Democratic Federal Republic of the Congo, yes, such a setup can be manageable. Before it was granted independence way back in 1960, it was called the Belgian Congo by those who had colonised it about a century earlier. Like the rest of the African countries under colonial rule, the Congo was the cow that provided the milk for the mother country in Europe. Rich in minerals such as copper, gold, silver, diamonds, boxide, lead, uranium, you name it, its raw materials were exported to Europe, and Belgium, the colonial master, became a rich country. The DRC is the third largest country in Africa after Algeria and Sudan. From east to west it stretches for a distance of about 1 920 kilometres, or the distance from Windhoek to Johannesburg via Upington. The distance from north to south is slightly longer. The surface area covers 2 344 885 square kilometres, almost three times the size of Namibia. Straddling the equator with one third of the country in the north, it is within the heavy rainfall region of the world, all year round. The Equatorial Forest Region is located here, called the rain forest, where it never rains indeed, but pours. This forest boasts some of the rarest and most exotic trees and plants the Creator has blessed mankind with. Since independence in 1960, more than 80% of the 128 000 kilometres of roads have been reclaimed by the forest, as had the railway network. Over 200 ethnic groups or tribes share this vast land, with many knowing only the area where they are born, in some cases until they reach adulthood, before they can see Kinshasa, the capital city. The ruler of such a country can only visit various centres by air, and depend on reports to know what is happening in unreachable and far-flung centres. In the days when communications were still really next to zero, the 1960’s that is, it was not possible for citizens in Kinshasa to know for weeks on end, that Katanga in the south-east had seceded from the Congo and declared a republic. And we assume that one man can rule such a country? A Superman maybe! But memories are still fresh in our minds about the exploits of many rescue missions carried out by outsiders who flew in to rescue friends, relatives and many whites who were continuously sending out SOS messages in 1960, ’61, and even ’62. Plans landed anywhere with no one in the country the wiser. Southern African newspapers we read at that time, and indeed those of the world over, were flooded with daily reports in pictures of the tragedy that was unfolding in the DRC. The political climate there was as unpredictable as English weather, and the independence time table that was set in motion reads like a nightmare: – 30 June 1960: Independence Day – President – Joseph, Kasavubu: Premier- Patrice Lumumba – July 6 1960: Congolese soldiers mutiny demanding that white officers be replaced by black officers – July 10: Belgian Paratroopers arrive to restore order. Congo Government request UN Aid against foreign aggression – Still in July: Lumumba, disappointed with UN not getting involved with Katanga issue, threatens to get Soviet help – August 1960: Congolese army runs amok in action against South Kasai – September 5 1960: Kasavubu, fearing Soviet influence, dismisses Lumumba, Lumumba also tries to dismiss Kasavubu. In the ensuing deadlock, army head Joseph Mobutu takes over. At that time, he was not the almighty, highfaluting, fire-eating rabble-rousing Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga, but was still simply Joseph Desire Mobutu. Events which followed Mobutu’s move would have far-reaching implications for the Congo. Lumumba was eventually murdered in Katanga on February 12 1961, with Moise Tshombe claiming that he was killed while trying to escape. And so the sordid affair of the Congo unfolded with the demise of Lumumba, spreading the length and breadth of that unfortunate country to reach as yet untold proportions of murder, assassinations, espionage, double-dealing, exploitation of that country’s natural resources and a host of other unholy deeds. To his perhaps undeserved credit, Mobutu at least brought some semblance of order, albeit militarily, into the country. Giving it the name Zaire, he brought about a Government of Mobutu, by Mobutu and for Mobutu. What a sad day for Africa indeed. African independent states accepted the Congo’s tragic situation as though it was prescribed from above, Even the OAU was more concerned with the white racist minority regimes to the south of the continent, than with the likes of Mobutu. The great wealth he had inherited from Belgium in the form of national assets deteriorated until the beautiful city of former Leopoldville itself disappeared into ruins, forlorn, without maintenance. Other players on the scene such as Moise Tshombe, Kasavubu, Mulele, and many others, soon disappeared from the scene. U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold died in 1961 while trying to unite the Congo. Who was Mobutu? In the book by Sean Kelly he is simply titled “America’s Tyrant.” He is the man who rubbed shoulders in the Rose Garden with J. F. Kennedy. He was then General Joseph-Desire Mobutu, Commander in Chief of the Congolese Armed Forces. As time went on, his visits to Washington became an essential element in the extraordinary relationship that eventually emerged between Zaire and America. And now the chickens have come to roost. The recent elections, although democratic in the very spirit of the letter, would surely experience serious problems. The players there are fighting over the proverbial “dead man’s gold”, what is commonly known as the spoils of war. Every “leader” has something up his/her sleeve on “what I want to do with the DRC if I win in the elections.” But good intentions are often clouded in mystery, and at times disaster. In 1971, Mobutu renamed the country, then Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Zaire in an attempt to return to the source of the nation’s former identity and authenticity. The name Zaire is said to be a variation of the traditional African names for big rivers. Early European explorers found the people of the Congo established into kingdoms, with the major ones being those of the BaKongo, BaTeke, BaLuba, BaPende, BaYaka, BaLunda, BaSonge, BaTetela, and BaKuba peoples. Major cultural clusters today include the Mongo, Kongo, Luba, Lunda, Bemba, Kwango and Kasai. Tribes in the north and north-east include Ngala, Budja, Babwa, Bira, Kumu and Rega. Add to this list the original inhabitants, the Pygmies. Anybody who wants to rule these people is not only faced with the indomitable task of knowing them, but must understand them thoroughly. Their desires, dreams, wishes, aims, objectives, and indeed their politics, come foremost to be reckoned with, if one has to exercise law and order over them. And what a task I should say. As borne out by the disastrous administration of the Mobutu regime through three decades of failure, terror was the only product marketable by the dictator. And finally, like all dictators the world over, he hightailed it out of his own country to go elsewhere. What a way to rule over one’s own people, and what a way to exit. That terror has now shifted elsewhere on the continent unfortunately, perhaps Darfur, where another Mobutu rules with an iron fist over fellow Africans. Ethnic cleansing, it is called. Is it possible really, for one man to rule over this vast conglomeration of peoples, and still go to bed at night with a restful mind? Personally I doubt this. A federal state like Nigeria, which ironically is smaller geographically than the DRC, is perhaps the best option. But of course the politicians of the DRC know best. The constitution that had to be negotiated in South Africa was the fourth constitution that country had to hammer out. The three earlier constitutions which came and went since independence in 1960, failed to put the DRC on the permanent road to peace and democracy. Right now, even with the UN watching hawk-eyed over the current elections, the contenders are watching each other with an eye of extreme disfavour no doubt. If the one wins, there’s cheating, because no one wants to lose. No tribe wants to be the servant of the other. It was in the same way that politicians of his time saw things, that Lumumba was dragged all the way to Katanga from Kinshasa, where he met a treacherous and violent end. I’m afraid that has not changed yet, and recent events in that country, in the face of democratic elections nogal, confirm this argument. By the 1990’s Mobutu had all but destroyed his own country, with the Treasury being his own pocket. Law and order lay in the hands of the people who guarded him day and night, protecting him from themselves, as they did not trust each other. When the final bell tolled, with Kabila’s army within mortar range of Kinshasa, it was a matter of “everyone for him/herself, and God for us all”. Mobutu’s army scattered into the four winds, with him heading to Europe. Today, left out of the race in the recent elections in the DRC, is the old warhorse of Congolese politics, Etienne Tshisekedi. He had fought Mobutu many times and was thrown into prison as often as he could remember, and at one stage Mobutu banished him to far-off villages. The vast experience of Etienne in the political development of the DRC through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, should stand him in good stead to at least rule as governor of a federal state, were the DRC to adopt such a constitution. But now, young Kabila is being thrown into the lair of old political rivals, who will not countenance a young man leading that country. Is there an advisor somewhere who could help the people of the DRC to really get to grips with the serious business of forging a constitution that should place many of the political players of that country into positions of responsibility, at regional, decentralised, federal levels of government? One man cannot control all that vast area of land endowed with so much wealth, and live to tell the story. Even small Namibia has thirteen regions with governors who share responsibility with the central Government. How long must the DRC go on testing the water before an acceptable solution can be found and implemented? Fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty years of languishing in limbo. We pray for the people of the Congo to achieve peace. But prayer alone is not enough. We cannot just advise the two political adversaries to “please” accept the outcome of the elections, while we are fully aware of the fact that it will not last five months after the withdrawal of the UN forces, and the country will be in flames again. A lasting solution must be one that will take all the people of that country in responsible positions of power, to make even the pygmies a proud nation.