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The Congo’s Dilemma

category central africa | imperialism / war | feature author Tuesday June 19, 2007 00:57author by Steffi Report this post to the editors

Why the Congo is yet another example why we have to rethink our political system

The Congo, a huge country located in the heart of Africa, is another perfect example why we have to change the political system we have today. The Congo has, since the beginning of outside intervention, suffered from different forms of violence and will also suffer from it in the future as long as there is no new global system. Millions of people have been killed and the killing, poverty and exploitation still go on. No government will ever change the situation of the Congolese people.

This article highlights how outside influence has played a major role in the Congo’s history and how it still affects life in the Congo. It thereby explores how the nation-state is a means to divide people along artificial lines, especially in Africa. Another reason for conflicts in Africa and especially in the Congo is the grouping of people into so-called “tribes” or “ethnic groups” that has been done by the colonial administration and the church. Its purpose was to put artificial borders between people in order to divide them and its political importance, even today, ignores what the real problems in the Congo are, namely the state and capitalism. Both exploit the Congo because of financial and political power and greed.

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A Small Summary of the Congo's History

The Congo became the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium at the Berlin Conference held in 1884/5. Leopold used this to exploit the Congo’s natural resources, most of all to collect rubber, to which the Congolese were forced in a gruesome way. It has been estimated that within the first decades of outside rule 10 Million people in the Congo have died, many others have been mutilated. In 1908 the Congo became a Belgian colony due to outside pressure. This didn’t change much in the situation of the Congolese people. Political parties were still not allowed and only “tribal” unions could emerge. This led to an ethnically and regionally fragmented country and at the eve of independence in 1960 to many crises. Patrice Lumumba became the Congo’s first Prime Minister but was soon to be eliminated by Joseph Mobutu with the help of the US government who wanted to have the Congo as a strategic partner in the Cold War. Mobutu installed his dictatorship finally in 1965 and banned all opposition parties. After 30 years of dictatorship and hardships Zaire (the name the Congo was given by Mobutu) the regime could only be overthrown because of problems in eastern Congo due to the genocide in Rwanda and the millions of refugees that fled across the borders. A rebellion in the east led to the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997 but the Congolese soon realised that the new president Laurent Kabila turned into a new Mobutu and a second rebellion emerged to overthrow Kabila. This rebellion is generally referred to as the big African war because of numerous actors, African states as well as international states and mercenaries. In 2001 Laurent Kabila was killed and his son Joseph Kabila was made new president. Soon peace talks were started but they were always interrupted by new fights. The peace has always been very instable and fights are still going on. Last years elections have been advertised as a triumph in Congolese history but have not amounted to many changes.

The Congo’s Dilemma

Why the Congo is yet another example why we have to rethink our political system

We all have at least once in our life heard of the “First African World War” or the “Heart of Darkness”, a Western cliché which was used to justify colonialism and post-colonial intervention. We all seem to know that the conflict in the Congo is, on the one hand, about so-called “tribalism” and the exploitation of mineral resources by Western companies on the other hand. But a closer look shows that the situation is much more complex and even if one is not an anarchist one has to agree that the roots of all problems in the Congo are actually capitalism and the nation-state system of arbitrary borders.

Outside Influence

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not only the third biggest country in Africa, it is also one of the most strategically located and richest in mineral resources. It has been subjected to outside influence since the beginning of the Arab slave trade and then Western colonialism. Belgium ruled the country for its own wealth and, through decades of plundering the Congo, became one of the richest states in the world. The Congo, on the other hand, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Outside influence in the form of colonial administration with the help of the Church destroyed old structures and old political affiliations and sometimes created new groups in the form of “tribes”. Colonial borders divided people between different colonial states; nationalities were thrown together that didn’t have anything in common. The economy was regionally uneven, leading to regional conflicts. The maintenance of colonial borders in the post-colonial era, accepted by all African States through the OAU, is still a major factor in conflicts, be they national or ethnic.

Cultural Diversity

The Congo is geographically diverse and so is its population. There are about 250 ethnopolitical groups with their own distinct culture and most even have their own language. The Congo is a vast country whose regions differ greatly from each other and the tropical rainforest at the centre has always made traffic from one side to the other difficult. Because of these factors one can see that there is no real unity among the citizens of the Congo. I do not speak of "tribes" since there are no "tribes" in the Congo or anywhere in the world. All groups have been created for political purposes even if there is some "ethnic" root to them. Sometimes they have even been created by the colonial administration and the Church who tried to group people to rule them more easily and also to divide them among each other so that there would not be a united anti-colonial movement. Later also Mobutu used this form of divide and rule tactic. In the Congo this has been done by preferring one group over the other - just as in Rwanda the Tutsi over the Hutu - the Luba over the Lulua, the Hema over the Lendu and many more examples. Sometimes the Belgians even created chiefs in societies without chiefs. This is why I prefer to use the term ethnopolitical groups instead of "tribe" or "ethnic group". Most of the time these so called “tribes” are seen as natural descent groups caught up in their web of traditions and age-old rivalries. The most serious problem with the term “tribe” is the distinction between Africa and Europe when implying that “tribes” only existed in Europe until the Middle Ages whilst they still exist in Africa today. What is more, while ethnic conflicts in Europe are called national they are referred to as “tribalism” in Africa.

Nevertheless, ethnic differences continue to play a major factor in Africa. This is due to the fact that they either are based on natural descent groups that always used to have such loyalties, or that - even though they have been created by outside factors - people came to believe in such differences themselves and now act according to that.

This does not mean that such groups are just classes and ethnic conflicts are just hidden class conflicts. Only in some cases, as for example in the case of the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, this is true. But one cannot deny that there are different classes within ethnopolitical groups as well. In most of Africa opposing social classes as in Europe have never even developed. Most of the time conflicts occur along regional lines. Therefore, in Africa we have to accept a plurality of cultures and the struggle has to point out cultural diversity and not just classes. Also, the struggle for more rights of women is crucial and part of the anarchist struggle and should therefore not take a minor position.

Causes of the War

There are many causes of the war in the Congo. The most recent ones have been the collapse of the Mobutu regime due to the collapse of the Cold War in which the Congo had been a strategic partner for the United States but became unimportant afterwards. Outside interference by neighbouring countries, Rwanda and Uganda, was a major factor in the actual outbreak of the war. Another recent source for the continuation (not the roots of the conflict itself) has been the plundering of the Congo’s resources by foreign states and Western corporations.

The major factors for the Congolese war, however, are capitalism and the state-system. Both have plundered and made a periphery out of the Congo to keep prices for resources low in the West. The State has always only been used to gain private wealth. Due to colonialism and the horrible conditions in which Congolese people had to collect rubber for the Belgian state, 10 million people died and others were mutilated. The population of the Congo was reduced to half within just a few decades.

As Mobutu’s regime collapsed, civil war began and nearly 4 million people died, not to speak of the thousands that still die every week as a result of the war, because they do not have enough food and medical treatment. The people who suffer most from the war and its consequences are of course women and children. There are still child soldiers in the Congo and neighbouring countries and women still get raped and mutilated by various local militias. The regime of Laurent Kabila was seen by many as a promising new hope for the future, but soon followed in the footsteps of Mobutu, and another war broke out to get rid of Kabila.

Overall this war has been about power and profit. It originated in the Eastern Congo where there are conflicts about land. Certain groups (most of all Tutsi who have been living in the Congo for decades) don’t have access to land and therefore started a rebellion to fight against Mobutu. As the situation didn’t change with Kabila they started a second rebellion. Both rebellions have been backed by Rwanda and Uganda. The regimes in Kinshasa have been backed by various other African and international countries.

The National Question

Nationalism has also been a major factor for the Congo’s problems. There have been various attempts to make a nation out of the Congo, a country which is too diverse for that. Patrice Lumumba is always seen as a pan-African hero who tried to unite the Congo but in fact he also has to be blamed for various massacres and conflicts. Mobutu tried to do the same and this led to some stability, but later he also began to use ethnic diversities to divide the opposition.

The idea of a Congolese nation is an illusion and whatever the roots of the ethnic tensions, there are continual pressures for secession. Many people are unhappy with the borders in the Congo and this has fed into the current war, as many want the country to be split into different states. This might lead to peace in the short-term, but more certainly to other conflicts. The only way to solve the Congo’s problems is therefore to rethink the whole system of the nation-state and to completely change it.


Self-determination and autonomy are the only solutions to the Congo’s problems. It just does not make sense to retain such a large country as a single unit, especially when people do not believe they belong together. By self-determination and autonomy I mean real self-government and not merely the creation of new states. States are one of the problems we have to get rid of. To keep the Congo a state as it is at the moment will lead to more violence because it is an artificial construct that has not evolved from the inside but was forced upon the region from the outside. Only a new global system will bring about the necessary change.

Anarchism - A Way Out

Especially in Africa it has become clear that the state and capitalism that is upheld by the state are the biggest evils. Most people live and work without ever getting anything positive from the state. They only see its negative aspects: paying taxes when there is no money for it; suffering from wars that are led by politicians to gain more power and wealth. We have seen in many cases that Western democracy is not the solution for Africa. Also, what some call "African democracy" is just a nice word to hide a one-party state, such as Uganda, which is nothing else than another form of authoritarian rule. Most people already live outside of and in opposition to the state. Anarchism therefore would not be new to Africa and there were already many traditional societies that used to live in a way close to an anarchist system; some of them still exist. What we have to do now is to organise people across Africa and the world, to fight for a better global system.

Africa has always been dominated by outside influence. Only a new global system can change this dilemma and only anarchism allows for a truly international system that once and for all does away with the unjust exploitation of many by only a few. Only anarchism allows for real self-determination. No state is suitable, whether it has cultural boundaries (as some ethnopolitical groups demand) or not, because if cultural and national boundaries are the same then the state is in danger of becoming nationally oppressive by excluding people with different cultural backgrounds. Similarly, a multicultural state always runs the risk of having one group try to assimilate others.

Summing up, states - even democracies - only exist because they help some people to be more powerful and to accumulate wealth by means of power. This becomes especially clear when looking at the Congo. We do not need states; there are many examples that people can organise themselves, even on a global basis. Another world is possible; we have to start believing in it and fighting for it.
Note from the Author> With this article I don't want to promote violence. I am against all forms of violence and strongly believe that another world is only possible without violence. Further I think that all boundaries between people, whether they are natural or not, are the biggest source of problems in the world. We have to work towards a society without borders of any kind and a society that respects people in all their diversity.

This is a summary of a master thesis which will be published soon and then be available online.


author by Studentpublication date Fri Nov 16, 2012 01:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

where can i find the rest of your thesis

author by Jose - iwwpublication date Mon Feb 09, 2009 21:06author email jhw41 at cam dot ac dot ukauthor address author phone 950 08 61 45Report this post to the editors

this is a very useful article. this was the first time i heard about the 10 million dead from the first decade of outside rule, linked to rubber collection. also very interesting is your refutal of the term "tribe" with the replacement "ethnopolitical grouping". i think i am right to say that the violence in central-eastern africa is the most important war in the present-day world, based on the numbers killed (5-6 million since 1993), without going into casualty figures. i live in andalusia (spain) and england. what should we do here, as well as campaigning for women's liberation and anarchy here, and against the deportation of central-eastern african refugees from here? i think we can also campaign against capitalism and marginalisation of central-east africa. how is this different from campaigning against the companies and states involved in ransacking the mines and producing and supplying weapons, and from supporting alternative self-owned and self-managed mining industries?

author by S.K. - Currently planning to start one with otherspublication date Tue Jun 26, 2007 20:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It's a good summary, and I'll eagerly be awaiting the finished thesis - will it include descriptions of 'stressor points', contact information, etc.?


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