Congo/Darfur: The ruling class can’t end the barbarism

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Towards the end of last year, George Monbiot, celebrated opponent of ‘neo-liberalism’, announced “the resumption of the most deadly conflict since the second world war” (Guardian 14/12/04). He claimed “the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), already responsible for 3.8 million deaths” has, in his words, “started again”.

Since the first eruption of the conflict in the DRC in October 1996, people have been dying from war, famine and disease. Monbiot, drawing on research from the International Rescue Committee states that “over 1,000 people a day are still dying from disease and malnutrition” but says this is “caused by the last conflict”. What he seems to have missed is that, despite the past return of some troops to Rwanda and Uganda, the official ceasefire of December 2002, a new constitution, a transitional government from June 2003, and subsequent agreements to end hostilities and disarm, the imperialist war in the =DRC has never stopped.

Monbiot says “it is hard to find anyone who gives a damn about the Congo”. If he ‘gave a damn’ about the situation he could, for example, have turned to the website of the UN mission to the DRC (monuc.org) where an outline of events shows that there has been no let up in the conflict during the last two years.

Continuing troop movements, fighting between different militia, hostilities between armed groups, violence against government forces, attacks on UN forces, massacres in villages, massacres in refugee camps, slaughtered civilians and children, movements of hundreds of thousands of people away from areas with the worst fighting, explosions, exactions by local militia, attacks on rebel training camps, attacks on government military camps, towns taken by insurgents, areas retaken by government forces, weapons continuing to arrive in the country despite an arms embargo: all these and more are recorded by the UN. The UN Security Council has condemned violent attacks on the population (and the UN mission), and other actions of the armed militias. It has regularly renewed the mandate of one of the most expensive UN ‘peacekeeping’ forces, and progressively increased its numbers, for example, last August more than doubling it to nearly 24,000 troops.

Every capitalist state is imperialist

Monbiot, suddenly alert to Rwandan military intervention in north-eastern DRC and conflict between rival factions of the Congolese Army, recalls the “last conflict” when the “six African armies that had been drawn into the conflict, their proxy militias and the government of the DRC started fighting a monumental turf war” over the mineral resources of the eastern DRC. While all the armed forces committed atrocities in the past, he singles out the Rwandan army for criticism, and suggests “it would not be hard for the international community to defuse the world’s most deadly conflict”.

As both an explanation of what is happening and a suggestion of how a peaceful resolution is possible this is inadequate. As we have explained in previous articles on the Congo (WR 246, 264, 266) this vast country, sharing borders with nine other nations is of great strategic importance in Central Africa. Its copper, diamond, coltan and cobalt resources are not the central question, and while neighbouring African states are interested in establishing some influence, bigger imperialist powers have control over the DRC as an aim.

For 32 years before his overthrow in 1997, President Mobutu had the support of French imperialism. Using military forces from Rwanda and Uganda (at the bidding of the US) Laurent Kabila came to power, demonstrating the growing influence of the US in the region, and the undermining of France’s position. Once in power he put the interest of his own faction above those of his imperialist backers, threatening to destabilise Rwanda and Uganda, while getting the backing of troops from Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad (the last three countries not even being immediate neighbours).

The assassination of Kabila in January 2001, and his replacement by his son was supposed to have given hopes for peace. The subsequent situation has shown that the main hopes of the major imperialist powers lie not in peace but in controlling the ruling faction in the DRC. France has been very active at the diplomatic level and played a leading role in the multinational forces active in the conflict, but it has not reclaimed its former position in the region. The “international community” cannot “defuse” the war because the interests of the major powers bring them into conflict and the lesser powers can easily change their allegiances.

No peace in Sudan

In January a ‘peace’ deal was signed in Sudan. The current conflict, between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, in which more than 2 million people have died and 4 million been displaced, has lasted since 1983. Large areas of the country are now desolate and uninhabitable.

With the backing of the US, there has been agreement between the government and the SPLA that the South of the country will have its own government, banking system, national anthem and flag. Initially the South’s revenues, including significant oil income, will be split 50/50 between North and South. In 2011 there’ll be a vote on whether the South wants to secede from the rest of the country.

There are many reasons to believe that Sudan will not be a model of tranquillity in the coming period. For a start, since February 2003 there has been the continuing conflict in the Darfur region in which 70,000 people have died and more than 2 million been driven from their homes. Darfur is in the west of Northern Sudan, where the government have used conventional military forces and militia to terrorise the population. A UN report clears the government of genocide, but accuses them of war crimes in the form of mass killings, rape, torture and other atrocities including the destruction of an estimated 700 villages. Both the US and France have accordingly made threatening noises towards the Sudanese government. Among other big powers intervening in the area, China has extensive oil interests in the country that it’s determined to defend. The ‘peace’ deal doesn’t cover Darfur, an area where the war continues and where all parties have ignored a number of ceasefire agreements.

There is also the nearby example of Ethiopia and Eritrea to show that splitting countries up doesn’t prevent conflicts. Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and yet, between 1998 and 2000, the two countries fought a murderous war in which an estimated 75,000 people on each side died. In the last two years both countries have been re-arming and, over the last few months, moving huge military resources to their shared border. Military analysts are already speculating on what shape a seemingly imminent war will take. A growing war of words between Eritrea and Ethiopia only needs a spark to re-ignite conflict.

Africa is currently a very fashionable cause. It’s claimed that Britain’s presidency of the G8 and the EU and the decision to make Africa a priority can have a positive impact on debt, trade, hunger, Aids, malaria and other health and economic matters in the poorest continent. The evidence shows that every capitalist state only defends its own interests, and is pushed into imperialist conflict with its rivals. The ruling class can only make things worse. Car 2/2/5