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Why civil war cannot be ruled out in the ‘Heart of Darkness’



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Last Saturday, I predicted that the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo would be stolen, but I couldn’t foresee that it would be done in such a crude, multi-pronged manner, denying the majority voters their democratic right. The election was, indeed, rigged, the victory snatched from the man who actually deserved it — Mr Martin Fayulu — and handed over to the runner-up, Mr Felix Tshisekedi, after what is suspected to have been a backroom deal.

Indeed, the only surprise was that power did not go to the man selected to take over from President Joseph Kabila because the chap, Mr Emmanuel Shadarry, could not hack it even with the whole State machinery backing him.

To have done anything different would have been too difficult for even the most cynical to believe. As former President Mwai Kibaki acidly pointed out after Kanu attempted to rig him out of his Othaya parliamentary seat back in 1988, even election rigging requires some level of intelligence.

What follows now is difficult to tell, but violence cannot be ruled out. At the same time, maybe voices of reason will prevail and the man who actually won the polls will resort to the courts for arbitration, though this is a vain hope since it is not clear just how independent the judicial system is in DRC. Judging from the way the “independent” electoral commission conducted itself one would have to be an incurable optimist to expect that some judge will do a Maraga and nullify the elections. It won’t happen.

Any attempt to write the history of the Congo is a tedious and fairly unrewarding affair. Not only is it convoluted, it is also quite bloody and mind-numbing. From the days when Belgian King Leopold II made the vast country a corporate entity which he personally controlled from 1884 to 1908, this territory has not known much peace. Indeed it has always been at the centre of various factions warring for its rich mineral wealth and other resources, with very little thought being given to its inhabitants except as sources of forced labour. In many ways, the DRC has always been the heart of darkness as novelist Joseph Conrad succinctly put it.

During the early 1900s, it is estimated that at least 10 million Africans died at the hands of King Leopold’s mercenaries. Things did not get much better when the Belgian government actually took over in 1908, but at least international pressure had an impact in improving the lives of the inhabitants. Fast forward to more modern times when Belgium was forced to give up the colony due to ceaseless resistance at a time when most of Europe had grown progressively weaker.

But things didn’t get any better for the country after independence either. Not only was it too huge to control from the centre, some warlords were more powerful than the central government. To get an idea of just how big the DRC really is, at 2.345 million square kilometres, it is almost the same size as all the four Eastern African countries combined, plus South Sudan. Trying to secure that vast border would be a nightmare for anyone, let alone corrupt incompetents like Joseph Kabila and his late father.

DRC suffers heavily from the much-maligned resource curse, which is why it has always been, and continues to be, the object of competing interests by foreign powers and even neighbouring countries. Not only is it endowed with vast deposits of uranium, diamonds, zinc, copper and rare earths which are useful to industrialised nations for making electronics parts, computers, clean energy and sophisticated weaponry, there is the more mundane, old-fashioned logging for building timber and fuel.

All these are highly-coveted resources and any semblance of stability in the country is a threat to foreign predators. Is it any wonder that the DRC holds the world record for the highest number of rebel movements in the world? Is it any wonder that the armies of neighbouring countries can occupy vast swathes of its territory for years with complete impunity? Whoever eventually rules the country, and assuming it won’t descend into civil war, some other model of governing it will have to be tried out. Western-style democracy simply won’t work.

I usually shy away from commenting on issues that are beyond my ken, but on the war against corruption, I am greatly puzzled. A person is accused of embezzling millions of shillings or abusing public office for self-enrichment. He rushes to court with a battery of lawyers seeking orders forbidding investigations on himself, his family or his assets. On the same day, a minor traffic offender is taken to court and jailed for six months.

Not only do I agree with the President and the Director of Public Prosecutions that in some ways the Judiciary seems to be working at cross-purposes with other arms of government on this war, it also appears there is an element of sabotage. Is there any likelihood that the war on corruption will ever be won?