The Democratic Republic of Congo: A history of exploitation and extraction, part two

DRC exploitation

Polish foreign correspondent and prominent writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, during his time covering the early years of the Congo independence, said “The misfortune of the Congo was that there was no time. What took three centuries in other countries happened here in three years”. Despite all the hope surrounding the election of Lumumba as prime minister, he was never given the chance to realise his dream of building a Congolese state that worked for the people, rather than the elite. The post-independence period of the DRC was characterised by the interests of outside actors during the Cold War, and the importance of its valuable resources.

Lumumba was an anti-imperialist pro pan-African leader. This worried the West, especially during the Cold War where they saw such rhetoric as leaders desire to align with the Soviets . For Lumumba, he was more interested in removing the Belgians from the Congo and having full independence. Belgium however, was uninterested in relinquishing its control of the valuable resources the Congo had to offer. Uranium was key during this period, and the Western states were keen to support Belgium’s continued presence in the country in order to access it. Lumumba turned to both the United Nations (UN) and other Western powers looking for support in removing the Belgians, however both were unable to fully end Belgian presence in the Congo, leading Lumumba to turn to the Soviets. This turn worried the Belgians and the Americans, who decided it was time to remove him from office. President Kasavabu  helped by dismissing Prime Minister Lumumba and placing him under house arrest in Leopoldville.

While under house arrest Lumumba was able to escape. However, he was captured before he could rejoin his supporters. Alongside his ministers, Lumumba was taken to Katanga province, and area that had been looking to secede from the country. There he was brutally beaten and murdered by the security forces.

Following the deposition of Lumumba, and at the height of the Cold War, the US and other Western powers were more than willing to support the ascension of General Mobutu. Mobutu spoke the language of an ardent anti-communist, and has become one of the most infamous African leaders of the post-colonial era. Under Mobutu the countries name was changed to Zaire, in an attempt to create a nation and an identity that had never been built under colonialism. Mobutu ruled Zaire with an iron fist. With no pressure to act otherwise, Mobutu set about rewarding his Cold War patrons with access to the valuable resources the country had to offer, while enriching himself and his patronage networks. External actors were happy to allow Mobutu to act as he wished domestically, as long as he continued to allow them access to resources such as uranium.

As the Cold War came to an end, Mobutu’s anti-communist appeal began to lose its importance. Mobutu was opened up to internal pressures for reform, which culminated in his removal from office and the takeover of power by Kabila. Under Kabila, the same process of allowing the exploitation of DRC resources in order to self-enrich has continued. During this period, the DRC has witnessed various conflicts over its vast territory, with the control of resources being a key goal of various groups. One of these resources has been central to the globalisation movement. Many minerals needed to create smartphones and other technology are found in the DRC, and have been controversially acquired according to some sources. Mines run by militias who then use the profits to exacerbate conflict, or those that use child labour, have been part of the supply chain which has brought smartphones to the so called developed world.

Like with rubber, uranium, all of these resources should have made the DRC one of the wealthiest nations in the world.  However, external actors have continued to exploit the DRC, first through enslaving the people, then by extracting its resources, and have been allowed to do so by supporting certain leaders who are happy to oblige. Leaders such as Lumumba were removed because they threatened to change this system. Mobutu and the Kabila’s on the other hand, were willing to continue this process and have gotten rich by doing so. While from the outside the DRC appears to be a anarchic state constantly engulfed in various regional conflicts, the DRC’s history of exploitation for personal profit should not be overlooked.

Not sure what this means

It is unclear who is supposed to be aligning with the Soviets here

Who is this?

Where?

I think you should reword this, it seems like you are suggesting that slavery should have made the DRC wealthy?


Featured image | Patrice Lumumba | Wiki media  commons

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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