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Africa’s wealth and Western poverty of thought
A response to J. Peter Pham’s New York Times’ article on the Congo, November 30, 2012
Toussaint Kafarhire Murhula, S.J.
2012-12-13, Issue 610

A recent article on the Congo replete with fallacies and half-truths is challenged by Toussaint Kafarhire Murhula, S.J., who argues it is time to end this Western poverty of thinking toward Africa and a promotion of Africa without Africans
Unlike in the past, the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seems to capture both the media attention and scholars’ opinion and reflection in the West. This rise in interest and attention, however, is dubious for two reasons. First, the focus has been gradually shifting away from the alleged plausible causes of the enduring civil wars in the DRC to advocacy of quick fix solutions – like in Mr. Pham’s article of November 30 in New York Times. Second, few if any among these proposed sustainable solutions to Congolese crises show any concern regarding what the Congolese people think about their future, and how they feel about the present situation. The storyline often portrays DRC as a country that is rich in natural resources with a band of predatory chiefs who are fighting each other for control of the land to access these resources, but there are no people with faces, feelings, stories to tell and dreams to pursue. What kind of country could this be? Pham’s article that is replete, of erroneous and incomplete narratives, erroneous diagnoses and solutions ‘[t]o save the Congo’ by ‘[l]et[ing] it Fall Apart’, is the latest representation of this flawed advocacy with which take serious issue.


Specifically and to begin with, Mr Pham offers a cost-effective alternative to the squandering of international humanitarian resources that could be reallocated in a better way to relief and development, if the Congo were allowed to fall apart and to break into smaller states that would better governed. He views the UN Security Council’s support of the ‘sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity’ of what he characterizes as a fictional state as a costly in terms of lives and resources. While this proposal has some appeal because smaller countries like Rwanda and Uganda seem to be much better ran than the giant neighbouring Congo, the proposal is fallacious and too ideological. It not only fails to address the ethnic identity variable and the putative claim to state protection made by ‘Congolese’ Tutsi irrespective of the size of the country, but it also obfuscates the real underlying causes of the apparent grievances: political distribution of power and resources, territorial ambitions by Rwanda, and unfettered access to Congolese resources by Rwanda, Uganda, and their co-predators in DRC and their international sponsors in the West. The case of Southern Sudan speaks eloquently to this argument. Thus, advocating for consolidation of democratic institutions, instead, would bear greater political value and economic returns to both the West and to Africans.


Secondly, the shallowness with which Mr Pham understands the history of the Congo is lamentable. Of course, one might argue that this is for the sake of brevity. Yet, again, the interpretation he makes of Congo’s political history as a succession of ruthless and predatory leaders fails to do justice to the Congolese people. For instance, the claim that ‘Congo’s mineral wealth has brought only an endless procession of unscrupulous ruler’ without mentioning the responsibility of those who have created and maintained in power these rulers (e.g. Mobutu, Tshombe, Laurent D. Kabila, Joseph Kabange Kabila) in spite of popular resistance and protests is another syndrome of colonial literature. One wonders why the key historic facts are omitted in Pham’s write up. As one Congolese voice once remarked, ‘Changes through democratic means and the rule of law in Africa are not as deserving of unequivocal support as changes through the barrel of a gun.’ (Nzongola-Ntalaja 2003)


Thirdly, Pham’s claim the international community has turned a blind eye to the reality of separatism in the Congo. I do not know from what reliable historic source he extracted this claim. Anyone who is familiar with the DRC’s political history (e. g. O’Brien 1966, Ndaywell 1998, Hochschild 1998, Nzongola-Ntalaja 2002) will wonder if this assertion is a scholarly blunder or an ideological and purposeful harkening back to Walter H. Karsteiner’s advocacy of the breakup of the Congo (1996; 1998). It is misleading to ignore that the Congo, as fictitious as it might be (just like most others in the world), has been able to maintain its unity against Rwandan and Ugandan military regimes’ balkanization at attempts since 1996. This is an eloquent testimony of its people’s strong collective will to remain one nation. To evoke the Katanga secession in the early days of independence as an illustration of the lack of unity and nationalism is to conveniently ignore the then pervading cold War politics, the Belgians mineral interests and the manipulation of Congolese leaders in Katanga (cf. O’Brien 1966). The Belgian-created Katanga secession cost the life of one of the greatest political leaders in the World (Patrice E. Lumumba), with the help of the CIA (cf. Weissman 2010; The ‘Church Commission Report’ and the ‘Belgian Parliamentary inquiry report on the Assassination of Lumumba.’)


Fourthly, one of the greatest claims made in this article, which makes us believe that the text may be following some hidden agenda to spread falsehood about the Congo in the American public opinion, is to lump together the M23 rebellion with the fighting of former Hutu génocidaires. By now, this should be regarded as a worn-out and fallacious connection! While it tends cunningly to legitimize any Rwandan overt or covert invasions DRC’s territory since 1996, it is ideologically charged and overlooks the many years that the Rwanda-Uganda coalition occupied the Congo for plunder, murder of millions of Congolese, and counter-genocide indiscriminately of Hutu in DRC, instead of tracking down the real Hutu génocidaires (cf. UN Report of October 1, 2010). Besides, anyone seriously concerned with the security situation in the African Great Lakes Region would acknowledge how violence and threat to ‘human life and human dignity’ have indistinctly affected people of various ethnic groups but not only a single one. The current genocide and atmosphere of terror in Eastern Congo is a result of repetitive wars by the CNDP, recently re-incarnated as M23.


I believe it is time to end this Western poverty of thinking toward Africa, a promotion of Africa without Africans. While Congolese civil society has a different approach to the crisis of identity, M23 rebels do not represent the Congolese people in anyway. They are no more than warlords who seek wealth and power opportunities with guns, while masquerading as victims of an incompetent and failed state under Kabila. What the people want is peace and security, which can be provided only through democratically established institutions that are governed under the rule of law, but not predatory strongmen. Pham would make an important contribution to the NYT readership by questioning US foreign policy toward the region, whether in supporting Mobutu, Museveni or Kagame, instead of engaging in half-truths. Would Pham have advocated the break-up of the US during the Civil War under the same logic?


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