Western media’s coverage of Congo invasion: in the footsteps of western interests?
In 1997, Laurent Désiré Kabila, a long time Congolese guerilla fighter against Mobutu’s dictatorial and kleptocratic regime, took advantage of the geopolitical change in the region, when Congo’s neighbours in the east and Angola decided to do away with Mobutu who was harbouring rebel groups against them. It was the end of the Cold War and America had already decided that Mobutu’s time was up! They provided military and logistic support to Kabila who overthrew the most bloody and kleptocratic regime on 17 May 1997, less than a year after launching what he called the war of liberation. The Western media were ecstatic. Laurent Désiré Kabila, the new president of the newly re-baptised Democratic Republic of Congo (from Zaire) was voted “the man of the year” by the German press in 1997. The British media was equally magnanimous towards the former rebel leader.
Early on 16 April 1997, a Daily Telegraph editorial already read: “Decades of misrule in Zaire have turned it once again into Africa’s heart of darkness. It is therefore natural that Laurent Kabila should be welcome as a messiah in the towns which his rebels have taken from President Mobutu’s forces…Mr Kabila has shown himself no fool. He recognises the importance of regional sensibilities and has tuned his message accordingly…Too great a reliance on an ethnic minority and the governments of neighbouring countries will impede the formation of a broadly-based administration.”
The Times subsequently on 19 May 1997, wrote: “Mr Kabila, 58, a member of the Luba tribe’s offshoot in Katanga Province, has enormous personal credibility – he had been fighting the Mobutu regime for 32 years…A former Marxist and friend of Che Guevara, Mr Kabila has clearly given up the idealism of his youth. Before he took power [on 17 May 1997], he had already signed multi-million-dollar contracts with foreign mining companies to exploit Congo’s staggering mineral wealth.”
Why did Kabila reign only for 44 months. Did he become a man ‘you cannot do business with’? Congo after all is a very rich country and to have access to those riches, you need a leadership in Kinshasa that you can remote control to serve your interests. As Kabila’s rebellion was capturing one town after another from Mobutu’s ill remunerated forces, Western governments and multinationals’ expectations were clearly outlined in an article published by The Times on 22 April 1997, and which read: “Mining multinationals have signed billion-dollar deals for mineral rights with Laurent Kabila, Zaire’s rebel leader, to get ahead in what is being billed as ‘the second scramble for Africa’.
“Mining giants such as De Beers and American Mineral Fields have signed contracts, which are worth at least $3 billion a year, to develop Zaire’s copper, cobalt, gold, zinc, and diamond deposits with [Kabila’s rebel] forces, cutting the legally recognised government [of Mobutu] out of the picture.
“Executives with the companies said that they are [sic] happy to be doing business with the rebels who control all of Zaire’s mineral resources other than its offshore oil fields, because they do not ask for bribe.
“De Beers has also ditched its relationship with the fast crumbling regime of President Mobutu and signed up with the rebels to get involved in $500m a year diamond business.
“The unusual alliance between big business and revolutionaries, many of whom were Chinese-trained Maoists and Marxists in their youth, has been accepted by Western governments, who see Mr Kabila as a man to lead Zaire out of three decades of corruption and staggering poverty.
“This week, American Mineral Fields signed three contracts worth $885m which would give the mining house access to the vast metal reserves of Katanga Province. Other multinationals have been asked to offer satellite telephones to the rebels, who have argued that without them they would be unable to negotiate mineral rights deals internationally…
“Kenneth MacLeod, president of International Panorama Resource Corporation of Vancouver [Canada], said: ‘We are going to capitalise on the current strife by increasing our presence and our land holdings in the country’.
“Another mining magnate based in Johannesburg gave the second scramble a historic twist” ‘Cecil Rhodes must be spinning in his grave at the opportunities he is missing.'”
But Kabila frustrated the Western governments and multinationals’ appetite for ‘a second scramble for Africa’. As soon as he settled in Kinshasa, Kabila started to articulate clearly the aspirations of his people and summoning them to take their own destiny into their own hands, politically and economically. This was perceived by his sponsors as a covert declaration of independence. Kabila’s nationalist stance immediately clashed with their interests, as he eventually reviewed all the contracts he had signed with American and South African mineral companies when he was a rebel, demanded that they pay upfront for decades of future profits and subsequently nationalised all the mines. Earlier on he had enlisted the support of Zimbabwe to enlarge his circle of friends, should he fall out with the first ones, prompting President Thabo Mbeki to say: “The more time goes, the more we will lose control of Kabila.”
The people of Congo enjoyed a short-lived time of respite during Kabila’s first year in power. They could eat three times a day again as prices of essential commodities drastically dropped, roads and bridges were repaired, public transport restored, electricity extended to the suburbs of Kinshasa and people liberated from Mobutu’s ill paid soldiers’ ransoming (67 members of the new army who resumed the practice were arrested and jailed). The new currency, the Congolese franc, was launched and the inflation rate dropped from 8.828% in 1993 to 6% in 1997. Embezzlers were thrown into jail. Corruption was severely combated. All this was achieved in the absence of any help from the IMF and World Bank who conditioned their financial support to Congo normalising its relations with the institutions of Bretton Woods and pledging to pay all the debt the old regime contracted. Such was also the position of the ‘Friends of Congo’ (private investors) meeting in Brussels in December 1997.
The new government embarked on an ambitious three year programme of national reconstruction and during the third summit of Comesa (common market community of central and southern African countries) held in Kinshasa on 29 June 1998, Kabila clearly outlined what role Congo would play within the common market and in Africa as a whole.
He explained that “more than 40 years of African independence have offered to the world a sad spectacle of a continent looted and humiliated with the complicity of its own sons and daughters”. He expressed the wish “to see Africa entering the 21st century totally independent of foreign interference” and declared that the battle for Congo’s independence and sovereignty is fought in the interest of Africa as a whole.
“Our country”, he said, “has a vocation of exporting peace, development and security to the rest of Africa. A weak Congo means a vulnerable Africa from its centre, an Africa without a heart.” The stakes were then raised! America, long suspected of having used Uganda and Rwanda as a front to get rid of an ‘intransigent’ Mobutu, branded Kabila a ‘loose cannon that had to be restrained. But as Colette Braeckman, an expert in Congolese affairs, who reports for the Belgian daily, Le Soir, wrote in her book, L’enjeu Congolais – l’Afrique Centrale après Mobutu, this “sudden animosity against Kabila could only be explained by the fact that his nationalist stance collided with or frustrated their economic interests in Congo…Kabila opposed all forms of investments that did not represent the interests of the people of Congo.”
On the political front, the new government promised free and fair elections but did not liberalise political activities until a national assembly was set up, charged with the task of setting the rules of the game stipulated in a new constitution. On the day he was sworn-in as president, Kabila gave a precise calendar of the democratic process which would have culminated with general elections on April 1999. And the people gave him the benefit of the doubt. A front page headline on Focus on Africa magazine, produced from Bush House read: “Kinshasans celebrate, but for how long?” As if they knew what was going to follow.
Consequently, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been ravaged by four years of what Kabila’s allies of yesterday turned aggressors have called a war of correction; and which the Western media have dubbed ‘the first African World War’, in which Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have supported the government of the assassinated President Laurent Désiré Kabila in Kinshasa – now led by his son Major General Joseph Kabila – against Congolese rebel forces backed by Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and elements of Angola’s Unita rebel movement.
As the Congolese people on 2 August commemorated the day the war was launched (nearly five years ago), it is very frustrating to still notice that the same media have not shifted from their ‘distorted perception’ of the war, despite the fact that – as time has shown and events have proved – this war is an aggression against the Democratic Republic of Congo and its people by a Rwandan-Ugandan-Burundian coalition, logistically supported and financed by well known imperialist powers and multinationals, as well as with the complicity of the so-called Congolese ‘rebels’. They are systematically looting Congo’s fauna and flora, natural and mineral resources and destroying or transferring what is left of Congo’s infrastructure to their own countries.
It is hard for anybody to believe that Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, three small and poor countries who only produce coffee, tea leaves and bananas, can afford to invade an immense country such as the Congo, so rich in minerals and which can mobilise its 60 million inhabitants to kick them out. It is also well known that these three countries ultimately depend on IMF/World bank loans and handouts to supplement their national budgets. One wonders how and why they have managed to sustain the war for almost three years now. They have dared to do so because they are looting Congo’s wealth and enjoy the backing of external forces.
According to Wayne Madsen, an American investigative journalist and intelligence specialist, author of Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993 – 1999, the US military has been covertly involved in the war in Congo. Madsen on May 17 told the US House subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, that the US was using Private Military Contractors (PMCs). Madsen said American companies including one linked to former President George Bush Snr are stoking the Congo conflict for monetary gains.
The British media have relentlessly demonised Mugabe over the issue of land reform which Britain should have funded 20 years ago and have cited Zimbabwe’s intervention in Congo as the source of destruction and near collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. The Labour government even threatened not to sell hawk jet spare parts to Zimbabwe because they reckoned Zimbabwe was involved in an unnecessary and costly adventure in Congo.
What about British companies such as Knight Aviations which transport soldiers and military equipment to and from Congo for Uganda as revealed by The Guardian?
However, no such a thing is said about Uganda’s economy. In fact, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni boasted in New York during the UN Special Session on Congo war held on 24 – 26 January last year, that the Congo war has not negatively affected his economy. Yet the French daily, Libération, revealed on 25 January last year that 55% of Uganda’s military budget is financed by money coming in as ‘development aid’ from abroad.
In addition, Zimbabwe’s intervention in Congo is not popular with some sections of society at home.
The privately owned Standard newspaper caused national uproar when consorting with ‘foreign intelligence’, it published a story alleging that a Zimbabwean soldier killed on duty in Congo was buried with his head missing. The story caused such uproar that the government was forced to exhume the decomposed body and display it to the world cameras to prove that the allegation was false. It was a double blow to the bereaved family – they lost a breadwinner only to be compelled to exhume the body and put it on public display, something that affronts African customs.
The presence of Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops in the Congo under the pretext of suppressing Hutu militia extremists (Interahamwe) responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is an alibi as time has shown. But this is the mantra the western media always repeat.
As The Independent put it in a feature article published last January, “Rwanda is the driving force behind the battle in [Congo]. Its Tutsi leadership wants to track down and kill the perpetrators of the genocide that wiped out a million Tutsis. Secretly funded by the CIA, Rwanda has military operations in [Congo] far above its means. It has 30,000 troops in Congo”.
Colette Braeckman said the media often follow the lead set by their home governments in deciding how to cover this war.
“As this crisis unfolded”, she said, “you had the bad guy [Laurent Désiré] Kabila. It is easy to go back and find how many stories demonise him – some with good reason, some bad, but all exaggerated. And because Kabila did not bite…the rest is history! It is no surprise that Kabila’s head cost $30 million financed by American agencies, according to the Belgian weekly Solidaire in its edition of 9 May 2001.
“When [Laurent Désiré] Kabila came to Belgium, we had a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which said that [the Belgians] were not ready to give him a red carpet treatment, so the [media] were influenced enough to demonise him, and I wonder if that happens in other countries too.
“I wonder who set the agenda, it was not just the press. The political leaders usually say this is a good guy, this a bad guy. At the moment, Joseph Kabila is a good guy, but maybe tomorrow he will be a bad guy”, said Colette Braeckman.
“The world community”, she continued “wanted to get rid of Kabila for so many reasons, also for reasons of economic interests. Naturally the imperialist media have positioned themselves on the side of economic interests. Proof? Every time Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda announced the capture of a major Congolese locality, the media [especially the Financial Times] hurried to state precisely its economic importance”. “And people have closed their eyes to what is really going on…”, she added.
What is going on? Both Amnesty International and the International Rescue Committee (USA) have confirmed a genocide of more than 3,500,000 Congolese by the invading troops. Often people are buried alive, shot dead or chopped with machetes, their bodies thrown into rivers or forced down latrines. That is worse than what happened in Kosovo and Rwanda itself. Isn’t it? Why does all this go unreported? Is it because stakeholders have managed to suppress the story and to protect the perpetrators from accountability?
Can one genocide be condemned (1994 genocide perpetrated bu Hutu extremists known as Interahamwe, meaning those who kill together) and another condoned (perpetrated by a Rwandan-Ugandan-Burundian coalition occupying half of the Congo)?
The BBC reporter, Nick Gordon, after intense investigation into the matter and upon returning from the Great Lakes Region, revealed that under “Manpower Operation 2000′, 1,500 Rwandan Hutus and captured Congolese were burned alive in the Rwandan district of Bugesera, curiously near a military camp occupied by the Americans.
“It is impossible to say that the Americans in that base can neither hear the cries of distress of the victims, nor get to know what is happening”, Gordon said.
Despite the burden of war, the people of Congo have kept their morale high, and are not ready to let themselves be humiliated. They know that there is only one Democratic Republic of Congo and it cannot be divided. Congo’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity are non-negotiable!
The Mai-Mai warriors loyal to the government in the east have taken the resistance into the very heart of rebel-controlled territories where the Congolese flag is still flying in many localities. The aggressors control only the main cities, towns and road junctions, but they dare not go to the interior because they know what fate awaits them. Surprisingly, the Mai-Mai are being subjected to a negative campaign by the Western media as well as by the MONUC, the UN mission in the DRC. They are being labeled as ‘negative forces’ and put in the same box with the Interahamwe.
A headline in the Daily Telegraph on 9 August read: “Terror reign of the ‘magic water militia'”, accusing the Mai-Mai of atrocities to the delight of Rwandans, Ugandans and Burundians, the true perpetrators of massacres and a genocide in Congo.
No! No! No! The Mai-Mai are native Congolese fighting against occupation. They held one Kenyan, one Swede and 27 Thais hostage for over two months after they caught them red handed while harvesting timber for a Ugandan-Thai forest company called DARA-Forest – another proof that multinationals are very much involved in the looting of Congo’s resources. It went unreported.
Upon Laurent Désiré Kabila’s assassination, Michela Wrong, a former correspondent for Reuters, BBC and The Financial Times, and author of In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz, Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo, wrote in the Financial Times: “Laurent Kabila…alienated Western powers and African allies in his three-and-half years in power…He was welcomed as a liberator when his rebel forces marched into Kinshasa in 1997, toppling the late Mobutu Sese Seko, but diplomats and statesmen had come to view him as a man impossible ‘to do business with’, a key factor in central Africa’s growing instability…The World Bank and the IMF found him so obstructive, talks on new aid were abandoned.”
Yet as stated above, in his first year in power Kabila proved that Congo, a nation with everything does not need to live on aid all the time. His death has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo and its people of what they had of precious value, as Alex Duval Smith summed it up when covering Kabila’s burial for The Independent on 24 January 2001:
“A nation with very little seemed yesterday, once more, to have lost all it had. As the mausoleum door was shut on the three-and-a-half-year reign of Kabila, assassinated last week, Congo entered a new phase of fear and uncertainty…Then as the coffin, drapped in the republic’s yellow-starred blue flag, was transferred to the mausoleum at the palace of Nation, thousands ran alongside the cortege, It was as if they were holding on to the only figure who – albeit through war – had given the nation an identity”.