The War in DR Congo - Behind the Slaughter and Looting Stand Imperialist Interests

In October a new phase of fighting in the long running Congo war broke out. General Laurent Nkunda’s Tutsi rebel forces captured several towns in the North Kivu province and advanced on the regional capital Goma, the town in which the latest peace agreement was signed only nine months earlier. The general himself modestly announced he intended to march all the way to Kinshasa and overthrow the government of Joseph Kabila unless the government reopened talks with him. This new fighting undermines the Goma peace agreement and the much-trumpeted elections of 2006. The Goma peace agreement of January 2008 was actually singed by Nkunda himself, together with 21 other militia groups. Nkunda’s militia, which represents the armed wing of the so-called National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) were supposed to be demobilised and integrated into the Congolese army, but it has remained a separate militia and the Congolese army is now its main enemy.

The Goma agreement was only the most recent of many such agreements in a war which has engulfed the Congo for the last 12 years. It has been a particularly barbaric war with a quite horrifying scale of death and destruction. The International Rescue Committee reported in January that 5.4 million people had been killed in the war (1). By October, the BBC was reporting that this number had risen to 5.5 million. The latest fighting has again involved raping (2), murder of civilians and looting and has created 250,000 new refugees; this number is in addition to the 1 million refugees who exist because of the earlier fighting. It is, however, the death toll which is so shocking. It represents about half the number of people killed in the entire First World War and amounts to approximately 45,000 people killed every month in the entire period since 1998. How can such tremendous numbers of people be killed with the evident indifference of the major world powers and their local allies?

Wars and killing may not always have directly capitalist causes, but wars on this scale cannot be attributed to local or contingent issues. On the contrary, they express the fundamental problems of the capitalist system of production. These wars are fuelled by the major powers and express key aspects of their interests. In particular, they express the increasingly desperate need of capitalists for cheaper sources of raw materials, which they require as one means of offsetting the tendency of the average rate of profit to fall (3). Wars such as this are, therefore, an expression of capitalism’s fundamental nature, an expression which cannot be hidden, no matter how much our leaders wring their hands and shed crocodile tears over the millions of corpses. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to briefly to review the events of the last decade which have brought us to where we are today.

Congo - Natural Paradise Turned to Capitalist Inferno

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country the size of all of Western Europe put together (4) and has a population of approximately 62.5 million people. It is a country which is fabulously rich in raw materials essential for global production of an enormous range of commodities. It contains, for example, 33% of the world’s deposits of cobalt, 10% of the word’s copper together with large deposits of uranium, tin, zinc, manganese, gold, diamonds and other raw material including coltan, used in mobile phones and other electrical equipment. In addition, it is rich in oil and coal. Despite all this wealth, the GDP per person is today $136 (5) which is approximately 1/25 of what it was at the time of independence in 1960. Not only have these resources not benefited the Congolese people, under capitalism it is the presence of these very resources which have turned the country into a battlefield since its independence from Belgium in 1960 to the present.


After the Second World War, the US was determined to make such countries as the Congo safe for US capital to exploit their resources. When, after independence, the first elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, appeared sympathetic to the Soviet Union, the CIA, together with Belgian forces still in the Congo, had him deposed and murdered. After a period of instability, the CIA installed Mobutu, an army leader, as dictator. He served as a useful surrogate for the US, and their junior partners, France and Belgium, for over three decades. His use was in providing the base from which increased Russian influence in southern Africa could be countered. It was, for example, through Zaire, as the DRC was then called, that arms and support were channelled to the anti-Russian movements in Angola and Mozambique and, on more than one occasion the regime was propped up by the intervention of French and Belgian paratroops. After the collapse of Russian imperialism at the start of the 90s, Russian clients in southern Africa became US clients and the Mobutu regime was of no further use to the US. The French, on the other hand, saw Mobutu as underpinning their interests in Central Africa, particularly their mining interests, and continued to support him. In particular, Mobutu, together with the French, supported the Hutu-dominated regime in Rwanda.

Rwandan Massacres and the Congo

The present phase of the struggle for the wealth of the Congo was initiated by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which occurred after the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana, the president of the Hutu-dominated Rwandan regime. The genocide, in which it is now agreed 800,000 Rwandans of the Tutsi tribe were murdered along with those Hutus who opposed the massacres, led to the overthrow of the Hutu-dominated regime by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Once the RPF, which was supported by Uganda and its backer the US, took power there was a mass exodus of two million Hutus to the various border states, including the eastern Congo. It is estimated that 1 million refugees crossed into Kivu province and were settled in refugee camps. The Mobutu regime, with French encouragement, was quite happy to let these Hutus reorganise themselves, rearm, and attack the new Rwandan state, a state which was, needless to say, vehemently opposed to French interests. The result of this was that Rwanda and Uganda gave support to the armed movement against Mobutu, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFLC), led by Laurent Kabila. This support spelt the end of the Mobutu regime and catapulted Kabila into power in 1997.

In barely a year however, Kabila quarrelled with his Ugandan and Rwandan backers and demanded that they withdraw their forces from the DRC. The occupying forces of Uganda and Rwanda were, of course, funding themselves and their respective regimes by looting the mineral wealth and other resources such a timber and cattle from the areas they occupied. Hence, they were extremely reluctant to withdraw. Kabila then allied his forces to the Hutu rebels in Kivu, as Mobutu had done before, to attack the Rwandan army. This precipitated the so-called “Second Congo war” which raged from 1998 to 2003.

Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi invaded eastern Congo and initiated a more systematic looting of its resources than hitherto. Rwanda also claimed a substantial part of eastern Congo was Rwandan territory anyway and offered their support to the Tutsi peoples (Banyamulenge) living in Kivu. In doing this, they had the blessing of the US which had mistrusted Kabila from the start because he had once been a Maoist financed by the Chinese People’s Republic. He still advocated a mixture of private and state capitalist ideas and thus it was thought he would not be particularly sympathetic to the interests of US mining and construction corporations. The invasions in the eastern DRC led to Kabila asking for help from his allies and the consequent interventions of Angolan, Namibian, Zimbabwean and Chadian forces on the government side. In addition, 25 separate militia groups were set up by the main combatants and took part in the fighting. The intervention of foreign forces saved the Kabila government and, as the war dragged on, the anti-Kabila front began to break up. Kabila himself was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph (today President of the DRC) took over. This seems to have further weakened the opposition. Surrogate militia groups began to splinter and Uganda and Rwanda fell out. At one point Ugandan and Rwandan forces actually clashed with each other.

In 2002, the DRC signed separate peace agreements with Rwanda and Uganda; in 2003, a transitional government was set up and, in 2004, a UN peacekeeping force MONUC was deployed in the country. The problem with these peace treaties has always been that, while state forces have generally withdrawn, the warring parties have continued their occupation through their control of their surrogate militia groups. This ensured that the central government did not control the eastern and southern regions of the DRC (which had once ironically been a Kabila stronghold) and the looting of resources continued. The peace agreement signed in January this year with 22 militia groups was supposed to end this situation and bring the militias into a unified Congolese army.

It is, however, clear that the General Nkunda and his CNDP militia are supplied and backed by the Rwandan government of fellow Tutsi Paul Kagame, and powerful interests remain opposed to the establishment of a unified Congolese state which controls the exploitation of its resources.


An Imperialist Looting War

Even the bourgeois commentators have been forced to admit the war in the Congo is a war about looting Congolese resources. A UN report published in 2001 stated:

“The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.” (6)

The report shows how Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have made the war in the Congo very lucrative, and gives statistics of their exports of the five key minerals mentioned in the quotation above, showing enormous increases. Some of these countries have no deposits of these minerals whatsoever, so these exports must all come from looting of the DRC. What has been less publicised, but is mentioned in the report, is the cooperation of Western companies in this looting. The report lists about 30 mining companies from the US, Canada and Europe (7), together with financial houses, such as Citibank (8), who have cooperated in this looting.

The local looters are surrogates for the larger imperialist powers who are happy to support them as long as they can get their hands on a share of the spoils. The US, Britain and France have so far been the main powers struggling for a share of the loot. Britain and the US have supported the Ugandan/Rwandan axis and Britain has now replaced France as the major donor of aid to Rwanda. For its part France has tried to re-establish itself by supporting the DRC. An event which illustrates the position of French imperialism is the recent arrest of Mrs Kabuye, a top aide to President Kagame of Rwanda. She was arrested in Germany and extradited to France to face charges for her part in the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana, the last president of the French-backed Hutu regime which was overthrown in 1994,. He, together with the French crew of his aeroplane, was killed when the aeroplane was shot down. Both Hutu extremists and the Tutsi RPF guerrillas have been held responsible for this attack. Her arrest is clearly a blow aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Rwandan regime (9).

However, while the traditional exploiters of the Congo’s wealth quarrel amongst each other, they have been joined by a new and highly unwelcome force, China. In April, China and the DRC signed a deal, which gives Chinese companies the right to exploit copper and cobalt deposits in the south and east of the country, in return for a massive programme of infrastructure construction. The agreement, which is a barter type deal, is worth $9bn and is the largest that China has entered into with any African country. Under the deal China has agreed to build:

  • 2400 miles of road;
  • a new railway 2000 miles long linking the south and eastern mining areas to the Atlantic port of Mtadi;
  • 32 hospitals;
  • 145 health centres;
  • two universities;
  • water treatment and sewage works.

In return, China is to be given 10 million tonnes of copper ore and 400,000 tonnes of cobalt ore. China is to mine this ore itself, taking over mines formerly owned by a Belgian mining company. Once China has recouped the value of the infrastructure projects, which are estimated to be $6bn, mining production will be shared between the DRC and China in the ratio 33% to 66%. It is estimated that it will take China 10 years to recoup the costs of the infrastructure (10). As with other Chinese deals in Africa (11), China is to import Chinese workers and engineers, although the deal specifies that 4 Congolese workers should be employed for every Chinese brought into the country.

For the Western states, which have historically dominated the Congo, the entry of China is a threat. China is, of course, fully aware of the resistance of Western imperialism to its moves and keen to dissipate such opposition. This is how the Chinese ambassador to the DRC, Wu Zexian, put it:

“It is very simple. We need the raw materials and these countries need access to capital. I don’t know why the West is so afraid.” (12)

However, once the Chinese have established themselves with successful infrastructure projects they will undoubtedly be given access to other raw materials. They are also likely to consolidate the DRC as a viable state and build up its armed forces which may be needed to protect thousands of miles of roads and railways and, of course, Chinese workers. This has been the pattern followed in the Sudan where the Sudanese military protects Chinese oil interests.

There has been internal opposition to the deal from the opposition politicians. This was based on the view that China was making a massive profit out of the deal, but now that the prices of copper and cobalt have dropped to approximately a third of what they were when the deal was signed, such arguments have lost their weight. It is, however, significant that one of the things Nkunda said when he restarted the war was that he opposed the Chinese deal13. A further period of war and mayhem would make the Chinese deal impossible to implement and allow the present arrangement of looting to continue. This may be a motive for the resumption of fighting.

Capitalist Struggle for Resources

All the belligerents in the Congo war, great and small alike, aim to get their hands on the country’s vast mineral resources. This struggle is one which springs directly out of the operation of capitalism as a global system. It springs from capitalism’s need to raise the average rate of profit. One way this can be accomplished is by lowering costs of raw materials and this is the real reason that the imperialist vultures circle the Congo so persistently. The more acute capitalism’s problems of profitability become the more vicious this struggle becomes. Capitalism, in the last decade, has shown itself quite prepared to step over 5.5 million human corpses if this can lead it to cheaper sources of copper, cobalt or coltan. What we are witnessing today is a slow re-division of imperialist spheres of influence. The older colonial powers like Britain and France which dominated Africa, even up until the1960s, are being pushed out of their old fiefdoms, as can bee seen in France’s loss of Rwanda. Since the Second World War, the US has been in Central Africa to oppose the USSR and also to get what it could in terms of primary products. After the collapse of the USSR, the latter motive has dominated, so that the US did not even respond to prevent the massacre in Rwanda in 1994. Clinton was to later apologise for this at Kigali (capital of Rwanda) airport and US interest has become more focussed on local control. This though has hit problems. With the US under the Bush regime now experiencing severe “imperialist over-reach”, the way is now open for the likes of China to make their own mark on the continent.

However, even if there is a change in the dominant imperialist power in countries such as the DRC, such changes will not ultimately benefit the working class since all the powers are capitalist powers, and all operate within the capitalist system which imposes the same imperatives of profit on all. As workers in Zambia can attest, the conditions imposed by Chinese capitalists are very harsh and wages are low. The exploitation and the carnage which capitalism is wreaking all over the world can only be finally ended by the replacement of capitalism as a global system of production and the institution of a system of production for human needs. We call such a system communism but emphasise that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the state capitalist systems which existed in Russia and China.

The only force capable of creating a higher form of society is the working class and this is only possible if it acts on a global scale. The working class in the DRC is a small minority of the population, and has been unable to raise its voice. Instead, it has been sucked into these horrific wars which capitalism has unleashed on the country. Workers need to condemn the atrocities which capitalism is carrying out together with the tribal divisions which the bourgeoisie is exploiting for its own sordid purposes. Workers need to organise for their own interests on class lines, lines which do not recognise tribes or national boundaries. We recognise only the division between those who sell their labour power and those who exploit it. Those workers who understand the need for reviving the class struggle, and answering the appalling atrocities which the capitalist class is carrying out in the Congo with their own struggles, need to organise themselves to do this. They need to build political organisations. They also need to contact communists in the metropolitan countries and help in the hard process of building an international party of the working class which will be the key weapon in the overthrow of this rotten system.


(1) See .

(2) In 2004 Amnesty International reported that in the previous 6 years 40,000 cases of rape had been reported. This is an underestimate as Amnesty did not have access to the majority of the country and the number represents only those women who requested medical treatment. The majority of these cases were in South Kivu.

(3) For a brief explanation of this see the article Is Capitalism Finished? in this issue.

(4) The area of country is 2.34 million square kilometres.

(5) See crName=Congo,%20Democratic%20Republic%20of%20the . At independence the GDP per person was $151, but this was in the period when $1= 35oz gold.

(6) See UN report, paragraph 213 .

(7) Ibid, see Annex 1.

(8) Ibid, see paragraph 184.

(9) This is actually a risky venture for French imperialism as a court case could expose French complicity in the genocide of Tutsis, which has been established by investigations in Rwanda itself. Even French sources have acknowledged that French politicians including Dominique de Villepin (former Foreign Minister) and Francois Mitterand (the then president) were implicated in the Hutu plot.

(10) Since the deal was signed the prices of both copper and cobalt have dropped to about 1/3 of what they were at the time of signing. If prices do not recover, the period over which the Chinese recoup the costs of the infrastructure development could be significantly longer.

(11) For a general consideration of Chinese imperialism in Africa, see Revolutionary Perspectives 47 “Chinese Imperialism: A New Force in Africa”.

(12) Quoted in The Guardian 3rd November 2008.

(13) Quoted in The Guardian 3rd November 2008.

Revolutionary Perspectives

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