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1-19-2001 - The government of Congo (DRC) has just now confirmed that President Laurent Kabila is dead. The circumstances surrounding his death - indeed, the whole history of the Congo and Central Africa - are extraordinary and tragic. The following is an interview with a diplomat associated with the British government. He is familiar with Central Africa, and sympathetic to the people there. He asked that his name be withheld. We identify him by the initials 'DB'.

The interviewer is Jared Israel.

Interesting comments and links to further reading follow the interview.

A Murder in Congo

Jared: Let me read you a dispatch from the January 17th 'New York Times':

'President Laurent Kabila of Congo, who deposed one of Africa's great dictators but then brought his country into even worse disarray, was shot and killed today, diplomats and associates said.

… The government's minister of interior, Gaetan Kakudji, one of Mr. Kabila's closest allies, went on state television to say that the president himself had ordered the curfew, suggesting that he was still alive.

But in Washington, a senior administration official said the United States has received several reports from credible sources that Mr. Kabila had been assassinated. "Our operating assumption is that he is dead," the official said.

Isn't this rather extraordinary? First, we have the 'Times', which is the closest thing to an official U.S. government newspaper, condemning Mr. Kabila in the first sentence of a news story - blaming him for "even worse disarray". And then you have the U.S. government insisting the man is dead when the Congo government says he is critically wounded. Is this normal diplomacy?

DB: It is highly unorthodox. When a head of state is the target of an assassination attempt foreign governments refrain from making announcements until the government itself releases an official statement. They don't immediately declare: "He's dead! He's dead!" Let alone "This dictator is dead!" And the fact that Belgium, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Uganda and Rwanda, which are the two aggressor states in Congo, the fact that all these governments jumped on this situation crying, "He's dead! He's dead!" at the very least betrays their desires; they hope it's true. It raises the question: why would they commit this type of breach of diplomatic etiquette? What else is involved?

If you consider the month of January, it is a very important time for Congolese people, for their national prestige and honor. January is when they celebrate the anniversary of their liberation from colonialism. It is also the month when [anti-imperialist Prime Minister ] Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. It has a great psychological impact for this assassination attempt to occur at this time. And then these premature declarations from the West and pro-Western African leaders - it all strikes at the morale of the Congolese. The country is bogged down in a civil war. Now another leader from Lumumba's generation, a man who identified with Patrice Lumumba during the 1960s is attacked.

The history of Laurent Kabila is this. He was on Lumumba's side during the civil war in the early 1960s. When Lumumba was assassinated in 1961 Kabila declared himself against the pro-Western dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. In 1964 Kabila actually staged an uprising against Mobutu. It was put down and he fled to Tanzania and tried to start a revolution there. He worked some there with Che Guevara, who was then in Africa.

So Kabila has been in the bush since the 1960s. He was really a marginal player until the later 1990s when he was swept into power on the heels of the Rwanda forces who were backed by the U.S. The big question is, did he ever seriously side with the US or did he opportunistically use the U.S. to get in power? A lot of people claim the U.S. was never happy with him at the head of the AFLD. (This was the party Kabila headed up. It was kind of a front organization for the Rwandan invasion.) He was identified with that generation of Congolese leaders that the West despised so much, people like Patrice Lumumba. (1)

But whatever his original allegiance, he more or less threw out the West, abrogated contracts for mineral concessions and the like which were made with Anglo-American partners and most important has refused to pay back Congo's debt to the Western institutional investors. Most of that debt was accumulated by the Western-backed Mobutu regime for its own personal enrichment. As soon as he turned against the West they sponsored a new invasion, a new aggression against the country.

Jared: Why don't you talk a little about Patrice Lumumba so readers can get a clearer picture of the background.

DB: Patrice Lumumba was a Pan Africanist. In 1960, when Congo was granted independence, Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister. At the same time, a President was essentially appointed by the West. There was a power struggle and Lumumba, being Pan Africanist, wasn't willing either to be a pawn of the West or the Soviet Union; he wanted an African line. In cold war terms, he was more inclined towards the Soviets than the Imperialists, the former colonialist powers which had bled Congo dry for so many years. If you recall, Congo was the site of the 20th Century's first genocide because this is where King Leopold turned Congo into his own personal fiefdom. 10,000,000 Congolese died. Ten Million. And it is simply never discussed. It is a non-event.

Jared: That was the subject of the book, "Heart of Darkness" by Conrad. It ends with one of the Belgian colonialists dying, and his last words are "The horror!" Ten million human beings.

DB: Yes. A non-event. Imagine if the Congolese had done that to some Western country.

And in 1908 when the colony was handed over to the Belgian colonialist administrators they didn't do much better. They still used the colony for resource-extraction. Cleaned up their human rights act a bit but still exploited Congo harshly. Other than the brief interlude from 1960 to 1961 when Patrice Lumumba's movement was running the show, the country was a colony. Then after 1961 it was run by Western clients who again used harsh repression to exploit Congo's vast mineral resources.

And the story isn't much different now except that Kabila was in a position to once again put forward Lumumba's line. He was identified with that line among the Congolese population and amongst Western leaders which would explain why some hated him. And in the Western press and especially the Anglo-American press, it explains the fact that Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe, all these states that had fought white apartheid regimes, all these revolutionary states that went to the support of Kabila have been demonized for supporting him whereas the story of Uganda and Rwanda [which invaded Congo] has been minimized when in fact the invading forces of Uganda and Rwanda have essentially plundered Eastern Congo.

Indeed this is how they have managed to develop in the last few years and meet their obligations under International Monetary Fund [IMF] and World Bank guidelines: by plundering Eastern Congo. Actually Entebbe [Uganda] and Kigali [Rwanda] are crawling with arms merchants and Western prospectors seeking to cash in on mineral resources which are being extracted from Congo. Meanwhile these two regimes - especially Uganda - are being held up as models of African neoliberal development - when in reality it is all based on the plunder of Eastern Congo. (2)

Jared: That pays their IMF tribute.

DB: Pretty much. And a great deal has been made of the fact that Zimbabwean companies, which support Kabila against the Rwanda-Uganda invasion, have been given rights to work the diamond mines. The point is the Zimbabwean companies were given those rights through the Congolese government. Mr. Kabila is after all an actual Head of State. Whereas the Ugandans and Rwandans and their American backers and American firms that are profiting immensely from the plunder of the region don't have any authorization to do that from Kinshasa, which is the capital of the Congo.

It is a situation similar to Sierra Leone, where the Western media demonizes those whom they oppose for exploiting the mineral resources. But if the situation changes and the West comes in they will seize and exploit those resources ruthlessly. So the real question is who is going to possess them? That is the big issue in Eastern Congo.

In 1960, when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba put forward his call for independent development in Congo, Belgium, backed by the United States, launched a separatist movement in Katanga Province. The separatist army was mainly white mercenaries. In response, Lumumba called on the UN to defend Congo's sovereignty. But when the UN did get involved, the Western troops tried to influence the situation on the ground. During the chaos that followed, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by Mobutu, backed by Belgian and US secret services. So the whole history of Congo for the past 120 years has been so tragic. The Congolese people, except for brief periods, have faced either constant exploitation or war and when they have tried to forge an independent path they have faced the fiercest external aggression.

Jared: You know, Petar Makara says the problem for the Serbs is that they are the people who put their house in the middle of a road that the West wanted to use. And the Serbs didn't like some foreign Imperialists taking over their road. Maybe the problem for the Congolese is they have too many priceless gems in their house.

DB: That's about it. They are a big triangle jutting out of the heart of Africa. Full of mineral resources, full of everything. If you superimpose a map of Congo on a map of Western Europe it covers it. This is a huge nation with a lot of potential, with a great people, but they have been run by Western-backed dictators, by Western Kings and colonialists and so on for the past 120-150 years.

Jared: And not necessarily milder now than they were a hundred years ago.

DB: I dare say, not in the least. Not in the least. The whole story of what is happening there is hard to filter through. But if anybody does have the opportunity they should try to look at French sources, because the story you can find there is different, and look at Congolese sources. (6) You start seeing a clear picture of the situation in the region. Whereas in the American and I dare say the British press as well you start getting a lot of stories, just negative, about Laurent Kabila, about Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe which have made significant sacrifices to defend Congo's territorial integrity. And you will get a whitewash of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi's role as well.

Jared: Do you think the West is trying to break Congo up into little pieces?

DB: Not necessarily, because keeping it in one large piece with a reliable dictator, as they did under Mobutu Seso Seko, is beneficial. And they have only used separatist movements when they wanted to get rid of leaders who weren't doing exactly what they wanted.

Keep in mind that a division exists within the G7/G8 countries. [For an explanation of the G7/G8 countries see ] These countries are somewhat divided concerning what to do with Congo. Especially France and Russia on the one hand versus Britain and the U.S. on the other. And a good number of observers have noted that a lot of the politics in Central Africa and even West Africa is a thinly veiled battle between French interests and American interests. Mobutu during the 90s was pretty much veering towards the French line in Africa. He was more statist in the way he ran the government and more statist in the way he ran the economy. This in contrast the new generation of African leaders, which are praised by Washington and the State Department, for instance people in Rwanda and Uganda, leaders who follow a neoliberal model.

Mobutu Seso Seko was following the French pattern whereas these new leaders were following the U.S. neoliberal model. So the U.S. government, and the Anglo-American media suddenly discovered that Mobutu, with whom they had had no complaints up til then, was very, very bad. They were hoping Kabila would turn out to be a controllable neoliberal when he was implanted.

Jared: So you think initially that the US wanted Mobutu out.

DB: It was part of a broader dynamic because Mobutu for the US had become rather inconvenient. He was hosting Hutu militias which were trying to overturn the Rwandan Patriotic Front's victory in Rwanda and they were staging attacks in Burundi against the Tutsi dominated government that has repressed Hutus in Burundi. And the United States has had a very active policy of trying to suppress these militias and trying to eliminate this Hutu influence and restore the Tutsi dominance in Central Africa.

Jared: The Tutsi elite being the U.S. ally there.

DB: Yes. The strategy is to create a sort of greater-Tutsi sphere of influence throughout Central Africa including the Tutsis in Eastern Congo, known as the Banyamulenge.

The point here is the U.S. strategy requires that they heighten differences. make them more extreme. The Hutus and the Tutsi people in Eastern Congo were called Banyarwanda, without differentiation - a kind of a broad designation for people that share similar linguistic characteristics. With the Tutsis and the Hutus, the division is not linguistic, or cultural or national, you see, so much as it is a class division, between former elites and the lower classes, former serfs.

Essentially, these are the same people, though the Hutus originally were farmers and the Tutsis were more often herdsmen. But what the colonialists in this area have done is a classic process of ethnogenesis. This was deliberately instigated. They literally created new ethnic groups to divide and rule. In the same way, in Kosovo you saw the Western media and supposed experts like Noel Malcolm popularize the term 'Kosovar'.

Their problem was that since there is a functioning state known as Albania ethnic Albanians in Kosovo could hardly claim a right to national self-determination; they already had self-determination in the form of the Albanian state. The classic right to self-determination under International Law was already fulfilled for the Albanians as opposed, let us say, to the Kurds, who have no state. So to justify a separatist movement in Kosovo, the Western neo-colonialists had to mak-up a new national group, the 'Kosovars'. It's really rather absurd.

But absurd or not, colonial powers have been doing it throughout history - creating ethnic groups or polarizing groups that might have some cleavage and emphasizing cleavages or differences to play groups off against each other. And this is precisely what they have been doing in Africa and South Asia, such as in Ceylon, for instance.

Usually they will have a military race, and they will play up its supposed military characteristics, and they will have a ruling race and they will try to get them into the administration, and they will have a toiling race. Got to have a toiling race, don't you know? And they create these stereotypes that ethnic groups are encouraged to buy into. This sort of poison was injected into Africa by the colonialists.

Jared: Just as they did in Bosnia, with the Muslims. They'd been the privileged section, both under the Ottoman Empire and the Nazis, and the U.S. played up their elitism versus the supposedly lower class Serbs.

DB: Exactly. Divide et impera, the old Roman divide and rule. It's a classic tool of empire. In reality, the Congo is rather complex. It's got a big population, over fifty million over an immense area. Identities are ambiguous. What the Imperial forces have been trying to do is make the differences between the peoples in the region very sharp - exaggerate existing divisions as much as possible. Not just in Congo, but throughout Central Africa.

An additional factor in this situation is the French-U.S. split. They have been supporting different sides and they had very different visions for the region; the civilians got caught in the middle of this Imperial struggle. And then suddenly you had Kabila doing an about-face and telling the entire West, "Hands off!" Though he does have more affinity for French diplomacy and the French have been willing to give him leeway. It's this whole idea that the French intellectuals have of resisting American hegemonism. They are advocating a multi-polar world as opposed to a Uni-polar world. They call the United States a Hyperpower.

Jared: The term has a certain charm; it suggests a hyper-active child armed with Depleted Uranium weapons. Madeline Albright comes to mind. But getting back to this situation…

DB: The root of the Tutsi-Hutu problem in Central Africa is that the West has created ethnic identities out of what were essentially caste differences. (3) The Tutsis are not a tribe, any more than say the Brahmins in India are a tribe.

Jared: To give people a simplified description, would it be appropriate to translate Tutsi and Hutu as rulers and ruled?

DB: It would.

Jared: Let me read you a quote. A group of educated Hutu's wrote to the Tutsi royal court in Rwanda in 1958, asking for equality, for an end to feudal conditions. Here's how the court answer:

"It might well be asked how it is that the Hutus now claim their rights to the redistribution of the common patrimony. It is a matter of fact that the relationship between ourselves (Tutsis) and themselves (Hutus) has always been based on serfdom; there is not, then, any basis for fraternity between us. If our kings conquered the Hutu's country, killing their petty kings, and thereby subjecting the Hutus to servitude, how can they now aspire to be our brothers?" (See footnote 3, below)

DB: Yes, this was 1958. Attitudes had already hardened under the Belgian colonialists and it got worse after '58. There is a whole history of how Belgium manipulated the situation. When they were withdrawing they suddenly changed allegiance from the Tutsis to the Hutus and then they would change back and so on in order to increase the tensions.

The consequence of all this has been quite terrible. A good deal of blood has been spilled between the Tutsis and the Hutus. It did not simply start in 1994 with the Rwandan Genocide, as the Anglo-American media would have us believe. 1994 wasn't the beginning or end of the story. By focusing only on that one period [the killings in 1994] the West is attempting to justify the current rule of the Rwandan Democratic Front [RPF], the pro-U.S. Tutsi group. That's the whole focus of the U.S.-dominated War Crimes Tribunal in Rwanda - to punish the Hutus and whitewash the Tutsi leaders, who are defined as innocent since they are allied with the U.S.

Many people would argue that the terrible events in Rwanda were in fact triggered by the [Tutsi] RPF. When the RPF entered the country, they drove nearly a million people out of northern Rwanda. These were Hutus. Following that a cease-fire was agreed to and some of the Hutu people entered neutral buffer areas. But many had been disillusioned by the RTF invasion which created a radicalized population of nearly a million displaced Hutus. And this precipitated heightened ethnic tensions. The RTF was fully supported by Uganda and the United States. That of course was noticed by the Hutu elite who at that point ruled Rwanda and of course it created a very high degree of paranoia. Indeed, perhaps it was not entirely paranoia.

In any case, there was a history of mistrust. What launched the so-called Rwandan Genocide was the shooting down of Rwandan President Habyarimana's plane. Habyarimana was a Hutu.

Jared: I understand there is considerable evidence that the US supplied the SAM missiles that did the job.

DB: Central African scholars generally agree that RTF shot down the plane, and the RTF was a U.S. ally. Let us say that every step of the way US policy makers took steps that strengthened the hand of the more extreme forces in the Hutu government. (4)

Terrible killings did follow the assassination but it is wrong to simply blame the Hutus. When the [Tutsi] RTF entered Rwanda and displaced those million Hutus - one million mind you - they did it with considerable violence. The Hutus were driven from their homes, butchered, their property looted. And then, the Presidential plane was shot down - and it wasn't only President Habyarimana on board, there was also President Habyarimana, who was a Hutu and the democratically elected President of Burundi.

So here you have a Tutsi military invasion, the ruthless and violent displacement of a million Hutus, and then two Hutu Presidents are assassinated. The Hutu leaders responded by trying to eradicate the Tutsi population which they saw as a Fifth Column poised to attack.

In 1996, another Hutu President of Burundi was ousted in a coup by Pierre Boyuya, a Tutsi. Subsequently, Hutus have been interned in Burundi, put into camps in terrible conditions. Nobody has talked about these actions, but all of it together has created an environment of great mistrust in the region. And now the Rwandan and Ugandan forces have attacked Congo with strong support from Burundi. All three are Tutsi-dominated.

This has dragged Southern Africa in. Neoliberal states like Zambia are trying to bring "peace." That should be put in quotation marks because what they want is a neoliberal peace that would justify the Rwandan-Ugandan invasion. Meanwhile states like Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have mobilized on the other side, defending Congolese sovereignty. And this all brings in South Africa, with its internal factions that are pro-neoliberal and anti-neoliberal, saying different things, giving mixed signals.

Parenthetically, this is similar to the situation in Yugoslavia now. Some factions don't want to the country to go neoliberal so quickly and others want it to go as quickly as possible, so the question becomes who is implementing the program and where will they try to take it. But it is important to recognize that in all these conflicts there is this neoliberal line that is driving a specific ideological vision in these different regions, trying to impose the neoliberal vision. This is the case whether it is in Africa, or southern Europe, or Southern Asia. Even if there is a chance for peace that peace will be sabotaged if it does not include neoliberal domination. Only the establishment of neoliberal policies makes peace acceptable to Washington. That is why the peace in Bosnia was sabotaged in 1992. And that is why all the African peace-making efforts have been sabotaged. The key thing is to see the United States as the sole arbiter of conflict, as the only power able to bring peace to the world by installing those allied with the U.S. economically and politically. And that is why they have tried to marginalize the African peace-making efforts. They want to see their peace prevail.

Jared: The problem is, the peace installed by the U.S. means war.

DB: Their peace means war or for a war-weary population that is under occupation, like the people of Bosnia, it means colonial administration; it means misery; it means economic deprivation and it means long-term suffering and it means complete disempowerment of the population because the state, the post-conflict state is put under multilateral trusteeship, basically, with control of the country's finances, its military and its very sovereignty in the hands of neoliberal technocrats.

Jared: Who in turn are answerable to -?

DB: Who in turn are answerable to financial circles in New York, Frankfort, and London. The end of sovereignty


Further reading and further thoughts:

(1) An informative comment on the shooting of Congo President Laurent Kabila appeared in today's 'Christian Science Monitor.' The quote is from one Hannelie de Beer, described as a "senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies in South Africa." The proper name is the 'Institute for Security Studies'. While expressing the opinion that Mr. Kabila was probably shot because he "was losing the support of his generals" and therefore ''Any replacement for Kabila would be 'a leader that agrees with the way the generals want to proceed. This conflict could just draw out and continue,'" Ms. de Beer cannot restrain her distaste for Mr. Kabila:

"If Kabila is dead, Ms. de Beer says peace could in fact be closer. 'His attitude toward the international community was really an obstacle to peace,' she says, describing Kabila as 'belligerent and rude.' 'Maybe a new president will handle this whole thing more tactfully. It will depend on who becomes the next president,' de Beer adds." ('The Christian Science Monitor', January 18, 2001)

I did a little checking and found that the Institute for Security Studies has among its main funders the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany (closely allied with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church) and our old friend, the Open Society Foundation of George Soros. And indeed, the reports of the institute offer generous helpings of Open Society rhetoric, starting with the constant use of the term "civil society" which really means "neoliberal groups under Western control." (See )

The point is that Mr. Kabila was not liked in Western power circles. We have separately posted an interview that Mr. Kabila gave in November, 1998. While this interview appears to gloss over his initial alliance with Rwanda and Uganda, and may be overly generous about his motives, it certainly makes clear why the U.S. would find Kabila's switch to an independent stance highly undesirable. From the grand heights of the Imperial perspective, Kabila definitely did not know his place. "Billigerent and rude"? Indeed, downright uppity.

(To read the interview with Congo President Laurent Kabila, please go to )

(2) How do the Ugandan and Rwandan governments pay for their invasion of Congo not to mention their debts to the IMF? As the interview above suggests, they finance these efforts by plundering the wealth of Eastern Congo. Thus, although these countries mine virtually no gold within their own borders:

"Between 1998 and 1999, for example, Rwanda sold at least 2.2 tons of gold to Belgium. The war in DRC [Congo] is being financed by its own mining resources. However, such 'self-financing' necessarily results in a subtle arrangement between the banking institutions of the invading countries and those of the "receiving" countries, which are supporting the government authorities and the "Congolese" rebellion." See:

The bitter irony of the current arrangement is that the Belgians still get to rape the Congo, but they do it from a distance, working through Rwanda and Uganda.

(3) To get some idea of the history of the Tutsi-Hutu division, see part 1 of "Ten Years of Suffering" which can be read at . This text is by no means the final word; it has a somewhat pro-Western bias. But it is helpful in understanding Hutu-Tutsi divisions.

(4) Last February, the 'National Post' published a most interesting story on the shooting down of the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994. The story, which suggested that Tutsi forces had shot down the Presidents' plane, was picked up by 'Associated Press' but apparently was not covered by the U.S. or British press.

The 'AP' commented that this story:

"if verified, could have significant repercussions in the ongoing work of a U.N. tribunal investigating the Rwandan genocide that followed Habyarimana's killing...Defendants before the tribunal and others [have argued] that if the plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down by Kagame's [Tutsi] RPF, then the ensuing attacks by Hutus were more a consequence of war than a planned genocide."

And other testimony supports the contention that the downing of the plane was a provocation carried out by the Tutsi RPF:

"Recently come to light, on 10-08-99, is the testimony of a Rwandan military [officer], Christophe Hakizabera, an RPF member from 1990 to 1995. When speaking of [Hutu President] Habyarimana's assassination he says:

'"The RPF prepared a macabre plan to drive the country into chaos: the death of President Habyarimana. He was considered to be the main obstacle to the forceful seizure of power. The first meeting to plan the assassination was held in Kabale (Uganda), in the Bishop's premises, under the auspices of the Archbishop Harerimana. Later, meetings of this type were held in Mbarara, in the home of Salim Saleh, the Major General, half brother to the Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Then, pertinently, it is known that the decision to assassinate President Habyarimana was taken in Bobo-Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso in March of 1994, and that the Commander Paul Kagame, RPF leader, participated in this meeting"'.('The African Great Lakes: Ten Years Of Suffering, Destruction And Death' which can be read at

Everyone agrees that ''the death of President Habyarimana was to be the spark that would light the gunpowder thereby unleashing the killing of civilians'' (ibid.) One would imagine, therefore, that the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal would investigate who shot down the plane. But the 'AP' story notes that the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal has avoided this highly important matter:

"Tribunal officials say the mandate for their work excludes an investigation of the crash. The National Post story said Louise Arbour, the former chief prosecutor of the tribunal, halted the investigation into the crash for that reason. " ('AP' March 1, 2000)

Click here to read the 'AP' Story or go to

In a related development, on May 30, 2000 the ICTR (Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal) Website posted a most revealing story. Amazingly, the Tribunal Website admited the Tribunal has a sealed document apparently linking the RPF to the downing of the Presidential plane. Yet according to the Website, the Tribunal refuses to release this document to a French lawyer for one of the Hutu leaders. This despite the fact that the man's innocence or guilt is directly related to the question of who shot down the plane. To read this report, click here or go to

(5) For general information on the role of the big mining companies in the fighting in Central Africa, see "The Geopolitical Stakes of the International Mining Companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Ex-Zaire)" at

(6) For some generally quite informative links concerning Central Africa please see the Great Lakes Press Website at


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