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Publication Details

Reference
Wamba dia Wamba, Ernest & Majavu, Mandisi  (2004) Congo: The Transition. Zmag : -.

Summary
Professor Wamba dia Wamba is the leader of the Rassemblement Congolais la democratic (RCD-Kingani), and is based in Kinshasa, the capital town of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is a recipient of the prestigious ‘Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development’ in recognition of his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa”. He has taught at a number of universities including Harvard University and the University of Dar-es-Salaam.

Question: Professor Wamba dia Wamba, what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? – immediately after the news that the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu was seized by dissident soldiers, news of a coup attempt were all over South African newspapers.

Answer: When a process [transition process] takes off on a wrong footing, unless a real readjustment takes place on the way, the end cannot be good. In our view, the follow-up Committee for the implementation of the Global Accord did not anticipate certain structural problems of the Congolese crisis that entertain mistrust among the actors and the lack of confidence on the part of the population in the transitional institutions and their respective actors. Negative values, such as clientelism, corruption and non-recognition of profiles of people, marked the decisions concerning the personnel of the new institutions.

The recent university student-led people uprising in Kinshasa pointed to some of those basic issues at the core of events such as the Bukavu crisis. If existing institutions can neither anticipate nor resolve a crisis without having to take recourse to an external intervention, one must conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong in those institutions, if they are functioning at all. The students criticized this by saying that 1+4=0, meaning that the Presidential space with 5 people who mistrust one another, spend time competing each other rather than regularly consulting and dealing with urgent and basic matters.

This would have required revisiting the Accord and consequently amend the Constitution of the transition. On the other hand, an amendment of the Constitutions on our continent [Africa] opens up real loopholes leading not to improving the law, but instead to enhancing egoistic tendencies of certain politically ambitious actors.

Moreover, even if the institutions were good in themselves, it is clear that the Government, for example, as the students said, manifests a real incompetence -- in addition a lack of political will. Here, the solution would require a replacement of certain incompetent personnel by competent ones. If the whole system was based on inclusiveness and consensus between mostly incompetent and amateur warlords and would-be unemployed power-hungry opportunist politicians, would the consideration of people with acceptable profiles be possible? And who should impose these conditions when even the highest echelons are not necessarily above the criticism of incompetence?

While the international community spokespersons keep repeating that they cannot build peace for us [Congolese], develop the country for us or even reconstruct the State for us; our leaders, almost childishly, appeal to that community for everything; they behave as if they were observers while the international community were the real actor.

The students were implicitly asking,’ who determines our country’s national interests? And why is our country friends with people who do not protect our interests?

Consequently, the students criticized the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, giving the impression that MONUC had to fight wars for us. It is true that the MONUC failed to do what was possible in its own obligations, but the people’s main hope was squarely placed on the MONUC rather than on our own forces—self-reliance.

It is in that context that we must understand what is happening here [in the DRC]. With no built-in sanctions – no possibility of vote of no-confidence in relation to Government activities for example, by the Parliament, it is difficult to reinforce the accountability of leaders and the institutions.

What has happened in the case of Bukavu? 1) Despite all the ‘accords’ between the DRC and Rwanda, particularly in relation to Interahamwe [rebel militia], etc., no real follow-up has been done. Each side seems to be acting as if no agreement existed at all and obviously, this creates mistrust inside the transitional leadership.

2) The issue of creating a new Congolese Army out of the various militias is always delayed -- each side is keeping its militia for its own use. The RCD-Goma [Rassemblement Congolais la democratic-Goma] is being accused of entertaining Rwandese soldiers or officers. Mobutu’s ex-FAZ is being suspected to favour JP Bemba’s MLC [Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo].

What led the dissident soldiers to seize Bukavu started as a small politically-mishandled military crisis. Colonel Mutebesi refused to obey his superior General Mbuza Mabe; instead of sending him to a military court, a political decision of suspending him (indefinitely) was instead taken. He was left with all his soldiers and a bodyguard of some strange number of about 150 or so. The Army Joint Chief of Staff was not allowed to decide on the question. The tension between the two kept rising until it erupted. The leadership was informed of the possible crisis by a report of the Senate Commission of inquiry on the matter in Bukavu. Nothing was done. No real course of action of a long term was spelled out.

In our view, there is no such a thing as suspension of a military officer; either he is taken to a military court and demoted and /or displaced, but not suspended. To avoid a Rwandese exploitation of the situation, the President should have made a trip to Kigali and obtain a public commitment of non-immixion in internal affairs from the Kigali’s authorities and he should also have visited Bukavu personally. All that the Presidential space was doing was making accusatory statements against the aggressors, sometimes contradicting each other within that space (Ruberwa’s position [RCD-Goma] being fundamentally different from that of J Kabila [the DRC President]). As things stand, the crisis around Bukavu has been temporarily resolved; however, the root causes remain unresolved.


Q: It is reported that the dissident troops who seized Bukavu did so in an attempt to protect the Congolese Tutsi, known as Banyamulenge, from persecution by a military commander assigned to the region?

A: Since the epoch of the National Sovereign Conference, to the unilateral revocation of the nationality’s status of the Congolese Tutsi 1993-1994, including the consequences of the genocide in Rwanda (1994), the socio-cultural position of the Tutsi minority has been abnormal in the Congolese public consciousness. Furthermore, as the relationships between Rwanda and the DRC worsen and as the Tutsi are rightly or wrongly perceived as allies of the Rwandese, they are sometimes viewed as a potential fifth column of the Rwandese regime. And for that, even if the Tutsi were not necessarily targeted for genocide, they might expect to be ill-treated by their neighbours [Congolese majority]. Apparently, there were cases that reinforced the [Tutsi fears and] feelings. MONUC’s inquiry showed, however, that genocide did not take place [in Bukavu]. These sorts of feelings [and fears] are difficult to handle once mistrust runs deep. As the State functions on a discriminatory basis, the rapport between that minority and the majority will continue to suffer.

Q: Could you briefly tell us about the Banyamulenge?

A: The Banyamulenge constitute part of the Congolese Tutsi residing in South Kivu. Their ancestors came initially from Rwanda around 1865 or so and occupied the area of the mountain called Mulenge — this is what recently gave rise to the name ‘Banyamulenge’. They became prominent in the Congolese history with the aggravation of policies of ethnic cleansing in the last period of Mobutu’s regime and the self-arming of threatened minorities who took up the struggle to defend their nationality rights -- this led partly to the AFDL [Alliance of Democratic Forces for the liberation of Zaire-Congo] movement and the overthrow of Mobutu.

Q: Do you think the accusation by the DRC government that the Rwandan forces helped the dissident fighters to capture the city of Bukavu are baseless?

A: The conditions making Rwanda very concerned about what goes on in that part of the country [DRC] seem to continue existing -- the claim that the Interehamwe [rebel militia] are still being entertained by Kinshasa [the government]; then if this is true, Rwanda will use any pretext to also get involved, including the claim that the Congolese Tutsi as a minority are being threatened.

Authorities of both countries have to actually settle each other’s fears (i.e. the presence of Rwandese troops among those of the RCD-Goma and the possibility that the Kinshasa government is re-arming and deploying the Interehamwe).

Q: In your view, why did the Congolese turn against the UN and accuse it of complicity with Rwandan forces after the town of Bukavu was seized by dissident troops?

A: Unfortunately, as said above, Congolese expect too much from the international community. Since the debacle of the 1960, with the UN Congo mission, brought in by a request from the Lumumba government, there seems to be no real grasp of the limitations of the UN missions by the Congolese public consciousness. This is a consequence of the absence for a long time of a truly independent national leadership of the country. Our leaders’ eyes are usually focused on the West for salvation. But, in addition, such a hope placed on MONUC became unjustified when it appeared clearly that MONUC was not completely doing what it was expected to do in the face of what appeared as an imminent if not real aggression.

Q: Do you think the sexual allegations against the UN troops that are at the moment being investigated had any influence in how the Congolese reacted?

A: That is part of the things awakening the public Congolese consciousness, certainly.

Q: This is the second and the final year of the transitional period before the national elections – do you see elections taking place in the DRC next year, please explain?

A: Two main forces are most determined to have the elections organized: the Congolese masses and the international community through CIAT. The main actors of the transitional institutions seem to lack a real political will to actively organize the elections.

Be that as it may, if the unresolved problems, including the threatening ones, remain unresolved, it is unlikely that the elections will take place as planned.


Q: Let’s talk about the coup attempt. It has been reported that the coup attempt was carried out by a section of the presidential guard, what are your views on that?

A: It was carried by Major Eric Lenge of the presidential guard, someone very close to the President, who never finished primary school and who is a Katangese. Most likely, he was occupying such a high military position due to clientelism if not just plain tribalism. He is said to be involved with a Lebanese mafia and had been seen to have a lot of money, distributing it sometimes to other soldiers. So far he has not been arrested -- no one seems to know where he is. It is also said that he bought a house in Europe and has sent his family there.

Sometime back, a local Newspaper, Grognon, published a story that Lenge was assigned the task of eliminating political enemies of the regime; my name was on the list.


Q: I want to talk about South Africa’s role in the transitional process. How is South Africa perceived by other players in the transitional process?

A: Some feel like South Africa has actively put us in the situation we are in. They had a lot of leverage to make sure that certain structural problems were anticipated and solutions proposed. They seem to have fallen in the Western logic of thinking that mediocrity is a less evil for Congolese, if it stops the war. They also have a lot of leverage to get a clear on-going commitment to resolve the contradictory fears of both the DRC and Rwanda; they do not seem to use it. This is why some feel that SA is too close to Rwanda.

Q: And lastly, is there something you would like to add I did not ask?

A: You should have asked it for me to know.

The region should take the issue of globalisation very seriously. The world system predatory based mafia economy is not interested in having an organised State in the DRC. Just in Kisangani alone there are about 10 foreign diamond dealers not so much interested in organized economy per se. Globalist official organizations (IMF, WB,WTO, etc.) are not the sole actors of globalisation.

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba
Kinshasa, June 20th, 2004

*This interview was conducted via email.


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