Still getting crumbs from colonial master’s table

In his book, Decolonising the Mind, published in 1982, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o argued that African realities are affected by a great struggle between two mutually opposed forces: an imperialist tradition on the one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other.

He observed: “Unfortunately some African intellectuals have fallen victim ‘ a few incurably so ‘ to that scheme (of fanning tribalism in African politics) and they are unable to see the divide-and-rule colonial origins of explaining any differences of intellectual outlook or any political clashes in terms of the ethnic origins of the actors.”

Ngugi, who was using his homeland of Kenya as a paradigm, wrote: “The imperialist tradition in Africa is today maintained by the international bourgeoisie using the multinational and, of course, the flag-waving native ruling classes. The economic and political dependence of this African neo-colonial bourgeoisie is reflected in its culture of apemanship and parrotry enforced on a restive population through police boots, barbed wire, and a gowned clergy and judiciary; their ideas are spread by a corpus of state intellectuals, the academic and journalistic laureates of the neo-colonial establishment.”

He concluded: “Imperialism led by the USA, presents the struggling peoples of the earth and all those calling for peace, democracy and socialism with the ultimatum: accept theft or death.”

It was a prophetic pronouncement. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the biggest and richest countries in Africa. Because of its abundance of strategic minerals, it has been described by some as the “Persian Gulf of minerals”. And although only 3 percent of its land mass is arable, it is extremely fertile. Yet despite its vast potential wealth, the DRC is still a poor country that suffers from food insecurity. Why?

Before the Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi-led invasion of the DRC in 1998, which was eventually thwarted by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, Robert Cooper, one of Tony Blair’s influential foreign police advisers, wrote a paper in which he encouraged the West to seriously reconsider recolonising Africa, using duplicity and the rough and jungle methods of the 19th century, starting with the “failed states” which were proof that Africans needed to be taught the basics of good administration and governance. It was the sort of paper one expects from a rightwing university who no one in international politics expects to be taken seriously. But Africa fails to take such people seriously at its own peril. Today, it is no longer a strange occurrence that is frowned upon to hear Western thinkers, politicians and their media talking about invading or recolonising Africa. So let’s review what has happened in the Congo since the Pretoria Agreement of October 2002 which brought a government of national unity to that country.

That government formed a transitional government (much as been suggested by the West and its African proxies for Zimbabwe), which drafted a new constitution that led to elections which brought about the current political dispensation to power. But while the world has been mesmerised by these seemingly “democratic processes”, they have ignored what has been happening on the ground, including the death of 3.5 million people from starvation, insurgency and disease.

The DRC is a textbook case of how an extremely rich and potentially powerful country can be politically and militarily destabilised and then forced through the subsequent pillage of its wealth to pay for an odious debt it never benefited from, while being subjected to an intolerable loss of its sovereignty. Every African country should be aware. If it can happen to the DRC, it can happen to Zimbabwe, to Zambia or any other African country. It has already happened to many who are now embarrassing the rest of the continent with their black-demeaning comments and West-instigated pronouncements.

Let’s look at what happened to the DRC in 2007 after its democratisation processes had finally yielded workable governing structures, such as parliament, the senate and the executive. The first priority of the government was to table a national budget. In 2002, the World Bank had put together a Mining Code for the country’s minerals sector, its biggest source of foreign exchange. According to the Congolese Finance Minister, Athanase Malenda Kyelu, the budget “was in line with what was agreed with IMF services”. The elected National Assembly would have none of it. On June 14 2007 it adopted amendments to increase the budget, a development criticised by the IMF.

The Finance Minister told the nation: “The IMF Board of Directors having met on Monday June 18 2007 to examine the progress of the macroeconomic stabilisation programme mounted by the IMF, expressed concerns on the evolution of the ongoing debate in parliament on the 2007 budget bill which forecasted (sic) receipts and expenditure which have been considerably increased, so that they no longer correspond to the macro-economic framework underlying the preparation of the 2007 budget.”

The message was very clear. Board members of the IMF could now effectively overrule decisions of the DRC’s supreme law-making body, the National Assembly. And to show that it had no compunction in treating the DRC’s parliament as a rubber-stamping neo-colonial institution which had no power, the IMF instructed the government to intervene with the senate to kill parliament’s decision. On June 23 the Finance Minister took the IMF message to the senate. On 29 June the

senate “amended” the Congolese budget to conform to the demands of the IMF. Thus, in order to receive foreign funding for its national budget, a rich African country had been forced to submit to the IMF the same way a slave yields to his master’s demands.

So, what was in the budget that was so objectionable to the IMF? At US$2.4 billion for a large country with a population of 60 million such as the DRC, the budget was by any standards extremely small. It was almost the same amount of money the IMF spends annually on its staff complement of 2 700 employees! France, with more or less a similar population to the DRC has a national budget of US$520 billion. It was also the equivalent of what the US has been spending for its occupation of Iraq in less than two weeks!

The question was: how could a country devastated by two Western sponsored civil wars which claimed the lives of 3.5 million people be expected to rebuild and rehabilitate its infrastructure and the lives of its people with such little money? If the DRC is so richly endowed with such vast potential wealth, why was it not getting the necessary credit to spend it on its own development, in the areas of health, education and the construction and rehabilitation of its infrastructure?

Instead the DRC was expected to pay a disproportionate share of its fiscal revenue of 50 percent to service debts owed to Western governments and corporations. Is there a worse violation of the United Nations charters on self determination and fundamental human rights, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights?

Antoine Gizenga, the Prime Minster of the DRC put it this way: “The situation reduces the government capacity to devote its internal resources from 2007 to the improvement of working conditions for state officers and civil servants, particularly the police force and the army and to reinforce its financial capacity to make priority investments.”

In other words, the DRC government saw nothing wrong in squandering its country’s natural resources on paying off its rich creditors for debts incurred by a Western supported kleptocrat, Mobutu Sese Seko, who had used the money for self aggrandisement and not for the benefit of his country! It was the biggest irony of all.

The IMF claimed that the DRC’s budget was “to provide all opportunities to the DRC to guarantee its victorious march towards achieving the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.”

It was the height of absurdity! One of Africa’s richest countries was being asked to relegate itself to the status of a begging vassal which would then be obliged to reduce its almost non-existent social budgets, remove subsidies on basic food products, and privatise its national assets and all for what? To be eligible for unquantifiable debt relief which would not bring any development to the country! And African intellectuals still think that Africa is not being neo-colonised, but just becoming part of a global world! God help the children of Africa.

According to the website of the Friends of the Congo, “during the political transition period of 2003 to 2006, one third of the Congo was sold off to foreign companies without any discernible benefit to the Congo. The mining titles dispensed totalled 4 542 to 642 companies. Ninety percent of exports from the DRC are illegal or unregulated. Benefits from existing mining contracts account for about 6 percent of the national budget. In 2002 when the country was still at war [and therefore nominally under the control of SADC forces], the mining sector contributed as much as 30 percent of the national budget.” So much for Western claims that Zimbabwe was looting the resources of the Congo!

The website says that mining companies have made gains of 600 percent from their operations in the Congo while discernible gains for the government have not exceeded 5 percent. There are no provisions in these companies’ contracts for equitable profit sharing. Many of the mining companies involved in the mining review of the country by the Carter Centre are publicly traded on the Toronto, London or New York Stock Exchanges. Some of them include Freeport-McMoran, De Beers, Anglo-American and BHP Billiton.

A few of the companies have warned the DRC government that if in future it tries to reverse their dubiously acquired mining rights, they will take the DRC to the International Court of Justice. The roadmap is becoming clear: you stabilise a rich African country militarily. Without enlightening them on your nefarious agenda, you pay off enough gullible local opportunists to do your bidding while they become the driving force of the political processes that will give you a stranglehold on the country’s wealth and natural resources. By the time the people wake up and bring back a leader prepared to fight for their interests, you can use the United Nations to send that leader off to the Hague for trying to “grab” your legally acquired “assets”. And we think colonialism and neocolonialism are only the obsession of “socialist dinosaurs” and “apologists for African tyrants.” Watch it brother, you may just die a pauper eating the crumbs from the colonial master’s table.

August 2008
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