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A Very Brief History of the Democratic Republic of Congo

This year I’m using the DRC as a major case study in underdevelopment (it is last on the UN’s HDI rankings after all) – Here’s my (mainly cut and paste from Wikipedia) very brief history of the DRC – I’ll add in video links, general links, pictures and extracts from numerous books later… 

The Stuff in italics below each heading are the ‘key historical reasons for underdevelopment’

Pre-Colonialism

It was quite nice, suggesting Western Nation States f***ed The Congo Up 

[Pre-Colonialism, tribes in the region were doing pretty well for themselves – Organised into the Kingdom of Luba, according to Wikipedia – Each of these kingdoms became very wealthy due mainly to the region’s mineral wealth, especially in ores. The civilization began to develop and implement iron and copper technology, in addition to trading in ivory and other goods. The Luba established a strong commercial demand for their metal technologies and were able to institute a long-range commercial net (the business connections extended over 1,500 kilometres (930 miles), all the way to the Indian Ocean). By the 16th century, the kingdom had an established strong central government based on chieftainship.’

The African Congo Free State (1877–1908) – Colonialism, Brutalisation and Extraction

History of Colonialism

King Leopold II of Belgium formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property and named it the Congo Free State.Leopold’s regime began various infrastructure projects, such as construction of the railway that ran from the coast to the capital of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). It took years to complete. Nearly all such projects were aimed at increasing the capital which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony, leading to exploitation of Africans.

Rubber was the main export from the Congo Free State, used to make tyres for the growing automobile industry, and the sale of rubber made a fortune for Leopold.

Leopold’s colonization of the Congo was incredibly brutal. Thousands of Congolese were forced to work on Leopold’s Rubber plantations, and the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas was widespread. During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. In some areas the population declined dramatically; it has been estimated that sleeping sickness and smallpox killed nearly half the population in the areas surrounding the lower Congo River.

The actions of the Free State’s administration sparked international protests led by British reporter Edmund Dene Morel and British diplomat/Irish rebel Roger Casement, whose 1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice. Famous writers such as Mark Twainand Arthur Conan Doyle also protested.

The Belgian Congo (1908–1960) – Colonialism, Condescension and More Extraction

In 1908, the Belgian parliament took over the Free State from the king. From then on, as a Belgian colony, it was called the Belgian Congo and was under the rule of the elected Belgian government. The governing of the Congo improved significantly and considerable economic and social progress was achieved. The white colonial rulers had, however, generally a condescending, patronizing attitude toward the indigenous peoples, which led to bitter resentment from both sides. During World War II, the Congolese army achieved several victories against the Italians in North Africa.

Independence and Political crisis (1960–1965) – Turmoil and Transition

The Belgian Congo achieved independence on 30 June 1960 under the name ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo’. Just previous to this, in May a growing nationalist movement, led by Patrice Lumumba, had won the parliamentary elections. The party appointed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Shortly after independence, most of the 100,000 Europeans who had remained behind after independence fled the country, opening the way for Congolese to replace the European military and administrative elite.

On 5 September 1960, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office. Lumumba declared Kasavubu’s action unconstitutional and a crisis between the two leaders developed. Lumumba had previously appointed Joseph Mobutu chief of staff of the new Congo army. Taking advantage of the leadership crisis between Kasavubu and Lumumba, Mobutu garnered enough support within the army to create mutiny. With financial support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu paid his soldiers privately. Mobutu took power in 1965 and in 1971 changed the country’s name to the “Republic of Zaïre”.

Mobutu and Zaire (1965 – 1996) – Dictatorship (propped up by the United States), extreme corruption, yet more extraction and infrastructure deterioration

Corruption, Aid, The United States, Cold War

The new president had the support of the United States because of his staunch opposition to Communism. Western powers appeared to believe this would make him a roadblock to Communist schemes in Africa.

A one-party system was established, and Mobutu declared himself head of state. He periodically held elections in which he was the only candidate. Although relative peace and stability were achieved, Mobutu’s government was guilty of severe human rights violations, political repression, a cult of personality and corruption. By 1984, Mobutu was said to have $4 billion (USD), an amount close to the country’s national debt, deposited in a personal Swiss bank account. International aid, most often in the form of loans, enriched Mobutu while he allowed national infrastructure such as roads to deteriorate to as little as one-quarter of what had existed in 1960.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Mobutu was invited to visit the United States on several occasions, meeting with U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In June 1989, Mobutu was the first African head of state invited for a state visit with newly elected President Bush. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, U.S. relations with Mobutu cooled, as he was no longer deemed necessary as a Cold War ally.

The first and second Congo Wars (1996 – 2003) – Rwanda’s Ethnic conflict heads west while neighbouring nations plough in and extract resources    

End of the Cold War, Ethnic Conflict, Rwanda, Resource Curse

By 1996, following the Rwandan Civil War and genocide and the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe) had fled to eastern Zaire and began refugees camps as a basis for incursion against Rwanda. These Hutu militia forces soon allied with the Zairian armed forces to launch a campaign against Congolese ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire.

A coalition of Rwandan and Ugandan armies, led by Lawrence Kabila, then invaded Zaire to overthrow the government of Mobutu, launching the First Congo War. By May 1997, Kabila had made it to the capital Kinshasa, named himself president and changed the name of the country back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mobutu was forced to flee the country.

However, a few months later, President Kabila asked foreign military forces to return back to their countries because he was concerned that the Rwandan military officers who were running his army were plotting a coup against him. Consequently, Rwandan troops in DRC retreated to Goma and launched a new Tutsi led rebel military movement (the RCD) to fight against their former ally, President Kabila, while Uganda instigated the creation of another rebel movement called the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by the Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba. The two rebel movements, along with Rwandan and Ugandan troops, started the Second Congo War by attacking the DRC army in 1998. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia became involved militarily on the side of the government.

Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, who organised multilateral peace talks which to the signing of a peace accord in which Kabila would share power with former rebels. By June 2003 all foreign armies except those of Rwanda had pulled out of Congo. On 30 July 2006 DRC held its first multi-party elections. Joseph Kabila took 45% of the votes and his opponent, Jean-Pierre Bemba took 20%. On 6 December 2006 Joseph Kabila was sworn in as President.

Contemporary Conflicts in the DRC (2003 – Present Day) – Numerous groups fighting over various things

Ethnic Conflict, Rwanda, learned violence.

There are a number of rebel groups still operating mostly in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is widely suspected that Rwanda is funding some of these rebel groups. A lot of the recent conflicts seem to go back to the Hutu-Tutsi conflict from Rwanda.

The FDLR -The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda- Consist almost entirely ethnic Hutus who wish to regain power in Rwanda. The FDLR contains some of the ‘original Hutu genociders’ who carried out the genocide in Rwanda and currently have about 7000 troops still in operation in the DRC. Some of the leaders of the FDLR are facing trial for crimes against humanity in the ICCJ

 

 The CNDP – In 2006, the Congolese military declared that it was stopping operations against the FDLR. This lead to some troops mutinying and the foundation of the CNDP, or  The National Congress for the Defence of the People,  mostly consisting of ethnic Tutsis, whose main aim continued to be the eradication of the Hutu FDLR. The CNDP consisted of approximately 8000 troops and was believed to be backed by Rwanda.

The M23 Rebels – In March 2009, The CNDP signed a peace treaty with the government, in which it agreed to become a political party and its soldiers integrated into the national army in exchange for the release of its imprisoned members. Its leader, Lawrence Nkunda was also arrested and is now facing trial at the United Nations Court for ‘Crimes against humanity’.

However (here we go again) in 2009 Bosco Ntaganda, and troops loyal to him mutinied from this new ‘integrated army’ and formed the rebel military March 23 Movement, claiming a violation of the treaty by the government. M23 claims that some CNDP troops have not received jobs in the military as promised by the government and also want some limited political reforms.

M23 is estimated to have around 1500 – 6000 troops and as recently as November 2012, M23 captured the city of Goma, with a population of over 1 million, and the provincial capital of the Kivu Province in Eastern DRC, with the aim of getting its political demands met.

Rwanda is widely suspected of funding this rebel group as well, although both Rwanda and M23 deny this.

Other Rebel Groups – In addition to the above there is on and off fighting amongst other rebel groups. For example, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army moved from their original bases in Uganda (where they have fought a 20-year rebellion) and South Sudan to DR Congo in 2005.

 

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The Bottom Billion – Paul Collier – A Summary

Global poverty has been falling for decades, but a few countries which are caught in four distinct traps (such as the resource curse) are falling behind and falling apart. Aid does not work well in these places but there are things we can and should do because neglect will pose a security nightmare for the world of our children.

Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory can be used to criticise all previous grand-theories of development – modernisation theory, dependency theory and neoliberalism.

The Four Traps

Trap 1- The Conflict Trap

73% of people in the bottom billion countries are in a civil war or have recently been through one. Civil war reduces income and low income increases the risk of civil war. Low income means poverty and low growth means hopelessness and available young men. When the economy is weak the state is weak and rebellion is easier. Sometimes rebel movements get finances from resource exporters in return for future deals.

“Rebels usually have something to complain about, and if they don’t they make it up. All too often the really disadvantaged are in no position to rebel: they just suffer quietly.” Little relationship has been found between the risk of civil war and political repression or intergroup hatreds or income inequality or colonial history. There is some relationship to particular patterns of ethnic diversity.

A civil war doubles the risk of another civil war. “Civil war is development in reverse.” “Both economic losses and disease are highly persistent: they do not stop once the fighting stops.” Usually there is a further deterioration in political rights. “A rebellion is an extremely unreliable way of bringing about positive change.” “The foot soldiers of rebellion, often do not have much choice about joining the rebel movement.” “Gradually the composition of the rebel group will shift from idealists to opportunists and sadists.” The kind of people most likely to engage in political violence are the young, the uneducated, and those without dependents.

95% of global production of hard drugs comes from conflict countries. Conflict provides territory outside government control for illegal activities to operate.

Three economic characteristics make a country prone to civil war: low income, slow growth, and dependence upon primary commodity exports. “Civil war leaves a legacy of organized killing that is hard to live down. Violence and extortion have proved profitable for the perpetrators. Killing is the only way they know to earn a living. And what else to do with all those guns?”

Trap 2 – The Natural Resource Trap

Paradoxically, the discovery of valuable natural resources in the context of poverty constitutes a trap. It often results in misuse of its opportunities in ways that make it fail to grow and results in stagnation.

Societies at the bottom are frequently in resource-rich poverty. “The heart of the resource curse is that resource rents [rents = excess of revenues over all costs] make democracy malfunction.” “Oil and other surpluses from natural resources are particularly unsuited to the pressures generated by electoral competition.” In the presence of large surpluses from natural resources autocracies produce much more growth than do democracies. When there is plenty of money, leaders tend to embezzle funds, spend on large, pet projects and buy votes through contracts. The corrupt win the elections. Resources reduce the need to tax, undercut public scrutiny, erode checks and balances, and leave electoral competition unconstrained where parties compete for votes by patronage. Alternatively restraints raise the return on investment.

Autocracies work with little ethnic diversity. Diversity tends to narrow the support base of the autocrat and requires greater income distribution to the autocrat’s group. “Becoming reliant upon the bottom billion for natural resources sounds to me like Middle East 2.”

Trap 3 – Landlocked with Bad Neighbours

Geography matters. Landlocked countries must export to neighbouring countries or through their infrastructures to the coast. Uganda is poor and Switzerland is rich because they are dependent upon their neighbours. All countries benefit from the growth of their neighbours but resource-scarce landlocked countries must depend on their neighbours for growth. This includes about 30% of Africa.

Trap 4 – Bad Governance in a Small Country

Terrible governance and policies can destroy an economy with alarming speed. Note President Robert Mugabe. Governance matters, conditional upon opportunities. Differences in opportunities can make a big difference. Countries who have done better since 1980 have generally exported labour-intensive manufactures and services. The government simply has to avoid doing harm. Exporters need an environment of moderate taxation, macroeconomic stability, and a few transport facilities.

Why is bad governance sometimes so persistent? Because some benefit. The leaders of many of the poorest countries in the world are themselves among the global superrich. They like it that way. Many of them are simply villains. But beyond villainy, there is a shortage of people with the requisite knowledge, brave reformers get overwhelmed by the resistance, and there is often not much popular enthusiasm for reforms.

Recent failing states include Angola, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, the Solomon Islands, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is borderline. Turnarounds are rare because reformers are often suppressed and in danger.

Three characteristics encourage a turnaround: larger populations, higher proportion of people with a secondary education, and recent emergence from a civil war. Whether the state was a democracy or granted political rights did not seem to matter. The impetus for change must come from the heroes in the society. The probability for a turnaround in any given year is 1.6%, so they are likely to stay as failing states for a long time.