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Congo elections

24 July 2006

Geneva, 24 July 2006
(Note: the English version was not sent out; the letter went to the churches in French)

The spirit of the Lord is upon me;

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the humble,

to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to captives

and release to those in prison;

 

to proclaim a year of the Lord's favour and a day

of the vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn,

to give them garlands instead of ashes,

oil of gladness instead of mourner's tears,

a garment of splendour for the heavy heart.

 

Ancient ruins shall be rebuilt

and sites long desolate restored;

they shall repair the ruined cities

and restore what has long lain desolate.

 

And so, because shame in double measure

and jeers and insults have been my people's lot,

they shall receive in their own land a double measure of wealth,

and everlasting joy shall be theirs.

 

For I, the Lord, love justice

and hate robbery and wrong-doing;

I will grant them a sure reward

and make an everlasting covenant with them;

their posterity will be renowned among the nations;

and their offspring among the peoples;

all who see them will acknowledge in them

a race whom the Lord has blessed.

TO OUR BELOVED SISTERS AND BROTHERS OF THE CONGO

I am writing this letter to you especially- and to all our churches and, indeed, to the world -- numb with grief and anger, groaning with you in anguish at the senseless devastation of your country and the wanton killings of your beautiful people in the worst wars in Africa's history.

As I ponder these glorious words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-9) I wonder what can be the purpose or reason of the two recent wars in your country that have been ignored by the West. What must we do which we have not done? What can we say that we have not said a thousand times over for so many years? That all we want is what belongs to all God's people as an inalienable right: a place in the sun in our own beloved Congo.

As we read these words of the Prophet, the words that Isaiah is describing: ancient ruins…sites long desolate…foreigners and aliens… double measures of jeers and insults… the Lord loves justice and hates robbery and wrong-doing… It reminds us of Congo. Oh, God, how long can it go on? How long can we keep appealing for a just ordering of your land where all will count simply because they are people, Congolese created in the image of God?

These mass deaths -- the worst on the planet since 1945 -- have caused the deaths of more than 4.1 million Congolese people, a war that has been virtually ignored by western governments, and the western media.

It is regarded, using an all-too-common racist analysis, as incomprehensible and shrouded in darkness, the logical consequence of a primitive and post-colonial Africa. I still recall with outrage, the question the Economist posed at the beginning of the millennium, "Does Africa have some inherent character flaw that keeps it backward and incapable of development?" (13 May 2000) This is used as vindication of the killing fields in the Congo by those who see the only solution to Africa's predicament as liberation of the continent into the globalized "democratic" ambient of Europe and America.

On Christmas Day 1999, Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko, the then Roman Catholic bishop of Bukavu in the eastern region answered these absurd arguments when he spoke of myths surrounding Congo's history. He called the fighting a human catastrophe linked to globalization, profit and western manipulation and complicity.

"Foreign powers, with the collaboration of some of our Congolese brothers, organize wars over control of the resources of our country. These resources, which should be used for our development, for the education of our children, to cure our illnesses, in short so that we can have a more decent human life, serve only to kill us. What is more, our country and our people have become the object of exploitation. All that has value is pillaged and taken to foreign countries or simply destroyed. Our taxes, which should be invested into the community, are embezzled…All this money, that comes from our labour, is directly taken by a small elite that comes from we don't know where…[and] means that some of our compatriots don't hesitate to sell their brothers for a dollar or ten or twenty."

Several days later the archbishop, who was also vice-president of the Congo's Episcopal Conference, was deported from his diocese by the rebel group controlling the region and spent seven months in exile in North Kivu. Upon his return to Bukavu he took up his duties but shortly thereafter died of a heart attack at age 68 while on an official visit to the Vatican in October 2000.

His description of the Congo was courageous and honest.

In a few days (July 30) Congolese are to go to the polls to hold presidential and legislative democratic elections even as the violence and unrest continues. The last election was held in 1960 when the charismatic Patrice Lumumba was elected and shortly afterwards murdered. The huge country, third largest in Africa with 61 million people, was turned into a dictatorship and became a staunch US ally, thereby ensuring constant support as long as the cold war lasted.

But perhaps we need to look more deeply into the origins of Congo's travail and the role of western capitalism in its lifetime of foreign rule. In fact Congolese were victims of the greatest genocide the world has ever known during its colonial (Belgian) period and that history, too, has been virtually erased.

Americans and Europeans are accustomed to thinking of fascism and communism as the twin evils of the 20th century but the century has really been home to three great totalitarian systems--fascism, communism and colonialism--the latter practised at its most deadly in Africa. The West doesn't want to recognize this because they were complicit in it. Countries that were democratic in Europe conducted mass murder in Africa--with little or no protest from the US.

After the country achieved independence in 1960, it reeled from one tragic situation to the next: the assassination of Lumumba, the three-decades-long dictatorship, and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that spilled over into the Congo, the war that led to the overthrow of Mobutu by Laurent Kabila, his murder and then the second great war that has never really ended despite a 2003 ceasefire.

For some 80 years under King Leopold and the Belgian colonial administration, Congo was plundered, for the profit of those overseas. No one should be surprised that this was followed by more decades of plunder, at the hands of Mobutu and the multinational corporations he was in league with. And we should not forget the devastation wrought by slavery for centuries before then. Democracy is a fragile plant under the best of circumstances, and none of the Congo's heritage has been fertile soil for it to grow in.

The war between African nations for Congo's wealth raged from 1998 to 2003.

A ceasefire was signed on 10 July

1999

; nevertheless, fighting continued and Congo's dead kept piling up to 4 million and more, mostly from war-induced sickness, hunger and killing. Aid agencies estimate that, even as the elections are about to begin, 1,200 people still die every day, especially in the eastern part of the country, the fighting financed by revenues from the illegal extraction of minerals. In the days before Kabila' s victory, illegal mining contracts worth billions of dollars were signed with De Beers and the American Mineral Fields.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and his son

Joseph Kabila

was named head of state. The new president quickly began overtures to end the war and an accord was signed in

South Africa

in 2002. By late 2003, a fragile peace prevailed as a transitional government. Joseph Kabila appointed four vice-presidents, two of whom had been fighting to oust him until July 2003. Much of the east of the country remains insecure and the Kinshasa government has no control over vast areas of the country.

Today, UN peacekeeping troops (MONUC) are on high alert. The largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world with 19,000 soldiers can barely keep itself intact, let alone protect the lives of the terrified population. MONUC has also been charged with trying to arrange the elections in a country almost the size of Western Europe (2,345,000 sq km), lacking roads, electricity, telephones and local governments. It is also trying to assist 2 million people displaced by war in Eastern Congo, stave off 20,000 militiamen and protect humanitarian agencies which has become the single most ambitious project the world body has undertaken in its history.

Yet there is an eerie silence surrounding this most deadly of all wars in the world today. In February this year, the UN and humanitarian aid agencies asked the world for $US682 million for the displaced and hungry and sick. So far, as we write this, they have received just $94 million or $9.40 per person. By comparison last year's tsunami appeal raised $550 per person.

Ask anyone in places like Kisingani, Bunia, Goma or Bukavu why seven African armies fought two wars in the last decade or so, and they will tell you it is a war of plunder, loot and exploitation. Many of the armies have now gone home but the suffering of the people continues. War is ever-present. But even deadlier now are the side effects of war, the scars left by the brutatlity that disfigure Congo's society and infrastructure. Plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. In many ways the country remains broken, volatile and dangerous.

For every violent death in Eastern Congo's war zone, there are 62 non-violent deaths according to Doctors Without Borders: treatable diseases like malaria, meningitis, measles, AIDS. Displacement is the first killer of flight. Desperately poor people driven from their subsistence existence into even more hostile environments seek safety, deep in the forests of Eastern Congo.

There is enormous global competition for Congo's resources, its soils packed with diamonds, gold copper, cobalt, uranium and tantalum (or coltan as it is known locally, used in cell phones and computers). The waters of the Congo's mighty rivers could power the continent. Its soil is lush and fertile, its tropical forests cover an area bigger than Great Britain.

Yet it is this very wealth that Archbishop Kataliko prophesied so accurately that was at the heart of Congo's desperation. It is fashionable these days to talk about the "failed state" syndrome of Africa, the process of criminalization and the loss of legitimacy of political institutions. But the Congo belies this thesis. Theorists of the failed state underplay the extent of international business and western influence in the failures they lament. Globalization has sustained the wars in Congo and other African governments played their part. In April 2001, the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo reported that foreign companies "were ready to do business regardless of the elements of unlawfulness…Companies trading minerals, the engine of the conflict in the Congo, prepared the field for illegal mining activities in the country."

In this atmosphere the world has demanded a democratic election for president and parliament. It is almost as if by waving some magic wand called western democracy, the Congo is going to be saved when the partition is being forced by politicians playing the game of the western mineral corporations.

If that is the case, then the world must take responsibility to see through what it has demanded. The elections will cost almost $500 million and should be carried out in an atmosphere of national unity and reconciliation, but there is every possibility that they could cause even greater division.

WCC and its agencies and member churches from Congo, the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA), the Great Lakes Ecumenical Fellowship (GLEF), and ACT International are all pledged to accompanying Congo on its journey towards peace, national unity and reconciliation.

Soon your country will have its national election. In any democratic system it is crucial that elections must be free and fair. There are at least four important conditions for the conduct of a free and fair election:

An independent judiciary to interpret the electoral laws.

An honest, competent non-partisan electoral body to manage the elections.

A developed system of political parities.

A general acceptance by the political community of the rules of the game.

Therefore, such a free and fair election would lead to democratic governance, provided there is the establishment of institutions of accountability, functioning political parties, independence of the judiciary and the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity.

In addressing this message to the people of Congo, I want to assure that war-weary country of our solidarity and prayers, our commitment and action. To the world we call on it to repent of its conspiracy to exploit the Congo's resources and its people for profit, to end its indifference, and to acknowledge the shame of oppression.

The focus on bringing the country to elections may be laudable and may help end the cycle of violence and despair, but the impunity of human rights abuses of horrendous numbers cannot continue.

Without money from the developed world to rebuild, without more peacekeepers to protect the innocent, without the genuine commitment of whomever leaders the Congo chooses and without Africa's own leadership empowering the heart of Africa, these elections will not bring any progress, and millions of people will have died in vain and millions more face the same future.

We must not allow the indifference of centuries of oppression and exploitation to continue.

In the name of God, it must stop.

God bless Africa

Guard her children

Guide her leaders

And give her peace for Jesus Christ's sake.

Amen.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary