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The tragedy of impulsive armed combat, exploitation and death in Congo

Mark FancherBy Mark P. Fancher
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Since 1885, Africa has been intimately acquainted with Europe’s divide and rule strategy for controlling the continent.

It was during that year that Europe sought to end its intra-continental scramble for control of Africa by convening a conference in Berlin, Germany, where each European country was assigned regions to colonize.

Today, in the Democratic Republic of Congo — a former Belgian colony, which has always been highly coveted because of its deposits of mineral wealth and other valuable natural resources — this process of division seems to have kicked into a ferocious self-perpetuating overdrive that causes that country, even within its own borders, to remain divided.

When Congo became independent in 1960, Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first prime minister, frightened western countries because of his plans for genuine political and economic independence. He was assassinated, and shortly after, the country came under the control of CIA-sponsored dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

After years of mass resistance to a reign of bloody terror, Mobutu was driven into exile in 1997. But the consequence was that there was no longer a convenient face to put on the ongoing exploitation of the country because foreign corporations with operations in Congo lurked in the shadows and hid behind cloaks of “plausible deniability.”

The effects of imperialism, nevertheless, continued to be felt by the people of Congo, and without the option of blaming an obvious flesh and blood villain like Mobutu, blame defaulted to any of a variety of armed factions fighting to control the country.

One of the current factions is led by Sultani Makenga. His controversial anti-government guerrilla army has come to be known as “M23,” and it has not only had its own internal conflicts, but it has also been accused of various human rights violations. It derives its name from the date of a peace agreement that was negotiated on March 23, 2009. Makenga and others claim the deal was breached by the government.

Makenga was quoted as saying, “I am a soldier, and the language that I know is that of the gun. My home has been in the bush, fighting injustice and corrupt regimes in this region. Therefore, when a politician wants to play politics with me, my response won’t be the political podium but the barrel of the gun because that’s my way of fighting for my rights.”

Unfortunately for the people of Congo, barrel of the gun politics directed at the country’s internal forces will not address the chaos caused by foreign corporations, which are the true source of the country’s problems. If other fighting factions in Congo have a comparable perspective, little real progress is likely to be made.

As brigades of Congolese fighters continue to shoot at each other, unarmed civilians continue to die.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, corporate executives sit comfortably in leather upholstered boardroom chairs counting the profits yielded from their Congo operations and offering silent prayers of gratitude to the European heads of state who, during the end of the 19th century devised the divide, rule and exploit doctrine that continues to serve them well in Africa.

Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about armed conflicts in Africa. He can be contacted at


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