DR Congo elections – no way out on basis of capitalism

In a country two thirds the size of Western Europe the overt and widespread rigging of elections has not prevented the Congolese masses turning out to decide their own fate by any means they can find. In the process more than a dozen have been killed and over a hundred injured before the election with at least another four killed by the police of the regime in the days after the result was announced.

thumb Election violenceOn the day of the election itself polling stations were burned to the ground, voting cards stolen and used by the soldiers of party militias and the assistance of both the UN and international capital in the rigging of the ballot has been blatant. The majority of those killed so far have been shot dead by men of the Republican Guard, soldiers loyal to Joseph Kabila. Many others were injured by riot police utilising tear gas, batons and riot shields against the supporters of Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress, who turned out en masse to meet the leader of the UDPS.

Years of bonapartist rule under Kabila – paying lip service alone to the heritage of Patrice Lumumba, all the while continuing to rule in the interests of international capital, looting a country of colossal mineral wealth – along with decades of the Mobutu Sese Seko dictatorship before that – have dragged the Democratic Republic of Congo into the depths of an abyss for which the imperialist powers are absolutely responsible.

For only the second time since the supposed end of the civil war, which brought to the surface all the horrors of the colonial period, the Congolese people have turned out to vote en masse. In the previous election in 2006 the main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, of the UDPS boycotted the election believing (correctly) that the elections were rigged so as to legitimise the rule of Jonathan Kabila, who had taken over power from his father Laurent Kabila after the latter was killed in 2001. After a delay of a few days Kabila has been declared the winner by the Electoral Commission with 8.8 million votes to Tshishekedi’s 5.8 million (49 and 32 % respectively). The process of ballot rigging has been done with little attempt to disguise what was going on - turnout was 100.14% in Kabila’s home region for example. This has enraged many of the youth who have turned out to support the UDPS - after Kabila was declared the winner many of the youth came out in the capital, with no leadership forthcoming and no other way to vent their anger some have begun to set up barricades and roadblocks while others have turned to small acts of vandalism. The Associated Press carried the following report:

"We are very frustrated. It's a big deception for us. You go and you vote, and it means nothing," said opposition supporter 50-year-old Fabien Bukasa, who had the look of someone who doesn't eat every day. He said that in his neighborhood, youth turned to vandalism in anger, but are now waiting to see what Mr. Tshisekedi says. “We went out, and we started to burn things," he said. "On the spot. Because there was so much emotion. But the old man has asked us to stay calm. So we calmed ourselves. We are waiting for his instructions." (AP, carried in Wall Street Journal 11/12/11)

In the same piece the AP reports that the Police, backed up by 20,000 soldiers on standby, have been let loose on the capital Kinshasha. Going door to door across the UDSP neighbourhoods an unknown number of young men and women, many in their teens and early twenties, have simply been abducted. In many areas small shopkeepers and local residents have reported that police and soldiers have roamed the streets looting stores and robbing shopkeepers on the spot. Newstimeafrica.com carried the following report from Kinshasha:

"[Thiery]Tomatala says two Chinese-owned shops in the area were looted by armed men in civilian clothes, one in Kintambo on Friday evening, and another on Saturday morning in the Bandamungwa neighbourhood. There have been other incidents. “On Saturday morning, around 8.30 am (7.30 am UTC), a jeep full of heavily armed policemen stopped outside my depot, looted it and relieved me of some two million Congolese francs (around 2,200 dollars),” said Yvonne Kinja, a bread wholesaler on Avenue de Libération, in Bandalungwa. ”No traffic is being allowed on Avenue Libération, the street on which the Kinshasa Penitentiary and Reeducation Centre (CPRK), the Colonel Kokolo military camp, the Ministry of the Interior, Security and Decentralisation, as well as the Palais de la Nation, the president’s office – it’s been entirely taken over by the army and heavily armed police,” said Addée Ngudi, who lives along the avenue."

Over the course of the 10th and 11th December there were demonstrations in European capitals against both Kabila and the western powers which have supported him continued. Up to 1,000 demonstrators marched in London breaking through police lines to reach Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and marching through the West End. The demonstration ended in 143 arrests, and reports of police abuses have emerged including the head butting of one demonstrator and numerous assaults against both men and women. A similar demonstration took place in Brussels, ending in 200 arrests.

Regime under pressure

Having failed entirely to deliver on promises of improving the lives of the Congolese people Kabila, supported by his imperialist masters, is scrambling to retain power. In the early days of L. Kabila’s rule the Congolese masses placed their trust in the senior Kabila to make inroads on the most pressing tasks of developing the DR Congo. Leaning heavily on the legacy of Patrice Lumumba combined with anti-western rhetoric. J. Kabila executed a turn away from western capital to that of China, who in 2007 agreed to provide US$5 billion in loans to build rail and road links from the primary mining region around Lubumbashi direct to the ports on the coast, repayments for the loan coming directly out of mining concessions for the Chinese. This was of course in the interests of Chinese capital, making it easier to export much needed metals, rather than the Congolese people who will only be permitted to see the mineral wealth they wrench from the earth moved out of the region at a faster pace and in larger quantities. Such infrastructure projects are notoriously corrupt, with the roads left as mud tracks and the millions set aside for the work finding their way into the pockets of various bureaucrats and politicians.

With what little social base it had slipping away, the Kabila regime must turn to the tactics used in the 2006 election on an even larger scale. The head of the electoral commission in the DR Congo is Mulunda Ngoy. Ngoy is a longstanding ally of Laurent and Joseph Kabila and for many years was their spiritual advisor (he is of course a ‘man of the cloth’). Ngoy has been entrusted with several key assignments including the Sun City peace negotiations of 2002-2003, and organising the repatriation of officers of the Mobutu regime in exile in Europe. Ngoy was also sent to organise an alliance with the officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) which had fled to the Congolese jungle - the FAR alongside the Interahamwe militia (now ALiR, Army for the Liberation of Rwanda) are the forces responsible for carrying out the genocidal campaign against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda in the 1990‘s. In the current election Ngoy has begun declaring votes cast in certain areas as invalid due to irregularities in the collection or transportation of ballots - those areas being known UDSP strongholds. That Ngoy does not actually have the legal power to declare any votes invalid is a secondary matter to the Kabila regime. On top of this Kabila has expanded the Supreme Court from 7 to 27 judges, packing the body with loyalists.

As if this were not sufficient, masses of pre-marked ballot papers have been shipped to polling stations by the truck and plane load. Learning from the superb actions of the Zambian masses in combating the rigging of elections in October, at least four truck loads of pre-marked ballots have been intercepted in Lubumbashi, a stronghold of the UDPS and of the Congolese working class (two were burnt out - the other two were blown up). UN soldiers have been ordered to escort other trucks carrying pre-marked ballot papers following this. In Kinshasha IV ballot papers had not arrived at polling stations by noon of the day of the election - about a quarter of the population of the capital lives in this district. In Lubumbashi again the opening of polling stations in the UDPS stronghold of Bel-Air was delayed by several hours - leading to protests and the setting up of barricades. In the Ruashi neighbourhood of Lubumbashi armed civilians wearing red bandanas have opened fire on voters at polling stations, UN staff have retreated to their compound amidst reports of mortar fire. What is more at least three planes carrying ballot papers have been flown in from South Africa - with one confirmed as carrying 20 ton of pre-marked ballot papers, an additional 5 million votes for Kabila. Protesting this, members of the Congolese diaspora in Johannesburg marched on the Congolese embassy, some attempting to storm it - the South African police used rubber bullets to break up the demonstration.

In addition, in a country of this size with no highways to speak of and little by way of railways, Kabila had the campaign period cut down to one month. Tshishekedi was held in South Africa for two weeks of this, as the Civil Aviation Authority in the DR Congo refused his plane permission to land. Upon arrival the police prevented the UDPS leader from leaving the airport, and opened fire with teargas and live ammunition on supporters who had turned out to greet Tshishekedi. Having failed to stop his arrival, the police tried to stop him from voting - Tshishekedi spent most of the day of the election being turned away from polling stations by the police.

The New York Times (2/12/11) had the following to say of the election process:

“Congo’s election this week has been so chaotic and often violent, with poll workers slugged in the face and polling places burned to the ground, that it may be difficult to ever know who truly won. Countless ballots have now been reduced to ashes; many others have been tampered with. On Friday, election observers sounded despondent, saying that the official tallying centers looked like disaster zones, with ballots dumped in the mud and the supposedly sacrosanct tabulation sheets fluttering loose in the wind.

“Still, the early results that have not mysteriously vanished or been destroyed show Mr. Tshisekedi leading handily in Kinshasa, the capital, and drawing many votes nationwide, creating the possibility of an upset against President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled Congo with an increasingly heavy hand for 10 years.”

The rank hypocrisy of the world forces of ‘democracy’ has once again been on display, while Kabila’s troops gun down opposition party supporters at rallies, Ban Ki Moon has urged "all political leaders and the people ... to exercise restraint throughout the process to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful and secure environment." This while the police and soldiers of the regime continue to loot and kill with impunity.

The months building up to this year’s elections have been marked by the increasingly violent actions of the Kabila regime against the Congolese masses, who have been moving into action in some areas, and Tshishekedi’s tapping into the desire to break out of the miserable conditions they are forced to endure. Amongst the urban working class many want a place to work paying a wage above starvation level, a school to send their children to, a hospital building with doctors and nurses inside; amongst the displaced peasants in the east, most simply want a chance for them and their families to leave the refugee camps (not only in the DR Congo but also in Rwanda, Uganda and the Central African Republic) and to return safely to their farms; having being terrorised off their lands by bloody militias seeking to control and expand the mines from which the metal coltan, vital to the electronics, aircraft engine and IT industries of China and the West, are extracted.

Earlier in the year a number of university students were killed either on demonstrations or on campus. At the University of Kinshasa (UniKin) PhD student Mbayi Michel was killed by gunmen on the night of 4-5th January, allegedly for not handing over the bag containing his laptop, and Psychology student Nzomambu Kibanda Fiston was killed in the early hours of January 12, the day the students of UniKin had turned out en masse to collect the body of Mbayi Michel from the morgue for burial. The killers hung Fiston‘s body from a tree on the route the students would take to the morgue in a blatant and brutal provocation. In response the students organised a demonstration against the killings. The police of the regime responded in turn by attacking the demonstration, blockading the University campus and preventing the students of the Université Pédagogique Nationale (UPN) and Institut Supérieur des Techniques Appliqués (ISTA) from linking up with their comrades at the UniKin siege. By the end at least ten were killed, four or more were students, the rest police - a sign of how hard the student comrades fought. As a clear indication of who the students hold responsible for the killings the Office of the Campus Police, a former residence of the Prime Minister and the University Rector’s residence were all burned down and all of the Rector’s cars destroyed (a crude and provocative sign of his own wealth in an impoverished society). In addition to this movement of the students there is a widespread campaign amongst the Congolese diaspora, ‘Kabila, Degage’ (Kabila, get out - drawing on the slogans of the Arab Revolution in Tunisia), with demonstrations in some of the major western capitals including Amsterdam, Paris, Washington DC, London and Johannesburg in South Africa over the course of the year - and particularly in recent days.

The DR Congo rarely makes it onto the pages or screens of the capitalist media in the west, but when it does it is rarely more than the superficial headlines of the many horrors taking place there, with no effort to grasp why. Condemning the atrocities that take place, along with hand wringing over “conflict metals” has not taken one step forward in preventing the extreme violence committed by these militias. We can condemn cancer, but that does not cure it. As with many other nations in the region - Botswana, Zambia and Namibia amongst others - the mineral wealth of the Congo region has not for a moment been used for anything other than to fill the pockets of rulers like Mobutu, or Kabila after him - as well as providing extremely cheap resources to be worked up into commodities by the capitalist powers. These metals and ores are wrenched out of the earth in large quantities in spite of the fact that many of the mines including those producing coltan, the metal vital for the electronics and high technology industries, are worked using techniques that are almost pre-feudal in some cases. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the militias are symptomatic of the rotten and bankrupt state of capitalism in the former colonial countries, which is unable to develop them economically or politically. The Congolese workers and peasants in the east are abandoned by the ’democratic’ and ’enlightened’ capitalist nations to the mercy of these little generals enriching themselves. They use exactly the methods of imperialism to brutalise the population and fatten themselves - exploiting labourers in the eastern regions in order to supply the metals needed for capitalist industry. In the western regions the masses are forced to take starvation wages, all the while before their eyes the President and his cabal drain the wealth of the Congo into their own wallets.

Drawn in like vultures to a mineral wealth estimated by some to be worth about $24 trillion US dollars - the equivalent of the GDP of the US and Europe combined or, put another way, more than one third of global GDP for 2010 - China, Australia, the US, Canada and Britain have all sunk their talons into the Congo and their competing interests place the Congolese masses in the cross fire. BHP Billiton has plans for a third hydroelectric dam on the Congo River, not to bring electrification to the people but to supply a gargantuan aluminium smelter under construction on the Atlantic coast. In addition to the 2007 deal, in 2009 China agreed a $9 billion investment plan in exchange for further mining concessions - the plan to extract huge quantities of metals for export to feed the immense Chinese electronics manufacturing industry - with the possibility of a $42 billion profit on the deal. As part of the deal the DR Congo would be able to access financing (from a Chinese bank) for the construction of 2,400 miles of road, 2,000 miles of railway, 32 hospitals, 145 health centres and two universities - the road and rail links will of course be built to make the transport of the extracted material to the coast for export easier and cheaper, the bill for construction will as ever be paid by the Congolese people. The west were not happy with this and decided to turn the screw on the Kabila regime - the IMF (headed by Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the time) refused to write of $10 billion of foreign debt and withheld a further $500 million in financial support, unless and until the terms of the deal with China were changed. This when the DR Congo is in desperate need of an expansion of infrastructure.

Every attempt by the Kabila regime to develop the DR Congo on a capitalist basis has failed completely . If anything the economy has continued to degenerate, with rail and road networks collapsing, the extraction stages of the mining sector still using child labour and techniques that have not advanced one step over the decades. A large part of the work done by the masses is done on the black market and is therefore not included in the official GDP figure of $23 billion - it is simply sucked straight into the hands of corrupt warlords and their allies in Africa and beyond. The few Congolese who manage to obtain a place at University are reduced, after graduation, to street vending to make any kind of living.

In the face of this, although Tshishekedi (who served as a minister in the Mobutu regime) has been able to tap into the anger and discontent of the masses, the program of his party proposes to go little beyond ‘good governance’ and transparency, as well as combating the rampant corruption among the cabal ruling the country. Under the pressure of the masses, who look to him as someone deeply distrusted by the west and who is ’his own man’, Tshishekedi has included promises of free healthcare and primary education in his program while on the campaign trail. Even these limited reforms - which the capitalists are trying to claw back from the workers of Europe and North America - are, within the confines of capitalism, both completely utopian and completely inadequate to meet the pressing needs of the masses. The Arab revolution, particularly in Tunisia, clearly demonstrates that only the independent action of the working class en mass, moving against the criminals rooted in the boardrooms, ministries and offices can even begin to deal with corruption - most often by driving these criminals out of their office and into the street. Any attempts to expand provision for healthcare or education will have to increase taxes on the mining and metal processing operations. Chinese and Canadian capital are particularly dominant in these areas, particularly copper and cobalt. Canadian capital controls around two-thirds of all copper output and two-thirds of all cobalt output, while Chinese capital controls 80% of the ore processors and smelters in the Katanga province where the large part of this work is done. In 2009 taxes paid by Canadian giant First Quantum amounted to between one-eighth to one-quarter of all tax revenues collected by the Congolese state. International capital has the Congolese economy by the throat, and they have a history of using the credit system against ‘developing’ countries as a weapon to beat them into submission. Such organised class power will care little for talk of ‘good governance’, any threat by taxation to their profits will be fought against by whatever means available. Only the complete expropriation of these industries, combined with an international appeal to the masses not only in Africa but beyond in Europe and North America, will be sufficient to break the hold of capitalism in Africa. In the hands of the working class the banks and the credit system, under the democratic control of the working masses, can be used as a tool to build - developing the former colonial countries at unheard of rapidity, exchanging machinery, high technology, expertise in industry, education and medical care for the raw materials and agricultural goods of Africa - developing the latter in the interests of the great swathes of urban and agricultural poor.

The Congolese masses have been squeezed for decades now and conditions there are desperate. Tensions are running high in the capital, Kinshasha, with Congo-Brazzaville reporting that in the four days after December 2nd 3,000 people had crossed the Congo river to escape escalating tensions. The President of the Catholic Bishop’s conference of Congo, Bishop Nicholas Djomo, had the following to say:

"We're worried. The image that comes to mind is of a high-speed train that is barreling straight toward a wall. We're under the impression that no one is putting on the brakes." AP, 5/12/11

The glaring contradictions in the society around them - a mass of wealth in the earth surrounded by absolute poverty - are not lost on the Congolese people. For decades they have been exploited not only by the western and Chinese corporations but also by a small group of corrupted politicians and warlords, whose only concern is their own personal gain. Not one extra hospital, not one additional school, not one dignified job will be won be won without a complete break with the rotten system of capitalism which continues to plunder all of Africa. Only on the basis of the independent organisation of the Congolese working class, with a perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system worldwide can any of this be done - only by the socialist revolution, with a perspective of the international overthrow of the capitalist class, can the Congolese people be freed from this prison house of the masses.