Congo Brazzaville, the Reasons Behind the Civil War

On October 16, 1997, the troops of the former president of Congo Brazzaville, M. Sassou Nguesso, took control of the capital Brazzaville, thus ousting the current president Pascal Lissouba, after a five month long civil war. It would be very difficult to understand the reasons for this conflict without taking into account the background struggle for influence between French and US imperialism in Africa, and the interests of the different oil companies in the rich oil fields in Congo Brazzaville's Atlantic coast.

On October 16, the troops of the former president of Congo Brazzaville, M. Sassou Nguesso, took control of the capital Brazzaville, thus ousting the current president Pascal Lissouba, after a five month long civil war.

It would be very difficult to understand the reasons for this conflict without taking into account the background struggle for influence between French and US imperialism in Africa, and the interests of the different oil companies in the rich oil fields in Congo Brazzaville's Atlantic coast.

The French company Elf controls 3/4 of the Congolese oil production and therefore represents one of the main sources of income of this African country. The links between the French multinational and the countries government are many, visible and invisible. Since Sassou Nguesso became president of the "People's Republic" of Congo, the relations between the government and the company could not have been better.

But when Pascal Lissouba was elected president in 1992 (after the former Stalinist Congolese Labour Party adopted "free market" economy and a multi party system), he opened relations with the US based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), which in exchange agreed to pay for the wage arrears of public employees.

Thus, it is not difficult to see that when last June the civil war started Elf sided although not openly with Sassou Nguesso. According to "sources in the French secret services" Nguessou's militias "were able to get supplies from Europe through the financing circuits of the oil companies" (Le Monde, 17/10/97).

Angola also sided with Nguessou for a double reason. First of all Elf is also the main company exploiting the oil resources of Angola, but most important of all Angola's intervention in Congo allowed it to smash a great deal of the remaining UNITA forces still operating from this country againts the Angolan regime. And at the same time it dealt a serious blow to the Cabinda nationalist guerrillas also operating from Congo-Brazzaville. Angola's troops were crucial to ensure Nguessou's victory in the Western province around Pointe-Noire (the main oil producing area) and in the capital Brazzaville itself.

Kabila's new Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) sided in this war with Pascal Lissouba. This could seem surprising as this put him in opposition to Angola, while this country supported his campaign to overthrow Mobutu in the former Zaire. This can only be understood in the context of the French-US rivalry in Africa. Mobutu's overthrow was a blow againts French interests in the area, while Kabila was supported by those countries in the US sphere of influence (mainly Uganda and Rwuanda). Kabila therefore chose to oppose France's interests in this conflict.

This conflict therefore does not benefit in any way the masses of these countries who see how different multinational companies and imperialist powers play with their future as if pawns in an international chess match. Five months and 4,000 people dead after, maybe the only good thing to come out of the conflict is the smashing of the mercenary forces of the UNITA thugs.

All this situation only reinforces the idea of the need for an independent movement of the working class and the masses in the area against all foreign imperialist powers and to take control of these countries' natural ressources. Such a movement would spread rapidly througout the whole of Africa and beyond, and can only be organised on the basis of socialist ideas.

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