Theater of Cruelty

Blanket for the next act

The question is not who wins the election in Congo, but whether the losers will use weapons.


[Congo] From the Portuguese trade in slaves and ivory in the 1400th century, through King Leopold of Belgium who raped the country and emptied it of rubber, to the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo can be summed up in two words. One is looting. The second is violence – to a cruel extent.

The two wars from 1996 to 2002 were no exception. About four million people died. Natural resources were smuggled out to Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the other of a total of nine African states involved. Congolese guerrilla groups and militias filled the pockets. As before, some were enriched. Others were massacred.

The election on Sunday, July 30, may put an end to this tragedy, which apparently has an unlimited number of acts. But it can also cause former rebel leaders who no longer get a piece of the cake to pick up the guns again. "Some will lose, and the losers will have guns," it has been said. It is well observed, but not a good starting point for peaceful development.

When Congo's 25,5 million voters go to the urns in the first multi-party election in 45 years, one must of course clap their hands. In a country where the Congo River and small aircraft are the only means of communication, reportedly because Mobutu refused to build roads and railways for fear of insurgents using them, it is simply impressive that a choice can be made.

Kofi Annan has called it a "logistical nightmare". 260.000 electoral officials will staff 10.000 polling stations. The largest election operation the UN has ever witnessed is a strong determination to carry out the process, both from the Congo and the international community. The EU has provided a strength to improve security during the elections. It will support the UN's 17.000 peacekeeping troops already in the country.

Great possibilities

A successful choice will create positive regional impacts. Congo can become a powerhouse and fill a power vacuum. Today, the notorious guerrilla group LRA, which is fighting in northern Uganda, has bases in the Congo. Many of those who carried out the Rwanda genocide also live in the country.

However, it seems that the new government will struggle with legitimacy. The election campaign has been full of irregularities. Demonstrations have been cracked down on, and the media, the judiciary and the military have been politicized. The various parties have youth gangs that harass other parties' candidates and supporters. The influential Catholic Church in the country has called for the election to be boycotted unless the irregularities are rectified.

The gray-haired ring fox Etienne Tshisekendi, the man who led the democracy movement against Mobutu in the 1980s, is popular with the urban middle class. He has chosen not to participate. It can lead to civil unrest, demonstrations in the big cities and violent episodes in the short term.

Danger of new war

However, the period after the election is at least as important as the weeks around election day. The fragile distribution of power that came into place with the peace agreement in 2002 will collapse as the election is conducted. Power was then divided between the four most important groups according to a complex equation. Today, there are four vice presidents, and

ministerial posts as well as important positions in the military and economic life are divided between the parties in the war. The election is going to change this radically.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila will apparently walk away with the victory. The big losers will be RCD and MLC, two guerrilla groups that were allied with Rwanda and Uganda during the war, respectively. Both are represented in the transitional government, but at the same time have de facto control over their respective factions in the new Congolese army. Parallels

command structures are preserved in case the election should not give the outcome the former rebels want. And it does not seem to do that.

Efforts to disarm and integrate the former guerrilla groups into the new army have also been slow. In many places, guerrilla members have appeared with a miserably discarded rifle, which may indicate that heavier weapons and more effective handguns are stored in the bush in case of new fighting. The new Congolese army, for its part, is undisciplined and weakened by corruption and miserable wages. The soldiers often attack the civilian population. Today, the national army is the largest source of insecurity for the civilian population. A couple of years ago, the World Bank asked people how they would relate to the state if it were a person. The most common response was, "I wanted to kill him."

The military strongest of the former

the guerrilla groups are RCD. Together they have somewhere between 10.000 and 20.000 soldiers. In recent years, there have been several clashes between the RCD and Congolese government forces in North and South Kivu. Laurent Nkunda currently leads RCD forces in the area around the city of Goma on the border with Rwanda. As recently as January this year, he is fighting the army in the Rutshuru region.

Congo could become the continent's economic engine. The Congo River can provide enough power to the entire African continent. The country has large quantities of gold, 30 percent of the world's diamond reserves and 70 percent of the world's coal resources in the world. Koltan is a valuable mineral that is used in mobile phones, not to mention cups, cobalt and timber.

The Heart of Darkness

Perhaps the election could be the turning point that turns the enormous resources into something other than a curse that over the centuries has tempted greedy people from near and far.

Slave labor under King Leopold cost at least five million people their lives, writes Adam Hochschild in King Leopold's Legacy. Joseph Conrad's fearsome figure mr. Kurtz from the novel Heart of Darkness had real role models in Leopold's colony administration. One of them was Léon Rom, a butterfly collector, landscape painter and officer, who was also known for having beheaded heads around his garden bed. Another was Guillaume Van Kerckhoven, the Force Publique officer who paid the native soldiers his five brass sticks for each human head they brought him during the military operation he led.

Not much has changed. Several of the presidential candidates are warlords with gross human rights violations.

King Leopold's atrocities gave rise to a worldwide protest movement. Despite the fact that the Congolese population has experienced the greatest war since World War II, the country has not received nearly the same amount of attention this time as at the beginning of the 1900th century. In the run-up to the election, it is more important than ever to keep the world's eye on Congo.


  • In the July 30 election, 33 presidential candidates and 9500 candidates are running for parliament.
  • 213 parties are fielding candidates, but only 20 have national lists.
  • Congo ranks second on Foreign Policy's list of the world's most failed states, surpassed only by Sudan.
  • Congo's 56 million people are among the poorest in the world. The country ranks 167th on the UN Human Development Index. It's number ten from the bottom.
  • More than 1000 people still die daily as a direct and indirect consequence of the conflicts in eastern Congo.
  • The country is thoroughly corrupt. 25 percent of the national budget disappears every year.

You may also like