Terna Gyuse, Africa Regional Editor for Inter-Press Service interviewed Ernest Wamba dia Wamba by email on November 17, 2008.
Gyuse: Ethnicity is often put forward as the key factor in the conflict in this region. You have a different view: what is the conflict really about?
Wamba dia Wamba: Strictly speaking, ethnicity or tribalism is a particular mode of functioning of a State–the colonial one that organized, conquered, or colonized people administratively by dividing them into tribes.
When post-colonial States did not successfully solve the national question by transforming consciously the colonial State, it remains a discriminatory State, functioning, in some respects, as a colonial State. Only if ethnic differences are made to become discriminations do these turn into ethnic conflicts. Right now, our State still treats communities differently, even formation of government reflects those differences. The particular case of the Tutsi Congolese had a history of having been State-oppressed when, during Mobutu’s regime, their right of nationality was even revoked. Since then, an ideology has occupied the minds of people to treat them differently, and the Tutsi themselves feel they could suffer again the same treatment if they are not protected. Sentiments of exclusion and of ill treatment make them act in a certain way. The State has not completely overcome those fears and those ideologies in people. The conflict is about power-sharing and access to resources in the situation of a weak State functioning with a discriminatory character. The resources part draws in the outside forces, and the issues left unresolved after the Rwandese genocide– the presence in the DRC of the FDR [Rwandan Defence Forces], genocidaires, and indications of their alliance with the Kinshasa regime–draws in Rwanda, at least indireclty. Other States around, that have suffered from Mobutu’s gendarme regime’s destabilization, want the DRC to remain weak. The West ‘s opposition to the Kinshasa government’s contract with China makes them less inclined to support fast the regime, as they would have done with Mobutu.
Gyuse: The DRC crisis has been “out of fashion” for some time, with relatively little heard about it until the latest outbreak of war in August. What changes on the ground have we missed in the interim?
Wamba dia Wamba: The major change has been that the scale of the humanitarian tragedy has brought it to the world’s attention, along with the increasing incapacity by the regime to settle the war for some time. And, I would think, the attitude of the West in view of the Congo/China contract implications. The conjuncture of the US elections had also something to do with it, as, in the US, universities started actively raising the issue of the silence over the killing in the DRC.
Gyuse: Many of DRC’s neighbours have been involved militarily in the conflict at one time or another — at the moment, Rwanda is accused of involvement and Angolan troops are again on the way. What role do DRC’s neighbours play in conflict?
Wamba dia Wamba: I touched on this question above. Most of them do not really want a strong DRC, and the DRC has not been able so far to develop an interesting posture of good neigborliness with the countries around. Angola made it clear it opposed JP Bemba, whom they believed would have been another Mobutu, and strongly supported the DRC regime. Congo:Brazzaville still houses former FAZ [Zairean Armed Forces] troops, Uganda’s LRM [Lord’s Resistance Army] has been active in the Oriental province of the DRC, at Dungu particularly. Many refugees from Congo are in Uganda. Congolese Tutsi refugees are in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, etc. Angola was also accused of having occupied the territory of Kahemba, exploiting diamonds. At some point, Zambia occupied a village near Moba. All this is due to the fact that the DRC is unable to exercise its State authority around all its borders. The DRC hardly has a real national army, a real public administration and is thus unable to defend her territorial integrity. The corruption, fueled by the fact that even top leaders are involved in business interests, makes it difficult for the institutions to function well and urgently correct those shortcomings. Funds and materials sent to the war front usually hardly reach there. Food materials have been found for sale in stores in Kisangani, for example, intended for the front! The African Union should perhaps help in finding a neutral team to build the integration and restructuring of the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo].
Gyuse: In your view, what role is there for these (and other African governments) in finding a lasting peace?
Wamba dia Wamba: As long as they operate within the UN type of conception of conflict resolution, where peace is seen as coming from outside, peace as ‘colonial pacification’, no durable solution will be found. Only a temporary solution. Since the 1960s the end of each war in the DRC has not taken up the issue of national reconciliation with truth. Often, the solution is based on power-sharing, favoring the strongest element and sometimes ignoring the defeated element–i. e., the division among the people is not dealt with and some continue to feel excluded, making it difficult even for the State to function as the State for all people. It is crucial this time that a real dialogue takes place and a reconciliation is carried out. Military solutions tend to be temporary, waiting for the shift in the balance of forces. In the long run, the DRC State has to be rebuilt, some way has to be found to organize a real army and a real administration. Unless people are involved in the process, the outcome may not be a State that is not repressive of the people. The consolidation of democratic institutions may help; so far, multipartyism has tended to be more divisive. The neoliberalism has not made it easier for weak States to really control their resources. The world economy of crime easily links up with corrupt structures to loot the resources and marginalize and impoverish people.
Gyuse: The DRC is obviously of great importance to the world. I’m thinking of the large, lucrative mineral contracts which have been signed — not uncontroversially — in recent months; of the competing strategic interests of various end-users of the resources that are extracted from DRC in both good times and bad; of the UN’s mission in the Congo; and the recent presence in the Great Lakes region of high-level diplomats from France, the UK and the United States… What role is being played by parties from outside Africa?
Wamba dia Wamba: Most of what we know those forces are doing is what the press has been reporting. Very little is really new. Since its creation at the Berlin Conference , the Congo has been an international colony entrusted to the hands of some person (Leopold II), some country (Belgium) and an international neocolony entrusted to the hands of the Troika (US, France, Belgium)–now, US and European Union. Intense diplomacy is being witnessed, but one is not sure that this time a solution favorable to the Congolese people will be achieved. The West pursues its diplomacy on the assumption that its interests and privileges will remain taken care of. It is good if that diplomacy does succeed in dealing urgently with the tragic humanitarian crisis. The fear here is that, given their sentiment left by their doing nothing over the genocide in Rwanda, that they may raise the Kosovo spectre.
The Congolese people will defend their territorial integrity. Obasanjo’s mission is interesting; it might clarify the positions of the opposed camps and may help clarify the issue of the dialogue or negotiations and the terms of those negotiations. The UN mission reminds one of the ONUC [United Nations Operation in the Congo], that of the 1960’s. The government that invited it seems to have changed its mind. Even the increase of troops won’t change much. The first one’s sum-up has yet to be made; it was not necessarily successful. Until the DRC can have an effective army and be able to exercise its State authority throughout, the UN will be only of that much help.
Gyuse: You have elsewhere suggested that the government in Kinshasa has little real influence over the situation. Why is that?
Wamba dia Wamba: Not influence, what I said was that it has little control over the situation. First, because its armed forces have been very undisciplined and very ill supplied due to the disappearance of what is sent to the front; the shortcomings of the military leadership; and the lack of political will at the summit to deal with the real integration and restructuring of the armed forces–including the need for reconciliation to bring back former soldiers of Mobutu and Bemba now abroad or those that have been arbitrarily arrested. It is said that soldiers have been deserting and some becoming mine diggers. Now, the government says that it is going to deal with impunity in the armed forces; let us hope that this will change much.
Gyuse: Who are the relevant parties to negotiate a better future for the country?
Wamba dia Wamba: Within the institutions, they are people who are agitating for direct negotiations with Nkunda. In the Senate and in the National Assembly, proposals have been made in that direction. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been meeting with the Rwandese, I do not know how much has been achieved. Since the issue should be to achieve a long-lasting settlement, the more the institutions are involved the better. During the time of the secessions (Katanga and South Kasai), President Kasa-Vubu did meet with the leaders of the secessions. It would be good that a high-level meeting take place so that implementation of the agreements could be guaranteed. The government should consult with bipartisan wise people all across the country to get a sense of what is likely to move us towards a better future.