The failure of an African political leadership: An interview with Professor Wamba dia Wamba

This story comes from Z Magazine and is based on an interview conducted in July 2003 by Mandisi Majavu.


ZNet | Activism

The failure of an African political leadership
An interview with Professor Wamba dia Wamba
by Mandisi Majavu; July 18, 2003

Professor Wamba dia Wamba is a leader of the Rassemblement Congolais la democratie (RCD-Kisangani), and is based in Kinshasa, the capital town of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development in recognition of his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa.” He has written innumerable articles in various scientific and non-scientific journals on the politics in Africa. He has taught at Harvard University and at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, to name but a few. At the beginning of this month (July 2003) I approached him, via email, for an interview, and what follows is what transpired.

What does the Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Kisangani-) stand for?

Since November 2000, the RCD-Kisangani/ML, after Mbusa Nyamwisi [who was once an Executive council member of the Rally for Congolese Democracy] and John Tibasima failed putsh (3-17Nov. 2000) there are two major tendencies in the movement, one led by me and the other by Mbusa.

I am the only one to have been elected by the assembly of the members. Our tendency does not recognize the putshist leadership of Mbusa. Now, the movement has to change and become a political party; our tendency will soon announce our party’s name and philosophy. We are not going to be with militarists. We will have a federalist orientation; the right to self-determination at all levels is the only meaningful political framework to have a consistent democracy and avoid the politics which are separated from the people and often facilitate dictatorship.

In your view, what are the problems facing the transitional government in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), please explain?

The transition has taken off with the formation of the government. Because of the way it has been formed, it is like an airplane taking off with on board, pilots who do not know well how to pilot planes as they have been selected on other criteria than competence or integrity; with bicycle mechanics standing for airplane mechanics, etc. The landing at the destination is not assured and those who are not on board may be safer.

The basic issues of the Congolese crisis have not been dealt with: people have no confidence in the existing institutions and their officers. Nothing inspires that confidence even now. Leaders themselves do not have trust in each other; as the power-sharing is conceived in zero-sum game perspective: one wins, not with the others, but at the expense of the others. The necessary atmosphere of trust is lacking. The 4 vice president based cohabitation, requiring great mutual trust, is likely to be a form of continuation of war, hopefully without real arms. When the overall system is based on mediocrity and irresponsibility, each leader has no self-confidence. There is complete absence of a sense of Statecraft and workmanship.

There are people in the government who have acted as real criminals at the local and regional levels and now as leaders at the national level. Some of them have occasioned the massacres of their own distant relatives and the destruction of their own cities; it is not clear how they will become more respectful of people of other regions; they are in the government only to continue to have access to resources. This makes the national reconciliation process difficult.

Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi, a former foreign minister once sought by a Belgian court for inciting genocide, is now one of the four deputy presidents in the transitional government. Does this not compromise the reconciliation and the peace process in the DRC?

The whole issue of moral integrity, political responsibility and accountability and impunity has not been at the center of how people have been selected to assume positions. In fact the whole issue of the profile of people has not been at the center of the discussions at all. Might is right has been the rule. One must satisfy all those likely to continue creating problems at least to end the war and the balkanizatioin of the country. There was no conception in view of strategic positions to enhance chances of sustainable peace and reconciliation and to give to credible people with integrity and commitment.

The president of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, for example, is a person that has been less conciliatory and in fact practised exclusion in the process of attempting to implement the Sun City Accord. There will probably be many people to be brought to international criminal court. If this happens, it might redirect the airplane for a better and safer taking off, rather than compromising the process. Vice president Ndombasi may not be the only case.

The USA is apparently making it difficult for the court to do its business; this may reinforce the compromising tendency. Anti-Tutsi racialism seems to be a real problem with some Congolese due to the war campaign made especially by the government side and the effects of ideologies of hatred spread by the consequences of the Rwandese and Burundian genocides. Many people have not taken a firm stand against such genocides. There must be a way of dealing with the issue, to embark ourselves on a road towards a consistent democracy free of all racialist prejudices.

What do you make of the solution being advanced in reply to the military question, the fact that the rebels and the government must share posts in a unified military posts, with president Joseph Kabila having a prerogative to choose the armed forces chief of staff and the head of the navy, while the RCD-Goma has been granted a right to nominate the head of the ground forces, and the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo heading the air force?

Fundamentally, granting political partisan influences in the unified army is not a good way of creating a professional and republican army. The unification could have started with the real army (from ordinary soldier to the colonel) drawn from all the belligerent components and given a neutral command and training before the transitional government could organize more correctly the take over of the command from the neutral command provided, for example, by UN expertise.

The army power-sharing scheme, no matter how balanced, will still create political spheres of influence inside the army more likely to cause problems. Especially since what exist now are various militias with few professionally well trained soldiers in a situation in which promotion to higher ranks has not been based on professional criteria, creating a malaise inside the armies and lack of moral credibility. The fear of a coup d’etat becomes more real with the way the whole issue has been handled.
Is it possible to put the continuing fighting in Bunia and Kivus into a context? In Kivus, it is reported that the fighting is between the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD-Goma) and the RCD-Kisangani-mouvement de liberation

The context is basically one of the lack of political will to solve the Congolese crisis on both sides of the war and hence the lack of commitment to ending the war. There is also a misunderstanding of what the Lusaka Accord refers to as negative forces.

It is said that the Kinshasa government allied with Mbusa tendency of the RCD-K/ML still works with the Interahamwe [remnants of the former Rwandan genocidal militia based in the DRC] and provide them with arms, the same way as they are said to provide their other client, the MaiMai [one of the rebel groups in the DRC], with arms to continue fighting the positions of RCD-Goma, to continue weakening the RCD-Goma’s position.

Mbusa being used by the Kinshasa government, first to attempt to weaken the MLC [Movement for the Liberation of Congo] and now to weaken the RCD-G, uses the continuation of war as a way to gain stronger bargaining position in the power-sharing process. It is even said that he had dreams of being the vice president as compensation for what he has done for the government component. Even after the multinational troops arrived in Bunia, they were still arming the Lendu to fight UPC [Union des Patriotes Congolaise] seen as being supported by Rwanda.

However, there are many people linked to regional mafias benefiting from the trafficking of arms, apart from the violent access to resources (primitive accumulation). The movement of troops by the Kinshasa government closer and closer to RCD-G positions has made RCD-G to also continue fighting.

The multinational force that was deployed to Bunia on authorisation of the Security Council is due to withdraw in September, do you think fighting will have stopped by then?

Unless there are positive developments in the direction suggested above where real political will and commitment to end the war on the part of all the actors involved are achieved. A neutral administration established, justice for all becomes a norm and enough resources for national and local reconciliation are provided; furthermore, the arm-trafficking, mafias controlled industry should be done away with. Otherwise, the war will continue.

What conditions do you envisage for a sustainable peace in the DRC?

Regional commitment and political willingness to have sustained peace in the great lakes region. The International Conference on the great lakes region must come up with a Marshall type Plan for the regional rehabilitation.

Firm commitments on the parts of the political actors in the region to equity and inclusive and equitable representation, democratization and social justice. For the DRC, structural changes are necessary: meaning a move from an economy governed by the extractive problematic-entertaining, violent production relations under the cover of market (forced labor, great wealth produced without taking care of the life reproduction of producers nor the maintenance of the country, continuous non-payment of salaries-not even living salaries, Congolese majority poverty stricken), the continuous militarization of the politico-administrative structure since the colony and reinforced since the coups d’etat; and a promotion of culture of peace and truth and reconciliation.

Moreover, a move from politics from the point of the state to politics from the point of the people from all origins. Necessity to democratize the country’s politics and to move towards a federal form of State. To get to this level of commitment, we must develop a national debate on crucial issues so that a truly patriotic and committed pro-Congo political current develops and comes to the national leadership and serves as the basis of creating the necessary confidence in promoting dialogue and peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.

A four page document written by you, dating August 2002, calls for the Belgian Royal family as related to King Leopold IIís legacy to be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal. Do you think this will ever take place? And what will such an action accomplish?

The main thing is to dramatize the ignored holocaust that was done by King Leopold’s Free Congo State, analysed, for example by Adam Hochschild (King Leopoldís Legacy, 1998). The continuous impact of this legacy on our country has to be addressed and responsibilities established. This helps humanity to become more humane and reinforces equality and real democracy. Belgians have started some sort of self-criticism over the issue of their involvement in the assassination of Lumumba and colleagues and the dismantling of the nationalist regime. This is helpful beginning. We should go beyond.

The diamonds, also known as “blood diamonds”, how did they contribute to the four-year war that is reported to have killed more than four million people?

It is the clearest illustration of an economy totally based on extraction of natural resources, the cheapest way of doing it is through violence. To an extent that nature is seen as valueless, forced labor can be reduced to its lowest by gun point.

The context is easily exploited by the world criminal economy seeking ways for money laundering. It was the struggle of monopoly control over diamond purchasing which initiated the Rwandese-Ugandan confrontation in Kisangani. The war started with the attack by Rwandese soldiers on the Ugandan based diamond dealer comptoir. But, of course that is not the only thing responsible of the continuation of the war. But continuous access to the resources fuelled the war.

Any plans to take the companies who kept this trade booming, while millions of people were being killed, to the International Criminal Tribunal?

Files on this matter will be organized little by little with the help of worldwide justice interested jurists and lawyers by consistent democratic regional and Congolese forces. The Case of South Africa will inspire people.

Can you talk a little about the Ota Benga, the International Alliance For Peace in Congo? What is the rational behind it? What does it aim to achieve and what has it done so far? Also, I understand there is a fascinating history behind the name Ota Benga?

Our Ota Benga:Centre pour la DignitÈ Humaine is in a process of being set up. Some parts are more ready than others. It aims at developing consciousness and promoting human dignity.

Ota Benga, a Congolese of the so-called Pygmy race, was taken to the USA by an American anthropologist who used him as an illustration of a link in the evolutionary chain between the primates and human species. He was put on exhibition in museum and at a Universal Exposition in Saint Louis. Finally he was put in the Bronx Natural Zoo (NY) with the primates. It was the Afro-Americans who led the protest, which eventually led him to be taken out of the Zoo. He ended up with a black poetess who took him to her home.

My late son interviewed a lady who, as a young girl, knew him and was a friend of his. He could not find anybody to help him go back to the Congo as he so dearly desired. One day in 1916, he committed suicide. We are still searching to identify his burial place. This is one of the worst cases of violation of the sovereignty of one’s humanity and dignity. We have adopted the name for a center that wants to promote human dignity.

We have a structure which is concerned with the empowerment of rural communities. We already have one such a community at Boko Bas, Congo. We have together with the people there built a source of potable water. We have plantations growing cassava roots and onions. We are planning to build together school structure for kids not in school and an emergency health care center. The idea is to get people in dire conditions to be empowered and live like humans.

We are planning a house of cultures to promote the diversity of cultures and mutual respect of each other as a way of enlarging each person’s identity. The slogan is: roots and wings. One must be rooted in a culture and travel also (temporally and spatially) through other cultures. Plans to have a Weekly Newsletter are in place. Also, we have a small law office to provide legal aid to the poor, and we have in place a structure called Coordinating Committee, a campaign for a sustainable peace in the DRC.

What contributed to the split-up of the Rally for Congolose Democracy into what it is today: the RCD-Goma and RCD-Kisangani-Liberation Movement?

The RCD was actually a front regrouping three adversary tendencies in agreement minimally on the need to overthrow Laurent Kabila’s dictatorial regime: The Mobutist tendency who had lost power and wanted to return to power, the ADFLists [Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo] who had lost in the struggle for power within the ADFL regime and who wanted to redirect the ADFL regime by removing Kabila and the Democrats (from inside and abroad) who have fought dictatorship since Mobutu’s Coup d’etat.

The RCD was not organized as a front with recognized autonomy of tendencies, but as a politico-military structure of the liberation movement type, with almost no cadres at all. The minimum program was often understood as the maximum program. Conflicts had to develop on essential issues: relations with allies, relations between political and military victories, management of resources, relations between the movement and the people; conceptions of the conduct of war, etc. The first two tendencies tended to give privilege to military victory as they did not feel confident to get to power through elections. The third tendency, led by me, promoted the notion that armed conflicts are due to unresolved political fundamental problems which can only be resolved politically. As the people are not ready to support the war, we must seek ways of getting to direct negotiations with the government and force it to come to intercongolese dialogue and organize eventually elections.

Briefly, the split took place between militarists and democrats- with opportunists being on both sides as well. In the end, the democrats’ thesis won but the democrats lost in the power-sharing, which is essentially based on might is right.

What solutions, politically and economically, would you like to see the Democratic Republic of Congo take?

Note that this is not a short answer question. I have a ten point political program. Roughly politics must cease to be separated from the people, physically and socially i.e., pro Congo, pro-Congolese people and pro-pan-africanist politics.

An income raising productive economy based on the Congolese majority implemented, a break from an extractive problematics and lootcracy dominated economy; and a Federal State for all Congolese- after the transition.

Is there something I did not ask that you would like to add?

It is sad to note that despite all the killings, massacres, genocides of Congolese people and other people in the region, the African political leadership has had no urgent strategy to implement and counter-act so as to make positive difference. It eventually was sidelined from the very peace process of Lusaka Accord which it initiated. It being a neighbour of a country that has lost 2.5 millions people in 4 years and not being ultimately concerned does not give hope in the African unification.

Winnemem Wintu tribe

Below are some links for the Winnemem Wintu tribe and the plan to raise Shasta Dam.

It’s another scandalous story. 14,000 Winnemem Wintus were living along the McCloud River before Europeans arrived in the area. Early on, many were wiped out by epidemics spread by trappers. Gold was discovered in Shasta Co. in 1848, and more were killed, died of disease, or were pushed off their land. Eventually they were allotted 160 acres along the McCloud. By 1900, fewer than 400 Wintus were left. In the late 30s the gov began retaking allotments to remove Winnemem from the river so they could build Shasta Dam. Shasta Dam was finished in 1944, creating Shasta Lake and flooding much of the Winnemem’s ancestral villages, burial sites, etc. The government had promised to compensate them with land, which never happened.

Sometime in the 1980s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated the Winnemem’s federal tribal status–BIA health services, grants for education, etc. etc. were all stopped. Members of the tribe have petitioned, testified in Congress, held hunger strikes, and protests to try to regain tribal status, so far without success. Why is it up to the BIA to decide this? There’s only 140 of them left.

In 2000 CalFed (coalition of state/federal/aggie/environmental grps etc.) made a plan to enlarge water storage in the Bay Delta by raising the height of Shasta Dam 6 to 18 feet–enough to flood most remaining Winnemem Wintu cultural sites. Feinstein has pushed for it, but there’s been enough opposition to delay things up til now. But with this year’s drought and increasing population, there’ll be a lot of pressure. The bottom link is a Feb. 2007 article from the Redding Record Searchlight which describes the various interests involved.

The DR Congo: Wars, Resources, Politics and History

The most overused explanation for the continuing chaos and warfare in the DRCongo is its fabulous and legendary resources (gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, diamonds, coltan, timber, water, etc.). Recently, thanks to Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, the public can connect today’s situation to what happened a century ago. This book was not only a useful reminder of the genocidal impact of Belgian conquest on the Congolese people, it also provided a graphic, raw illustration of the principles by which political and financial leaders having been ruling the world as a whole. However it was AFTER the Leopoldian Regime (1908) that the demographic decline of the population was most notable; and it was in 1921 that one of the greatest figures of Congolese resistance, Simon Kimbangu (founder of the Kimbanguist Church) was arrested. He died in prison, 30 years later, in 1951.

With Independence on June 30, 1960, the possibility arose for the Congolese people as a whole to enjoy the wealth of their country, under the leadership of a government led by Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first and only elected Prime Minister the country ever had. His assassination and the disposal of his body in an acid bath were meant to act as a deterrent to any other would-be disciple.

Extreme and exemplary punishment has always been part of the strategy to ensure that indigenous peoples anywhere on the planet are crushed into submission to the system. In 1706, the King of the Kongo, lobbied by Italian Capuchin missionaries, arrested Kimpa Vita (aka Dona Beatriz) and her daughter and had both burned alive. Her crime was her opposition to slavery.

Throughout their history, the Congolese have never had the possibility of really deciding by themselves, for themselves, on the future of their country—leading some to argue that the DRCongo’s wealth has been more a curse than a blessing. By themselves the resources do not trigger wars; it is the manner in, and the purpose for which they were sought and extracted that led to terror and violence. The colonial state and the repressive structures which went with it (army, police, and legal system) were never transformed to serve the interests of the former colonial subjects.

They could not transform it because their most precious resource, the one which hardly receives any attention in the press, was maimed and tortured into submission, into forgetting that they do not have to beg anyone for recognition of their humanity. This happened when the “discoverers,” having exterminated the Arawaks and the Amerindians, turned to Africa for cheap labor and invented Atlantic Slavery. However, the unmarketability of humanity makes it our (not just the Congolese’s) most precious resource. The rationale for treating indigenous peoples all over the planet as less than human has been a constant of the system. IT IS THAT TREATMENT WHICH HAS TO BE CHANGED. Unless this happens, having the right price for more or less of diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, timber, hydroelectric power, cobalt, coltan, oil, will not change much. Milan Kundera, a nonindigenous person, understood this when he wrote the following words:

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was… The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

–From The Book of Laughter and Forgetting


No to massacres, no to dehumanization, no to inhumanity!

In the name of humanity, the desecration of all lives in Haiti must cease. In the name of our organization, the Ota Benga Alliance for Peace, Human Dignity, and Healing in the DR Congo and the USA, we call for an end to the never-ending suffering of the Haitian people.

The Haitian people are like the Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are all victims/survivors, some without knowing, some very conscious, of a chain reaction which started exploding with more and more force around the Planet since 1492.

The system which grew out of the multiple genocides (Africans, Arawaks, Caribs, Amerindians, Native Americans, African Americans) has reproduced itself through what it knows best how to do in order to move forward: to kill relentlessly, physically, and spiritually. It kills in all the ways it can: softly, seductively, through corruption, violence, and, if all else fails, through the most lethal weapon it has in its hands. It is a chain reaction which led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and has continued to grow worse.

We must stand by what we believe: we must stand by the meaning of words like respect and love for all lives, respect for all members of humanity, respect for freedom with peace and justice.

For the system to kill so systematically, so massively, it had always resorted to one simple method: declare the future victims as less than human: the list is too long to name all of them, but you know them.

We are supposed not to pay attention to what is happening in Haiti, we are supposed not to hear the screams against injustice, the screams which echo the survivors of all the genocides: “Please do not inflict this pain and suffering on any other human being.” We are supposed not to trust our ears, our feelings, our conscience. All in the name of a system which has been working at turning all of us into its worshippers of violence in all its varied silent and not-so-silent forms. All in the name of not breaking our personal comfort.

Father Jean Juste, and all the many not so well-known Haitians who are being tortured till they submit to the system, deserve much better from us than just words or occasional coins. They deserve a stand and actions which will not stop till all the people of Haiti enjoy completely and totally the freedom for which their ancestors died more than two hundred years ago. They died for all of us who do love freedom with justice and peace. And they are still at it, but are we ready to be counted?

As all the survivors of all the genocides, past and recent, certified and uncertified, small and big, forgotten and remembered, we say to those who are directly and indirectly, actively and passively responsible for the ongoing suffering of all the people to Haiti to stop and radically change their behavior. For the sake of humanity, let us put our lives at the service of the Haitian people who are being killed, tortured, jailed, simply because they are calling for what all of us take for granted: freedom with justice and peace. Let us support their right to call for the return of their democratically elected President and government officials. Let us do it, nonviolently, non-stop, in the same way we brought down the Apartheid system.

Jacques Depelchin, Executive Director
Ota Benga Alliance
Berkeley, August 25, 2005

From Kongo to Saint Domingue to Haiti to DR Congo – (1704—1804—2006)

The battle for fidelity to humanity/dignity

Thanks to the work of John Thornton (The Kongolese St. Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706. Cambridge University Press, 1998), the reading public has access to a history of connection between the Kongo Kingdom and Saint Domingue.

The Story of Kimpa Vita (Dona Beatriz)

Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in a noble family. She was baptized into the Catholic church. In August of 1704, after having been sick for a few years, Kimpa Vita had a vision of St. Anthony. He asked her to restore the Kongo Kingdom, which had been ravaged by wars triggered by the Atlantic slave trade.

Following that vision, Kimpa Vita started agitating against slavery, and in the process found herself opposing the King and the Italian Capuchin missionaries. The movement became known as the Antonin Movement.

For the missionaries, Kimpa Vita’s status as healer (Nganga) and her popularity among the poor was perceived as a threat to their own activities in the Kongo Kingdom. They lobbied the King and eventually had her arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On July 2, 1706, she was burned alive with her child.

While it is difficult to know exactly of the direct and indirect connections between Kimpa Vita, her fight against slavery, the Catholic church, and the 1791-1804 uprising in St. Domingue, historians like Thornton have made the case for the connections. In 1739, the Stono rebellion in South Carolina was led by Catholic slaves from the Kongo. The statistics of slaves imported to St. Domingue included large numbers from the Kongo (from a total population of 2,000 slaves in 1681, their numbers went to 480,000 in 1791). Half of the slave population in 1791 had been born in Africa.

Linguistically, the words which were used during the Bois Caiman ceremony/chants in 1791, inaugerating the beginning of the uprising, included Kongolese words: Kanga bafiote, Kanga mundele, Kanga ndoki la, Kanga Li, meaning “Tie up [or free, or save] the black men, tie up/free/save the white man, tie up/free/save the witch, tie them up!” (Thornton, 19:213)

What happened in Haiti between 1791 and 1804 was completely unexpected by the slave owners, by the leaders of the system. Indeed, the uprising was perceived as trespassing: doing the unthinkable, the improbable, the unacceptable. Because of its success, extreme and unrelenting punishment has been inflicted on the slaves and their descendents till today. 1804 requires from each one of us, whoever we are, wherever we are, fidelity to that event, to a world emancipated from the visible and invisible shackles of a global system determined to maintain, at any cost, what it gained from slavery and its modernization.

In Solidarity with Cité Soleil in Haiti

Pambazuka News 296
March 22, 2007

Jacques Depelchin

Jacques Depelchin challenges global citizens to make links between poverty across the world both historically and in the present day: From Cite Soleil in Haiti; to Abalhali in Durban, South Africa; Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya; Maroko in Lagos, Nigeria; and Ndjili in Kinshasa, DRC.

In the age of globalisation why do we not see, on a world scale, cases of twinning in solidarity with cities such as Cité Soleil in Haiti; Abalhali in Durban, South Africa; Ndjili in Kinshasa, DRC? All are places, like favelas the world over, brimming with youth and creativity, but confronted with easily eradicable unhealthy conditions of living.

Why, given its namesake, does Sun City in South Africa not come out in solidarity with the poorest of the poorest in the alleged poorest country of the Western Hemisphere?It may sound childishly naïve, but would not such a move be immanently expected from a city in the country that got rid of apartheid thanks, in part, to the selfless work of millions around the world?

From the inhabitants of all these places, there seems to only be one call that could, should bring us all together: Fidelity to Haiti, 1804.Thought through, away from nation state ideologies, away and against the corporate models of accumulation, such a call has the potential for healing humanity, taking it to the level many dreamed of while battling apartheid in South Africa.

Sun City in South Africa is known as the capital of gambling, where fortunes are spent in hopes of making even bigger fortunes. To those who would rather visit Sun City in South Africa than Cité Soleil in Port-Au-Prince, poverty is something to be running away from, not something to embrace. Even if these same people will make sure that their admiration for the one who epitomised poverty, Francis of Assisi, is well advertised and known. Should not such ongoing contradictions lead one to ask why more and more people are getting poorer and poorer, while a few accumulate wealth?

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa now boasts black billionaires, just like other African countries. Is it not possible to ask what would happen if the mindset which drives gambling turned to eradicate the differences between the Cités Soleil and Sun City?

Cité Soleil means Sun City in French, and that is where President Jean-Bertrand Aristide trained himself, beyond the reach of the mindset of the Haitian elite and beyond the bureaucratized seminarian teachings of love which sterilize at the same time as the teachings are going on.

But it was through such tight embracing solidarity with the poor people of Haiti, and not just those of Cité Soleil that President Aristide broke the comforting and comfortable chains of charity. Which is also why politician theoreticians, theologians and ideologues of all stripes, and from opposite corners, do not, or pretend not to, know where he belongs. Why, one hears them thinking, does he side with losers?

Of the admirers of Francis of Assisi we may ask: if your idol were to come back to earth, say in Haiti, where would he most likely go to ask for hospitality? Isn’t condemning poverty from the confines of billions in wealth and property the surest way of intensifying poverty and increasing the ranks of the poor? Canonised, Francis must be good to have on one’s side.

The mindset, which has been in place among the owners of capital, which led them to treat human beings as a means of further accumulation, is still as entrenched as ever: capital reigns supreme, not only through its own corporate structures, but also through subservient nation states which have become so submissive that they willingly dissolve themselves in front of it; and not just in the countries where structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and the IMF were pioneered, such as in Mobutu’s Zaïre.

Although invented by the military for military purposes, low intensity warfare against the poor can best be conducted using both economic, financial and real weapons, especially if, as is the case in Cité Soleil, it is done through hired soldiers from such places as Sri Lanka, Brazil, Jordan and Nigeria. Black on black violence has always been easier to defend and ignore ideologically than the white on black kind, especially in Haiti.

1. From Haiti to South Africa: 1804-1994-2004

For 13 years, 1791 to 1804, people from various parts in Africa, about 500,000 people, half of whom had been born in Africa, decided that slavery was inhuman. Rather than live under it, it was better to fight it, to death, if necessary. Without generals trained in military academies, without outside help of any kind. The Wretched of the Earth gave a 13 year long lesson in organisation, discipline, solidarity in order to bring about equality, fraternity and liberty. They did so without the help of human rights. Indeed, as will be argued below, this massive and successful trespassing played a crucial role in triggering human rightism as we know it today, a charitable way of helping, while preventing the kind of solidarity called for by the revolutionary slogan ‘equality, fraternity and liberty’.

The slaves went further than the enlightenment philosophers ever thought possible. They went further then the leaders of the French Revolution were prepared to go in 1789. It was not until 1792-94, during the period of the Convention (known as the Terror) that slavery was finally abolished. The slaves had done the improbable, the impossible, the forbidden. In short, they had surpassed themselves and, in the process, they also trespassed.

The overthrow of slavery is still difficult to comprehend today. It does not fit easily into the ideological narratives of the left or the right. Aside from CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, that feat was so exceptional, given the times and probability of success, that it has not received the attention it deserved from historians, philosophers, theoreticians. At the same time, it receives persistent negative attention from the powers that be in the form of imposition of debt repayments (so-called compensation for the slave and plantation owners), invasions, occupations, international kidnapping of an elected president, prison, torture, and collective punishment of people from all walks of life whose only crime was fidelity to 1804.

With president Jean-Bertrand Aristide currently in involuntary exile in South Africa, it is difficult not to examine the relationship between anti-slavery and anti-apartheid, two battles which unfolded at different times, under different conditions, both with the common objective of seeking freedom.

Given the quasi house arrest under which Aristide is held in South Africa, is it unreasonable to ask oneself how the South African political leadership sees its role in the battle to bring Haiti to where it should have been, in the first place, since 1804? Could it be that Mbeki sees his role as reasoning with Aristide to accommodate to the demands of those who are in charge of the world today? The question may sound unfair and unreasonable. But is it? After all, Mbeki was the lone African head of state at the 200th independence anniversary in January 2004. The entire South African white owned press was rabidly against it.

Too many questions which should be raised, are not being raised. Why such a deafening silence only after President Aristide was given asylum in South Africa? Could it be that the two centuries of punishment, which has been inflicted on Haiti, has dampened the enthusiasm of those who might be tempted to stand by in solidarity?

Final question, how can any country, let alone an African one, lend its services to a process which included the kidnapping of a democratically elected president? It bears striking similarity to what happened more than 200 years ago when Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, was taken prisoner by the country which is known in history for its 1789 Revolution. By then, in 1802, everything was being done to quash what the Africans had done. Could it be that the leadership of South Africa has become so subservient to the powers that be (US, France, Canada, Vatican) as to allow itself to be seen as a willing participant in an operation more reminiscent of the times when Steve Biko was arrested?

From our collective histories, we might look at the role being performed by the South African leadership as similar to the one performed by Tshombe in Katanga, when the West needed to get rid of Lumumba.

2. From trespassing to collective, relentless, punishment (1825-1938/46)

With the rise of Napoléon, the process of collective punishment was initiated. Military attempts to reverse the victory of the Africans in Haiti failed. The Africans were able to repel the three best armies of the day: French, Spanish and English. By 1825 however, the Haitian government was forced by France, with the help of the US, Canada and the Vatican, to agree to pay compensation to the slave and plantation owners, in exchange for being accepted as a nation state. Repayments for the liberty of the former slaves were made until 1938, according to some, to 1946, according to others. Having lost militarily and politically, the former slave owners sought to reassert their authority, in the international arena, where their control was unchallengeable.

From the viewpoint of the former slave and plantation owners, they had to show that emancipation by the slaves, in their own terms, could not be acceptable, regardless of whether those terms (emancipation) replicated ideological tenets held by the slave and plantation masters.

The collective and severe punishment which followed 1804 is in line with the syndrome of discovery, which can be stated as follows: discoverers shall always be discoverers, and should discovered ones discover anything, especially something universally acceptable such as emancipation, they shall be put back in their place.

In the case of the slaves overthrowing slavery in Haiti, the virulent vengeance of the response has not abated, two centuries after the event. Indeed, the arsenal has grown bigger, multi-headed, more sophisticated.

Opponents of the eradication of slavery are still being corralled by the United States which has seen itself as guardian of the treasures and resources accumulated by and through their discoveries: USA, France, Canada, the Vatican; and they are not the only ones. The resort to the political and financial punitive measures mentioned above, combined with secular and religious ideological orthodoxies, were meant to divide the Haitian people.

As it has been observed in many post-colonial situations, a small privileged elite saw itself as the only worthy Haitians. The syndrome of discovery has remained as virulent as ever: slaves must not free themselves; the poor must not end poverty on their own terms. The poor of Sité Soley, by definition, according to the elite, must not have a voice, except as filtered or reframed by the media controlled by the elite.

3. From Full rights to human rights

The slaves wanted to be treated as full human beings with the same full rights available to the masters. In their battle, there was no plan B, no halfway to freedom. From the 1804 event, those who continue to suffer from injustices, structural and circumstantial, have been told the same message, over and over: only the discoverers can discover the solutions to injustices. Whereas the slaves battled for full rights, their descendants in Haiti and all over the planet are being told that their way out of oppression and exploitation can only take place through the charitable detours of Human Rights. The average person in the world can see for herself that the 1804 event has been followed by institutionalising processes aimed at sterilising all the possible consequences which could, and should, have led to more and more emancipation from the shackles born out of the capital accumulated through slavery, land theft in North America and colonial occupation.

Despite the pious mantras coming out of political, religious and financial centers of power, the majority of humanity continues to be enslaved by a dominant economic system which thrives on poverty. When US defence secretary McNamara left the Pentagon for the World Bank after the Vietnam debacle, he vowed to end poverty within a decade.

Having lost, the slave masters, the plantation owners and their allies did everything to ensure that the process of change should never be set by those who had suffered and been dehumanised the most.

The 100 plus years of repayments were about denying the Haitians the ability to invest in their future. And so it has been since: in the US, the abolition of slavery went hand in hand with measures aimed at ensuring that former slaves did not think they could just walk away from their masters. Angela Davis, in Are Prisons Obsolete?, highlighted what other writers before her had noticed: abolition gave way to the introduction of legislation aimed at keeping the former slaves in check, leading seamlessly to what has become known as the Prison Industrial Complex. In the south, the majority of the prison population turned, almost overnight, from white to black. It took a century for the former slaves to get the right to vote, but this voting has come with all kinds of institutionalised limits.

During colonial rule in the DRC, the end of colonial rule could only be envisioned as a series of half measures. The colonial subjects were forced or indoctrinated to think of themselves through the legal, administrative, social and political prism of the subjugators. By now, it should be clear: there must always be a sharp and unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor, as there had to be between the coloniser and the colonised. Visible and non-visible ‘no trespassing’ signs are everywhere with the result that the poor keep getting poorer and the rich, richer.

4. From Kongo to Haiti to DRCongo: 1706-1757-2007

The way world history has been written by the victors had one prerequisite: make sure that the vanquished have no doubt about their vanquished status. It is not just that given episodes have different names (eg enlightenment, civilization, Cold War, development, globalisation). It is above all the erasure of the mindset of those who, against all odds, refused to submit to dehumanisation, not just in their own name, but in the name of the larger community, including those who were dehumanising them.

If the French government has finally passed a law acknowledging that slavery had been a crime against humanity, why then, have those who did fight it not been acknowledged as heroes, heroines, saints? Not just in France, but also in their own countries? Why hasn’t Kimpa Vita, (Dona Beatrix), burnt at the stake for denouncing the Kingdom of the Kongo’s King for allowing the slave trade and slavery to continue, not been considered for sainthood by the hierarchy of the Catholic church? What prevents the current Congolese government from declaring her, and explaining in detail why, she is a national heroine?

In 1757, in Haiti, a man known Makandal was caught and burned at the stake in 1758 because he had been accused of having killed, by poisoning, many slave owners. A generation later, in 1791, another slave, Boukman, played a crucial role in the ritual which is considered as the start of the uprising which led to the 1804 victory. These are the well known names, but over and above them, millions of anonymous people battled dehumanisation, often falling into dehumanizing violence, but holding on to the conviction that slavery was a crime against life, against humanity. Why do we not see schools, hospitals and research institutes, from Mozambique, around the Cape to Senegal bearing the above names, as a way of reintroducing the way they thought and fought into our collective consciousness?

Haitian elites, generally, with a few exceptions, have ended up siding with the descendants of the slave owners, and it is these elites who worked hard to comply with the repayments. Theoretically, Aristide was a bona fide promising member of the elite, but he veered away from the elite and the Catholic Church hierarchy to follow a course reminiscent of that of Reverend Beyers Naude in South Africa, when he refused to go along with the Dutch Reformed Church’s support of apartheid. The virulence with which some members of the Haitian elite have attacked Aristide makes one wonder whether it is less of a crime to discriminate against the poor in Haiti than to discriminate against the blacks in South Africa.

5. From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Patrice Lumumba to Samora Machel

These three leaders are national heroes in their own country. At the same time, it is not difficult to see that the current elites in those countries would rather maintain some distance from them. In all three cases, there has been reluctance on the part of those states responsible for their death to go beyond formal apology.

In the case of France and Toussaint, Louis Sala-Molin suggested that full recognition of responsibility and apology, say during the 1989 bicentenary of the French Revolution, could have been followed with placing Toussaint’s remains next to Napoleon’s sarcophagus in the Pantheon in Paris. Later on, the French state gave itself another opportunity to do exactly that by proclaiming slavery a crime against humanity. We are still waiting.

Following Ludo de Witte’s book The Assassination of Lumumba, coming after Adam Hochshild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, the Belgian state showed the same kind of cowardice. Again, it is not difficult to suspect the reasons: fear that people would seek revenge. This is the same mindset which prevented white South Africans from opening up for a long time: if they – the blacks – win, they will throw us into the sea. But, at the same time, just as in Haiti, a black South African elite has emerged which finds itself closer to those who have always vilified the likes of L’Ouverture, Lumumba or Machel. All the while, of course, singing the praises of Nelson Mandela.

The case of Samora Machel is the most interesting because it is the most recent. His figure is in the process of being erased from the historical conscience of Mozambique. Having died in a plane crash on 19 October 1986, the 20th anniversary was a low key celebration. And the reason why is obvious: 20 years after his death, things going on in Mozambique which would have been unacceptable to Samora Machel.

6. An open letter to world citizens

Dear friends,

203 years since the slaves of Saint Domingue overthrew slavery, against the most formidable armies of the day, humanity, not just the descendants of slaves, should be celebrating that event. But instead of celebration, one sees almost the exact opposite. UN troops, in Haiti are carrying out regular killings of babies, women, old people in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Port-Au-Prince, Cité Soleil. We should do better than just to stand by, shaking our heads, protesting occasionally. Should we not change gear in our daily lives and vow not to stop till Haiti is completely free as it was meant to be in 1804?

Instead of outraged solidarity, there is a massive silence, aside from a few solitary voices expressing solidarity, in various cities around the world. Sadly, some of the most well known anti-apartheid leaders, outside and inside South Africa have been ingenious at explaining the apathy, which really boils down to refusing solidarity with the inhabitants of a small island.

Why? One well known and courageous anti-apartheid leader (non-South African) went for the generic, easy, comment: ‘until Haiti has an ANC type party which could be supported, it is not worth doing anything’.

Then there has been the vicious attacks against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, by members of the Haitian elite, who had no shame in publishing a letter in the white owned press of South Africa saying that Aristide is no Mandela. Well, thank God for that. Because even Mandela himself would hope that there are others from the continent and beyond, to carry on from the point reached in the battle against South African apartheid.

When looking in the rear mirror of history, from the surrounding extremes of wealth and poverty, of stupendous spending on weapons systems as against the avariciousness for caring for people, it is easy to ask oneself: whether slavery, or more precisely, the mind set unleashed by the system, was ever abolished? More and more, it appears that slavery was simply modernised to get rid of the aspects standing in the way of cheapening labour.

With Auschwitz and Hiroshima/Nagasaki, it is not just labour which became cheaper. Life lost its sacredness and became dispensable on a massive scale. Leading Einstein to say, right after Hiroshima/Nagasaki that with the splitting of the atom, everything changed completely – except the way we think. Surely, my friends, it is high time to change the way we think if we are going to move on from that mindset. The same preoccupation could be asked differently: ‘When did thinking as humans began to disappear?’

7. Who defines terror?

From the viewpoint of the discoverers, terror is only terror when it terrorises them, their descendants or their friends. Never, or so it seems, are they willing to imagine the terror which was experienced by the anonymous couple which, on any day in the 18th century, somewhere on one of those slave routes to the atlantic, armed mercenaries coming out of nowhere kidnapped them in the middle of the night and dragged them, screaming and crying at the same time.

Their terror can only be comparable to what would happen later during WW II, in Europe, when people would be dragged out of their houses to be put on cattle trains and sent to an unknown destination. The Africans were taken like cattle to waiting ships, packed like sardines. How would one document the terror they felt? Through their numbers, costs, bills of lading? Conceivably and imaginatively, the only archives where their terror could be found would be in the archives lying at the bottom of the Atlantic, and retrievable only through specially conducted healing ceremonies. Such terror, if it could be brought back to life for healing purposes, might help the monopolisers of terror and violence see for themselves the roots where it all begun.

Retaliating against terror with more terror can only mean the triumph of the terrorizing mindset, of terror as the best possible weapon. Fighting terror with terror is another way of taking us back to the mindset of the Cold War, which is but a continuation of the mindset which underlay slavery. It is a mindset which leads to death, not to life.

The anonymous couple was quickly separated: women on one side and men on another. Their peaceful lives had been violated, but what was to follow was beyond anything they thought other human beings could inflict onto others. Soon, their separation would be completed when she found herself on one ship; he, on another. Still, like any human being, she began to look on the positive side of things: she was still alive, in relatively good health, and, with a new life inside her womb, she had with her a bit of her husband: her duty was to protect this new life to the best of her ability. Being at peace in a context of violence is one of the most stressful tasks ever.

To summarise, it suffices to say that the ship captain had spotted her among the others, and informed the sailors to prepare her as one of his travel companions. The question is how, and who will ever tell the story of how she was raped repeatedly. How, she eventually decided to take her life by throwing herself off the ship.

More to the point, where and how to heal from such massive individual and collective indescribable wounds which are still rippling across the descendants, centuries later?

8. Who defines poverty?

Haiti, ‘the poorest country of the, so-called, “Western” hemisphere’ reads the lamentation billboards of the Western media. As if Haiti and its poverty is a stain on the image expected to be projected by the West. Or a tortuous way of warning those who might be interested in following the same route? You shall be crushed so badly that no one else would be tempted to think outside of the path traced by the discoverers and abolitionists.

The so-called poor of Cité Soleil do not see themselves as the poor framed by the crocodile tears shed by humanitarianists. The triumph of the slaves in 1804 happened because they did not dwell on being slaves; and so it is with the poor. The poor see themselves as being endowed with the capacity to overthrow the mindsets which keep insisting that they, the poor, can only be helped out of poverty by charitable gestures and structures.

Overthrowing poverty, like overthrowing slavery, can only be tackled, and succeed, as a political gesture. But because everything has been done and continues to be done by those who did not want the slaves to succeed, the battle over slavery, and its history, continues to this day. It extended into colonial rule, with the same message: do not ever trespass over the boundaries of power. If you do, expect the worse kind of punishment.

From 1804 to this day, the history of Haiti continues to unfold along two distinct paths: the one left by Toussaint and those who did overthrow the system; and the one which the slave owners, plantation owners and their allies could never ever let go, at the risk of losing more than their own possessions.

With globalisation, the stakes have not changed: on the one hand, there are those who state that the slaves were wrong. They did not know what to do with what they achieved, economically, politically. They inherited the economic jewel of the French colonial possessions, and ‘ruined’ it. Those who had lost that battle in Saint Domingue resorted to their allies to impose conditions on the new state which ensured that whatever economic gains the former slaves made would be siphoned off to those who had insisted on compensation.

In today’s world where everyone is being called to globalise or else in the wake of a system which has relentlessly modernised itself since the days of industrialised Atlantic slavery, should we not be proud to have amongst us people who are saying no to such a call? In these times of addiction to wealth seeking, is it not admirable to have people, known and unknown, who are refusing to be seduced by the promises of a system, the annihilating capacity of which, physical and spiritual, has reached incomensurable proportions?

We face today the same odds that the slaves in Haiti faced against the system, then in its infancy. Is it not true that we keep hearing that the only way to improve the lot of humanity is to forget our humanity in order to save ourselves later, by following the very mindset which has brought us to such a precarious point? Is it not true that, individually and collectively, we are being asked to stop exercising our capacity to think? Is it not true that we are being trained to look, with fear and mistrust at some of our best, non-violent life instincts?

The process of destroying humanity over the last 500 years never stopped. Now and then, it slowed down, but on the whole, from trespassing life to trespassing living, the system which emerged out of glorifying itself by attrition, against existing damning evidence, has now reached an unprecedented level of domination. By pretending that one suffering was worse than another, by pretending that comparing suffering was insulting to those who considered themselves the worse sufferers, that which was indivisible was cut to pieces.

Contemplating the disaster of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Albert Einstein is alleged to have said: ‘With the splitting of the Atom, everything changed except the way we think’. Should we not change the way we think? Should we not trace back some of the thinking which was ignored?

From Hispaniola to Hiroshima, the splitting mindset did not just attack the atom. Long before the physicists got their turn, the process had proceeded, practically unopposed, against so-called savages and barbarians, with occasional defenders. The native Americans’ land was taken away from them, with it, a way of thinking diametrically opposed to splitting the atom. From Hispaniola to Saint Domingue, the Arawaks were wiped out and replaced with people stolen, highjacked, terrorised away from their homes, their land, their fields in Africa. And yet, in Saint Domingue, the spirit of refusing to be split from humanity rose again, and against all the odds, triumphed, briefly, before revenge and collective punishment started again.

9. Who is the enemy?

The arsenal in place to eradicate humanity is visible everywhere: the armament industry could wipe out life on the planet and the planet itself several times over. Yet still, it keeps growing and being modernised. Have we not heard the argument before: if we shut down this or that factory, we would be taking jobs away from working people? But is it right to have a mindset which is always looking for enemies, even though such enemies only exist in the mindset of warmongers seeking to make sure that their products shall always have buyers?

Do we not live in a world dominated by advertising and entertainment industries living off the by products of warfare? It has been shown that war fought with weapons has become obsolete. That it is possible to annihilate your enemy by just manipulating the market. Has the triumphant mindset, such as it is, left only one exit for those looking for freedom? Have we not realised that this exit, framed by such a lethal mindset shall take us to a variation of something we have already seen, but only this time, worse? Could it be that little by little, by attrition, humanity has completely given itself and its capacity to think, and its sense of balance between the spiritual and the material, over to the market?

10. Is there really any interest in wiping out poverty?

It is not difficult to see that the poor are the potential enemies of the global system, as run by the corporations and their crumbling nation state allies. A social, political and economic system which has prospered on the basis of dividing, discriminating to death and thriving on competition is wired to reproduce competition and discrimination. There will be conventions against poverty, just as there has been conventions against genocide. Charitable structures shall be used to spread some of the dispensable, tax reducing profits. The system’s growth has thrived on generating poverty. But, ideologically speaking, it must present itself as wanting to do something about poverty.

The abolitionist mode did not work with slavery. There is no reason why it would work in abolishing poverty, unless anchored in building greater social solidarity between all members of humanity. In short, fidelity to humanity as affirmed at turning points such as in 1804 in Haiti would be the way of seriously getting rid of poverty. Such fidelity will not happen overnight, but can grow out of healing processes initiated away from corporations and states, between members of humanity.

* Jacques Depelchin, Ota Benga Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity

Post Election Violence in the DRC

Letter from Ernest Wamba dia Wamba to Pambazuka News, February 22, 2007.

I would like also to communicate to you what has been happening in
the province of Kongo Central (Bas-Congo).

On 31 January, the police fired at a house presumed to be the one to house Ne Muanda Nsemi, leader of the Bundu dia Kongo. He had already called for a ville morte (people to stay home) for 1 February. He was not in the house as he had returned to Kinshasa for the funeral of his sister. Between 1-3 February 2007, in most of the cities of the province, people marched to protest the rampant corruption over the elections of Senators and Governors.

Our country is divided between a minority that has become rich due to
being close to the treasury and the large majority that is over impoverished. The minority in the elections have been buying

The Presidential guards fired on the marchers. The causalities are now put at 750 dead, many wounded and many have been arrested. The official number is put at 87 dead. The MONUC, that apparently participated also, puts it at 134 dead. Since then, the president has said nothing. One of his advisers has said that the president having received the Bakongo notables of his obedience, why should he speak again?

The UNSG has asked for an enquiry into the massacre. A rocket was used, at Moanda, to attack a BDK church where women and children went hiding. Those arrested are not being given a due process trial. An attorney, at Mbanza Ngungu, has suggested to try them in jails to avoid publicity! There is a plan, we are told, to kill the leader of BDK.

Please do whatever you can to expose what is happening.

For Peace, Dignity and Healing