14 May 2002

Central Africa: Congo's Situation is As Grave As Palestine's - Professor Ntalaja


Professor Georges Nzongola Ntalaja is an academic from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Until recently he was the UNDP Senior Special Adviser for Governance in Abuja. The articulate professor, in this interview with Musa Aliyu and Jibril Abubakar, spoke his mind on the peace initiatives in Congo, the roles played by former President Laurent Kabila in concert with Rwanda and Uganda in creating the crisis, Nigeria's leadership role, the UN's show of less attention and more. Excerpts:

Sir, how is the peace proc-ess in Congo now that we have young Joseph Kabila leading the country after many years of war?

Joseph Kabila is not a free agent. Who put him in power? We don't know. We were told that the cabinet met and chose him as President. This cabinet where did it get its authority to name a president? Secondly they claim that they came to power through armed struggle. So they stay because no one has defeated them militarily. Is that the basis on which to claim legitimacy? Certainly legitimacy has to come through a democratic process. And before we get a democratic process at least there has to be a consensus among the political class. This is what the inter Congolese dialogue was supposed to be.

But Kabila insists on keeping his power. He insists on making no compromise. Then he strikes a deal with Jean-Pierre Bemba's Congolese Liberation Movement supported by Uganda. That excludes other players in the political scene.

In a dialogue that was supposed to comprise five components, two rebel movements, Bemba's MLC as well as the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, the non-armed opposition groups, political parties, led by the UDPS but comprising of other parties, civil society organisations and the government. But they go and make a power-schedule between the government and one rebel group. That's no solution. And after 52 weeks of spending South Africa's taxpayer's money and other international contributions, doing this is a great disservice to our people and Africa.

As you pointed out, Joseph Kabila's government claims its legitimacy from its military strength. But the truth is that since it is in control of the state and its apparatuses of coercion it can claim its legitimacy is valid. Do you see democracy playing any meaningful role here?

That position as far as I am concerned is a defeatist position. Why? Because they don't control the whole country. They control less than half of the national territories so how can a nationalist government be satisfied controlling a portion of the counry rather than controlling the entire country?

The solution is a comprehensive political compromise to which all the components of the Congolese society agrees. That's the way forward. This is what we attempted to do at the sovereign national conference in 1992. This is what we attempted to do today through the inter-Congolese dialogue. There has to be an agreement among all the political players in the country as to the minimum programme of government for the transition, as to the individuals who are going to run the country during the transition. And this is really including power-sharing formula where everyone is represented. There have to be all Congolese political players in this transitional system.

Ernesto Che Guevara once described Laurent Kabila as a revlutionarist who had the potentials to lead and transform Congo but for his serious weakness for women and drink. Do you share Guevara's view?

The revolutionary movement of Laurent Kabila from 1964 to the time Che Guevera joined in 1965 and to the 80's disappeared. And Kabila became a businessman.

He was trading in ivory, gold and other things, through the great lakes region. That's how he came to know Museveni. So Laurent Kabila's revolutionary enterprise did not succeed. Laurent Kabila came to power supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Laurent Kabila brought these people into our country. And so now when he did not want to be a puppet as they wanted him to be, he wanted to assert his authority, which I think was a very good thing for him as a Congolese nationalist, then these people started war against him in 1998. This is the war, which is going on right now. It is a war of aggression by Rwanda and Uganda against our country, because they want to control who sits in power in Kinshasa. They want to control our natural resources. And Laurent Kabila is partly responsible for that because he brought these people into our country.

But at the time Laurent Kabila dethroned Mobutu Sese Seko, Congolese were already disenchanted with Mobutu and saw his fall as a good riddance.

Yes. Yes. The overthrow of Mobutu was a positive thing. And I even thanked the other countries Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Tanzania, Eritrea and others that helped us to get rid of Mobutu. But the point is if that is a pan-African solidarity it should not go beyond that to a desire to control us.

If they were big brothers and sisters who helped us to get rid of a dictator, then they have to withdraw and go back home. Angola did. Angola played even a more crucial role than Rwanda and Uganda in helping to defeat Mobutu. Because Angola allowed the so-called Tigress, the Congolese Azilas who were fighting for Angola, allowed them to come down to help Kabila to fight Mobutu and they were the ones who really were engaged in the real military battles of the Kabila drive which were the fight against the Sebro-Koratian mercenaries of Kissangali, the fight against Mobutu's presidential division at Bujumai and the fight against Jonas Savimbi's UNITA men in Kenya. These are the three major battles of the war. They were fought by Congolese patriots who came from Angola.

The Rwandans and the others just marched through and Mobutu's soldiers just saw them and ran away. They did not want to fight against them. But actually the Rwandans were more interested in fighting against the Hutu extremists who had fled from Rwanda after the genocide, than doing anything else. They were pursuing the Hutu extremists. They were not really interested in fighting Mobutu's troops. But because Mobutu's troops were more demoralised they just ran away.

Despite efforts by OAU and other concerned Africans, peace still eludes Congo. Do you intend to seek assistance elsewhere?

No. I think this is an African problem that needs an African solution. The OAU has tried and I don't see its efforts as a waste of time. Because I remember that under the Lusaka agreement, the OAU was given the task to appoint a neutral facilitator for inter-Congolese dialogue and OAU chose President Masire before President Obasanjo. So he is working under the authority of the OAU so the inter-Congolese dialogue is summoned and being held under the authority of the OAU. And South Africa and SADC are being engaged because Congo is a member of SADC which is also presently trying to broker an agreement in Sun City. So I wouldn't say that all African efforts have failed. As you know negotiations do take time. They take a long time because the parties to the dispute must canvass that their interests are being advanced. They're simply not going to give up. But one does not have to lose hope that this process would go on. What we hope is that these people would look farther than their own interests and put the country's general interests, peoples' interests. Patriotic concerns should take over their individualistic political interests.

Sometime ago Daily Trust spoke with the Belgian Ambassador to Nigeria after the apology Belgium tendered over its role in Patrice Lumumba's assassination. According to him his country is trying to broker peace and also give scholarship awards to young Congolese to study about democracy, conflict resolution and other related issues. Now that you are saying that the war is an African problem that requires specifically an African solution, how do you see things working out?

Yes the international community has a role to play. And of course they are partly responsible for our troubles, Belgium, the US and France in the first place. So any support they can give us is fine so long as that support is not being given with the idea of controlling the process. For example I am among the Congolese who objected Belgium convening a meeting of Congolese political parties and civil-society organisations in Brussels to discuss the issues of our country. I say the times of colonialism are over. We don't need that. What Belgium has to do is to support the African initiatives. This is what we want Belgium, France, the United States etc.to support the African initiatives. Not to take initiatives of their own. Because if we have too many initiatives, that's a problem. Sometimes they may run at cross-purposes. Because political actors are strange animals as you know. They would smell something they'll say go have this initiative rather than that one. So then we end up in total chaos. So we say we don't want the Belgium, the French and the American initiatives. Let's just go along with what we have. For example somebody may say we have the OAU, the UN and Zambia, that's enough, we don't need anymore. These are the kinds of things people would say.

Nigeria is involved in playing crucial roles through its Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Integration ministries

(Cuts in). Well Nigeria is involved not at the level of ministries but at the level of special envoy. The special envoy for conflict resolution, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue has been the key person from President Obasanjo in the Congo crisis. He has made several visits to the Congo. He has met all the different groups, the rebel groups and the other political groups. He has been following closely what is happening in Congo. So I think that is extremely valuable. Nigeria is a major role player.

With the dimension taken by the crisis in that whole region the implication must be grave for Africa. How would you analyse this?

It is terrible. I gave the analysis in my paper yesterday. It is catastrophic. It has resulted in the death of over three million people. This is a crisis of monumental dimensions. And it is really unfortunate that the world community is not taking us seriously. Our situation is just as grave as the situation in Palestine, just as grave as the situation in Afghanistan. But we are not given half the attention given these other crises.

So what message do you have for the UN

Well the message is a simple one, that we have to maintain the same standard for everyone. There has to be single international law for everybody. If you want to punish one country for invading another, punish all the countries that invaded other countries. If you want to punish one country that disobeys Security Council resolutions then punish all countries that disobey Security Council resolutions. That is the only moral standard anybody can take.

But we Africans too must stop crying that others have not done this or that for us. We can do it if there is the political will. We have the human, material and natural resources to do it. And we can do it. Take for example, the role played by Nigeria in solving the crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Without the political will of the leadership in this country those countries wouldn't have known peace. We should take the initiative in solving our own problems.

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