Fahamu (Oxford)

Africa: Strange Presidential Deaths That Weaken Solidarity

analysis

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, regional solidarity has been dealt a heavy blow following the mysterious deaths of five leaders in just two decades.

Neo-imperialism is quickly gaining grounds in Africa and all the signs are written on the wall. Suffice to mention a few: the establishment of the US African Military Command (AFRICOM) and the bombing of Libya to stone-age followed by the murder of Mouammar Kadhafi as well as the overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast; the unending Western-backed wars of aggression by the Tutsi regimes of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi against the Democratic Republic of Congo - still ongoing - during which more that 5 million Congolese have been killed, women systematically raped and strategic minerals systematically looted, especially the mineral coltan needed by the high tech industry for the manufacture of mobile phones, laptops, playstations, satellites...

In the Great Lakes region, African solidarity has been dealt a heavy blow following the death of five leaders in the space of just two, making regional peace and sustainable development very difficult to recover because seeds of hatred have been sown and the wounds are too deep to heal without putting an end to impunity.

On 21 October 1993, Burundi 's first democratically elected Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated by Tutsi extremists (Wesangula 2011) only three months after being elected.

Rwandan Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprian Ntayamira, also a Hutu, were killed after their plane was shot down before landing at Kanombe International Airport on the evening of 6 April 1994. The two presidents were returning from a meeting of east and central African leaders in Tanzania at which they discussed ways to end the ethnic violence in Burundi and Rwanda. This assassination set in motion some of the bloodiest events of the late 20th century, both in Rwanda and in Congo. The Tutsi tribe's past feudal power over the Hutu had been used by Belgium to serve its colonial interests through 'divide and rule'. The Tutsi were favoured.

Congolese President Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on 16 January 2001. Surprisingly and against every diplomatic etiquette, Yoweri Museveni was the first person to announce Kabila's death to the world, saying 'Kabila's death was 101 percent sure' (Kpatindé 2011).

Investigative journalist Arnaud Zajtman came to the conclusion that Laurent-Désiré Kabila was killed by his bodyguard, Rachidi Muzele, who was part of a plot that involved a handful of his colleagues, a Lebanese businessman who acted as an intermediary and Rwanda, which masterminded the assassination, knowing that the US was not against it, and gave shelter to those involved.

Zajtman wrote: 'I felt that this story was important but that it was overshadowed by another. A major war involving six African nations and various rebel factions was raging in DR Congo. Massacres and rapes were part of daily life for many Congolese and this kept the handful of press correspondents living and working in DR Congo, like myself, busy.

'With no succession plan in place, Rwanda had bet on ensuing chaos that would allow it to continue exploiting the vast mineral wealth of eastern DR Congo. Kabila was killed, but the rest of the plot did not go according to plan. To the surprise of many, Joseph Kabila was appointed to succeed his father, and a stronger Congo emerged, slowly managing to regain its sovereignty.

'This thesis, which is carefully developed in the film Murder in Kinshasa, has recently been confirmed to me by a former leading intelligence official from Rwanda who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity and by a former Rwandan chief prosecutor who spoke to the Belgian press." (Zajtman 2011).

John Garang, the Sudanese vice-president, died on 30 July 2005 when the helicopter he was travelling in crashed on its way back to Sudan from Uganda. It was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's helicopter. According to the BBC, Museveni immediately rushed in, threatened to close down newspapers which continued to publish conspiracy theories about John Garang's death.

The reports that prompted Museveni's anger included speculation that Garang's body had been found with bullet wounds and accusations that Rwanda might have been behind the crash. Such conspiracy theories were clearly going too far for Museveni, although he himself had been the first to suggest that the crash might not have been an accident. Sudanese officials criticised him for those remarks (Usher 2005).

All these tragedies would not have occurred had some Africans not carved a career out of playing the role of 'proxies for Western powers' or 'local brokers' for Western strategic interests; and after being armed by the same Western powers, have turned the sword against their African brothers and sisters.

- Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and Beijing University PhD candidate from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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