Africa: Africa’s forgotten wars

Only occasionally do Africa’s hidden wars make the front pages, as with the recent coverage of the refugee crisis in Darfur in western Sudan. Yet the Sudanese conflict has been raging for years with virtually no mention in the Western press.

While the mainstream media has been largely focussed on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, some of the bloodiest conflicts in the world have been for the most part ignored.
The numerous wars in Africa – both international armed conflicts and internal civil wars – have claimed literally millions of lives over the last five years alone. Keith Pattenden looks at imperialism’s role in these devastating conflicts.

Africa’s forgotten wars

Similarly, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has barely merited a paragraph despite at least two million dead from the fighting and millions more through disease, starvation and exposure.

As with most of the problems facing the African masses today, these wars are a result of imperialism’s past and present rapacious exploitation of the continent’s resources and people.

Sudan conflict

Sudan, A colony first of France and then Britain, has seen one incursion after another to quell nationalist rebellions. And although nominally independent since 1956, its strategic importance during the "Cold War" ensured it would never be allowed to determine its own future.

The fighting in Darfur between local militias demanding a greater say in local affairs and government-backed militias known as "Janjaweed" has been going on since early last year. Yet, only in the last week have the British and US governments, together with United Nations (UN) secretary general Kofi Annan, been demanding an end to the slaughter. Annan could have been embarrassed by the fact that images of starving children in the refugee camps started appearing on our TV screens just as the UN was commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide with the slogan: "Never again". The only difference between then and now has been one of scale.

George Bush, meanwhile, is under pressure from the religious right in the US to intervene as most of the victims in Darfur are Christians, while the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed are Arab Muslims.

Before these interventions, Bush and co were reluctant to criticise the Sudanese regime, fearful that it would imperil the peace talks on the conflict in southern Sudan, which they have been brokering. This conflict has been raging for over 20 years, since the Islamic government imposed a form of "Sharia" law on the largely Christian population.

The people of western and southern Sudan should have no illusions in the ability of the UN to deliver them from this nightmare. Similarly, no solution to the protracted war in DRC is to be found in the offices of the so-called "international community".

The UN, European Union and the African Union all represent the material interests of the major world powers, transnational corporations and the local corrupt political and military leaders. Their only concern is to keep the vast profits flowing into their pockets from the exploitation of resources and labour.

Colonial revolution

The DRC, (formerly Zaire and before that the Belgian Congo) has been torn apart by war ceaselessly since the country’s formal independence.

In 1960 a separatist war in the mineral-rich Katanga province was deliberately provoked by the US and Belgium, who were fearful that the West would lose control of its cheap supply of precious stones and metals. Then under cover of a UN "peace-keeping force, a US sponsored death squad arrested and assassinated president Patrice Lumumba, who had led the Congo’s independence movement.

The ruthless pro-Western dictator general Mobutu was later installed as president and served as a useful agent of imperialism throughout the ensuing four decades. Mobutu’s regime provided training camps, finances and arms for the counter-revolutionary fighters in Angola between 1975 and 1997.

Following the 1974 Portuguese revolution, the "Marxist" guerrilla movement MPLA had taken power in Angola and established a nationalised, planned economy along the lines of the Stalinist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The US, unable to intervene directly following its defeat in Vietnam used Zaire as a conduit for its covert operations in support of the right-wing UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi.

In return for these services, the West turned a blind eye to Mobutu’s looting of the country’s treasury and even encouraged him by providing long-term, no-strings-attached loans, which even now are being paid for by the people of DRC.

Both Savimbi and Mobutu had outlived their usefulness following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the restoration of capitalism. Mobutu was overthrown by the guerrilla leader, Laurent Kabila.

Kabila had been involved in the anti-Mobutu movement since the early 1960s. But despite his left credentials, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes meant there was less of an ideological divide between guerrillas and governments. The fight for control of the region’s natural mineral wealth had become an end in itself. Consequently, Kabila in power acted little differently to the tyrant he had replaced.

Since his victory, the DRC has descended into an orgy of violence with various anti- and pro-government militias fighting one another.

In what has been called "Africa’s world war", neighbouring states have become involved in the DRC augmenting the militias with their own troops and taking a share of the loot. Meanwhile, Western arms manufacturers now joined in, finding a lucrative market amid the slaughter.

Socialist solution

And so, once again, Africa faces a humanitarian crisis, capitalist politicians weep crocodile tears, and UN "peace-keeping" forces are despatched. However, there is no prospect of a lasting peace in the region while its human and natural resources continue to be a source of super-profits for big business. There can be no lasting solution to these problems of war, terror and poverty under the reign of capitalism, because essentially, capitalism is the source of these problems.

The Socialist Party opposes any military intervention by the West either directly or in the guise of the UN. Equally, we oppose any incursion or attempt by the African Union to send its own forces to impose a settlement. All the governments represented by these international organisations are partners in crime who have benefited from the theft of the DRC’s resources. They bear responsibility for the massacres taking place there. On the basis of capitalist and imperialist exploitation, the impoverished masses of Sudan, the DRC and the rest of the continent of Africa face "horror without end".

We support the right of all the oppressed to self-defence. Workers and peasants, rather than relying on outside forces need to form their own democratically run, multi-ethnic defence organisations to protect themselves from both government troops and irregular militias.

Appeals for support should be made not to the neo-colonial puppets but to the millions of workers and poor peasants of Africa. Instead of looking to Western governments – who will only take action when their own economic or strategic interests are threatened – they should look for solidarity from the international working class.

A political force needs to be forged whose aim is to put the wealth of Africa at the disposal of all its people on the basis of the collective ownership and democratic control of the continent’s wealth.

A democratic socialist federation of Africa remains the only way out for the masses of the continent.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, England and Wales

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July 2004