Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, writing for The Guardian of London, called it “the most important assassination of the 20th century.” He was referring to the murder of the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC” or “Congo”), Patrice Lumumba, on January 17, 1961, through the combined efforts of the United States and Belgium. The assassination took place less than seven months after Congolese independence from Belgium. The Congo has yet to recover from this tragic event.
In his Guardian article, Nzongola-Ntalaja explained that Lumumba’s murder – “the country’s original sin” – was motivated by the U.S. desire to control the Congo’s resources:
“With the outbreak of the Cold War, it was inevitable that the U.S. and its western allies would not be prepared to let Africans have effective control over strategic raw materials, lest these fall in the hands of their enemies in the Soviet camp. It is in this regard that Patrice Lumumba’s determination to achieve genuine independence and to have full control over Congo’s resources in order to utilize them to improve the living conditions of our people was perceived as a threat to western interests.”
Sadly, as we find throughout the rest of the world, the end of the Cold War has not slowed the U.S. in its aggressive pursuit of other peoples’ wealth. Indeed, in large part because of the demise of the Soviet Union, which had been a check on U.S. intervention, the U.S. aggression has only increased.
And so, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, U.S. President Bill Clinton began to pave the way for a giant resource grab in the Congo – the most resource-rich country on earth, and also the poorest, with the very lowest Human Development Indicator of the 187 countries ranked by the United Nations. Thus, as we learn well from the work of Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, most notably in The Politics of Genocide, the U.S. in the early 1990s backed forces led by Paul Kagame, who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth, in their takeover of Rwanda.
And then, in 1996, the U.S. backed Kagame, who had become president of Rwanda with U.S. help, in his invasion of the Congo. The result has been the greatest mass killing since WWII, with around 6 million killed in the Congo since that time.
In a recent interview with me, Kambale Musavuli of Friends of the Congo explains that U.S. economic and geopolitical interests have motivated its continuing support for the bloodbath in the Congo, which continues to this day. As Kambale explains, the U.S. is motivated by “economic and military interests.”
“Economic interests in Congo are that which we need in our daily life. The coltan which comes out the Congo can be found in your cell phone, the cobalt of the Congo can be found in the battery of the broker of Congo’s minerals, and they loot Congo’s mineral resources while they commit atrocities. … Chaos allows resources to leave from the Congo at a cheap price, and of course it’s not actually just leaving, it’s actually being stolen from the Congolese people.
“The second [factor] is military interest. Rwanda and Uganda their militaries have been trained by the United States. Since the era when the American soldier was killed in Somalia in Mogadishu, the U.S. did not want to have any of the troops in Africa anymore. So the U.S. created a system in which they would train all the foreign military missions. I mean, can you imagine that … today, we have Ugandan soldiers in Afghanistan fighting the war on terror. How many Americans know that? We have Rwandan soldiers in Haiti and in Sudan. These missions can be deployed across the world to protect U.S. interests around the world. … So, the U.S. government is valuing profits before people, and ignoring the fact that people have the right to life, to human rights.”
Kambale, speaking for himself and many other Congolese, is begging Americans to wake up and speak out against the U.S. support for the genocide being carried out in his country:
“If you are aware, just as we took action to end the Holocaust in Europe, if we know in the Congo millions have died from – estimates take the number to over 6 million, and half of them are children under the age of 5 – and we remain silent when we know what is happening, we are really complicit. And in a very tangible way because we are supporting the two oppressive regimes in Rwanda and Uganda, and in turn these nations are using the support that we are giving them to create, fabricate militia groups which are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The U.S. intervention in Africa, while most notable in the Congo because of the extent of its brutality there, does not end in that country. Thus, we recently saw the U.S. lead the regime change in Libya, which has devastated that country and directly led to the destabilization of its neighbor, Mali.
The U.S. is also supporting Ethiopia as it carries out its own genocide against the 5 million ethnic Somalis in its Ogaden region. Thus, as Graham Pebbles recently explained in Counterpunch:
“In the harsh Ogaden region of Ethiopia, impoverished ethnic Somali people are being murdered and tortured, raped, persecuted and displaced by government paramilitary forces. Illegal actions carried out with the knowledge and tacit support of donor countries [most notably the U.S.], seemingly content to turn a blind eye to war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by their brutal, repressive ally in the region; and a deaf ear to the pain and suffering of the Ogaden Somali people.”
And, President Obama is preparing to up the ante by sending Special Forces to 35 African countries this year. Kambale was correct in saying that we have a moral obligation to speak out against this U.S. war against his country and the continent of Africa. His words indeed bring to mind similar words of Martin Luther King which are as true today as they were then: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government, I cannot be silent.”
Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights attorney. He teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Photo: Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in Brussels, January 1960. He was assassinated with U.S. connivance a year later. Wikimedia Commons