Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nonviolence, natural resources, and secession: The Congo case study

When the people of Congo cast out the outrageously cruel and corrupt Belgian colonial occupiers in 1960, they did so mostly nonviolently and they elected Patrice Lumumba, charismatic populist leader who refused to play the standard colonial handoff game of praising their former masters. He instead excoriated the unjust imprisonment and torture that he and others had endured in their struggle for liberation. It was a speech that straightened the backs and stirred the spirit of Congolese as they listened to tiny transistor radios all over their large country.

It was a speech that started a chain of events that ultimately cost Lumumba his life and cost the Congolese their future of peace and prosperity they had earned and deserved. The speech rightly shamed the Belgians all the way back to their corrupt King Leopold, a nineteenth century cruel megalomaniac who arrogated the region to himself, demanding free labor and natural resources, and simply acting monstrously, without human conscience. The Belgians were embarrassed by this lack of decorum by Lumumba and conspired with the CIA and some corrupt Congolese, primarily from the mineral-rich Katanga region, and assassinated Lumumba on 17 January 1961. Eventually, the Mobutu Sese Seka regime operated for decades, pretending Congolese nationalism but conspiring endlessly with foreign corporations--and U.S. military aid--to profit enormously from oppressing Congolese and extracting their natural resources at bargain basement prices. Those resources were so abundant that Sese Seka enriched himself so massively that his regime was labeled a "kleptocracy." 

The rise of the leaders of Katanga, primarily Moise Tshombe, was largely due to influences from foreign mining corporations and the business-friendly CIA. Katanga declared itself sovereign on 11 July 1960, intending to take full advantage of its natural resource wealth, but Sese Seka subsumed them successfully. Freedom for Congolese and the life of Lumumba were forfeit in the deal. The violence and corruption continue in Congo, where they suffered the largest land war since World War II, mostly over a combination of resource capture, especially copper and cobalt, and the misuse of tribal and ethnic conflict to fan the flames. Listen to Wangari Maathai for a wise and accurate analysis.

Ian Bannon and Paul Collier note that "resource wealth tends to promote civil giving people who live in resource-rich areas an economic incentive to forum a separate state" (p. 27). We see de facto separate states in many regions where guerrilla armies capture territory and gain from resource extraction. We have yet to see a nonviolent insurrection based on greed for natural resources. Violence is the best way to go after valuable natural resources for private profit. Nonviolence is good for the public interest. The difference shows up with remarkable frequency of pattern.


Bannon, Ian and Collier, Paul (Eds.) (2003). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank.

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