- The Congo: Plunder and Resistance
Renton, Seddon, and Zeilig’s book offers an economic analysis as well as a politically committed and radical perspective. It focuses on the relationship between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the former Zaire) and the capitalist West; its main thesis is that Congo has been the target of systematic plundering of mineral resources since its encounter with Belgium and the Western world in the late nineteenth century. Such pillage benefits Western capitalism and is the root of abuses committed during colonization. The authors add that access to African raw materials is the reason for recent wars (1998–2004) which, according to the estimates of the International Rescue Committee, have claimed close to four million victims. To support their main thesis, the authors consider topics such as abuses committed in rubber production during the era of the Congo Free State ruled by King Leopold II of Belgium (chapter 1), continued forced labor after the transfer of Congo to Belgium between 1908 and 1945 (chapter 2), Western support for Mobutu Sese Seko’s brutal regime from 1965 to 1991, which methodically ransacked the country (chapter 4), the failed transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1990s (chapter 5), and the variety of speculators and thieves who have been pillaging Congo since the fall of Mobutu in 1997.
Privileging an economic analysis, and working through neo-Marxist models developed some time ago by exponents of the “dependency school,” the authors highlight the mechanisms fostering the dependence of “peripheral” countries to the world capitalist system. Such a perspective conceives of Africa as having been placed in a position of dependence during colonization and then “under-developed” within the international capitalist order. As Samir Amin puts it in his Unequal Development (Harvester Press, 1976), the partition of Africa in the nineteenth century enabled the colonizing countries to obtain inexpensive export commodities, while Africans were forced to adjust to the external exigencies of mercantilism on terms convenient to the forces of global capital.
The Congo: Plunder and Resistance argues similarly that for the last 130 years Western capitalists have been robbing Congo and Africa of their mineral resources. This perspective offers a linear narrative that does not take into account the manner in which the Congolese reacted to colonialism—to inquire whether they were willing to accept, change, or reject Belgian colonization. The authors themselves, however, provide various Congolese responses to colonization and dictatorship, including the cultural critique constituted and embodied by the popular songs during the Mobutu years about the political and economic situation of the country. The inclusion of this cultural aspect enriches and enlarges analysis beyond a strictly economic approach. At one point, for example, the authors mention the song [End Page 172] “Nakomitunaka” (I ask myself) (23). This and other popular songs, as well as such events as the Christian march of February 16, 1992, and student movements of the 1990s testify to the vigorous Congolese creativity in response to manifold everyday problems.
The final part of the book offers original analysis, notably for understanding the complexity of the situation in the east of the country following the Rwandan genocide. The authors reexamine the emergence of Joseph Désiré Kabila after 1996, his alliance with the Rwandan and Ugandan regimes, the march into Kinshasa in May 1997, the interests of Americans in the region, the role of multinational corporations, and above all, the activities of the mining companies. The authors cite a U.N. report that names the mining companies that benefited from the most recent wars in Congo and demonstrates the military role of Rwanda and Uganda in carving up the Congo. They suggest that gold and coltan (essential for mobile phones) are the raw materials that lie at the base of this war. According to the authors, Western multinationals and Americans benefit from great profits, while Congo itself rots in misery.