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Intervention: is it necessarily beneficial?

This week’s discussion focused on Congo and intervention. The trivia asked you to name four intervention missions in the DRC (past or current) and the key actors involved. The discussion asked you to define intervention and to list the key features necessary for successful intervention. STAND’s Congo Education Coordinator Sharon Muhwezi provides her analysis.

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Intervention: Is it necessarily beneficial?

     Along with a huge international market that consumes regardless of origin of the products, the DRC is a victim of extractive relationships and trends planted by the Belgians and perpetuated by DRC’s neighbors and the west, who like it chaotic: the love for abnormal profits and ‘cash in brief case’ markets has left Congolese crying out for help, in vain. Given Congo’s weak government and how overwhelmed they are by the poverty and civil wars, many scholars like Paul Collier in his The Bottom Billion, and well wishers will often call upon capable countries to intervene. DRC has therefore seen all types of intervention, ranging from colonization to military attacks to humanitarian aid. More importantly, even when it comes to well meaning interventions, the best laid plans have been mired by the misrepresentation of DRC and resultant misunderstanding of the conflicts, along with the tendency for interveners to design plans that organize national and regional institutions, ignoring the local roots of DRC’s problems.

      Just like many of today’s manipulative actors in DRC declaring their help and care for the less developed, Leopold did, in his early years, proclaim love for DRC and the need for her people to be liberated from slavery and benefit from their own resources (Philippa Schuyler, Who killed the Congo?, 48). What he actually meant to do is very clear today: manipulate and exploit the country and set a precedence of plunder for his successors (Schuyler, 49), who have clearly not disappointed. The Belgian government, which replaced King Leopold in 1908 in the name of reforming the state for the benefit of the nationals, given huge protests against Leopold’s treatment of them (Renton, 38), brought about a considerable amount of infrastructure development, which would however be mired by their excessive money and labor taxation not to forget deadly forced labor migrations and camps (Renton, 52-53). David Gibbs asserts, “It is now known that the American government helped undermined and probably assassinate, Congo’s first Prime Minister (Patrice Lumumba) from 1960-61 (Gibbs, 1991: 2).” USA would later support dictator Mobutu Sese Seko during the cold war, well knowing that all his policies were very far from freedom, democracy and human rights: what mattered was that this support kept Mobutu from siding with the communists. In November 1999, the United Nations, having recognized the urgency to protect Congolese civilians, launched United Nations Organization Mission in DR Congo (MONUC), whose mandate was to protect civilian lives and mediate a ceasefire1

      The most recent attempt is Kimia II which is supposed to be a joint offensive against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and UN peace keepers. One of their strategies was that they would capture rebels and force them out of mines, while integrating any who give up their arms into the national army. Firstly, the UN and their advisors should have considered reasons why rebels are fighting: some are just looking for a living, others are forced into the militias and many of them actually believe the ideals instilled in them during conscription and indoctrination: in fact, some of these people are perpetuating the expression of grievances held for decades now, but constantly ignored. How then, are they supposed to integrate into the national army overnight, and suddenly start caring about and protecting the same people they have been killing? As argued by Collin Thomas-Jensen, Noel Atama and Olivia Caymaex in An Uneasy Alliance in Eastren Congo, integration took place with no planning, little outside support and in the middle of military operations. I argue that the satisfaction of these Congolese men and women will come out of their grievances being heard and their freedom granted, not from offering them ‘kadogo’ positions in the very same army they’ve been confronting. Actually, the kind of quick integration into the FARDC, which they are being offered, has given them more access to their victims and results are obvious. Since the launching of Kimia II in January 2009, 800,000 people have fled their homes, at least 600 civilians have died and thousands of women have been raped by soldiers from both the rebel groups and the national army (Thomas-Jensen, Atama and Caeymaex). Most recently, Human Rights Watch investigators have come out to openly criticize the UN for knowingly backing FARDC (both former members and inductees) which is terrorizing the civilians, yet Kimia II’s mandate is to protect the same civilians from the FDLR (Georgianne Nienaber, The Huffington Post).

      The international community has been slow at realizing that many interventions in DRC have just laid way for the next war/ chaos. It is high time we put in place prevention measure against not only fresh wars, but also botched interventions. There is need to invest time, money and personnel in objectively studying DRC and what its people really are: their origins, grievances, dreams and willingness to cooperate with interveners in the peace missions. Congolese should be given a chance to voice their opinions on how intervention can best be of help, and what they think the problem really is. Acknowledging and valuing their local dynamics will help establish a branch in intervention plans which treats the local people and militias not as confused victims and criminals respectively, but as people caught up in a civil mess fuelled by both their history (ideals, ethnicities, migrations and colonialism) and the international market. Thomas-Jensen et al also acknowledge that the complex relationship between militias and the local populations need to be understood: intermarriages have happened, and some locals think certain militias represent their needs2, hence failure of the likes of Kimia II which assume that all rebels are necessarily against all civilians.

      Further more, not all militias are fighting to control the government: that is why superficial multi party elections and truces are not ending the war, as some insurgents are fighting proxy wars for other companies and countries, like Rwanda’s Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD). Their main aim is extraction of minerals and they could care less who the president is. For instance, with the international market continuing to buy gold from Uganda without checks, well knowing that Uganda doesn’t produce gold, the war in Eastern Congo will not end soon. Checks (not sanctions) on Congo’s gold and coltan will go a longer way towards peace than pawn elections in Kinshasa.

      One of the reasons colonization messed up communities is that it separated them and put them in frames in which they could better serve the master’s interests: instead of taking the lesson from all the deaths, suffering and uprisings it caused, we have continued to want to ‘organize’ and ‘civilize’ these communities. Working with Congolese as partners to design their future will bear better fruits than forcing them into frames which outsiders regard modern and inevitable, leading both selfish and well intentioned interventions to worsen situations and kill hope and trust in humanity.

More feedback on trivia and discussion questions:
Definition of intervention:
  • the manipulation of one country in another’s internal affairs for the outsider’s gain
  • Interference in another country’s affairs by another for purposes and support of ideals like religious beliefs, human rights, world peace, etc … motives here could also range from altruism to selfish gain of the intervener.

Intervention efforts in DRC

  • King Leopold of Belgium personally taking the country on as Congo Free State (1885 – 1908)
  • Belgium taking the country over as a colony (1908 -1960)
  • Patrice Lumumba’s assassination (1961)
  • Financial and military support to Mobutu Sese Seko (1965 – early 90’s)
  • Rwanda and Uganda’s support of Laurent Kabila’s coup (1997)
  • MONUC (1999 – present)
  • KIMIA II (2009 – present)

Key intervening Actors

  • UN
  • USA
  • Uganda
  • Rwanda
  • Belgium


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