Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not Exactly

So over at Prospect magazine, Tim Butcher and Ben Simon debate the underlying causes of the war. Butcher blames the Chinese: the billion dollar contracts they signed with the Kabila government have "stirred up the disenfranchised masses in Congo’s regions who won’t see a penny from Kinshasa as things stand."

To the contrary, says Simon, Nkunda's men are fighting for an end to the tribalism that still dominates the region. That's "their signature issue." And there's no way the lure of Chinese riches could have conjured up these tribal tensions (that is, the ones Nkunda's men are supposedly fighting against).

Simon is AFP's Uganda correspondent. Butcher just wrote a travel book on the Congo. So why do both of them seem woefully underinformed?

Butcher's belief that the militias in the region are fighting over Chinese lucre is off-base. These militias are fighting for control over local, artisanal mines, mostly coltan, gold, and tin, none of which are of interest to the Chinese. (The Chinese are interested in the big, industrial copper and cobalt mines of Katanga.) The UN's Expert report, just published, makes it very clear who's profiting from the Kivu's mines. But Simon's claim that the rank and file CNDP are fighting for an end to tribalism is just astonishing. Hard to imagine how the CNDP square that goal with their well-documented tendency to massacre folks.

To be fair, there is, at the root of this debate, a real confusion. We don't yet know how to disaggregate the motivations that are at the root of these ethnic/resource wars: Do they really hate each other, or are they just fighting over the money? If, as Paul Collier insists, most conflicts in fourth world countries arise out of greed rather than grievance, they still take place along ethnic fault lines. So it's the Hema versus the Lendu, the autochtones (mostly Nande) versus the BanyaRwanda, the Luba-Katanga versus the Lunda. False consciousness or siren song, ethnicity is still the organizing principle around which most of these conflicts are fought.

1 comment:

  1. Gee, I wonder what the Congolese analysts have to say?