Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To My Congolese Friends in the USA #Congo #DRC2011 #RDC

Do not believe what they tell you.

The US government is about to embark on a highly ritualized dance. It knows that all its bland assurances that the election would work out well are exploding in their face. It knows that there's a lot of anger out there. And it considers neutralizing you an important part of the job it must do now. So it will tell you that it is "seized by" events in Congo, that it is "deeply concerned" about developments there, that it "calls on" all parties to respect the "voice of the people," and that it is working toward a solution "acceptable to all."

Do not believe it.

The US government will tell you that its primary interests in Africa are trade, democracy promotion, humanitarian assistance, and conflict resolution.

That's what Johnny Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told an assembly of Africanists at last month's African Studies Association conclave.

Do not believe him.

The US government's primary interests in Africa lie in its oil, its minerals, its assistance at the UN (50 votes!), its assistance in the War on Terror, and its cooperation in the event that we need to access its sea lanes or overflight paths.

How do I know this? Because half an hour before Carson spoke, retired US ambassador David Shinn, twice an ambassador in Africa, told me so.

There are two reasons, I think, you should believe him over Carson. First, the truth, that messy inconstant thing, lies much closer to his side than to Carson's. Ask the people of Equatorial Guinea what US interests in Africa are, if you doubt me. More importantly, knowing this about the government will better prepare you for the battle ahead. If you go into this battle thinking that the US cares about the well-being of the people of Congo, that it wants to set things right, they will out-wit, out-maneuver, and out-play you. They will feed you fine lines about democracy and "share" your "profound concern" about "recent developments." And when you are not watching they will do everything they can to ensure that Kabila stays in and Tshisekedi stays out of power.

And make no mistake. You are in a battle. The US government likes Kabila. He's a man they can work with. More importantly, it hates Tshisekedi--has hated him since 1992, if not earlier, when it sabotaged his taking over the prime ministership during the Sovereign National Conference. Hate has no stronger motive than the reminder of having wronged someone.

And the government is powerful. And rich. And capable of immense hypocrisy. Not because any one diplomat or another  is evil or nasty or even particularly cynical, although I'm not sure I'd go out to dinner with them. But because they believe, deep in their hearts, that this is not only what governments do, it's what governments must do.

Against their cynicism and money you have but one thing in your favor: You give a damn. And that can be, properly channeled, a surprisingly strong power.

See, deep down, the people who make US policy toward Africa really don't give a shit about the place. To be sure, some of the lower level people do. The ex-Peace Corps volunteers (some of them). The USAID folks running  orphanages out of their own pocket. You will know them when you meet them. But the higher ups: They get to go home at the end of the day and play with their children and sleep the sleep of the innocent.

And do you know what these people want, the big wigs, the gros legumes? They want--more than anything--to keep their jobs. And that means taking the path of least resistance. That means insuring that Africa stays at the bottom of US foreign policy considerations. That means not embarrassing their bosses.

So when you start making noise, when you start agitating, as Congolese have done in Brussels and London and Ottawa, you get a response. They will prove eager to meet your demands, because they don't want to be bothered. They want this to go away.

But you must do more than write polite letters and thoughtful op-eds, you must do more than expect that the US government will do the "right thing," Because here's what you will get if you do:

That's right: nothing. So it's up to you. Agitate. Get the press involved. Formulate your demands and stick to them. Stage occupations. Do not believe what they tell you. Remember that power cedes nothing without a struggle.  And don't give up. Don't give up. Don't give up.


  1. For anyone wondering about the effectiveness of demonstrations, I cant speak for anyone else, but randomly coming across one in Glasgow by sheer chance made me aware of the issues in the DRC that I had no clue about whatsoever.

  2. Don't just use our language lingala whn protestin, using english and French so dat every1 can understand nd find out wht is goin on, why we r prostestin, im sure africans na batu mwindu nionso will support us 100%, bcoz dey no wht we r goin tru, bcoz som people said dey dnt even no wht's goin on, only findin out frm facebook. God blss.xxxx

  3. This is a personal view wich may not reflect congolese people's mind. You are ready for blood shedding but if you can be on the front line of those demonstrations together with Tshisedi's children, then I will believe in what your are saying.

  4. After following Johnny Carson:

    Irealised that you were 100% right. these guys arent playing the people of Congo. please translate these in french for them to get the message.

  5. The position of the US governement vis a vis the current political situation in D R Congo is easily undrestood with the explanations you are given.
    The US Governement is playing with words to maintain a none dynamic situation in the governance of the Congo.

  6. Youth of Congo ActivistDecember 20, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    It is really up to us ( the people) to get change. We are wrong if we think that our needs will be met in a short space of time. It is all about perseverance and having the will to see change.
    Let us fight fight fight for our rights and not step down because "they" have put Kabila as president.
    If we don't want him, he WILL go! Congo is OUR land so OUR voice counts and OUR choice for OUR president Tshisekedi will be taken into consideration.

    If we stand as one nation, ONE man ( Kabila) can not bring us down.

    We must continue to tell everyone we know about the situation in Congo and hold onto faith as one day even the British, American, Belgian Public and etc. will join us for that fight for our human rights.

    Power to the people!