Monday, December 15, 2008

The U.S. Role in the Wars in Congo and Somalia

The U.S. Role in the Wars in Congo and Somalia

Imperialist's drive for economic domination fuels continental instability

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following article is taken from a talk delivered at a Workers World public meeting on African affairs in Detroit on December 13, 2008.

When the U.S. corporate media reports on the contemporary affairs on the African continent, the content and direction of the stories never highlight the role of the multi-national corporations and the military-industrial-complex in initiating underdevelopment and fostering political instability. The claim that the United States was not involved in the colonization of the African continent is misleading to the say the least and objectively false.

In fact it was the involvement of the European ruling class within the North American continent in the Atlantic Slave Trade that dramatically altered the global balance of political and economic forces. The British, French and Spanish all had colonies inside the area which became known as the United States. The expansion of the nation-state after the independence of the European settler-class created the conditions for the country to become dominant among other colonial and imperialist rivals.

African slavery reaped tremendous profits for both the planters and the burgeoning industrialists in the United States. The contradictions between the two competing economic systems of slavery and industrial capitalism lead to the civil war between 1861-65. After 1865, industrialization grew rapidly particularly in the north and the northeast of the country.

The economic and political status of the U.S. grew with the rapid industrialization after the mid-19th century. At the conclusion of the so-called Spanish-American war at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, the ruling class was able to effectively challenge any attempt by other western European states to gain a base inside the western hemisphere as well as the Philippines.

With the advent of the automotive and steel industries, the growth in individual wealth reached levels never previously achieved. Then came World War I, when millions died in the scramble for the colonial territories where the mining industries would further impoverish the oppressed nations.

During the 1920s there was widespread immigration and migration in the United States. Industrial development and banking became even stronger than the period of the early 20th century. However, the great crash of 1929 brought the system to a screeching halt.

The New Deal, which is often referred to during the current period of economic downturn, did not bring the United States out of the Great Depression. It was only the beginning of war production after 1940 and the draft, that created full-employment. After the War, with Europe and Asia devastated by conventional combat, the United States became the most dominant and influential nation in the world.

Nonetheless, the Soviet Union, the anti-fascist forces and the anti-colonial movements served as the real challenge to U.S. hegemony. A watseful "cold war" continued from 1945 to 1990, where military expenditures grew by leaps and bounds. It was the imperialists countries in the continued quest for world domination that drove the struggle between world capitalism on the one hand, and socialism and the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements, on the other.

The Imperialists Undermine Congo Independence

After the independence of the Congo in June of 1960, the former colonial power of Belgium and other imperialist states, with a leading role being played by the United States, set out to undermine the country's sovereignty.

Lumumba was placed under house arrest by the United Nations forces in August of 1960. Eventually he fled Leopoldville and traveled to the east of the country where his support was strong. The pro-Lumumbaist forces had established a base in Orientale Province at the capital of Stanleyville, where the Prime Minister and his family were heading when they were intercepted by the Congolese National Army (ANC) soldiers who were loyal to Mobutu.

The Congolese military had split along similar lines as the political class within the country during the post-independence crisis. The base of operations in Orientale Province held out until it was forcefully suppressed in 1964, with the widespread assistance of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the-then President Lyndon B. Johnson and the racist colonial governments of Rhodesia, South Africa, Portugal, France, Britain and Belgium.

Even though the secession of Katanga was eventually reversed by the United Nations in late 1961, the damage caused by the coup d'etat against the MNC-Lumumba and its allies were to have deep repercussions for the nation's future.

Mobutu's coup in 1965 against Kasabuvu and the-then recently displaced Moise Tshombe, who had been appointed Prime Minister of Congo in 1964 in a bid to create a supposed "unity government", continued the process of the exploitation of the national wealth of the country by foreign imperialist interests.

After the changing of the country's name to Zaire in 1971, Mobutu maintained the large scale presence of mining conglomerates inside the country whose activities never benefited the workers and peasants of Congo.

Several attempts were made during the late 1970s and mid-1980s to initiate a broad-based guerrilla insurgency aimed at toppling the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. During 1977-78, the Zairian regime was supported by the active military units of France and European mercenary groups to put down a revolt in the mineral rich Shaba province.

Although these campaigns during the 1970s and 1980s only gained limited results and were eventually halted, they illustrated the degree of discontent still prevalent within the country.

Active political groups such as the Front for the Liberation of Congo (FLNC), the MNC-Lumumba and the Movement of Workers and Peasants (MOPP) continued to organize underground for the overthrow of the western-backed Mobutu regime. The government had contnued its alliance with settler-colonialism in Southern Africa and supported counter-revolutionary "pseudo-liberation movements" such as UNITA, FLNA, and FLEC in Angola during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

With the overthrow of the Apartheid system in 1994, the UNITA organization continued to rely on Mobutu in its campaign aimed at the destabilization of Angola. Prior to this period, UNITA was heavily financed and politically assisted by the apartheid regime in South Africa and the United States Government.

The Rwandan Factor

In Rwanda, the former military regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, which suppressed democracy and national political pluralism, enjoyed firm support within the Mobutu government. Consequently, when President Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash on April 6, 1994, the subsequent Rwandan Hutu based leadership and its 1.5 million supporters, who had carried out the genocidal murders of 500,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians, were given asylum in Zaire, creating one of the largest refugee crises in the history of post-colonial Africa.

Ironically it was the political fallout associated with the presence of the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Congo that precipitated the widespread uprising against the Mobutu regime. Having become alienated within Africa and the international community, Mobutu enjoyed very limited support when violence erupted in the eastern provinces during the latter portion of 1996.

The ADFL Revolt and Africa's World War

World attention became focused on the situation in eastern Congo, when in October of 1996, there was an outbreak of fighting between the Banyamulenge Tutsi and Zairian soldiers around Uvira. Clashes also erupted between the Interhamwe Hutu militia elements from the Rwandan refugee camps and the Banyamulenge, who are indigenous to Congo and are related to the Tutsi nationalities in Rwanda and Burundi.

As a result of the renewed fighting, some 250,000 refugees abandoned their camps in Uvira and headed towards Bakavu. By the time of their arrival at Bakavu, the situation in the area was complicated by the escalation of oppression against the Tutsi nationality by the Zairian regime. Africans of this nationality origin were unjustly stripped of their citizenship rights and ordered to leave the country for Rwanda.

However, the Zairian military and the Interhamwe militias were proven to be no match for the Banyamulenge guerrilla fighters, who eventually seized control of Nyangezi, south of Bakavu, on October 24, 1996. The following day, the rebel's leadership announced that the goal of their movement was to topple the Mobutu regime and establish a new government in the country.

At the same time they named Laurent Kabila as their leader and delcared themselves the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL). In subsequent days, the political and military momentum of the uprising accelerated when the Alliance took control of Bakavu on October 28.

As a result of these advances of guerrilla forces who took control over eastern Congo, 250,000 refugees from Rwanda left their camps at Bakavu and headed towards Goma. In the midst of the intensive military offensives launched by the ADFL, the Zairian military rapidly crumbled, fleeing and hiding from the battle lines determined by the guerrilla forces.

International involvement in the guerrilla offensive launched by the ADFL had been widely reported in the corporate media. In addition to logistical and political support from Rwanda, the Ugandan military was accused of intervening and temporarily seizing control of the Congolese towns of Masabwa, Kasindi, Manda and Mutanga, in order to weaken the Zairian military and to retaliate against a purported cross-border violation of Ugandan territory.

Also the Republic of Angola began to supply air support and transportation to the ADFL forces. In contrast, the counter-revolutionary UNITA organization of Angola sent several units of its military to fight alongside Mobutu, a longtime patron of this apartheid and U.S.-backed group headed by Jonas Savimbi.

During the concluding phase of the war, it was reported that the most formidable Zairian resistance to the capturing of the town of Kenge, near the capital of Kinshasha, was actually carried out by the UNITA forces fighting against the advances of the ADFL.

When Kabila's ADFL soldiers marched into Kinshasha largely unopposed on May 17, 1997, it represented a culmination of political struggle against neo-colonialism in Africa spanning a thirty-seven year period.

Nonetheless, the alliance that brought about the second liberation of Congo was soon burst assunder. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments, at the aegis of the U.S. administration of Bill Clinton, sought to dictate the political policies of the renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When Kabila ordered the removal of Rwandan and Ugandan military forces from the eastern region of the country, both of these U.S.-backed regimes declared war on Kinshasha and sought to replace Kabila.

The Congolese Democratic Rally (RCD) was formed as a front for Uganda and Rwanda. However, the progressive governments of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) came to the defense of the DRC government and beat back the intervention. This war lasted between 1998-2003 and resulted in the deaths of millions of Congolese.

When a negotiated settlement was reached, a government of national unity was formed. This agreement broke down after elections were held in 2006. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 leaving the reigns of government to his son Joseph. Joseph Kabila won the elections of 2006.

Unfortunately, two other guerrilla groups were formed in the north and in the east. Laurent Nkunda's CNDP has launched attacks against civilian areas in North Kivu since August of 2008. This new situation has set the stage for the intervention of the European Union, which is still contemplating a military invasion and occupation of the mineral rich eastern region of the DRC.

The U.S. Role in the Background to the Somalian Crisis

It is not an oversimplification to state that the problems that have occured since the formation of the Republic of Somalia in 1960, must be viewed within the context of the overall post-colonial crisis of the nation-state in Africa. A brief cursory overview of the degree and character of political stabiliy and economic stagnation so prevalent in strucutral deficiencies cannot merely be analyzed in a case by case fashion, but must be approached from the standpoint of regional and continental patterns of development.

In looking at the situations of three neigboring countries to Somalia: Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, we can see that the similarities of agricultural deficits, micro-nationality and border conflicts, foreign debts and the exigencies of political democratization has created internal tensions and dislocations which requires a histtorical materialist model of analysis.

The historical materialist model of analysis acknowledges the particular characteristics of development within the various Africans states. However, it recognizes that the history of the impact of slavery, colonialism and imperialism and neo-colonialism has created a broad spectrum of structural problems that are present and recurrent within all African countries in the contemporary neo-colonial period.

In viewing modern-day Somalia, the legacy of colonial rule that was imposed in the nineteenth century must be considered in any evaluation of the country's performance as a post-independence state since 1960. The fact that the Somali people, composed of a myriad of clans and sub-clans, were divided by four colonial states and one feudel state, illustrates the total disregard by the imperialists of the national character of indigenous peoples.

Complicating the Somali question is also the role of feudal Ethiopia which continued to expand its influence along with the European powers in the region during the latter 19th century. However, being encircled by European imperialism eventually lead to an Italian fascist invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 under Mussolini.

During the colonial period, even after the defeat of fascist Italy in 1941, Somalia was designated as a protectorate by the United Nations of this former dictatorial regime. By the 1950s, the entire East African coast from Somalia to Mozambique was the center of intense oil exploration.

In the northern part of Somalia, which was colonized by the British, the Standard-Vacuum Oil and Conorado companies were involved in this extended search for oil. In the Italian controlled section of Somalia, the companies engaged in the exploration during the pre-independence period of the 1950s, were Conorado and Sinclair, who controlled an equal share of a 57 million acre concession.

As a result of the independence struggle against the colonialism of Britain and the United Nations imposed protectorate status under Italy during the 1950s, the country gained its independence in 1960, joining both the Italian and British controlled sections of the Somali territory.

The leading organization in the independence movement during the post-World War II period was the Somali Youth League (SYL), which was based in the southern region of the country then under the Italian protectorate regime. When the SYL won the overwhelming majority of seats in the March 1959 elections for the legislative assembly, they worked toward the formation of a coalition government with the British controlled region of the north. With the establishment of the independent Somali Republic on July 1, 1960, the British and Italian colonies were merged under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Abdirashid Ali Shirmake.

After the national elections of 1964, serious splits developed within the ranks of the SYL and its allies in the coalition government. After the removal of the first Prime Minister, Dr. Shirmake, by Abdirazak Haji Hussein in 1964, Shirmake ran again in 1967 and was elected president, forming a new government with Mohammed Haji Ibrahim Egal, a northern based politician from the Isaq clan as prime minister.

By 1969, the divisiveness of the political class became quite intense leading to a splintering of forces in that year's elections. However, Egal maintained his position after the elections amid allegations of manipulating the voting and selection process. Later in October, Shirmarke was assassinated in a factional dispute, leading to the military coup d'etat under the leadership of Mohammed Siad Barre.

Declaring itself the Somali Democratic Republic, the regime of Barre moved to institute its own brand of scientific socialism. Large scale nationalization of industries took place along with diplomatic overtures to the Soviet Union and other socialist-oriented states.

The former British military bases at Berbera in the north were the scene of intense training of Somali military forces by Soviet technicians. However, this era of friendship and cooperation with the USSR did not last long, particularly after the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 and the subsequent events leading to the consolidation of power by the military officer, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1977.

Having never given up on the idea of a "Greater Somalia", encompassing not only the present borders of the country but including the population groups of this nationality that were scattered throughout Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, the regime of Siad Barre backed a military secessionist movement in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia in 1977-78.

Later on with the withdrawal of the U.S. military presence in Ethiopia, the USSR moved swiftly to fill in the vacuum left by the American expulsion. When the Soviets were asked to vacate their 6,000 technicians from Somalia, full scale war erupted in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, prompting the evacuation of Ethiopian military forces from the area.

However, with the assistance of the Soviet Union's military advisors and direct Cuban troops involvement in the fighting, the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) insurgents were quickly defeated and forced to retreat into Somalia proper. This conflict largely resulted from the strategic miscalculations of Siad Barre, who believed the US promises of military assistance for the Ogaden war in order to counter Soviet and Cuban influence in the Horn of Africa.

What Barre did not understand was the phenomena of the post-Vietnam syndrome in the American political psyche after 1975. Jimmy Carter's presidency was not willing to risk direct U.S. military involvement in Ethiopia where American combat troops would be deployed and possibly face large-scale casualties.

The conflict in the Ogaden region marked the beginning of increased instability in Somalia. Famine became widespread during the early 1980s, which prompted relief efforts and an increased U.S. media focus on the enormous problems created by the dislocation of civilians resulting from political unrest and monumental food deficits. At the same time, the level of American military assistance to the country increased, bringing about the material basis for a highly regimented and repressive state.

By the late 1980s, various regions of the country became highly disaffected from the central government. The intensification of military activities in the north by the Somali National Movement (SNM) against the Barre regime between 1988-1991 created a serious crisis for the government.

In 1990, the three major opposition groups the SNM, the United Somali Congress (USC) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), announced that they would coordinate their activities designed to overthrow the Barre government. In January of 1991, Barre fled the country in the face of military advances by the USC and others in the capital Mogadishu as well as other regions of the country.

The Challenge of National Unity in Somalia

Even after the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991, the question of national reconciliation and unity in Somalia has remained elusive. The total collapse of the state under Barre and the failure to stabilize a coalition government in Mogadishu during 1991-1992, lead to widespread factional fighting in various regions of the country.

This internecine conflict created the conditions for famine in the country, which provided the United States with a rationale for a large-scale military invasion in December of 1992, under the guise of a United Nations sponsored relief effort.

This "relief effort", called "Operation Restore Hope", which was initially greeted with some degree of acceptance by various political organizations in Somalia, soon degenerated into a large-scale occupation reminiscent of the colonial period in the nation's history. Somali youth were randomly beaten and murdered by U.S., Italian, Pakistani and Canadian military forces.

Under the leadership of the Somali National Alliance (SNA), headed by Mohammed Farrah Aided, the people resisted the US-UN occupation vigorously, resulting in thousands of casualties on the Somali side, and several hundred among the occupying forces.

A major clash on October 3, 1993, resulted in 18 officially reported deaths of U.S. soldiers and the capturing of an American helicopter pilot. This then lead to mass opposition to the Clinton policy of continued occupation. In response to increasing protest activity around the U.S. and the world, Clinton announced an impending withdrawal from Somalia, which occured in 1994.

However, despite the defeat of American occupationist aims in the region in 1993, and the withdrawal of the UN troops in 1994-95, the country has failed to overcome the factionalism of political parties and the seccesion of the northern area, which was formerly colonized by the United Kingdom. At least three different factions have declared themselves as legitimate governments in Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, despite the fact that no entity in the international community has officially recognized any of these self-proclaimed regimes.

Even though the United States was defeated in Somalia during the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the atmosphere created by the Bush administration and the corporate media, attempted to justify covert operations against the country. During 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) began to consolidate its base of power in various regions of Somalia. The fact that these efforts took place independent of U.S. influence and direction, the Bush administration sought to undermine the UIC.

Initially, the US imperialists attempted to coordinate various political and social elements in the country to attack the UIC. When this did not prove effective, the Bush administration encouraged, financed and coordinated an Ethiopian military invasion and occupation of the country beginning in December of 2006.

Nonetheless, this U.S.-backed occupation was met with fierce resistance. Two years later, by the end of 2008, the Ethiopians had already withdrawn 10,000 out of 12,000 of its troops. Al-Shabab, the youth wing of the UIC, had launched systematic attacks against the occupationists in various regions of the country. This was coupled with the continued hijacking of commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden by Somalis.


Reviewing aspects of the historical development of both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia provides concrete examples of how imperialism has prevented African states from achieving genuine independence. During the colonial era, the US was never a champion of the legitimate national liberation movements on the continent.

As anti-imperialists it is necessary to provide political support to all social and political forces struggling against U.S. and other western efforts aimed at the continued exploitation and oppression of the peoples of Africa. In both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia, the United States administration is very much involved in campaigns to control the political developments inside these countries and to preserve the economic interests of the ruling class.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

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