Africa: The military as "rescuer" of society

While public interest in Europe and Northern America focuses on the Balkans, many changes in the face of the military can be seen in Africa too. While the war in Congo involving participation by many African countries demonstrates the example of military intervention only by African armies, Nigeria and other countries serve as example of a military which presents itself as promoting democracy after years of military dictatorship and the only effective force against corruption.

The workshop looked firstly at the historical development of militarisation in Africa. Thanks to the presence of Dieudonné and Emmanuel, it was possible to hear directly about Congo and Angola at first hand.

Colonial armies have governed for the benefit of Europe from 1865 to 1975. Their mission has been to maintain order, domination, and exploitation by the colonialists through bloodshed. Conscription became a form of forced labour. The commanders were whites, while the soldiers were blacks.

From the 1960's with independence achieved either through conquest or agreements, small armies were established in the new states, with European armies as models. Dubious presidential guards cooperating with the military forces, practiced torture and terrorised the population. The army's function was to maintain the power of the dictatorship, either being professional or conscripted (conscripted armies was always partial as a selected group of the population was conscripted).

There have been too many bloody civil wars on the African continent. The one in Zaïre, from 1960 to 1965, has still not been resolved. The one in Nigeria (in Biafra from 1967 to 1970) was one of the first of all known because of its horrors. The one in Chad, from 1967 to 1990, was connected with strategic conflicts multiplied by the wealth in the ground. The reverse of the alliance between Somalia and Ethiopia, was an example arising from East-West manoeuvres during the Cold War on the African continent.

Soldiers in Africa are guaranteed a salary, a possibility of free education and a career which is highly valued in African society.

Since 1990, at the very end of the Cold War, a democratic process has unfolded in certain countries. This evolution can be understood by the new face of the military. The "good" government recognises republican values. A free press permits the holding of elections. The development from one-party system to multiple party system, respect of human rights, the development of NGOs in civil society, modest emancipation of women should be guaranteed by the army. In some countries it is perceived as a protection of the society. But in fact, the protection is only of the elites in power, paying the army as part of the general corruption.

Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is at the centre of the African continent, covering 2,3 million square kilometres, with 45 million inhabitants speaking 386 languages. 75% of the worlds tropical forest is in this country. According to UN statistics, this country is the richest on earth, and the poorest, apart from Nepal. This may explain why it is so exploitated.

Belgian colonisation put an end to slavery. Catholic missionaries gave them instead only religion and prayers. There were only a few universities in the 1960's. At that time the only possible work was in the army.

After the assassination of Lumumba, the father of independence, Mobutu was put in his place with the help of the CIA. The tyrant, whose fortune doubled the national debt, kept the population in a state of total ignorance. The seizure of power by Kabila in 1997 has only had the consequence of enlarging the war zone in central Africa.

The evidence of witnesses shows the military's pillages and crimes. There has been a striking increase in the number of refugees in the jungle since the massacres in Rwanda. International opinion has wrongly ignored the situation because when Congo is in a crisis, all the surrounding countries are affected.

The idea of pacifism, conscientious objection, insoumission represent an absolute priority for the people in Congo who don't even know the meaning of these words.

Angola

This old Portugese colony has 10 million inhabitants living in an area of 1,2 million square kilometres. The country has been at war for more than 30 years. Angola is now facing a humanitarian catastrophe thanks to the madness of the military. According to the president Eduardo Dos Santos (representing MPLA) and Jonas Savimbi (representing UNITA) and his cliques, war is the only way of achieving peace.

The multiplication of private armies (South African mercenaries and Western secret services), the destructive forces are at work, controlled by economic interests and weapons manufacturers. In 1998 the purchase of weapons represented 200 million dollars. Heavy weaponry came from the US, Canada and UN troops (2500 personnel of whom 700 were blue helmets). As there are more weapons than there is bread circulating, the violence is automatically increasing. The diamond- and petroleum companies only ensure their own security. About a hundred private companies have been counted.

The state, now completely non-functioning, is no more than a structure for plunder and the violation of human rights. Recruitment campaigns for the army are "organised" as there are more and more deserters (one conscript in five).

The armies, either regular or irregular, mine and burn villages. The population is desperate because no return in possible. In one month there were nearly 1,6 million refugees. The soldiers see the women as their slaves for transporting their munitions and materials. In addition, there are around 3000 to 5000 child-soldiers, recruited by force.

In face of this chaos, the government seeks to find a legitimacy by getting outside forces to intervene. Interventions in Congo-Brazzaville (coup d'Etat against Lissouba), in Congo (supporting Kabila) are disguised attacks against their opponents to make people forget about one of the most bloody wars in the world.

All external intervention can only build up nationlism.

To rescue this society, it is urgent to totally demilitarise Angola and to put an end to the immunity of the military leaders on all sides by making them appear in front of an international tribunal.

Summary by René Burget