Congo and Biafra – African tragedies in self-determination
The former Belgian Congo was one of Africa’s first colonies to be torpedoed to independence in 1960. It is an artificial territory, like all sub-Saharan states, with borders shaped in European capitals at the end of the 19th century, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
It consists of many ethnicities. Kinshasa, the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has a history of horrible civil conflicts since independence, with terrible-to-doubtful governments. This includes the present government under President Joseph Kabila and his father Laurent-Desire Kabila before him, who was assassinated in 2001.
Eastern Congo, along with neighbouring Rwanda, was the arena for one of the worst genocides in the 1990s. The United Nations proved ineffective in preventing mass murder.
Rwanda has found its balance and is now one of Africa’s most successful African countries. Eastern Congo is still ravaged by rebel fighters and President Kabila's troops.
The UN has now deployed close to 20,000 soldiers to eastern Congo and has learned from past mistakes. Action against a murdering rebel group was planned together with the regular Congolese army.
President Kabila has now reshuffled his army command, replacing some generals with two former generals with a record of committing atrocities against civilians. He also says he wants to stop foreign interventions in Congolese affairs. This is frustrating the UN’s actions and eastern Congo will remain a murderous battlefield.
The southern area of Katanga declared its own state at Congo's independence and introduced robust governance. It tried to stay out of the bloodthirsty conflict unleashed at the start of Congo's independence and which cost 100,000 lives.
The breakaway was not accepted internationally or by the UN. Peaceful Katanga was invaded by Congolese and UN troops which committed atrocities. Katanga was reinstated into the chaos.
It appears the idea is to introduce ‘robust’ Western-style institutions. But ‘nation building’ in artificial states such as the Congo does not work, although the UN and the international community still adhere strongly to such hypotheses.
Nigeria is a similar case and former President Goodluck Jonathan's government proved completely incapable of fighting Boko Haram terrorists in the north.
The international community made a similar mistake, disallowing breakaways, when it tolerated the murderous war Nigeria's central government waged against the independence of Biafra after Nigeria's own independence in 1960.
Using the positive side of traditional African leaderships, together with the rights of self-determination for ethnicities in a controlled way, would probably deliver better results.
Congo and Nigeria demonstrated through huge death tolls that self-determination will be punished. The non-recognition of independent entities, such as Katanga and Biafra, set terribly negative examples counted in hundreds of thousands of lives. This is not just an African tragedy.