Today, Uganda marks fifty years of independence – three months after Rwanda and Burundi celebrated theirs. But if you think the end of colonial rule signaled the end of foreign control, you might have to think again. Events in Africa today are uncomfortably similar to what happened here just over a century and a half ago.
Take the case of the Great Lakes Region, for instance. What is happening here is almost an exact replay of the events that led to Africa’s colonisation all those many years ago. So, is Africa being recolonised. Perhaps. Some will, in fact, argue that it has never been free, and that there is a continuing struggle to break free.
Looking at today and historical parallels, one cannot miss the connection between the past and today – motives, methods, players and all.
In this region, the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently (it has actually been like this for its entire independent life) in a crisis of governance and security that threatens to undermine the stability of the whole region. Naturally – out of self-interest, if for nothing else – neighbouring countries want to see an end to the decades old instability in the country. However, the most powerful countries – all of them far removed from the situation – will have none of it.
The conclusion one gets from this is that they are not interested in a solution because it does not fit into their geo-political calculations. And so, Congo is once again, as it was in 1884, at the centre of attempts to control Africa. The reason for that today is what it was in the nineteenth century – unfettered exploitation of natural resources.
That is why China’s entrance on the African scene is a threat. It is a competitor for those resources. It is for the same reason that Rwanda is also seen as a threat. It has demonstrated that with proper organisation and independence that make continued control difficult.
In these circumstances, what is the strategy of those countries that want to maintain control of Africa? It is the same as it was more than a century ago. First, make it impossible for resource-rich countries like DRC (as we are reminded ad nauseam) to get properly organised and to keep them beholden to them for their very existence. Second, weaken countries that show determined efforts to break free from control and dependence. And third, prevent these countries from coming together to seek answers to shared challenges. In the old days, this was called divide and rule.
In the past, European interest in Congo, spurred by reports of hired adventurers like Henry Stanley and others of his ilk representing different countries and interests, speeded up the race for the scramble and partition of Africa.
Then, other groups – mainly the media, do-gooders of all sorts and religious organisations – took up the cry for actual control of territory. Their professed aim was to save the savages from themselves.
Soon, politicians and business interests heard the noise and liked what they heard, and took heed. They rushed to stake out areas of control. Their aims, however, were not couched in moralistic tones. They were more blunt – to control Africa for business.
Today the same noise can be heard from similar individuals and organisations. Latter-day do-gooders, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and free-lance adventurers masquerading as experts and heads of all manner of foundations ostensibly for the benefit of Africans, now lead the assault. These groups have been organised into powerful organisations that rival most governments for power and influence.
The media amplify and spread the noise and make sure the unsuspecting public is flooded with unsavoury stories that make take-over inevitable.
The arguments for control today are similar to those of the late nineteenth century. Once again the savages are killing, raping and looting, and worst of all; they recruit child soldiers into their armies. They must be saved from themselves. Their leaders are blood-thirsty tyrants who must be got rid of.
At the time of colonisation, and throughout the colonial period, if anyone resisted, they got a beating, were killed or exiled. That was the fate of our own kings Yuhi V Musinga and MutaraIII Rudahigwa.
But those who collaborated or gave in easily to external control were rewarded for their cooperation, even if the citizens lost control of their country and resources.
Today, those who resist control also get a beating. Leaders whom our erstwhile rulers do not like are removed from the scene and replaced with more pliant ones. But in an age when democracy and the rule of law are on everyone’s lips, this unlawful replacement must be dressed in legal garb. So, the International Criminal Court is created to legalise unlawful regime change, exile and punishment for recalcitrant leaders.
There are other measures to control those who refuse to fall in line. Slap sanctions on them, impose travel and other kinds of bans, or cut aid to their countries and they will surely get down on their knees.
So, has anything changed in the last fifty years? Is what we are seeing history repeating itself? Only one thing is certain – the struggle continues.