Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The influence of the west.... turning my world-view up side down - again

Before I came to the DR Congo I was quick to blame the West, or as they like to call us here - the Occidental world - for all that is wrong in the developing countries. As with all black and white paintings the nuances of grey will eventually appear. One of the biggest revelation has been the lack of clear interference by the West - especially by my favorite antagonist - the United States of America.

The first puzzle piece emerged with Gerard Prunier's: Africa's World War, in which he debunks some of the general "conspiracy theories involving the power of the Western powers (usually the three enemies of the Congolese State are France, Belgium and the USA, not necessarily in this order). He starts, for example with the lack of French Mining interest (p.127-129) . The French had only two investments - one through the Belgian Union Minere and one with the Empain-Schneider group, but they certainly did not gain any economic benefits when Mobutu finally sited with Paris against Washington by 1992.

The U.S. had put Mobutu in power (in 1961) and kept him there, but with the fall of the Berlin wall and therefore the end of the cold war, their interest dwindled rapidly. He (Mobutu) surely would have dished out a few mining contracts if that would have brought back their support. "But contrary to many conspiracy theroritsts' allegations, the Americans were not very interested in Zairian mining riches. When canadian companies came in they were welcomed. And when on big U.S. company (Barrick Gold) finally showed up in mid 1996 it had no problem buying out the Kilomoto complex from Cluff-Bunro.

He continues "mining interests in Zaire were extremely diversified, and if any countries had more weight than others it was still the two old actors from the colonial days, South Africa and Belgium."

Another theory Prunier is debunking is that Rwanda was a platform for the Americans. He writes "Regardless of the opinion one has of President Kagame's leadership it is absolutely necessary to recognize that he is nobody's puppet." This is in line with the NYT article I referred to in a post this week, describing Kagame as very independent thinking - and militaristic man.

The problem of conspiracy theories applied to Africa, Prunier says, is "they purport to denounce the evil visited upon Africa by ill-meaning foreigners and they end up with Africans looking like perfect dolts, manipulated here, pushed there, used for this, deceived into that. In thirty-seven years of studying Africa I have seen more whites manipulated by blacks than the other way around. But lingering postcolonial racism makes it hard for the victims to admit to themselves that they have been taken for a ride; the implicit notion that all things being equal the white fellow is smarter than the black one is still the unspoken assumption of a large number of white diplomates, international civil servants, and businesspeople. Conspiracy theorists do not represent an exception: their evil whites are more clearly evil than their evil blacks, an assumption I seriously doubt."

If I can count myself to the camp of the conspiracy theorists is questionable, but I certainly have not given the African elite enough credit to outsmart the west, and be just as evil as their occidental counterparts.

Good and bad, after all can be found anywhere. Mobutu, as much as he was financed by the west, used and outsmarted the West much more than the other way around. Yet again my world view has been turned up-side down. A less rigid approach to understanding this world seems appropriate - their are indeed many shades of grey. Tragically while the elites of this world were fighting over the riches of this country, the people have slide deeper into poverty and desperation.... while unfortunately often holding the same view as the conspiracy theorists.

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