The killing of Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and of a military policeman from the carabinieri deployed as part of the Monusco UN mission, which took place in Goma, in the Congolese Great Lakes region, turns the spotlight once again to a creeping civil war that has been drenching that part of the world in blood for over a quarter of a century. Since the death of the dictator Mobutu in 1997, the country that was then called Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of Congo—has experienced a constant process of territorial breakdown, favored by very specific multinational interests, and which use paramilitary factions to continue to pursue their partisan interests unperturbed on the backs of the local populations.
Monday’s criminal act should therefore be seen in the context of the chronic lengthening of what has been called the First African World War. It broke out in 1996 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to secessionist pressures in the Goma region, triggered by the expansionism of tiny Rwanda in search of its own Lebensraum, and soon degenerated into an interstate conflict that also involved Uganda, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The extent of the continental-scale fighting, which lasted until 2004 and cost more than four million dead and as many internal refugees, was cynically ignored by the international community and reduced to inter-ethnic clashes, as in the best colonial tradition. In reality, as always, the powerful international economic and geopolitical interests were clearly evident, in particular those of multinationals linked to the control of raw materials, including coltan, the columbite and tantalite alloy used for the manufacture of cell phones, laptops, optical fibers and instruments for the aerospace industry, given its superconducting characteristics, and, inevitably, diamonds.
But the breakdown of Congo comes from much further back. It can be said that it all began with the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first and last Congolese leader to be democratically elected back in 1960 and immediately removed in a coup d’état led by the United States and Belgium by then lieutenant-colonel Joseph Desiree Mobutu, who later became the longest-serving African dictator, taking the rank of marshal and the “traditional” name of Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku G’guendu Wa Za Banga, protector of the same interests that continue to destabilize the eastern part of the country today. Even back then, in the face of the popular support for the political line of Lumumba, who intended to redistribute to the Congolese at least part of the revenues derived from mining, the interests around the strategic raw materials of the time, especially copper and cobalt, triggered a secession in the south, in Katanga, which set off a first civil war, during which, in an airplane attack prepared by the U.S. and Belgian intelligence services, the then UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld was killed as he was flying to Kinshasa to coordinate the intervention of the Blue Helmets in favor of the legitimate government.
During the same time, the infamous massacre of Kindu took place, in which, on November 11, 1961, thirteen Italian aviators who were part of the contingent of the UN operation were slaughtered. Mobutu’s long kleptocracy, 1961-2016, kept this African giant, seven times the size of Italy, in the grip of terror, impoverishing the population and systematically destroying every sprout of participatory democracy. And it is the very size of the country, and its enormous wealth, which tragically explain the place that the rich world has assigned to it in the international division of labor.
The permanent instability of that area becomes clear if we calculate that the ecological footprint—hybrid systems and new electrification—of the European countries, or in general of the G8, needs at least double the land areas at their disposal to maintain their (our) unsustainable lifestyle, which we want to be ‘clean,’ but which is dirty with exploitation and blood. If, in fact, Italy needs two Italies, and the U.S. needs two U.S.es and so on, what better than permanent wars with low media coverage to continue to make us think that our cell phones are cheap because there is competition between operators, and not because of the slave labor that extracts the raw materials? Here, then, the picture becomes clearer, as well as the personal and collective responsibilities; what seems distant and incomprehensible comes to question us from very close by and with crystal clarity. Italy, which today rightly mourns the death of its ambassador and one of its carabinieri in service, devotes only 0.19% of its GDP to international cooperation. This piece of data also holds many answers.
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