Unpacking the colonial legacy and race in the Great Lakes’ political context

By Diane Songa
On 23 March 2023 at 01:33

Views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of IGIHE.

In the last two months alone, the DRC has received the pope; the French president, Emmanuel Macron; and the United Nations Security Council. If it were not for the reason of their visits, which is the insecurity in eastern DRC, these visits would have the Congolese very proud of their country. But alas, these three visits happened only because the world has realized the danger that could result from this current security situation if left undealt with.

Security is a fundamental human right and, studies have shown that the absence of this can cause many traumas that can even affect the victim’s children and grandchildren.

Congolese who are based in Eastern DRC have not known security in the past three decades. In fact, this region is home to more than 130 armed groups. Although the United Nations (UN) has documented some of the crimes against humanity committed by these groups, eastern Congolese testify that these are just a drop in the ocean, since even the blue helmets themselves are accused of crimes, not documented in those UN reports.

This goes without saying, the whole region is concerned by the insecurity in the eastern DRC, as the risk of spillover is very real. Rwanda particularly is very vocal about this issue, because the DRC keeps involving it in this conflict, which is otherwise internal.

It is not surprising then that Rwandans, the DRC government’s preferred scapegoat, through their leaders have shared their opinions about this conflict over the years, from the root causes, to how to effectively deal with the security problem, and so on.

Moreover, phrases like these “the Mouvement du Mars 23 (M23) rebels, a group the UN says is being armed and supported by Kigali – claims denied by President Paul Kagame but supported by the US and several African and European nations” are often seen in the mainstream media.

What they do not say is that the same UN has recently announced that 80% of arms in the hands of the M23 come from the FARDC. They also omit to mention that this M23, the FARDC and other armed groups in the DRC are fighting against, attacked from Uganda and not Rwanda. A statement made by the Ugandan president, Museveni, himself.

For whatever reason, they also neglect to document that the DRC has violated the Luanda and Nairobi peace processes that were put in place to help bring security to this region.

The issue is whenever Rwanda says something about the DRC conflict, the whole international community, Congolese people included, turns a deaf ear. Rwandans were happy to repeat and repeat their opinions again with the hope that, maybe one day, the Congolese government and the international community will listen.

That was until Western leaders started echoing their opinions and ideas. This time though, the international media started quoting their speeches as if it was their first time hearing them.

The DRC government specifically was the most surprising. The ministers started taking accountability, saying for example that what Emmanuel Macron said about the Congolese government being unaccountable was very right. Something Rwanda had practically begged them to do in the past few months, on multiple occasions, but had refused to do.

Same thing with the UNSC statements that are in vogue since last week.

So, why is it that when a leader, like President Paul Kagame, says things, everyone chooses to ignore him but when a Western leader, like President Emmanuel Macron or ambassador Nicolas de Rivière repeats exactly the same thing, it is embraced, quoted, and received as the message from God the creator himself?

Three words come to mind; colonization legacy and racism.

Africans still revere Western people and, sometimes, see them as superior beings. When white people come to this region as experts, the people in the region treat them as if they had access to the kind of wisdom that is reserved only for them. It does not matter if you attended the same school or hold the same position. In Africa, especially in this Great Lakes region, your white colleague is considered smarter and more believable than you with a black skin tone. And therefore, is better treated than you.

It is sad that to this day, this region is still dealing with social and political issues that the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa was dealing with in the 60s,70s, & 80s. Ngūgī wa Thiong’o, a late Kenyan author, has written a famous essay known as “Decolonizing the mind” discussing how the choice of the language that you use in writing affects how your message will be received and perceived.

Today though, the problem has evolved and taken another shape. Even when you choose to use a Western language, English or French to be specific, your skin tone still affects how your message will be received by not only foreigners but also your brothers and sisters.

It matters less if you have the highest position in the government, hold the highest degree possible, or are the most knowledgeable person on the topic being discussed, certain people will close their ears to what you have to say or even question your knowledge on the topic if you are black.

Need for change

The people in this region need to understand that no outsider understands the situation the Eastern DRC is currently dealing with better than the people living here, who have to face it day and night, and who have to deal with the consequences year in and year out. After understanding that, they will start welcoming wisdom from their folks who have seen the situation unfold and evolve to become what it is today.

Outsiders can help, as they have tried to do for decades now, but they do not fully grasp the nuances of this complex situation. As the result, they make assumptions and come up with theories to sound smart. The theories fail and they come up with others, and again, and again. This is what has been going on in this region for more than 20 years. People in this region, especially Congolese and Rwandans who are directly involved, need to start questioning these theories, and the policies from the West that have never worked.

It is their region. It is their country. They have created this mess, of course, the West played a big part in this, and they can clean up their mess.

DRC is home to more than 130 armed groups.