‘The US Has Been at the Root of the Undemocratic History of the Congo’ – CounterSpin interview with Maurice Carney on Congo elections

Janine Jackson interviewed Maurice Carney about coverage of Congo politics for the December 21, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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NYT: He’s Handing Over the Presidency but Not Necessarily His Power

New York Times (12/14/18)

Janine Jackson: “He’s Handing Over the Presidency, but Not Necessarily His Power,” was the coy headline the New York Times chose for their version of an interview with Joseph Kabila, the president since 2001 of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has elections coming up soon, but Kabila has previously refused to step down in accordance with the country’s constitution.

The Times says Kabila

recently surprised a gaggle of Anglophone journalists, first by agreeing to be interviewed for the first time in about a decade, and then by letting slip that he could see himself returning to power in the future.

“Letting slip”—as if there were anything unrehearsed in such an imperial court-style interview.

The Times leads with how Kabila—who has overseen a period of wide-scale violence, hunger and disease in Congo—likes his fish. Likewise rose-tinted write-ups at other outlets invited to the party—the Times and the Washington Post even end their pieces with an identical quote, about his favorite movie—underscored that the desire to hang on to power, that denoted dangerous demagoguery when associated with say, Hugo Chavez, is viewed as a kind of ernest affectation in Kabila.

And since corporate media coverage of all African nations combined doesn’t amount to more than that given a Trump tweet on a good day, that drive-by image may be all many Americans have to go on.

What should we know about upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the historic and ongoing role of the United States? We’re joined now by Maurice Carney, co-founder and executive director of the group Friends of the Congo. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Maurice Carney.

Maurice Carney

Maurice Carney: “The endearing, benign, affable picture painted by the New York Times and other corporate media would certainly please Kabila’s lobbyists.”

Maurice Carney: It’s a pleasure to be back with you.

JJ: It really was striking, the New York Times leading with Kabila’s favorite dish, “prepared by a Flemish cook on his farm in a private safari park.” It was a sort of celebrity journalism. And then there was a kind of sexy mystery around his “political ambitions,” as the Times had it, but not about whether Kabila’s retention of power reflects the will of the people. What did you make of this kid-glove treatment, and what questions did not get asked?

MC: The interviews were infuriating, to say the least. The endearing, benign, affable picture painted by the New York Times and other corporate media would certainly please Kabila’s lobbyists. The Kabila government paid up to $8 million to an Israeli communications and security firm, called MER, and they’ve engaged a number of lobbyists in Washington, DC, including figures like Rudy Giuliani and former Congressman Bob Livingston, all in an effort to paint a certain picture of Kabila, which really is not far from what we saw in the New York Times.

However, that picture painted by the New York Times is far from the reality. Joseph Kabila has presided over a repressive regime, which the leading Catholic figure in the Congo, Laurent Monsengwo, said that we’re in an open-air prison—that’s what he said of the Kabila regime. None other than the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege said these elections that are being organized are a “parody of elections,” they’re a joke. He said that our leaders do not like us. The elections are likely to produce the same repressive system that we’ve seen for the past 17 years.

So this is what Congolese are saying, well-respected Congolese figures, but you would not know that from reading the New York Times article, or any of the other interviews that Kabila gave to some of the major corporate media here in the United States.

VOA: US Calls for Credible Elections in DR Congo

Voice of America (11/21/18)

JJ: And those people, their opinions are not sought out by reporters, either. The official line that we get, you know, Voice of America headline, “US Calls for Credible Elections in DR Congo,” that’s going to be, in as much as there will be coverage, that’s what will be presented in the United States.

We’ve got Heather Nauert saying that these elections are a “historic opportunity” for a peaceful transfer of power. “Peaceful transfer of power.” I’ve asked you the same thing I think every time we’ve spoken, but I wonder if you could just remind listeners about what’s missing when the United States talks about a peaceful transfer of power in Congo.

MC: Certainly. And we must mention it every time, because the media usually report that there hasn’t been a peaceful transfer of power in the Congo since 1960, but they fail to mention that it was the United States itself that upended democracy in 1960, that initiated the violent overthrow of an elected government, in Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo. He was overthrown by the CIA, which chief of station Larry Devlin laid out in painstaking detail in a book called Chief of Station, Congo, where he shared how he went about overthrowing the Lumumba government.

And not only that, but a dictatorial regime was installed in the Congo, in Joseph Mobutu, over three decades, installed and maintained by the United States. So the US has been at the root of the undemocratic history of the Congo over the last half a century or so.

Now today, when we talk about the elections in the Congo and what’s upcoming, it’s vital — this is the key story that hasn’t gotten out, Janine — is that the Congolese people have been fighting tooth and nail in order to rid themselves of this repressive regime.

It was the Congolese people that forced Joseph Kabila to announce that he would no longer be running, and he would designate a successor. He had spent two years in office beyond his constitutional mandate, and the Congolese people put their lives on the line. Youth were assassinated, many were jailed—some still remain in jail to this day—others were sent into exile. And, for the most part, people are living in a repressive environment.

So that’s the story—a story of people, dignified people, fighting for peace and democracy against a repressive leader that has strong connections to multinational corporations in the West and has benefited from the support of Western nations, like the United States and other European nations. And these Congolese people are looking for a new day, and they see these elections as an opportunity to bring about a change that they’re seeking.

JJ: You just actually answered what was going to be my last question. I did want to say that it is stirring to hear an African leader say, “The Congo does not take any orders from anybody,” as Kabila said. You know, one can understand why people at a distance would salute that, the idea of African nations reaping the benefit of their own resources, of being truly independent, but then, of course, of distributing that wealth equitably. But for folks who are looking for that really to happen in the Congo, I was going to ask you where you see actual sources of hope. But it sounds as though you’ve just answered that.

MC: Yes. The hope is in the people, and what Kabila’s said, that a Congo doesn’t take orders from anyone: Kabila would not be in power without the support of the West. And the West facilitated his ascension to power. The International Crisis Group published a very well-researched piece in 2007 called Congo: Consolidating the Peace, where they laid out the role the United States played in facilitating Kabila’s ascension to power, and his winning of the first elections in 2006.

And “not taking any orders from anyone,” Kabila is in cahoots with Dan Gertler, the Israeli billionaire that made his billions off of Congo’s riches. And even after the US sanctioned Dan Gertler, Kabila still stands by him. So this notion of his being some nationalist or anti-imperialist is far from the truth. It’s merely rhetoric. It doesn’t reflect any of the kind of sovereignty stance that we’ve seen in countries like Venezuela, or countries like Bolivia, or Ecuador when Correa was there.

So this notion of Kabila being a strong advocate for national sovereignty is not reflected in the Congo at all, not as it relates to his history with the Western nations.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maurice Carney, co-founder and executive director of the group Friends of the Congo. You can find their work online at FriendsOfTheCongo.org.  Maurice Carney, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MC: Thank you. Thank you, Janine.

 

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.