Revolution #274, July 8, 2012

Kony Is a Criminal, but U.S. Imperialism Is the Biggest Criminal!

From a reader.

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) that operates in East/Central Africa, has been recently thrust into mainstream American society as a result of the "Kony 2012" campaign. This campaign seeks to drum up support for the capture of Kony, and the defeat of the LRA more generally. The video that sparked mass interest in Kony was widely pushed by youth through social networking sites, which gained the video over 50 million views in just four days,1 and to date the video has over 90 million views on YouTube alone. The group Invisible Children has worked to spread the video widely.

There was initially strong support for the campaign from various sections of society, including the youth and many prominent celebrities, but there was also a strong criticism of the campaign. Particularly noteworthy in the video itself was the positive portrayal of U.S. President Obama's move to supply military advisors to various African nations currently in conflict with the LRA. While Obama pledged 100 armed military advisors to Central African nations, George W. Bush in fact sent 17 advisors to Uganda and millions of dollars in military equipment to Uganda during his presidency.2 Surely, many people would support such a move under the guise of "humanitarian intervention." Obama, however, justified the move as one that was "in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States."3

Kony is not only the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, but he is also a self-proclaimed prophet, and there have been accusations that his forces have employed mass rape, murder, and kidnapping as tactics in order to establish a new Christian, theocratic society. The LRA is often accused of using young boys as child soldiers and young girls as sex slaves.4

While most of the claims against the LRA are unsubstantiated, one thing is very clear: there is an absolutely criminal history of U.S. imperialism in the region that has served to create much of the chaos in Central/Eastern Africa. In fact, the crimes of U.S. imperialism in the region far, far outweigh the crimes of Kony and the LRA. The imperialism of the United States has created horrors in the region, and more imperialism will only create more horrors. Imperialism has no capability to change the world in a positive direction.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a History of Imperialism

While there are a number of examples one could point to to see the vile role of U.S. imperialism in Africa—from the support of apartheid in South Africa to the resource pillaging in Nigeria—a particularly sharp example of U.S. imperialism's role in the region is the case of Mobutu Sese Seko. In what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mobutu ran a regime that was backed by U.S. imperialism, both forces that have served to create the current crisis in the region.

From the 1870s to 1960, the Congo was a direct colony of Belgium (in the beginning as literally the private property of King Leopold II and the royal family). The Belgian colonialists were met with ever-increasing resistance from the Congolese people.5 Movements were directed against imperialist Belgium's plunder of the region's resources. In addition to the theft of resources, Belgium shifted production in the country heavily towards rubber.6 This was highly profitable, and the profit was, of course, controlled by and produced for the colonial "owners" of Belgium.

Leopold talked much about ending the slave trade. Despite the seeming benevolence of such words, Leopold actually actively promoted the slave trade in order to keep laborers working on the rubber plantations. Workers would often have their wives and children held hostage, their villages razed, and their children killed if they did not meet rubber quotas or outright refused to cooperate with the Belgians—or they would be mutilated, their hands hacked off.7 Colonial Congo was a land of mass murder and slavery. The rule of Belgium was simply one geared towards the plunder of resources, and this was accomplished through total and utter brutality against the Congolese people.

A New Imperialism

After broad resistance to colonial rule, Belgium granted the country independence in 1960, after much international pressure in addition to the domestic unrest in Belgian Congo. Despite independence from Belgium, the new country was born into a world of continuing imperialist practices, though markedly different from the direct colonial rule of Belgium. Both the United States and the Soviet Union8 were eagerly seeking out allies around the world in order to overpower the other, and this period began particularly from 1953 on.

It was well into this Cold War that the infamous Mobutu was appointed Chief of Staff of the new Congolese army, which proved to be a critical position when a power struggle took place between the Prime Minister and President in the newly formed state in 1960. As both the Soviet Union and the United States jockeyed for support among the feuding leaders in the Congo, Mobutu came under the sway of U.S. imperialism and led two consecutive coups that resulted in his claiming leadership of the country, with involvement from the CIA.9

The plot to assassinate the elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was hatched by the United States and Belgium out of the fear that Lumumba, as a nationalist leader, would cut off imperialist access to the vast resources of the Congo—Lumumba desired to use the domestic Congolese resources to develop the nation and improve the quality of life of the Congolese people.10 It was this fear of a Congo that did not bend its knee to imperialist interests, particularly in regard to resource plundering, that led the United States to sponsor the assassination of Lumumba, after which Mobutu was installed as ruler and renamed the country Zaire.

Mobutu established himself firmly in a position of leadership of the state. He and his ruling clique robbed much of the country's economic output and put it into banks abroad in order to keep the wealth for personal use. The theft was so great that even the soldiers of the country would not get paid regularly, and Mobutu would often authorize the soldiers to simply pillage villages and steal from the people.11 The destruction, rapes, and murders were truly horrific. This tactic of robbing the people, letting the army rob the people again, and pandering to U.S. imperialism formed a complex web that allowed Mobutu to maintain his hold on power and wealth in the country.

During Mobutu's time, the country grossly neglected human rights,12 but Zaire and Mobutu enjoyed good relationships with U.S. imperialism. Mobutu was known for maintaining complete political control of the country, forbidding the creation of any opposition political parties and regularly executing political opponents. In the latter half of the 1960s, Mobutu turned the country into a conduit for operations by the United States against neighboring Angola, which was a Soviet-allied state.13 This move in particular heralded good relations between Mobutu and U.S. imperialism. Mobutu was particularly supported by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush14 due to his consistent condemnation and animosity towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. He was a frequent visitor to the White House during both administrations.

In addition, Mobutu regularly worked to crush any popular rebellions for political or social change and received heavy amounts of U.S. "aid" as a reward. Between 1962 and 1991, the U.S. directly financed Mobutu with about $150 million in CIA bribes and gave his government more than $1.03 billion in development aid and $227.4 million in military assistance.15 Mobutu was able to stockpile such aid for largely personal use, all while neglecting to build nearly any infrastructure in the country, ensuring that the people had no access to modern amenities. Mobutu did nothing to alleviate the complete destitution of the people in the country. Decades upon decades of resource theft was compounded by Mobutu's theft of wealth from the banks, both of which have served to make the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) one of the most impoverished places in the world with horribly low living standards for the people.

However, once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, U.S. support for Mobutu declined—he was no longer needed as a client to play against the Soviet Union, and Mobutu and his access to wealth was under threat.16

U.S. imperialism began to push for Mobutu to give up power, but Mobutu resisted. While the situation was very complicated, the decisive factor in the collapse of Mobutu's regime was the withdrawal of support from U.S. imperialism. Without U.S. funding, Mobutu could not resist popular resistance or militias.17

After Mobutu, there have been more coup attempts, which have resulted in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo being turned into a battlefield—particularly in the eastern portion of the country.18 Today, it is one of the most horrific regions in the world, with constantly shifting authority between various militias, which regularly employ mass rape and murder in order to gain fleeting control of territory in the region. In 2010, the life expectancy in the DRC was still only 48 years,19 and in 2011 the DRC ranked lowest on the Human Development Index and lowest on Global Hunger Index—about 70% of the population does not have adequate food, and one in four children is malnourished.20

This disastrous environment has, however, been taken advantage of by imperialism.

The Crux of Imperialism in the Congo: Mining

Mining companies have been particularly exploitative in the country. Coltan, a rare mineral used mostly in electronics, is of particular value and abundance in the Congo. In 2002, over 80 companies were accused of supporting and sponsoring rape, torture, and murder by groups in the Congo, while major imperialist powers (the U.S., Germany, and the UK most importantly) had simply turned a blind eye and not investigated the companies responsible. One group was estimated to have made over $20 million per month just in selling coltan, which is in high demand due to the growth of the technology industry in developed capitalist countries.21 This trade has translated into huge profits for the mining companies and Congolese militias and warlords, all while the imperialist countries remain complicit in the horrors of the trade.

U.S. imperialism has, undeniably, been the architect of the problems in East/Central Africa today as evidenced by its relationship with the Mobutu regime. By consistently pushing for the interests of the larger capitalist-imperialist system, the United States has created environments of chaos and death in Africa. From 1998-2008, 5.4 million people died in the Congo alone!22 This figure does not include the many more that have since died in the continuing conflict.

The Reality of Imperialism

In this one nation, the crimes of imperialism are apparent. Joseph Kony has been accused of many crimes, but the crimes of imperialism make Kony's supposed crimes look like child's play. U.S. imperialism has butchered more people, not only in this region, but also all over the world, than Joseph Kony ever could. Further, the environment that Kony has been able to seize upon to marshal forces under his leadership has been created by imperialist interests, mainly the United States, in the region.

The sham of "humanitarian intervention" goes all the way back to King Leopold II during Belgian colonial rule, a rule that did nothing more than plunder resources and promote slavery. The United States continued imperialist tactics in a new form during its conflict with the Soviet Union, supporting the ghastly rule of Mobutu. There should be no illusions about how the United States operates—when it no longer needed Mobutu, it allowed one form of inhumanity to collapse into another.

As not just the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also the wider region of East/Central Africa is engulfed in increasing conflict, the many material resources of the region are becoming harder to access. Just as King Leopold originally was chasing resources in the region, so too are capitalist-imperialist countries, chiefly the United States, today. The United States is focused on maintaining open access to Congolese resources, and it will act under the guise of bringing "justice" to Kony to cover up the true, underlying drives of imperialism. The history of imperialism in the Congo reveals that any type of "humanitarian intervention" is nothing more than imperialist occupation, occupation with the goal of maintaining imperialist power throughout the world.


1. "How the Kony Video Went Viral," J. David Goodman and Jennifer Preston, The Lede, March 9, 2012. [back]

2. "Lord's Resistance Army, New York Times, updated March 12, 2012. [back]

3. "Armed U.S. Advisers to Help Fight African Renegade Group," Thom Shanker and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, October 14, 2011. [back]

4. Ibid. [back]

5. "Order Restored in Congo Capital After Riots Fatal to 34 Africans," New York Times, January 7, 1959. [back]

6. "Belgian Congo," Yale University Genocide Studies Program. [back]

7. Ibid. [back]

8. After the death of Stalin in 1953 and the subsequent rise of Khrushchev, the Soviet Union gave up Marxism-Leninism and instead became "social-imperialist" (socialist in name, but imperialist in action). Instead of working as a liberator, the Soviet Union became a competitor with the U.S. all while deepening the oppression of the world's people. [back]

9. "Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu's 32-Year Reign," Howard W. French, New York Times, May 17, 1997. [back]

10. "Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century," Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, January 17, 2011, [back]

11. "DR Congo's troubled history," Justin Pearce, January 16, 2001, BBC News Online. [back]

12. "The Congo Region," Africa Update Archives, Vol. IV, Issue 4 (Fall 1997), Central Connecticut State University African Studies Program; "Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 – Zaire" [back]

13. "Mobutu, 32-Year Dictator of Zaire, Dies in Morocco," Los Angeles Times, September 08, 1997; "Democratic Republic of Congo profile," BBC News Africa, May 29, 2012. [back]

14. "Leaving Fire in His Wake," Adam Zagorin Gbadolite, Time Magazine, June 24, 2001; "Remarks of President Reagan and President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire Following Their Meeting," August 4, 1983, American Presidency Project, University of California Santa Barbara. [back]

15. "Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo," Carole J.L. Collins, Foreign Policy in Focus (A project of the Institute for Policy Studies), July 1, 1997. [back]

16. "Leaving Fire in His Wake," Adam Zagorin Gbadolite, Time Magazine, June 24, 2001. [back]

17. "Democratic Republic of Congo profile," BBC News Africa, May 29, 2012. [back]

18. Ibid. [back]

19. "Congo, Dem. Rep. at a glance," March 29, 2012 from The World Bank: Democratic Republic of Congo. [back]

20. "Overview: Congo, Democratic Republic Of," World Food Programme. [back]

21. "The Democratic Republic of Congo," Anup Shah,, last updated August 21, 2010. [back]

22. "Congo's Death Rate Unchanged Since War Ended," Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, January 23, 2008. [back]

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