Resource Sovereignty: Venezuela, Africa, and the Global South
IN FOCUS, 5 Mar 2018
“The Congolese people in particular and Africans in general need to learn from their brothers and their sisters in the Global South.”
28 Feb 2018 – In his September 20, 2017 speech at the UN General Assembly, Donald Trump threatened Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. In October, his administration indicated that it will not recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election on April 22 this year. In February, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that the US would welcome and support a military coup in Venezuela. Telesur has reported troops of US allies Colombia and Brazil on Venezuela’s borders.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro promised to heighten military security. In response to punishing US sanctions, the Venezuelan government launched the Petro, a blockade-busting digital currency backed by Venezuelan oil reserves and pegged to their barrel price. The US Treasury and US think tanks excoriated the country’s bid for economic sovereignty and warned that US investors risk violating US sanctions by buying Petros.
When the US threatens Venezuela’s Bolivárian Revolution, it also threatens other peoples of the Global South who aspire to claim sovereignty over their own resources and economies by following its example. We therefore asked the Black Agenda Report to republish our conversation about resource sovereignty on WBAI-AfrobeatRadio in 2011, when Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was seeking re-election. Then-presidential candidate Étienne Tshisekedi has since died, “President” Joseph Kabila has refused to step down in accordance with DRC’s constitutional term limits, and his army has escalated its violence against the Congolese people. The powerful nations of the “international community” allow Kabila to cling to power because he serves their interests and those of multinational mining, oil, gas, and agribusiness corporations.
“Telesur has reported troops of US allies Colombia and Brazil on Venezuela’s borders.”
One major change since 2011 is that the Brazilian government led by President Ignácio Lula da Silva of the Brazilian Workers Party, and by his successor Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s former Minister of Mines and Energy, has been undermined by Brazilian elites backed by the US. Lula has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in prison, seemingly to keep him from winning the presidency again this year. Rousseff has been impeached, and replaced by President Michel Temer, whom Intercept writers call “the most unpopular leader in Brazilian history (and, in fact, in the world).”
Another development is that Julius Malema—who figures prominently in the latter part of our 2011 interview—was thrown out of the African National Congress (ANC) in 2012. In 2013, he founded the Economic Freedom Fighters Party, which he now leads.
None of these developments change the essentials of what we discussed prior to the last presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Broadcast on AfrobeatRadio, WBAI 99.5fm-New York City on 08.20.2011.
AfrobeatRadio/Ann Garrison: Presidential polls are approaching on November 28th in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but few observers expect them to be free or fair. The country’s Parliament has changed the Constitution to favor sitting President Joseph Kabila with one round or winner-take-all voting, in which opposition candidates would be expected to divide the opposition vote, leaving Kabila with the most votes and no run-off to face.
Even if the opposition unites behind one candidate, neither Kabila nor the dominant foreign powers in the region including the US and its military partners Rwanda and Uganda are likely to tolerate Kabila’s defeat. The question is, how will the Congolese people respond? And the real question underlying that is, how can the Congolese people claim Congo’s vast resources and defend the claim?
AfroBeatRadio spoke to Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo, who believes that Congo, like the rest of resource-rich Africa should look to the Global South, to Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil for models and allies in asserting resource sovereignty.
AG: Maurice Carney, you’ve said that the real story may be after the election in November. Could you explain?
Maurice Carney: Yes, the current regime headed up by Joseph Kabila will not easily release power if the votes go against them, and the votes are not likely to go against them because they’ll use the resources of the State to make sure that an electoral victory goes their way.
Now, as we have seen with the increasing crowds that are attending the rallies held by Étienne Tshisekedi and proclamations coming from Tshisekedi that he believes he can win the election outright, should Kabila remain in power, it’s probable that those crowds that are mobilized to support Tshisekedi may also be mobilized to go into the streets.
So as observers of the Congo, as allies of the Congolese people, we ought to watch the situation very carefully for potential post-election disruption should Kabila wind up “winning” and the Tshisekedi forces remain mobilized and in the streets.
AG: Yesterday you said that whatever sort of candidate Tshisekedi is, an honest election would be a victory for the people.
MC: Well, yes, what I was saying is that in the Congo, one of the challenges has been ascension to power. Leaders have ascended to power by fiat, by coup, and the degree to which power can be acquired in a peaceful way through, in this case, election, the process going forward would be a benefit to the people. So as long as the people believe that there was a fair process, an open process, a transparent process, then that bodes well for the future of the country. If that tradition can be established whereby leaders assume the highest level of office through a process that the population views as being fair, legitimate, and transparent, that can only bode well for the future of the country. So it’s that process, let’s call it democratic, that those democratic forces are trying to hold onto.
AG: You also said that there isn’t really an organized popular movement to support any one candidate after an election.
MC: No, especially if you use the standard in the context of Latin America . . . if we use the standards of Bolivia, for example, or Brazil or Venezuela, all we have to do is look to 2002 in Venezuela, when there was a coup and Chávez was removed from power. It was the organized masses that came out in the streets and demanded the return of the leader that they elected and put in power, and that organized mass changed the equation to the point where Chávez was put back in power.
That type of organized national movement does not exist in the Congo, and understandably so, because Congo has gone through, over the last 50 years, assassinations, dictators, wars, invasions. All have worked to weaken the institutions in the Congo and those institutions that would form the foundation for such an organized movement: labor, women’s groups, students groups, across the board civil society.
So that’s one of the biggest challenges facing the Congo in the near- and long-term future — that is, to develop institutions that are strong enough to protect the interests of the people, such as we see happening in Bolivia or happening in Venezuela and Ecuador and Brazil. Those institutions among the people are strong enough to protect their interests.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the Congo is to develop institutions that are strong enough to protect the interests of the people.”
That’s what the Congolese people in particular and Africans in general have to aspire to, in looking south, to see what their fellow people of color are doing in the southern hemisphere, the models of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. These are models for Africans to aspire to.
It’s a new day in Latin America where the interests of the people are beginning to be served, where the resources of those countries are beginning to be owned by the people, so it would behoove Africans to draw lessons from what’s happening in Latin America and apply those lessons to the situations on the African continent. And probably no other country needs those kinds of lessons more than the Congo because it’s so central to the African continent, and whatever happens there reverberates throughout Africa.
AG: Given the winner-take-all, one-round scenario that we’re looking at for the Congo election, how important do you think it is for the opposition to unite around one candidate? Lots of people are calling for that.
MC: Well, to the degree that we . . . how can I say . . . leave certain elements to the side. Remember, even if the opposition wins the election, we’re still talking about a country that’s on the edge, a country that’s owned by multinational corporations, a country that responds to and is a victim of dictates from foreign governments in Europe and America. So these elections are taking place really in a space that is not controlled by the Congolese people. I mean just think about it. The Congolese government is going abroad to get money to fund its own election. So we’re talking about a country that’s in a dependent situation. So, ultimately, the kind of change that is needed is a change to sever those dependent ties to the point where people control and determine their own affairs.
“These elections are taking place really in a space that is not controlled by the Congolese people.”
That being said, within that narrow confine of what we call elections, it would certainly increase the chances of the opposition were they to unify behind one candidate. But I’m not even sure that’s efficient, because the power structure in Kinshasa and the foreign governments and foreign corporations that back it are going to make sure that Joseph Kabila wins this election. Kabila is their man, and he’s their man because he’s provided unfettered access to Congo’s resources, and the Western powers, foreign governments, and multinational corporations do not want to see anybody come in that could potentially overturn contracts that have been put in place that facilitate the extraction of tens of billions of dollars from the Congo to Western investors.
AG: That sounds really grim, but how can you imagine a people’s movement like those that are restoring some of the wealth and resources of the Global South and Latin America to the people arising in Congo? How can you imagine that?
MC: It will be a long slog and it will come from the youth who are organizing now with full understanding of the geopolitical dynamics that are at play in the Congo and what is at stake. It’s not going to be something that’s going to happen overnight, but if you don’t have a vision for a new Congo where the Congolese people are organized and mobilized then you might as well just give up. And the Congolese people, the youth, are not of the mindset that they’re going to give up on this situation. They’re fighting day and night. They’re educating their peers. They’re educating their communities. And they’re mobilizing throughout the country to bring about change, whether the change comes today or it comes tomorrow. They’re clear that they have to be organized in order to protect their interests and no one, no one, can protect their interests like they can.
And the first step is for the Congolese people in particular, but also people on the entire African continent, to look for their solutions to the Global South, because it’s the Global South that has been successful in resisting the imperial entry of the North. So first they have to have an awareness that that’s where they need to look.
It’s symbolic and not necessarily substantive, but noteworthy, that one of the Congolese presidential candidates calls himself ‘the Lula of Congo.” Now that’s obviously preposterous because Lula came out of the labor movement in Brazil and had an organized base from which he ascended to power, and no presidential candidate in the Congo has that foundation. But just the very fact that that leader is aspirational, that is to say he wants to be like Lula, that gives you an indication that the Congolese and Africans are aware and orienting at least their vision or, as you say, their imaginations towards the Global South.
“It’s the Global South that has been successful in resisting the imperial entry of the North.”
So it’s not lost on the people of Africa that Lula himself was invited when the African Union met in Equatorial Guinea this past summer, and he scolded the African leaders and shared with them that they are not acting in the interest of their people and they need to start doing so. They need to stop “dropping their pants for the West” as he so eloquently put it.
So, what needs to happen is: One, an awareness that the Global South has the answers. Two, an orientation towards the Global South. Three, learning the best practices from the Global South. Four, applying those practices to the Congolese and the overall African situation. I believe with those four steps we’ll start to see change come about and, Ann, I must add that if Congolese and Africans take those steps, they will quickly see an increase of support for their efforts from the likes of Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador. They will see that support coming to them in numerous ways.
So that’s how we see that broad-based organized effort can start to take root if the Congolese people in particular and Africans in general learn from their brothers and their sisters in the Global South.
AG: Well, it sounds like a good place to note that Evo Morales in Bolivia nationalized a Glencore International tin smelter in 2007, and earlier this year he initiated talks with mining unions about further nationalizing Glencore International Properties mines in Bolivia. Glencore International owns 77% of Katanga Mining and has been accused of all sorts of human rights abuse and anti-labor aggression in Congo.
MC: Yes, absolutely, Glencore went in to save Katanga Mining because there was a period there at the start of the economic crisis where the commodities had taken a dive; Katanga Mining is owned by Belgian George Forrest, and also partly owned by Israeli Dan Gertler, and Forrest and Gertler are two of the major barons in the Congo. That is to say, they have a tremendous influence on what happens with regard to leadership in the Congo. So Glencore came in and rescued Katanga Mining, and, as you so rightly pointed out, it’s the classic case of the wealth of a country really being traded between external forces.
Now with regard to Bolivia’s nationalizations of its resources, we hear that kind of talk, not necessarily coming out of Congo, but certainly coming out of South Africa with the young ANC youth leader Julius Malema, who has articulated a need for the resources to be owned by the people. Here, as I stated earlier, we’re going to see breaks with the old order come from the youth of Africa. Julius Malema is a classic example of that with his articulation that the people need to benefit from their national resources.
So again, we see examples, and it’s just a question of building on those examples to the point where a critical mass is reached on the African continent, where the people finally control and determine their own affairs and assume ownership of their resources for their benefit and not the way it is right now, where it’s benefiting external powers.
AG: I’m glad you brought up South Africa because South Africa’s mineral wealth is more comparable to Congo’s than that of any other African country, isn’t it?
MC: Yes. In relation to Congo you have South Africa and you have Angola and you have Guinea. They call Guinea little Congo. Just across the board, Nigeria of course with its tremendous oil wealth. Wherever you turn on the continent it’s just flush with natural wealth.
AG: Let’s not forget South Sudan.
MC: Oh yes, South Sudan. As I say, wherever you go, it’s remarkable—the wealth that’s on the continent. So yes, South Africa is certainly, you can say, comparable even though Congo’s wealth dwarfs that of every other country on the continent.
AG: So who was the leader you were describing in South Africa, the young leader?
MC: He is the youth leader of the ANC, Julius Malema.
AG: And so this sounds like an effort to push beyond what was achieved by the abolition of apartheid.
MC: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, because even in the current situation of the people, they’re suffering high unemployment, poor health, lack of housing, and lack of ownership in the country’s wealth. People in South Africa are suffering tremendously, and the youth, who are usually the vanguard of any movement, are aware and conscious of this and are calling for radical changes that are different from the leadership of the elders in the African National Congress (ANC). So this is something to look out for in the coming years, where young people become energized and politically active. We see it in North Africa. It’s reflected in Tunisia and Egypt, but in Southern Africa we already see the South African youth calling for greater ownership of their own wealth, which they’re not controlling or benefiting from now.
“The youth are calling for radical changes that are different from the leadership of the elders in the African National Congress.”
AG: It’s heartening to hear about that because I hear a lot of depression and cynicism about the post-apartheid state, about it not really improving the living standards of most Black South Africans.
MC: There are some spectacular statistics out there as it relates to the life expectancy, for example. It has gone down from the apartheid era. Now a lot of that is surely due to the AIDS epidemic that has hit South Africa, but across the board there is some really spectacular data that deals with the standard of living and how it has not improved much for the masses of the people. Of course there has been tremendous improvement for a Black elite, but as you know, within the capitalist model, it allows a few to benefit and those few that benefit are held up as the example to follow. The masses are told, “Well, you can be like them too, but only if you follow their path.” That’s a game that’s played to keep people from pursuing attainable goals.
The young people that are organized, particularly within the ANC, are looking to change that dynamic where the masses actually get access to the resources of the wealth of the country and benefit from it. And that’s best exemplified and represented in the articulation of Julius Malema.
AG: There was actually a neoliberal wave of privatization after apartheid wasn’t there?
MC: Well, I don’t even want to say after apartheid. If you read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, she talks about it. She has a chapter in there that deals with the negotiations leading up to the end of apartheid and how it is that the economic power structure both inside South Africa and outside South Africa were assured, through Thabo Mbeki, because he was primarily responsible for negotiating some of the economic dynamics at the time, that there wouldn’t be any radical change. For example, the ANC wouldn’t hold to the tenets of its Freedom Charter, which called for resource sovereignty.
This was true after Mandela and after Mbeki, when it was evident that Jacob Zuma, who was supposed to be more of a populist, was going to come to power. At the time, he had talks with companies like Merrill Lynch and reassured the financial markets that, under his leadership, there wouldn’t be any radical change in the economic order, and business would go on as usual. So that’s been consistent from Mandela to Mbeki and now to Zuma. There may be some uncertainty about what comes after Zuma, especially if the youth of South Africa have their way.
The thing is, Ann, and it’s always important to remember, these commodities markets and people from the North, they need those resources more than Evo Morales, for example, needs them. They have entire industries that are based upon getting cheap resources, so the countries where resources are extracted are in a stronger position than one would normally think.
AG: And that was the conclusion of AfrobeatRadio’s conversation with Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Washington D.C.-based Friends of the Congo. We’d like to thank Maurice for his time, and I’m sure we’ll be talking to him again, because this is one of AfroBeatRadio’s central concerns: the challenges faced by African people organizing, as Latin Americans have, to claim Africa’s natural resources and defend the claim.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at @AnnGarrison or email@example.com
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