The Democratic Republic of Congo, or Congo Kinshasa, possesses and exploits massive mineral reserves of cobalt, coltan, gold, copper, uranium and also has one of the largest forested natural reserves on the planet. We might say that makes it a rich country. On the other hand, unemployment, poverty, and hunger make Congo Kinshasa one of the most difficult countries in the world to live in. This immense contradiction is made possible by a number of factors including the presence of militias that kill with impunity every day; the UN troops known as Monusco, who are direct accomplices to this violence; and successive dictatorships such as the current one led by Felix Tshisekedi. The government has imposed a state of siege in areas experiencing major conflict, it has criminalized social struggle, and has even prohibited protest music.
By: Cesar Neto and Yves Mwana Mayas, 2/12/2021
Translated by Rita Brown
Felix Tshisekedi: a Dictator at the Service of World Imperialism and its Companies
Felix Tshisekedi has acted as a true arbiter in the face of inter-imperialist feuding. If in some countries like Zimbabwe, the dictator of the day is supported by China, or in Chad by French President Macron, Felix manages to mediate among parties and to receive the support of them all. And like a good Bonapartist, he acts as an arbitrator and, at the same time, dictator and oppressor of his people.
At the COP26 meeting, Tshisekedi appeared alongside the main imperialist leaders and their satellites. He appeared in photos with Biden, Macron, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, etc.
On his recent visit to Israel, he received an Honorary Degree from the University of Netanya, bought weapons to repress the people, and also pledged to appoint an ambassador to Israel after a two-decade hiatus. In addition, he opened a commercial section in Jerusalem, supported Israel at the UN, and backed Israel’s accession to the African Union as an observer state.
Internally, Felix answered the people’s most basic democratic demands with the regressive appointment of Denis Kadima to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to oversee the December 2023 presidential elections. The public reaction was immediate. Thousands took to the streets to protest against the composition of the CENI. But, unlike the previous election, the struggle in the streets for fair elections is happening in the context of a world economic crisis, and the pandemic and its effects on workers and the people. As a result, the demonstration saw signs demanding back pay for striking teachers, in addition to the posters demanding transparency in the electoral process.
A Looming Political Crisis
Even while social discontent is on the rise, strikes have been repressed, and the Felix government has asked the population to tighten its belt because of budget shortfalls, widespread political corruption has continued to go unchecked as politicians line their pockets at the people’s expense. And all this has occurred with Felix Tshisekedi’s active or passive encouragement.
While Tshisekedi and his government intimidated teachers, who make $120 per month, to end their strike, he donated 500 Hyundai Palisades jeeps to 500 national deputies, so that these politicians would support his political coalition. These jeeps were paid for by the public purse. The deputies in the DRC earn in one month the equivalent of ten years’ salary for a teacher or a policeman.
But while Felix enriches politicians, he further impoverishes the poor by fraudulently charging a monthly cell phone service fee that is the equivalent of $7 per year per citizen. Note that there are more than 38 million Congolese who use telephones. This money, which is neither taxed nor justified by any law, is managed by a hidden structure whose accounts do not appear in any of the official accounts of the State. Behind this arrangement are the president’s brother-in-law and minister of Post and Telecommunications, who is head of a ghost company called 5C Energy.
However, it should also be recalled that at the beginning of his term in March 2019, Felix Tshisekedi implemented a $400 million dollar infrastructure construction program, managed under his coordination that misappropriated most of these funds. The Congolese judiciary conducted public trials, convicted those accused, and immediately put them in prison. Curiously, almost immediately after this occurred, Felix Tshisekedi began signing presidential pardons for these very criminals, who were released from prison without repaying a single cent. This suggests that Felix was likely the ultimate recipient of all the diverted funds. After three years in power, Felix has made about 118 trips abroad with delegations of more than 50 people, the expenses of which are depleting state coffers. His cabinet grew from nearly 400 people under previous president Kabila to 1,018 people today, thus increasing the financial burden on the State.
In the State budget, more than 65% of its resources are earmarked for the functioning of its institutions, which is an unfair distribution of the country’s natural wealth. In short, we have seen the enrichment of Felix Tshisekedi’s social and family circles, while he asks the population to tighten its belts, be patient, and wait for salary increases. All this also explains the hardening and discontent of the population who, until recently, believed that the departure of Kabila meant the end of a corrupt system. Unfortunately, they were wrong. The system inherited from Kabila has continued its course under Felix Tshisekedi. And that understanding is behind the struggles that have just begun.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
The months of September and October were marked by the entrance of the organized working class onto the scene. Teachers and dock workers came out to fight.
Teachers went on a major strike over salaries, additional wages, retirement age, and other issues. Religious institutions control about 80% of primary schools, yet teachers are paid by the Congolese state.
At the beginning of September, the Minister of Education said that 58,000 new primary school teachers would be paid until October and the rest would be paid as soon as the means were available, i.e., keep working and (one day) you will be paid.
The strike has also made explicit how the Felix Tshisekedi dictatorship treats teachers who fight for better working conditions. The Minister of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education (EPST), Tony Mwaba, threatened to fire all striking teachers.
The other strike was organized by workers at the Société Congolaise des Transports et Ports (SCTP), the public company that manages the port of Matadi. These workers led a stoppage because of an absurd, 38-month delay in paying their salaries. In addition, the workers are fighting against the dismantling of the company and the presence of clandestine and illegal ports.
Société Congolaise des Transports et Ports operates in 17 provinces and has more than 8,000 active workers. The strike began on October 15 and became so radicalized that on October 22, “hundreds of workers of the state-owned port company occupied its headquarters […] breaking windows, burning furniture, and engaging in confrontations with police. The latter fired tear gas at the premises in the capital Kinshasa, while workers of the Société Commerciale des Ports et Transports (SCTP) danced around a pile of burning furniture on the front steps and threw stones at the police.”
As the strike continued to grow more radical, the UN troops known as Monusco began to monitor the strike and prepare to repress the workers, just as the UN troops had done in Haiti.
Faced with the enormous pressure, the government called for negotiations with striking workers through the Minister of Transport and Highways, Chérubin Okende Senga, who is supported by the union leadership apparatus. As a result, workers accepted the payment of only two months’ salary and returned to work.
The Importance of These Strikes
First of all, it is crucial to help workers expand their struggle. The task at hand is to find allies for their strike, both at home and abroad. Just as the government relies on Monusco troops to repress, we have to look to workers in other parts of the world for support.
Secondly, yet no less important, is the fact that it is not always the most organized sectors of the workers that go on strike. Moreover, workers in movement, in struggle, are always more sensitive to political problems. The strike breaks the routine of work, home, television, and other alternatives. In the struggle, politics begins to seem like something important in workers’ lives. For that reason, we who claim to be Marxists must follow these and other struggles very closely and invite those comrades who have begun to discover politics to come and join us.
These strikes may indicate that we are beginning to see organized workers enter the scene. We may be beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Originally published in Spanish here.