The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the largest mineral reserves in the world. It produces cobalt, copper, coltan, diamond, gold and uranium. It’s a very rich and at the same time extremely poor country. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Human Development Index positions it at 179 out of 189 countries. This is perhaps the most emblematic case of imperialist-capitalist exploitation of a colonial country.
By Yves Mwana Mayas
From denial to panic
In three weeks, the DRC went from one to 30 cases of COVID-19. It started in the context of doubts and controversies fueled by the Ministry of Health’s lack of information about the identity and origin of the first Coronavirus carrier in the DRC. The population did not receive the correct orientation about the danger it was being exposed to. It was only after the second week that a timid campaign finally began and some preventive measures were taken by the government.
Meanwhile, the virus had time to spread with a speed close to that of the beginning of the epidemic in Italy.
The big issue is that the DRC had a lot of time to observe and understand how other affected or threatened countries reacted; could have better prepared its response and prevented a single transmitter from crossing the entry points without being discovered. But it was only after the disaster started that the government reacted.
A disastrous response plan
The DRC has a high number of deaths and various elements can be shown as a pandemic problem. In fact, the government’s already late response plan appears to be totally ineffective:
– Poorly equipped or closed border controls. Most cases were not identified at the border control, but only long after they have entered the country;
– An insignificant number of facilities for the reception and isolation of patients. For an estimated population of almost 14 million in the capital Kinshasa, the government has only 5 hospitals, and the government has not indicated which will be destined for the contaminated people, the service capacity or their addresses;
– Insufficient breathing kits: it is known that one of the main complications of this problem is the respiratory system, mainly for elderly patients. So far, the Congolese healthcare system has only 50 respirator kits across the country, for a population of about 90 million. Interviewed, the Minister of Health did not know exactly where the number of kits was increasing. He simply promised that the government would buy new equipment. How many? When? No details;
– They did not isolate the capital Kinshasa: while the pandemic was spreading rapidly in the city of Kinshasa, the gateway, the government did not quickly isolate this agglomeration in transit from other cities and towns. So, many people travelled from Kinshasa to different provinces without a strict checkout, causing fear of spreading the disease to the inland cities of the country, where, unfortunately, no health structure is able to accurately identify cases and take care of the ill people;
– An insufficient budget: to prevent the spread of the virus, the government has allocated only $ 1.8 billion. Knowing that Congolese hospitals are already in ruins, they lack simple beds and mattresses, alcohol and even drinking water. Staff have little experience, are underpaid, and hospitals operate at the expense of the sick people, because state subsidies are non-existent or insufficient. It is to be asked whether this government package will be used to purchase equipment to equip existing hospitals or to add new infrastructure adapted to the particularities of the pandemic. In fact, this fund is not enough, even for the city of Kinshasa; and yet, in the countryside, the population travels miles to gain access to primary health care;
– sanitation: This is one of the effective means of prevention recommended by the WHO. But in Kinshasa today this is ineffective. Most families have no access to running water. Where there are taps, water does not flow constantly. So washing your hands is a very safe thing, but not for everyone. Instead, detergents can help. Unfortunately, their high cost makes them accessible to only a certain class;
– Confinement: Kinshasa is a city where most of the population has no jobs and, therefore, lives on daily resources and small occasional jobs. Since there is no monthly income to stock up on food, and even when it is possible, there is no electricity to keep it. Therefore, it is not possible for its population to remain confined to their homes for more than 3 days. You have to leave the house and use enough time to get money to pay for food and rent. Besides, the population does not have access to supermarkets, but to popular markets, where it is difficult to avoid or limit interpersonal contact;
– Use of mask: forced out into the street to survive, the mask could actually be the only remedy. Unfortunately, unscrupulous traders take advantage of the absence of government measures to triple its price, to the equivalent of a dollar from 30 cents. Therefore, the population must choose between buying a mask and buying food.
All of this combined, we realize that COVID-19 can grow quickly from 30 cases in Kinshasa and cause more damage than in Italy if the measures are not increased quickly to contain the spread of the virus.
Capitalism without any kind of control is responsible for the misery in Congo
When we see these improvised responses, we can ask ourselves how a country with so many natural resources cannot have a structured health system.
Capitalism itself is the cause of these structural problems. It all started when, around the 1970s, the IMF started to lend money massively to governments. At the time of the dictator Mobutu, it granted billions in loans to invest in projects whose result we already know was low or zero profitability for the country. Those white elephants could neither function nor pay the loan.
It was then that, around the 1980s, the IMF returned with its famous “structural adjustment plan” which, in the end, was a true death sentence for states and the people’s asphyxiation. It basically consisted of:
– reallocating resources reserved for basic social needs (education, healthcare, water supply, public health, etc.) for the payment of debts; an exponential and hateful debt;
– privatization of state-owned companies that deprived us of important sources of income;
– privatization of all vital sectors. Everything was placed in the hands of financial capital, and everything was transformed into commodities. Access to public services was suddenly denied to the poorest who quickly found themselves on the verge of society and unable to access vital services. And the state, deprived of resources, could no longer expand its services at the pace of the enormous growth of the population.
Ultimately, this explains this structural inability to be ready to respond to any epidemic over time.
Of course, we must add endogenous causes, such as corruption and the politicians, glutton for money, and the reigning petty bourgeoisie. But this is cyclical.
What to do?
The incidence of this pandemic awakens our conscience and calls on the Congolese working class and the masses to open their eyes to effectively observe that capitalism cannot be an answer to their problems. We need measures in the interest of workers and the poor. In this sense, we affirm that:
Demand effective government measures to combat COVID-19;
Use the income from mineral exploration to improve the social conditions of the population;
Review all exploration contracts of companies that, day after day, organize and excavate the Congolese soil, remove our minerals and pay only 2% in royalties;
Instead of figuring out how to save companies, the government should think about how to force companies to save those people who are already in danger!
Nationalize and create state-owned companies for mineral production.