Latest, News, Our Picks, Sections

China vs. the US: The Struggle for Central Africa and the Congo

As China strives to build economic and trading links in Central Africa and the Congo, the US launches Hybrid War tactics to disrupt them.

China just secured one of the most important deals so far this century.  This is the $2.65 billion deal for the Tenke mine in the southeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC – hereafter referred to simply as the Congo).

The Financial Times has an informative write-up on the significance of this breakthrough agreement.  They forecast that it will make China the world leader in electric battery technology due to its control of over 62% of the global cobalt market.  The Financial Times expects demand for cobalt to spike by two-thirds in the next ten years.

Strategically speaking, this puts China at the forefront of the worldwide movement towards electric vehicles giving China, the unofficial leader of the global multipolar movement, an advantage over the US in attaining control over the future of personal, commercial, and military transport systems.

China’s problem is however that it receives 93% (or according to Bloomberg, 99%) of its cobalt from the Congo.  This means that China’s position as prospective global leader in the electric battery industry depends on the fragile stability of the Congo.  This is particularly problematic given that the US immediately began undermining the Congro from the moment it achieved independence in 1960.

The Congo is the setting of “Africa’s World War” of the 1990s. It is the graveyard of an estimated 5 million people who died as a result of that war.  Now once again the Congo is being pushed dangerously close to disaster because of the international intrigues that surround it.

This is not simply speculation.  The US and its affiliated unipolar information outlets have been busy preconditioning the world to expect a disaster in the Congo if its incumbent President, Joseph Kabila, fails to step down at the end of his second and constitutionally last term in office at the end of this year but instead indefinitely delays the upcoming vote and/or seeks to make changes to the constitution to allow him to run once more.

There’s no doubt that the Congo is in the US’s New Cold War crosshairs and that the country must brace for what could turn out to be another prolonged period of catastrophic conflict.  However what is happening in the Congo needs to be placed within its appropriate global context.

I shall therefore seek to explain in this article the central importance of the Congo to China’s grand strategy in Africa.  Once the importance of the country has been explained the reasons why the US might want to throw it into chaos will become clear.

I shall then set out to describe the indirect warfare that has been simmering around the Congo over the past year.

Finally, since these plans have so far completely failed, I shall consider in the last section of this article the various ways in which Washington is trying to strike directly at the Congo by manufacturing several Hybrid War scenarios in what is the geostrategic heartland of Africa.

Beijing’s Big Ambitions In Africa

Congo is back in the global headlines not because of its expected leadership transition (or lack thereof), but because of its significance to China in the context of the New Cold War.

China’s One Belt One Road vision of constructing “New Silk Roads”, or infrastructure corridors, across the world is well known.  However practically no-one has studied how this relates to Africa.  I sought to do this in a previous article for Oriental Review titled “East Africa’s Problems Might Spoil Its Silk Road Dreams”.  In that article I revealed that China is working hard to build two transoceanic trade routes linking Africa’s Indian Ocean and Atlantic Coasts. Though this goal has not been officially declared, it is fairly obvious that this is Beijing’s intention even if the two projects have not yet completed.

Northern Transoceanic African Route (NTAR):

The northern route is expected to be an intermodal route that will incorporate railroad and river infrastructure, linking Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa either with the Congo’s Atlantic port of Matadi or the Republic of the Congo’s port of Pointe-Noire.

The Standard Gauge Railroad is currently planned to go from Mombasa to the Ugandan capital of Kampala. However it could thereafter be extended to the northeastern Congo city of Kisangani on the banks of the Congo River. From there, the world’s deepest river is navigable all the way down to the Congo’s capital of Kinshasa and its Republic of the Congo twin capital of Brazzaville.  From Kinshasa, it is just a short rail ride to the underdeveloped Atlantic port of Matadi. The rail trip from Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire is a longer but it ends at a more developed deep-sea port.

Inga 3 Dam:

The northern route has an added significance because of its near proximity to the future Chinese-constructed Inga 3 Dam, which The Guardian estimates will on completion be the largest of its kind in the world. According to The Guardian this mega project will be able to provide 40% of Africa’s electricity needs because of its potential to generate as much power as twenty nuclear reactors.

Although the Dam’s construction has yet to begin, it could begin as early as the end of this year.  It is expected that this colossal feat of engineering could one day allow China and its Congolese partner to wield multipolar influence across most of West and Central Africa.

Given its geostrategic importance it should come as no surprise that this project is coming under heavy Western NGO criticism supposedly because of its environmental impact and the fact that upwards of 35,000 people might have to be relocated because of it.

If the US fails to force Kabila to step down at the end of his term, allowing for his replacement by a more reliable pro-Western leader, then the fallback position is to prepare the ground for an attack on the project by “disgruntled villagers and/or rebels” who would attack it in any of various Hybrid War scenario.

Southern Transoceanic African Route (STAR):

The southern route is already partly covered by the TAZARA railway built by the Chinese in the 1970s, which links the Tanzanian coast near Tanzania’s biggest city Dar es Salaam to the copper-rich regions of central Zambia.

From there other railway infrastructure had been independently built through the mineral-rich southeastern Congolese region of Katanga, which is nowadays administratively subdivided into several smaller administrative regions, but which still retains a strong sense of a distinct unified identity.

The Katangan railroads used to be linked to Angola’s Benguela railway.  However over the decades they have fallen into disrepair and have yet to be put back into service.  As for the Benguela railway, it too was out of commission for decades – in fact since the start of Angola’s bloody civil war in the 1970s – and has only recently been modernised and brought back into service with recent pivotal help from China.

The Katangan railways will not be the only rail connections to Benguela and hence to the Atlantic.  China also plans extending the TAZARA railway from central Zambia to the Angolan-Congolese junction via its North West Railroad project.

No fewer than 7 African countries are connected to these two projects, with 3 others (Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi) being so closely connected that their stability is critical to these projects’ viability.

It is the situation in these 3 states and in the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) which will be the subject of my discussion in the next section of this article.  In that section I will explain how the US sought to use indirect warfare to block China’s Transoceanic African Routes before resorting to its project of directly destabilising the Congo.

Indirect Warfare

In my study “The Law Of Hybrid War” I explained that “the grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state”. However sometimes the US is willing to accept the existence of a particular project if it believes it can in time influence and/or control it.

The Northern and Southern Transoceanic African Routes are Chinese projects which would benefit China.  However they also have the potential to be used by India and other countries to extend their influence in this region as well.  To that end the US sees a benefit in having China foot the bill for these projects, which the US hopes one day to exploit for its own and its allies’ purposes.

Destabilizing With Discretion:

The US is not however blind to the risk that China is constructing trade routes that the US’s allies might eventually become dependent upon. If China retains control of these routes it will give China significant leverage over the US’s allies.

The US accordingly has sought to ‘put the brakes’ on China’s plans – in other words to disrupt these two projects – to the extent that they are only partially completed, so that whilst the US and its allies benefit from the projects, they are not fully realised in a way that will give China predominant influence in Central Africa.

This explains why the US initially focused on destabilising ‘peripheral’ areas situated in the vicinity of these two projects in places such as Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, and the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) rather than seek to disrupt them directly at their source in Kenya’s and Tanzania’s coastal regions.

A further factor is that Kenya and Tanzania have traditionally close and longstanding ties with US-ally India, which is Kenya’s second-largest import partner and Tanzania’s top import and export one. Destabilising Kenya and Tanzania would also disrupt India’s “Cotton Route” counter to China’s New Silk Road (though recent events in Kenya suggest the US might be willing to risk even that).

Burundi, Rwanda, and Malawi:

A glance at the situation of the four ‘peripheral’ countries – Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) – appears to confirm a pattern of destabilisation attempts directed at preventing the expansion of the two Transoceanic African Routes.

I have previously discussed the Western-concocted unrest in Burundi in an earlier article I wrote for Oriental Review entitled “EU To Burundi: Regime Change Trumps Anti-Terror Help”.  In that article I explained that behind the unrest was – at least in part – a scheme to spark a regional conflagration that would inevitably have sucked in Rwanda and which would have led to the use of “Weapons Of Mass Migration” spilling across the region into Uganda and Tanzania.  Such a conflagration would also undoubtedly have had – and was intended to have – a profoundly aggravating effect on the already existing low-intensity conflicts in the Congo’s two provinces of Ituri and North & South Kivu.

The effect of such a region wide destabilisation of the territories around East Africa’s Great Lakes would have been to disrupt the development of China’s Transoceanic African Routes in the area of the East African Community and to prevent their linkage to the Atlantic.

Malawi was the target of a planned destabilisation attempt of a different sort, being the target of a planned coup organised by the US and Germany.  This was only averted at the last moment as a result of a series of high-profile arrests which predictably were Western-condemned. The plan was to use the coup appointed government to foment regional tension,  triggering a civil war between the northern and southern parts of the country.  That would in turn have unleashed “Weapons of Mass Migration” into Tanzania. 

Conceivably this scheme was conceived in combination with the unrest in Burundi with the objective of making the extension of TAZARA railway unviable.

The Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”):

The US has been seeking to disrupt development of the second access/terminal point of the Northern Transoceanic African Route by disabling the Congo-Ocean Railway between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.

Analyst Gearoid O’Colmain has done an excellent job raising awareness about the incipient Color Revolution that the US tried unsuccessfully to foster in the Republic of Congo in pursuit of this objective.  Details of the plot can be found in his writing.  Briefly, the US and France (the latter the Republic of Congo’s former colonial master) sought to foment unrest in the Republic of Congo in order to trigger a return to the country’s 1990s-era civil war.

This scheme was eventually thwarted by the Republic of Congo government.  However whilst it was underway the Western aligned media spent months presenting the Republic of the Congo as Africa’s latest conflict hotspot. 

The strategic objective was not just to replace President Nguesso with a pliant Western puppet.  It was to drive Chinese influence out of the country and to render it impossible for China to use the Republic of Congo’s territory as a complementary alternative to the Kinshasa-Matadi railway for the Northern Transoceanic African Route.

If the plot had succeeded the whole Northern Transoceanic African Route would have become completely dependent on the maintenance of stability in Kinshasa.  Given the long history of instability in the Congo and in Kinshasa and the strong potential for a Western inspired Colour Revolution there, that would have reduced the prospects of the whole project dramatically.

Assessing The Plots:

An objective assessment of the various plots discussed in the previous section would conclude (1) that they were an attempt by the US to sabotage the two Transoceanic African Routes through conflict instigation in Burundi, Malawi, and the Republic of the Congo and (2) that the attempt failed.

The residents of Bujumbura – Burundi’s capital – proved resistant to the temptations to return their country to a state of genocidal civil war. The vigilance of the authorities in Malawi meant that the planned coup there was stopped in its tracks.  Finally, the government of the Republic of the Congo managed to crush the planned Colour Revolution there, forestalling the return of Hybrid War to their country.

The result of the failure of all these plots is that the Northern Transoceanic African Route’s second terminus/access point in the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) remains open.

This gives China a much-needed alternative to Matadi in case a crisis in Kinshasa ever arises.

The Third Congo Crisis

US failures in the peripheral states of Burundi. Malawi and the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) have focused attention on the Congo itself.  In order to contain the development of China’s Transoceanic African Routes, it seems as though Washington is now intent on destabilising the Congo – Africa’s geopolitical heartland.

Successfully doing so would for Washington serve various objectives.  First it would sabotage China’s two great transcontinental route projects.  Secondly, the renewal of conflict in the Congo would jeopardise China’s cobalt trade, defeating Beijing’s plan to make China the world’s leader in electric battery technology.

The trigger for renewed conflict in the Congo is President Kabila’s presumed desire to continue ruling the country after his mandate expires at the end of the year.

This is very similar to what was attempted in Burundi where the trigger for last year’s protests was President Pierre Nkurunzina’s intention to stand for a further term.  This makes it possible that last year’s crisis in Burundi was a test run for what is being planned for the Congo.

Congo has already been the epicentre of two other globally reported crises.  The first was the First Congo Crisis from 1960-1965.  The second was the Second Congo Crisis from 1996-2003.  With Congo on the verge of yet another crisis, which has the potential to descend into renewed civil war, a Third Congo Crisis may be pending.  The origins of this crisis are the US’s attempts to “contain” China in Africa.

Colour Revolution In Kinshasa:

Assuming the US plans a Hybrid War scenario for the Congo if Kabila tries to hang on, either by delaying upcoming elections or amending the constitution, the Third Congo Crisis could ‘naturally’ begin with a Colour Revolution in Kinshasa.  There has already been a pattern of  provocations recently that might be preparing the ground for such a scenario in Kinshasa and Goma.  The objective is to install a pro-Western or Western-friendly leader who would give the US indirect control over China’s cobalt trade and influence over China’s planned Transoceanic African Route projects.

The individual envisioned for this role is former Katanga governor and millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi.

The Congolese authorities last month charged Katumbi with hiring mercenaries (including ‘former’ US soldiers).  Katumbi subsequently fled to South Africa and thence to London for “medical treatment”.  It is likely that whilst in London he will lobby hard for Western backing, presenting himself as a “democratic leader” who is being “politically harassed” by a “dictatorship”. 

Whilst abroad Katumbi will undoubtedly forge closer contacts with Western intelligence agencies, as well as the secret services of allied African “partners”, in order to prepare the planned Colour Revolution aimed at bringing down President Joseph Kabila’s government.

Cutting Katanga Out Of The Congo:

Should the plan for a Colour Revolution in the Congo fail, there is also a possible “Plan B”.  This is to revive Katanga’s historic claim to secession from the Congo.  Katumbi could return to lead an insurgency in Katanga backed by an army of foreign mercenaries.

This would be a repeat of the mechanism used by the US and Belgium during the First Congo Crisis in the weeks immediately following the country’s 1960 independence to destabilise the leftist Congolese government of Patrice Lumumba.  On that occasion that was done by engineering a secessionist rebellion in Katanga under the leadership of Moise Tshombe.  The key difference on this occasion is that a major non-Western country – China – now has very important mining investments in the four southeastern provinces that used to comprise this formerly unified area of Katanga.

An independent Katanga might not impede China’s cobalt trade or its two Southern Transoceanic African Routes.  The decision whether or not to cooperate with China would rest with whatever independent Katanga government was formed.  On the assumption that it would be led by Katumbi the decision would be his.

However an attempt by Katanga to secede would certainly provoke another war.  That in itself would cause massive disruption, disrupting China’s cobalt trade and obstructing work on its Transoceanic African Route projects. The situation might be similar to what happened in Libya in 2011 when the outbreak of war caused the mass evacuation of Chinese citizens and China’s abandonment of its capital projects.

Of course in such a scenario there is also the possibility that – unlike in Libya – China might act to defend its interests.  Whilst this would be a major break with China’s normally passive policy, China’s newly promulgated African policy might encourage China to a policy of “Leading From Behind” – assisting the Congolese Armed Forces, and possibly their regional allies as well by providing material, intelligence, and advisory support.

China must certainly be aware that if a Katumbi-led  secessionist movement were to succeed in establishing a pro-Western “independent” Katanga, then there would be a serious risk that Chinese companies would eventually be expelled from the country on any of various pretexts – such as that China supported Katumbi’s – and therefore Katanga’s – “enemies” in Kinshasa.

One way or the other, a revival of the Katanga separatist campaign has the potential to be as destabilising to this part of Africa as the rise of Daesh has been in the Middle East.

Great Lakes, Greater Conflicts:

Another potential fault line is the eastern Congo. This has historically been the most unstable part of the country.  It was here that the Second Congo Crisis (essentially a series of back-to-back civil and international wars) had it roots.

There are unresolved situations in Ituri and North & South Kivu Provinces.  All these territories have the potential to burst again into civil war.  A major destabilising factor in this area is the presence of dozens of Rwandan and Ugandan militias, some pro- and some anti- government, including Islamist militias and what are called “Allied Democratic Forces”.

The $24 trillion of untapped minerals in this region – sometimes called the eastern Great Lakes Region – have been taken hostage by these militias and by corrupt elements within the government.

This is the area that produces many of what are subsequently branded “conflict minerals” – a fact that limits their sale by making them ethically undesirable despite their irreplaceable role in modern-day cell phone technology

The tremendous mineral wealth of the eastern Congo makes it one of the most geostrategically important regions of the world.  Instability there directly impacts on global mineral and technology markets.

Nowadays a sort of cold peace is in place there with foreign customers buying access to the region’s resources either from the Ugandan and Rwandan state sponsors of some of the local militias, or from the Congolese government, or informally work through rebel intermediaries and corrupt officials.

However, should the region slide back into violence – which is very possible – this would not only disrupt trade flows.  It could also potentially create a situation where one actor might gain control of all the region’s colossal mineral wealth.  This would give that actor a massively preponderant position in the globally vital cell phone technology market.

For the time being the existing de-facto division of the region between Ugandan, Rwandan, and Congolese government-affiliated militias and ‘rogue’ non-state actors has created a sort of uneasy balance of economic-military forces.  This has prevented any one actor from gaining dominance.  However should Kinshasa ever regain full control over the Congo’s eastern territories, then – provided Kinshasa properly leveraged the advantages accruing from this mineral wealth and managed that wealth properly – the Congo could quickly rise to become Africa’s dominant continental power.

Due to the magnitude of what is at stake in geostrategic and economic terms, a renewal of conflict in the African Great Lakes Region easily has the potential to become a global crisis.   This would be particularly the case if such a conflict were sparked by the unfolding of a regime change scenario in the Congo.

The US has a range of reasons for wanting this to happen.  These include (1) disrupting the existing mineral flow out of the Congo, thereby weakening China’s industrial capacity and (2) gaining control of this mineral rich area in a way that consolidates its hegemonic control in Central Africa and its dominant position in the high technology and cell phone communications industries.

The US would of course experience considerable ‘collateral damage’ in the event of the Congo’s third possible collapse since independence.  It might however calculate – however cynically – that it has more to gain than it has to lose, especially if it views such a conflict purely in the context of its global duel with China.

Concluding Thoughts

China is pulling off big moves in the Congo: the Northern Transoceanic African Route megaprojects, the Inga 3 Dam and the purchase of the Tenke cobalt mine.

These initiatives complement each other.  They make the Congo potentially one of China’s top international partners. 

These three projects in what is Africa’s continental heartland provide China with a strong foundation for projecting multipolar influence throughout the rest of Africa.  Potentially this could allow China to reshape this area of Africa, transforming the Congo – historically one of the weakest states in Africa – within a generation into a stable beacon of prosperity.

However the Congo still has a long way to go before this comes anywhere close to happening.  It is precisely during this developmental period that the Congo is most vulnerable to US Hybrid War schemes.

The leadership transition planned for the end of this year might be indefinitely delayed or avoided if President Kabila succeeds in amending the constitution to run for a third term. The US is however already exploiting this situation to prepare for a Colour Revolution in the Congo.  Should that fail the US could look to other options even though their potential for disruption is vast.  One would be to use former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi to reignite Katanga’s historic separatist campaign in a repeat of what happened in the First Congo Crisis of the 1960s. Another, occurring either in parallel or independently of any crisis in Katanga, would be to reignite conflict in the Congo’s eastern provinces of Ituri and North & South Kivu in a way that would resemble what happened at the start of the Second Congo Crisis of the 1990s.

The worst-case scenario would be for both conflicts to merge into a single all-encompassing conflict involving the whole Congo. The resulting chaos of what would then be the Third Congo Crisis would dwarf that of its two predecessors.

Needless to say such a disaster would risk internationalising the conflict, ushering in what would in effect be Africa’s “Second World War”.  That would totally upend China’s continental strategy. China’s Northern and Southern Transoceanic African Routes would be dead in their tracks, and Kinshasa would have a lot more urgent things to worry about than construction of the Inga 3 Dam.  As for Katanga, whether mired in war or reunited as a nominally independent pro-Western state, it would cease to be a reliable cobalt supplier to China.  

An untold amount of human suffering and misery would accompany any large-scale outbreak of violence in the Congo.  However from a US grand strategic perspective, it might all be worth if it succeeds in “containing” China. 

Previous ArticleNext Article