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Pax Angolanis: Luanda’s influence in the Congo

Quiz: Which country has invaded the Congo several times over the past year, allegedly to get its hands on natural resources? Which country is obsessed with the possibility that the Congo could become host to a dangerous rebel insurgency?

For those who only voted for Rwanda, you get one point, but don’t get the free Congo Siasa rubber ducky. Yes, Angola has made the headlines in the Kinshasa press again. Earlier this month, the Angolan government kicked out 20,000 Congolese who were allegedly working illegally in diamond mines there, only to have Kinshasa retaliate by expelling 16,000 Angolans. Tens of thousands of Congolese were expelled in 2004 and 2007 from mining areas in northern Angola and often subjected to abuse (humiliating anal and vaginal searches for diamonds, rape). This year, the Congolese lashed back, forcing thousands of ejected Angolans to languish in make-shift camps close to the border, drinking river water and starving.

This is the most recent episode in a long sequence of tit-for-tat retaliations between Luanda and Kinshasa. In 2007, Angolan troops invaded the border area of Kahemba in Bandundu province, triggering an international dispute over the diamond-rich patch of land and prompting international mediation. Just this week, a small platoon of Angolan soldiers crossed the border again, this time searching for FLEC rebels, who are demanding independence for the Cabinda enclave.

Western observers of the Congo have become so focused on the violence of the Kivus that we forget about political considerations that are often far more important for Kinshasa’s political elite. Angola was one of the main backers of Joseph Kabila during the war along with Zimbabwe. While Mugabe brought his soldiers home in 2001 as his economy tanked, the Angolans maintained their influence in Kinshasa, moving troops into Bas-Congo as they pleased to track down FLEC operatives (at times allegedly carrying out assassinations) and deploying reinforcements to Kinshasa at key moments (as during the March 2007 Bemba-Kabila standoff in downtown Kinshasa). They co-run the Kitona training camp in Bas-Congo.

It looks like the Congolese, however, are finally pushing back (albeit a bit brashly) after years of little-brother complex. One of the reasons may be oil troubles – as one Kinshasa daily asked today, why have the Angolan not given the Congolese their share of the proceeds from a jointly owned oil block off the coast? Le Phare estimates that the Angolan government owes Kinshasa $800 million from 2008 proceeds alone. This is touchy at a moment when the Congolese government just rose gas prices across the board by 7 per cent.

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