‘What I learned from Armenia is the sense of nation’

‘What I learned from Armenia is the sense of nation’

James Nzinga Nkembo: a politician from Congo, a political scientist by education, has worked with the UN, first, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) and later, in Kosovo where he met his future wife Ellada Petrosyan who was also working for the UN infrastructures.  James has founded his opposition political party in his country.  Now, DRC which is not in the international newsfeed “mainstream” lives a dire political crisis … Essentially, after the dramatic events lasting for decades from Patrice Lumumba anti-colonial liberation movement to Mobutu Sese Seko corrupt dictatorship, this formerly Belgian colony currently is a failed state.

But the president ran the third term without organizing presidential elections on the pretext of “money shortage”.  At the same time, people are dying in the east almost every day, there is the multi-year conflict there which has taken millions of lives.  A country which is rich in mines of minerals, almost the entire Mendeleev table, and many other natural resources is one of the world’s poorest and backward countries.

James Nzinga Nkembo is the only politician in the country which suggests a “Balkanization” or split of Congo into several republics.  And arguments are scientific and very convincing.  Many international experts also share this opinion. Congo is a very large and multiethnic to be one state.  Practically having the Balkan experience and also based on personal circumstances, the experience of living in Armenia, Mr. Nkembo was kind to shared with “Aravot” his views on international policy and not only.

– Mr. Nkembo, in your homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, approximately 70 million people are living, and it is in a war for more than 20 years which in the escalation period of 1998-2002 was called the Great African War.  Millions of people are dying, it is a great tragedy, at the same time, these events are ousted from the global newsfeed.  What is the reason? Is there a peaceful solution from “war of all against all” situation?  And what does the international community: the US, EU, UN, African Union do to put an end to the conflict?

The population of DRC has reached more than 80 million now. In fact, there was huge media coverage of the war in the Congo when it started, in 1996, which in the course of the years vanished. I believe the independence of press has been off-set.

As you certainly know, the role of the media is not just to show what is happening, but journalists should also investigate and tell why this is happening and who the stakeholders are. Several reports by the UN and other international organizations revealed the involvement of western powers behind the recurring wars plaguing the Congo. When it comes to the international media, I cannot help thinking, at this point, that it is in solidarity with their respective countries that some of the well-known press groups became silent and indifferent to what has been going on in the Congo. I thank “Aravot” for giving us a chance to speak about this subject on the news.

What you refer to as a war of everybody against everybody, is indeed a mess created by the international community. The way out from it is to tackle the problem from its root cause, which is the confiscation by the Belgian colonial rule of the lands that belonged to different pre-colonial nations to make one colony that became the nowadays RDC, and forcing different people who do not have the same sociological considerations or interests to become one nation-state. While that serves the interest of Belgium that controls this vast mineral-rich territory through a corrupt central government, it is the root cause of the endless Congolese crisis.

Meanwhile, as part of an unfinished deal from the Berlin Conference in 1885, other international powers that seek to also have control over some of the country’s territory in order to access its mineral resources, give support to negative groups within the country and in neighboring countries to wage wars in DRC and cause the civilian populations to be displaced so that their villages can be transformed into mines where human exploitation and child labor in common.

The international community, UN, US, EU, AU and others are making an effort to stabilize the country but in vain. MONUSCO, the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world with more than 20.000 troops, has been in the country for 18 years now and the crisis is still as fresh as it was in the beginning. Lots of resources are wasted and no solution is achieved. For as long as the root cause is not addressed, the international community could go on like this for a century or even more, but they will just be turning in circles.

The only possible way to end the crisis in the Congo is to split the country into several states according to historical and sociological considerations. Balkanization will end the conflict not only by restoring the sovereignty of each people, but also by creating a possibility for the country’s riches to profit the people of Congo and to be distributed equally to the international community without any need to wage wars in the region. It is for this reason that I founded SINDIKA, a self-determination movement, to raise awareness of the people of Congo on the necessity for our vast unitary country to become a confederation of 7 political entities that should progressively attain their sovereignty.

– Your work experience in the Balkans, particularly, in Kosovo shows that the region which was called a “powder keg of Europe” for centuries can be turned to peace and development; the conflicting interests – from confrontation to neighborly and integration.  Will you share your vision with us? What is necessary to have for it?

Unlike in Kosovo, the crisis in DRC is not a matter of integration or peaceful coexistence between the different people of the country. You can see throughout our country that people from different ethnicities intermarry and they move to each other’s province without any problem, while in Kosovo the conflict was completely based on ethnic and religious divides. My experience in the Balkans makes me relate to the disintegration of Yugoslavia as a good example for the Congo. It also helped elaborate a scheme to ensure that balkanization will not be imposed on the Congolese people as a result of international powers’ deal, but it should happen according to a Congolese scheme implemented by the Congolese themselves, under the auspices of the International community.

DRC is composed of 450 different communities and the whole country is managed as one unitary state. Ethnic based tensions that arise from time to time are result of the authoritarian regime and bad governance. Because dictators divide the people to lean upon tribal and ethnic loyalty so that they can remain in power. These kinds of tensions are a secondary issue stemming from the root cause. They will not exist when the country is split.

The international community needs to change their approach towards DRC’s crisis. They should support our effort to balkanize DRC according to a Congolese scheme to end the genocide of the Congolese people that has been going on for the last 20 years, the third genocide of the Congolese people in a period of one hundred years. The first one happened around the same time as the genocide of the Armenians, in which 5 millions of people were killed by King Leopold II of Belgium. And the second genocide, in which 6 millions of people were killed under the colonial rule, happened between 1908 and 1960.

– Your state and Armenia which you consider your second homeland, you are a member of another international organization besides the UN where you are discussing international policy issues, the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF).  More than 100 years ago, terrible events used to take place in our region too, the Armenian Genocide, which happened because according to the international community, it is “far away from us.”  Currently, Armenia considers its moral duty to run a policy to exclude the recurrence of genocide no matter where it is and how far away from us, be it in Rwanda, Darfur.  An “Aurora” Humanitarian Award is established in Armenia, and its first winner became a true hero woman from Burundi, Marguerite Barankitse.  In addition, after the Francophonie Summit, in the capital of Madagascar, the Armenian delegation declared the French-speaking Africa as one of the priority directions.  It is also known that the next summit will take place in 2018 in Armenia.  Do you have some ideas about the mutual partnership with Armenia?  Is this a chance to make your voice and the voice of your homeland more audible?

The Armenian genocide is a known and documented historical fact that should not go on being denied by the descendants of the perpetrators. It was an odious crime that must be not only recognized but also repaired. I salute the founders of the Aurora Prize. Recognition of individuals and organizations that impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes is a great contribution towards genocide prevention everywhere.

The Francophonie offers an additional opportunity to both of our countries that are already UN members, to build more bridges for understanding and cooperation between our people. It is not just a matter of promoting the use of French language. But it promotes other values such as democracy, good governance, cultural diversity, etc.

The 2018 Francophonie Summit in Armenia would be indeed a good opportunity for my country to start cooperation with Armenia. Congo is rich and has a lot to offer to investors. Armenians should consider investing in the Congo. But as there’s no development without peace, this is why we are struggling to end the conflict for the benefit of the entire humanity.

– James, your wife, Ellada Petrosyan, is Armenian and you already have the experience of contacting with our country and you are well aware of our problems and our successes.  What do you think, which is the most important advice that you can give to us based on your life and professional experience?  And also, what is the most important thing that Armenia has taught you?

I already knew quite a few things about Armenia before I met my wife. For instance, I knew that Armenian women make excellent wives and mothers. Now, I have a chance to experience it.

I also know that Armenia has major economic problems because of its landlocked position and being surrounded by hostile neighbors. May be that is why it completely surrendered to Russia. However, Armenia should make an effort to change this image of being viewed as an appendix of Russia. It needs to widen its network of partners beyond Russia and other traditional partners from the former Soviet bloc. Armenia should make use of its large and influential diaspora. A young generation of politicians should open the country to fruitful cooperation with Europe, Latin America and why not the African countries.

Another thing is the population decrease that endangers the country’s territories. Armenia is surrounded by neighbors that took over its lands and have not stopped trying to get more. Ancient maps show that Armenia used to be a vast country. But, nowadays some of its territories are included in countries such as Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, even Georgia. With a population decrease, we may anticipate that some of the country’s territories will be deserted by their original inhabitants. If there are no people to inhabit the land, the void will be filled by aliens. I think this population decrease has got something to do with the way the Armenian society judges unmarried women with children. It is a known fact that the Armenian woman is intellectually and professionally emancipated, but society stigmas hold her back. With the current ration of men to women in Armenia, the Armenian society should become indulgent towards unmarried women who choose to become mothers and live on their own. This is not only for the sake of gender equality, but it will help to maintain the population balance. I trust that younger generation will help the country get an image of a progressive, modern and open society.

However, what I learned from Armenia is the sense of nation, the ties between the people and their motherland, history, scripture, culture, the readiness of Armenians to mobilize resources to support the cause of Armenia. This is something I endeavor to teach to my people.

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