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Edward S. Marek, Founder and President of Your dot com for Africa, a web-based information services network focused on Africa, talks about DR. Congo crisis.

Congo Vision: Let me begin by asking you how a regular US citizen like yourself becomes interested in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region of Africa with so much passion and dedication.

MAREK: In August 1996 a group of us met in Washington with the US ambassador to Kinshasa, Mr. Simpson. It was my first introduction to the Zairean scene. He was pressing Mobutu to liberalize and democratize, and he urged us to help him in any way we could. I had just begun to convert my defense intelligence consulting business to a web-based information services business focused on Africa, so I thought I could lend a helping hand, and I quickly converted my new web site to “Zaire Watch.”

Just a couple months after that, the “ADFL rebellion” and first Rwandan invasion began. Before I knew it, we had a full blown war underway, demanding daily, sometimes hourly reporting. My readership increased rapidly, very rapidly, and I could see that reporting on Zaire had a market, one I hoped would support a business endeavor for me that would also keep the market informed with the most credible, accurate and responsive reporting I could provide.

Since that time, I quickly learned two crucial lessons. First, I learned how the Zairean (Congolese) people had never really had a chance, since before colonialism, to chart their own destiny. I am a great fan of the “common man” so this angered me. Second, I saw what a strategic country Zaire-DR Congo was and is. It is the center of the sub-Saharan Africa universe. It is large, it has enormous natural and very diverse resources in the vast Congo River basin and its environs, and it has a large population that exceeds 50 million people, meaning a potentially interesting market, far more interesting than any of its neighbors. I also knew that a strong and economically vibrant Zaire-Congo would brush off on all the neighbors.

I concluded that Zaire-Congo could be the engine to drive growth for all of central Africa, perhaps even much of sub-Saharan Africa. I found all this very new and exciting. I still do. I felt I could build a commercial information services business as a result.

With regard to your comment about my passion and dedication, my dedication is more stubborness than anything else. I selected this course, and I am hell bent on making it work. I have always treated my tasks and missions with passion. Tasks and missions and work are no fun unless there is passion. But for me, the Congo is more than that.

My father was a first generation American of Polish immigrants. He grew up very poor, went to a vocational high school, could not afford college, and began his civilian life riveting wings of fighter aircraft at Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, New York. But he was just a very smart guy, he had a mechanical mind, and he rapidly worked his way up to be a white collar worker, an aeronautical engineer without the schooling. He helped design the cockpit of the first aircraft to go faster than the speed of sound, the Bell X-1A.

Even so, when my dad would bring me to the factory, he always remembered his roots, and always took me to the factory floor to see the blue collar workers. They all knew him, they all liked him and respected him, because he paid attention to them, he took an interest in them, and he knew they were crucial to the company's success.

So I have always had a special place in my heart for the little guy, the guy who gets the raw deal, the guy who has the least say, the guy without whom nothing can work, the average citizen. I feel that way about the Congolese people, men and women. They have gotten a raw deal for decades and decades, and I don't like it. It's not fair. So my tendency is to stick up for them, just as I would for others in their boat.

My tendency also is to mistrust the flamboyant, the know-it-alls, the so-called big-shots who manipulate people to get where they are. There have been plenty of those in the Congo's history, and I don't like them, and I don't respect them.

Congo Vision: You had a wonderful web site named "New Congo Network" whose mission was to educate the American people about DRC. What happened to it?

MAREK: I changed the name of the “Zaire Watch” web site to “New Congo Net” in May 1997, when Laurent Kabila took power. I “borrowed” the phrase “New Congo” which he used in his inaugural speech. I thought that was a great and very marketable concept, one that reflected the Congo's great potential and future. New Congo Net became better known as NCN, an acronym which really caught on and became popular. NCN concentrated on the Congo, and each of its neighbors. I later decided to expand my effort to cover all of Africa, in a site that still exists today, known as “Your dot com for Africa.” I made that decision because the NCN site was not generating the needed revenues and I hoped expanded coverage would have broader appeal and would therefore generate needed revenues.

But I retained the NCN as a section of this expanded site because of its popularity and my continued interest in exposing the world to the Congo. Then, in about mid-2002, I became “bold”, separated NCN from the Your dot com site, and activated a web site that would allow NCN to stand on its own. Its url was “”, perfect for what I had hoped to do.

At about the same time, I was hired to produce, operate and manage a web site for the Government of the DR Congo. Its url was “” I was paid to do that work, whereas I was paying 9out of pocket to keep the other two sites operational. I now found that I alone was operating three web sites. Believe me, that meant 12-14 hour days, seven days per week of work for me. I did not mind, because I thought that the government endeavor would build, would attract other governments to hire me to do sites for them, and I bet that I could at long last build a real web-based information services business focused on Africa. So the sacrifice was worth it to me. But, as so often happens in business, the government loved what I was doing and clearly saw the potential, but decided it could not spare the funds to keep the site going through 2003.

As a result, I had to stop the “” site. I was getting “burned out,” having operated three web sites on my own. Both “Your dot com” and “NCN” were not generating any revenues for me, I was personally overextended, so I decided I had to drop one. I decided to drop NCN with the hope that the “Your dot com” site, which covered all of Africa, would have broader appeal and therefore would offer a greater chance to attract supporting revenues. I figured I could achieve some of my NCN goals on the “Your dot com” site. That's where I am right now, still fighting to educate Americans, still paying all the bills myself, and still fighting to attract revenues. I have held on to the “” url and have been quietly trying to find some money to support it. If I ever find that money, I will put it back on the air in an instant.

Congo Vision: What are your thoughts about the Congo peace agreement signed on December 17, 2002 in Pretoria under the leadership of president Thabo Mbeki? Many experts have given it a cautious welcome.

MAREK: My view is that the Lusaka cease-fire agreement of 1999 and the Pretoria agreement of 2002 were and are bad for the Congolese people. I understand why the Congo's leadership felt compelled to sign these agreements, but I wish they had not done so and taken greater risks.

My fundamental problem with both agreements is that they legitimize the Rwandan and Ugandan invasions and occupation, and I find that unpalatable. These agreements also fail to recognize who the victims have been in this war. The victims have been the Congolese people and the sovereign state of the DR Congo. I find that contemptible.

The so-called Congolese rebels are not rebels at all. They are bureaucrats who have been co-opted by the governments of Rwanda and Uganda and used as their puppets. They have no political agenda. They have no political following. They have no popular support in the Congo. They have done the bidding of Kigali and Kampala. They are, in my view, traitors and their traitorous activities have caused the deaths, displacement and agony of millions upon millions of Congolese people. Their traitorous activities have set the Congo back decades.

I have met many of their leaders, I have heard their explanations of their “causes,” and to a man I have found their supporting rationales to be empty and corrupt. It is abominable that anyone recognizes them as a political force in the Congo, and I greatly resent that they have found top leadership posts in the new transitional government. I suspect that's one reason I did not get funded to continue the government's web site through 2003; the rebels who will be in that government know I have no respect for them at all.

I feel the Congolese people, including the unarmed political opposition which has fought peacefully for so long to push the country toward democracy, have been cheated.

With regard to Mr. Mbeki, I have lost respect for his government and his country as a result of that government's reaction to this war since the outset. Let's be frank. South Africa is the darling of the West, sub-Saharan Africa's most advanced economy, a country which the West believes must succeed. I don't have any problem with that, and indeed support helping South Africa succeed.

But the Congo too must succeed. I believe it more important to sub-Saharan Africa as a whole that the Congo succeed than South Africa. Why? Because the Congo has strategic location, a larger population, and offers greater market potential. A successful Congo can drive growth in a far larger area of Africa than can South Africa. The Congo is in the heart of Africa; its pulse will drive Africa more than will South Africa. And South Africa is still mired in intense racial conflict. South African leaders understand this, and see the Congo as a long-term threat.

My own view is that the Congo is a near term threat. Serious investment in the Congo and its people will cause massive and very rapid economic growth there, and I might add, very diverse growth. It's not just metals. Just think about the potential of the Congo River basin as a whole, its extraordinary river and transportation networks, and 50 million plus people cranking out productivity.

Then think about the nine countries immediately on its border, and the countries that border them. We're talking an economic dynamo of unparalleled proportions here when we talk of the Congo. That threatens South Africa. It would draw scarce investment away from South Africa. It would cause a new economic competitor to rise from the ashes and force South Africans to compete at far lower prices than they currently charge. I'm not convinced the South Africans can fight off that kind of hungry competition.

Congo Vision: What do you see as threats to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region of Africa?

MAREK: Internal instability inside the DR Congo is the main threat to stability in the entire region. Forget about Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the Congo Republic, Zambia, the Central African Republic, even forget about Angola with its diamond-oil only economy , its starving 11 million people, and its incredibly corrupt government. None of those countries are players in the stability of the Great Lakes region. The Congo calls those shots. It has been many people's advantage for Uganda and Rwanda to keep the Congo-Zaire unstable. Rwanda and Uganda have been getting their way in Western capitals and international financial institutions by selling the Congo-Zaire as the bad guy and selling themselves as the founts of stability. That Western leaders have fallen for that is an embarrassment to me.

This is a time when the Congolese people are going to have to rise to the occasion. They are the region's only hope. The Congolese people have to unite and get very vocal and very active. I don't know how to incite them to do that, given their terrible past experiences with politics, but someone has to incite them to rise up and lay down the law, or they need some kind of God-sent spontaneous combustion to ignite them. Once the Congolese people are driving their own destiny, once they have unified and gotten their economy organized and their internal differences under control, then I see no threats to peace or stability in the region at all .

The Congolese people will present no military threat to anyone. It's not in their nature. They are peace loving people. They have nothing to gain from invading tiny little Rwanda, Burundi, or landlocked Uganda. The Congolese don't need the Congo Republic's or Angola's oil, they don't need Zambia's copper, they don't need the Central African Republic's minerals, and they don't need Sudan's gum arabic. The Congolese have their own outlet to the Atlantic, friendly relations with Tanzania gives them an outlet to the Indian Ocean, and, much like was the case with the vast USA, the Congo has plenty of resources of its own to develop and plenty of manpower to drive a very energetic economy.

The threats to peace and stability in this region include any action that causes the Congo to fragment or causes the country to be unstable. The Rwandan and Ugandan invasions have done both those things. The Congolese people are going to have to find a way to rise above those events, set them aside, and focus on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with life. They simply cannot allow these external influences to destabilize them any longer. I'd be tempted to build a fence around the country, temporarily shut down the borders, cut off all immigration, and turn inward to get organized and going, and then open up.

Simplistic view, I know, but it gives you the sense for what I think needs to happen.

Congo Vision: Do you have a sense that the American people are aware of the destruction of human lives that is taking place in DRC? Why do you think it is not drummed up in the media the way similar disasters in other parts of the world usually are?

MAREK: I feel confident I can guarantee that the American people have no idea what has happened in the Congo over the past several years, or the past many decades. As a rule of thumb, you have to introduce yourself to an American seven times before he or she remembers your name. The Congo issues have not been set before the American public at all. There are, however, key people in public life who are familiar with the problems, but usually in a superficial way, and often to fit the policy they are trying to sell. There is an enormous amount of misinformation circulating throughout the US, and the Congolese have suffered as a result.

My own view is that the Kinshasa government has failed to compete in the Information Age, and has lost the battle of information transfer to Rwanda and Uganda. Museveni has been the darling of the Clinton administration, seen and sold as the progressive and enlightened saviour. Considerable political capital has been invested in him by American politicians and the international financial community. The Clinton administration understood its dismal failures before and during the Rwandan Genocide, and has been treating Rwandans as saint-like since. The US has been trying to repent for the Rwandan Genocide just as it has been trying with Israel to repent for the Holocaust. I have met and talked to General Kagame. He is an impressive figure. He is smart, resolute, forthright, strong-willed, speaks English, and knows how to weave his views and policies into the context of the Genocide. He is believable and credible in front of American audiences. I must admit there is much about the man I too admire.

Conversely, Laurent Kabila ranted and railed against the US, he came across as anti-American, he impressed many as a communist, a centrist, and authoritarian, a China and North Korea-lover, and seemed to go out of his way to confront the US. He allowed himself to be trapped by the NGOs in the allegations of mass crimes against humanity during the ADFL rebellion, and he was viewed as a gold smuggler, kidnapper, and thug here in the US. In sum, Laurent Kabila failed to understand the importance of international image and refused to play the public relations game. His people ultimately suffered for those errors.

The new president, Joseph Kabila, has done a much better job and has won increasing international approval. But he is fighting an uphill fight with Uganda and Rwanda firmly entrenched as the good guys and the Congolese still mired in the role of the bad guys. Only now are people starting to challenge that, though I have been challenging it for years .

Remember this. It is exceedingly hard to build, quite easy to destroy. Once the Congo's image was destroyed in 1997, it will take many years to build it back up. There are those of us who are trying, but I for one feel like a lonely ship at sea, unable to find the finances needed to operate and earn a reasonable living. Selling the Congo is a tough sell here. Doable, but tough. Tough means it costs money. It's just that simple.

Congo Vision: It's thought by many that the war in DRC has been allowed to go on by the international community for 4 years despite the human toll. Do you think this is because of cynicism, fear, or economic interests?

MAREK: This follows the answer I presented to the previous question. The international community, I believe, has allowed itself to be misled in this war because it has placed so much political capital in Uganda and Rwanda, and in particular Messrs. Museveni and Kagame. The NGOs have failed the Congolese people, because their livelihoods depended to a great extent on programs already approved for those countries and others. The churches have also failed the Congolese people. And Congolese have allowed themselves to be “too francophone” and not enough “anglophone.” That in turn has caused the anglophone communities to turn where they are more comfortable, in this case, Uganda and Rwanda. Congolese have to learn “how to” appeal to the American audience. This is not easy.

First, Congolese leaders have to speak English, fluent English. Americans do not have to know French; Congolese have to know English .

Second, Congolese leaders need to set the past aside for the moment and concentrate on the present and the future. Yes, the Congolese people have been wronged, over and over and over. But there is no gain at present to throw that in America's face. Congolese cannot afford to whine in public about the past. There is plenty of time in the future to teach the past and set the record straight. When Americans learn what really happened, they will be horrified, and Uganda and Rwanda will pay a heavy price.

What I urge is that Congolese leaders build marketable economic programs, and come to the US over and over and over to sell them. They need to be young, vibrant, enthusiastic and confident about their country and their countrymen. They need to be high on the Congo, and they need to transmit the excitement everywhere they go. Third, Congolese leaders need to concentrate on a few themes and repeat them over and over here in the US. They have to answer the question “Why invest in the Congo?”

The answer cannot be because the Congolese people have been wronged and deserve the investment. The answer has to be because the Congolese people will take that investment and provide a superior return to the investor and at the same time make good things happen in the Congo. The Congo needs to expand its interests in the US and de-emphasize the ties to Belgium and France. Belgium and France are status quo; the US offers rapid change. Congolese have overemphasized their mineral riches and failed to emphasize the quality of their human resources, the numbers of human resources, and potential diversity their economy can produce.

Look, they are pumping oil from Angola, the Congo Republic, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and that means revenues are flowing. South Africa in many respects has first world industries producing products, and revenues are flowing. Most of the Congo's mineral riches are still in the ground and in the ground they are worthless. There are no serious revenues flowing. The minerals have to be taken out, processed and sold at a profit for big-time revenues to flow. That requires enormous investment, and there have been too many uncertainties for people to invest that kind of money in the Congo. Let me repeat. Minerals in the ground are worthless. So the Congo has not been seen for its economic potential, and Congolese have failed to sell that potential in a marketable way. The Ugandan and Rwandan invasions and occupations simply exacerbated the uncertainties, and that has worked to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the Congolese people. Kampala and Kigali are happy with an unstable Congo. It makes them look good.

Congo Vision: What in your view is the appropriate role the UN and the US should play to help the Congolese people implement their peace deal?

MAREK: I have very little respect for the UN. The UN has done no good for the Congolese people. There are agencies of the UN that the Congo needs, like WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and a few others, but the Security Council has failed the Congolese people and I for one, if I were Congolese, would attach very little importance to the council and even less respect. I would remain attached to those agencies of the UN that have a proven record of helping the Congolese people, and otherwise place little resources into the place until it starts showing the Congolese people some respect.

If Congolese ambassadors and diplomats want to set the record straight and point fingers, this is the place to do it, however. I would be very aggressive and very unforgiving if I were a Congolese diplomat working at the UN. I see the Kinshasa government as having a very central role in rehabilitating the Congo. I very well understand and appreciate the need to re-unify the country. That work must go ahead with vigor.

But Kinshasa leaders can do more than one thing at a time. There are nearly six million people in Kinshasa, ready to go to work. There are many more millions of similar Congolese in the areas firmly controlled by the government. The Kinshasa government needs to better appreciate the value of those resources and needs to set out on a disciplined plan to get all that up and operating as efficiently and effectively as is humanly possible. I hate to raise this analogy, because I fear I will be misunderstood, but I will anyway to make the point the only way I know how.

Think about what happened following WWII with West and East Germany. The Soviets held East Germany and let it stand in decline. The West held West Germany and enabled it to excel. The Kinshasa government needs to do the same with those areas it firmly holds, and set up those areas as models of democracy and economic liberalization. Get that started, and the rest of the country will follow; the rest of the country will follow Kinshasa's lead, because they will see it is a winner. East Germany collapsed under the weight of its ineptitude; eastern and northeastern Congo will flock to Kinshasa's lead as soon as they see its lead is worth following. Neither Rwanda or Uganda will be able to stop it.

I would like to see the Kinshasa government forget about this transitional government with the rebels in the VP and key ministerial seats. But if that is impossible to do, then I would like to see the loyalists and patriots of the Congo who hold government positions to simply ignore those traitors and press ahead without them, making them irrelevant. They can come to the cabinet meetings, but no one has to listen to them. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to obstruct progress. The president must set out a plan for democratization and economic liberalization, the patriots in government must implement it with untiring and devoted dispatch, and together they and the people must simply make all these counter-Congolese peace agreements “OBE,” overtaken by events. Just pass them by with success after success after success. The elections must be held as scheduled, and I am confident the Congolese people, given the leadership they will see from the patriots, will throw the traitors out on the street where they belong and at long last get on with charting their own destiny.

This will cause Americans to take notice. Americans love a winner, they love to be with winners, they love to see patriots pick themselves up by their bootstraps and beat the odds. Americans love an underdog. They want to see the underdog win. Once the Kinshasa government and the people under its direct control start to win, Americans will be over by the droves to help. But this time, Congolese will be calling the shots and Americans will be responding to Congolese defined requirements and needs.

Congo Vision: The governments of Rwanda and Uganda have claimed that the involvement of their troops in the Congo war for the last four years has been beneficial to security interests of their countries. What is your opinion about that?

MAREK: I do not buy this argument at all. This is poppycock. Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo to overthrow the Laurent Kabila government and put another one of their guys in power there. They came to control the Congo. Anyone who looks at their military expedition and a map understands that. The Congolese people presented no threat to Rwanda or Uganda. The Kinshasa government was in no position to present any threat to their border security. Those threats that did exist were from their own citizens who were armed and were in the Congo.

You can accuse the Congolese government of allowing them to be there, that's fair enough. But the truth is the first Rwandan and Ugandan invasion and ADFL rebellion they hatched eliminated Mobutu as an authority and broke down what little infrastructure the country had left. The newly formed Kabila government, threatened by the international financial community, the international humanitarian community, the international human rights community, the UN, just about everyone, was in absolutely no position whatsoever to gain control over Rwandan and Ugandan citizens rebelling against the Kigali and Kampala governments from Congolese soil. It is patently absurd to suggest the Kinshasa government could have done that.

Indeed, had I been the president, accomplishing that would probably not even have made my top ten on the agenda to fix my country. Most governments in the world protect and secure their borders from their own side of the border. I don't know the exact sizes of the Ugandan and Rwandan militaries, but each certainly is in the range of 30,000 combat troops. That's 60,000 troops. They could have stood each soldier arm length to arm length along their short borders with the Congo and prevented anyone from coming in. They could have invested in some surveillance equipment to monitor their borders without so many troops standing along the border. They could have used Interpol to get out arrest warrants and pluck these bad guys out one by one in cooperation with the Kinshasa government. They did not do any of that .

Instead, they committed their military organizations to an across the country assault on the Congo's Atlantic coast ports, they mounted an assault on Kinshasa that failed, and then they retreated to set up their occupation zones that were far more than security buffer zones. They effectively annexed the northern and eastern Congo as their own and they attempted to administer those regions as their own. In the process, they caused the deaths of more than 3 million Congolese, the displacement of millions more, and the destruction of the land and property and what was left of the economy. They looted and stole the Congo's resources to boot, for personal gain.

And finally, while in the Congo and doing all this, they devoted almost no attention to rounding up and defeating their citizens in the Congo who were rebelling against them, those who supposedly presented such a horrible security threat. Their rebels were not supermen; had each country wanted to defeat them at their borders they could have. They didn't even try at the border, and they didn't even try while they occupied vast tracts of the Congo. Border security is a smokescreen issue.

Congo Vision: What is your vision of the Great Lakes region of Africa after the Congo war?

MAREK: I have alluded to my vision earlier. I see the Congo as the center of the universe for all sub-Saharan Africa. Don't limit your thinking to the little Great Lakes region. The Congo should have ambitions far greater than that. The Congo needs to flex its muscle and energize its people to take up its rightful leadership role. It must start down the road toward democracy, but more important, do what it has to do to get its economy going. Forget all this state ownership and centralization of authority, and get the reins of power to the people and enable them to achieve their destinies. If that happens, then you are going to see a central Africa and indeed a sub-Saharan Africa that moves out of poverty and into high gear. The engine of growth lies in the Congo. That engine has sputtered for far too long. I see no other country on the continent with the positives the Congo has. Strategic position. Strategic though untapped resource wealth. More than 50 million people, able bodies ready to go to work and live in peace. Right now, the entire region is living in the status quo. Only the Congo can shake things up . Status quo is death. Change is life .

The oil producing countries are happy to pump their oil and rake off the top. South Africa is happy to have no competitor in sight. Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Zambia are lost ships at sea. Namibia's population is small. Tanzania and Kenya stand to benefit greatly as Congolese products move to their ports and as input to the Congo comes through their ports, and Atlantic ocean product will move through Congolese ports. Once the Congo's economy starts humming like West Germany's did and like Japan's did following the devastation of WWII, then everyone will jump on the Congo's bandwagon and follow its lead. The truth is the Congolese people stand at the precipice of greatness. I can only pray they do not let this opportunity slide away.

Congo Vision: Do you believe that all foreign troops have withdrawn from DRC?

MAREK: No. They are still there under cover. They are still directing traffic. They are there as spies and undercover agents. I'm not sure in what numbers they are there, and to be frank, I would not worry about them too much. They can be dealt with later. They are going to cause havoc, and Congolese in the eastern sectors are going to suffer as a consequence. But Kinshasa cannot deal with them right now. They can only serve as a destabilizing distraction. The Congolese population of the east will have to deal with them. I want to see Kinshasa start rebuilding what it firmly holds and get those territories and people up and running, setting them up as a model for others to follow. That will cause the “Kinshasa zone”, if you will, to grow, prosper, and gain strength. The undercover agents won't be able to stand the pressure of such successes, the people of the east will get more bold in dealing with these spies, the Kinshasa government will be better able to help its people in the east fend off these agents, and eventually the Kinshasa government will swoop in and take care of the intruders on its own.

My view is that Uganda and Rwanda have made an enormous strategic miscalculation with the Congo. They thought the Congo, with its many ethnic groups, and vast territories, would crumble under the weight of their invasion and occupation. That has not happened. At the end of the day, Congolese are nationalists, and they vastly outnumber Rwandans and Ugandans. Those Congolese who went over to the Rwandan and Ugandan side are traitors and puppets of foreign governments. The Congo remains a bit fragmented, but from a macro view, it has held, and if properly led, will only get stronger. Rwandans and Ugandans need to take a close look at what their leadership has done. They need to recognize that their own economic and professional growth depends on a growing and prosperous Congo. They need to recognize that they must tend to their own fledgling democracies and throw those leaders out who believe that an unstable and fragmented Congo offers any good to the Rwandan and Ugandan people as a whole . Rwanda and Uganda are not the center of Africa's universe. The Congo is.

Sylvestre Ngoma, Congo Vision

January 06, 2003

For more information about Edward S. Marek, visit his web site at

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