Sunday, June 10, 2012

Congo Gold

The profits and riches to be gained from exploitation of Eastern Congo's natural resources continue to be the cause of  the suffering of the Congolese people. The wars in the Eastern Congo have been responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese who paid the price of living in a very rich with failing or non-existent civil institutions. These wars have involved nine African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese. Between August 1998 and April 2004 some 3.8 million people died violent deaths in the DRC. Since 2004 this number has almost doubled. Many of these deaths were due to starvation or disease that resulted from the war, as well as from summary executions and capture by one or more of a group of irregular marauding bands. Millions more had become internally displaced or had sought asylum in neighbouring countries. Rape has been  endemic.

Eastern Congo was left mainly in the hands of Uganda and Rwanda. This created a situation where the occupying forces could engage in the massive looting of eastern DRC's riches. Theft of livestock, coffee beans and other resources began to be reported with frequency. By the time the August 1998 war broke out, Rwandans and Ugandans (top officers and their associates) had a strong sense of the potential of the natural resources, especially coltan, and their locations in eastern DRC.

The Ugandan forces were eager to move in and occupy areas where gold and diamond mines were located. In September 1998 this looting was put in the hands of General General Salim Saleh (born Caleb Afande Akandwanaho, 14 January 1960), Museveni's brother, a proven money-launderer, drug dealer, resource thief and plunderer. Salim Saleh formed a company which would supply the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo with merchandise, and would return with natural resources. The project never materialised in this form, but took the form of pure looting and pillage under the protection of the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Despite their claims of a security concern, some top army officials clearly had a hidden agenda: economic and financial objectives. A few months before the 1998 war broke out, General Salim Saleh and the elder son of President Museveni reportedly visited the eastern DRC. One month after the beginning of the conflict, General James Kazini was already involved in commercial activities. He already knew the most profitable sectors and immediately organised the local commanders to serve their economic and financial objectives.

This was mirrored in the activities of the Rwandans. At the heart of the financial setting was the Banque de commerce, du développement et d'industrie (BCDI) located in Kigali. This was the initial vehicle through which all revenues were passed at the initial stages of Rwandan and Ugandan engagement in the DRC. Then, when the war broke out the Rwandans retained the BCDI as their conduit and the Ugandans set up their own. The extraction of minerals rose to a fever pitch as hostilities began with no attention to safe or rational methods of extraction. The Rwandans have been backing 'rebel' military warlords like Laurent Nkunda or Bosco Ntanganda. These provide the fig leaf for Rwanda's continuing rape of the Congo.

Eastern Congo became controlled by warlords and militia groups whose exploitation took the form of pillage, rape and murder. Most of these groups have alliances with either the Rwandan or Ugandan governments which handle the physical trade in the wealth which is exported.They operate with impunity. The people most responsible for the continuing atrocities are protected. These include Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh, Paul Kagame, James Kazini, Moses Ali, James Kabarebe, Taban Amin, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntanganda, Meles Zenawi and a long list of people whose culpability is without question; many of whom have been named for atrocities again and again. Bemba was finally brought to the ICC to stand trial. This was more to do with his political opposition to Kabila Junior and the Central African Republic than his depredations in the Eastern Congo.

Theoretically, the United Nations has teams of peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo renamed the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). In fact many peacekeepers of the MONUC were engaged in rape, murder and pillage for their own account. Their presence in the DRC adds to the fears of the population.

The illegal exploitation of natural resources went beyond mineral and agricultural resources. It occurred in respect of financial transactions, taxes and the use of cheap labour. Local banks and insurance companies operating in Goma, Bukavu, Kisangani, Bunia and Gbadolite dealt directly with Kigali or Kampala. In areas controlled by Bemba, peasants carrying palm oil on bicycles had to pay taxes on the bicycles. In the mining sector, direct extraction was carried out in three ways, namely (a) by individual soldiers for their own benefit; (b) by locals organised by Rwandan and Ugandan commanders; and (c) by foreign nationals for the army or commanders' benefit.


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