|Looting the Congo|
Democratic Republic of Congo has perhaps the richest concentration of
precious metals and minerals on earth. Colette Braeckman
describes how their exploitation by warring factions has fuelled the
worst conflict anywhere since the Second World War.
the tiny planes that sit on Kamituga's bare earth runway link this
mining town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to the rest of
last time Europeans visited Kamituga was over five years ago, before the
war began. The children shout with surprise when they see white skin.
installations of the former Sominki (Société des Mines du Kivu)
company have been ransacked, the shafts flooded and the jungle has
invaded the crumbling sheds and offices. But exploitation of the site
of local diggers remove lumps of stone, threaded with veins of gold from
grooves hand-cut into the hillsides. The work is intense. The diggers
take the stones to women who grind them for hours until they have
reduced them to powder mixed with spangles of gold dust. The dust is
then carefully sifted.
this slave labour, the women receive a dollar a day. At night, if they
agree to prostitute themselves, they receive another dollar.
the diggers have collected a small quantity of gold, they must file past
the rebel 'commander' of this place. Everyone calls him 'Divide-by-Two'
because the diggers have to cede half their gold to rebel soldiers
belonging to RCD Goma (Rally for Congolese Democracy). Soldiers and
officers use the revenue to buy and transport the arms they need for the
occupation of this province, Kivu.1
January 2004 a delegation from the capital, Kinshasa, managed to
dethrone Divide-by- Two and his men. Up till then the RCD rebels had
total control of the place.
in Kamituga there is no road and no school; if the majority of girls are
pregnant by 13 and have to give birth by caesarean because their
pelvises are too small; if no campaign against HIV has ever been
conducted; it is not through lack of wealth. The place is rich in
cassiterite (tin ore), colombo tantalite ore (coltan) and other precious
minerals lying in land that is fertile and abandoned by farmers.
is the 'geological scandal' that is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For a long time its environment has provided the resources that the
industrialized world requires (see 'A Short History of Plunder', page
16). The mines of the Congo have poured forth diamonds as well as metals
and minerals - niobium, tungsten, pyrochlore, coltan, and germanium.
These minerals, used in hi-tech manufacturing from mobile phones to
spaceships, are the valuable stakes which the perpetrators of the last
10 years of violence have been playing for.
in the service of the nation, these resources could have earned an
estimated revenue of two or three million dollars a year. Yet in
Kamituga, as in the rest of the Congo, the wealth that lies underground
has become synonymous with war, misery and under-development.
Worst War: The Democratic Republic of Congo*
huge number of countries had interests (both political and
resource-related) in the Congo conflict. Supporting Laurent Kabila's
government in the west were Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Sudan, while
Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought against Kabila for control of
resources in the east.
name of Congo was changed to Zaire in 1971; in 1997 it was changed again
to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In this magazine 'the Congo'
refers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, not its neighbour, which is
referred to as Congo-Brazzaville.
war amongst thieves
key factors helped to plummet the Congo into war.
the late 1980s the money to be made in the country had attracted the
attention of some 20 large international corporations from South Africa,
France, Canada, the US and Australia. They vied for control of the main
Congolese state mining companies such as Gecamines (copper and cobalt),
Okimo (gold), Miba (diamonds) and Sominki (gold and cassiterite).
the corruption and decadence of the then-ruling Mobutu regime and the
chaos reigning in the country prevented such deals going ahead. Mobutu
was opposed to the privatization of such companies, not out of
nationalism, but because they were the main cash cows of his regime and
the source of his vast personal wealth. The international community
became increasingly keen to replace Mobutu with a more co-operative
in the 1990s, several wars in the African Great Lakes region emerged one
from the other like Russian dolls. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,
largely by the Hutus against the Tutsis, nearly two million Hutu
refugees fleeing a counter-offensive poured across the border into
refugee crisis helped destabilize the eastern Congo, for among them were
perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. Militarily organized, they
threatened the local population and promised to re-enter Rwanda. The
situation was a festering abscess largely ignored by the international
October 1996, Rwanda took action to control its border with the Congo
and prevent the return of the genocidal Hutu militias, forming a strange
coalition - the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of
Congo (AFDL). It was led by Congolese veteran guerrilla fighter Laurent
Kabila, an opponent of Mobutu since the 1960s. The majority of the
fighting force were members of the new Rwandan army and supported by
Ugandan units. The Rwandan forces killed thousands of Hutus in the
refugee camps. After seven months the coalition went on to capture
Kinshasa and Kabila was installed as President.
was a sort of African 'joint venture' in which Rwandan and Ugandan
soldiers, Angolan planes and Zimbabwean financial contributions all
played a part. The coalition sought not just to overthrow Mobutu; it was
also intent on appropriating the Congo's resources.
wasn't long before the logic of a war fought for resources became
apparent. A month before the fall of Kinshasa, on 16 April 1997,
Kabila's AFDL made a milliondollar deal with US-Canadian corporation
American Mineral Fields to extract copper, cobalt and zinc in the
southern province of Katanga. In exchange for an advance which
ultimately was used to finance the war, the company also received a
monopoly over the diamond-buying counters of Kisangani.
other companies entered the fray. South Africans Genscor and Iscor
competed with rival Canadian corporation Ludin for the exploitation of
copper and cobalt at Tenke-Fungurume in Katanga. The Canadian Barrick
Gold Corporation (whose board of directors include George Bush Senior,
former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney, and the former director
of the German Central Bank Karl Otto Pohl) was interested in the Gold
Office of Kilo Moto in the eastern province of Ituri. Meanwhile another
Canadian company, Banro Resources Corporation, eyed up the Sominki
concessions in Kivu.
he was brought to power by foreign armies in May 1997, Kabila had the
imprudence to show himself ungrateful. He reneged on contracts signed
during the war and attempted both to limit the repayment of war 'debts'
to and restrain the influence of Rwanda, Uganda and their corporate
allies. Kabila, an old Leftist from the 1960s, baulked at repaying the
foreign debt, arguing that the money lent during the Cold War had
enriched only Mobutu. Most crucial of all, he decided to centralize the
sale of diamonds, create a Congolese exchange office for raw materials
and limit foreign corporations' access to the country's vast regions of
unwillingness to be a tool of the West was his undoing. On 2 August
1998, with the consent of the international community - in particular
the US, who monitored the whole operation and sent Special Forces into
the east - Rwanda and Uganda launched another war. This time their
purpose was to overthrow the non-compliant Kabila and replace him with a
'reliable' power that would be submissive to their financial interests.
But due to the unforeseen resistance of Kabila and, above all, the
military intervention of Angola and Zimbabwe who backed him, their
attempt to remove him failed.
again, the country's resources financed the war and became the real
stake. The east of the country was ransacked and pillaged by Rwandan and
September 1998 and August 1999, according to UN experts: 'The occupied
zones of the DR Congo have been plundered of all their stocks: stocks of
minerals, of forest and agricultural products, of livestock... Troops
from Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and soldiers of the RCD Goma commanded by
an officer, visited farms, factories and banks... Orders were given to
soldiers to load up products and goods on their armed vehicles.'2
the vicinity of Kamituga, Rwandan forces and their allies organized the
removal of thousands of tonnes of coltan and cassiterite and its
transportation back to the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Ugandan militia
confiscated Kisangani's entire stock of wood. Their ally Jean-Pierre
Bemba, leader of the second largest rebel force, the anti-government
Congolese Liberation Movement, seized the entire stock of available
coffee. It took two months to transport these enormous stocks to Uganda.
Ugandan generals close to their President, Museveni, set up companies
and generously supplied arms to various ethnic militias who are still
fighting each other in Ituri.
were raided, stocks were plundered, vehicles were spirited away by
aeroplane, ordinary citizens were robbed: eastern Congo was pillaged by
greed, looting and bloodshed.
price paid in human lives
over the country exploitation has been the consequence of war. Eighteen
armed groups have emerged, including Hutu militias from Rwanda and
Burundi, soldiers from both these countries and groups of Congolese 'Mai
Mai' fighting against foreign occupation. All live by exploiting local
inhabitants through civilian massacres, the recruitment of child
soldiers and the systematic rape of women from little girls to
Bunyakiri in the heart of the Kivu rainforest, where Mai Mai combatants
and RCD soldiers confront each other, market trader Mathilde is
fatalistic: 'When we pass through the soldiers' barricades, whether or
not we agree to be paid, we will be raped by one lot or another... It's
because of this that we don't dare go to the fields, that our pastures
order to escape the massacres and the burning villages, where soldiers
gather to get their hands on coltan stocks, hundreds of thousands of
Congolese have taken refuge in the forest where they have become prey to
wild animals, hunger, and disease. It is estimated that over 3.5 million
people have died, directly or indirectly, as a result of five years of
war. There are areas, like Kalemié by Lake Tanganyika, where
three-quarters of all children under five have disappeared. If a census
takes place on the eve of the elections predicted for 2005, the
blood-soaked picture of a population ravaged by rape and massacres and
the spread of HIV/ AIDS will appear in full.
years, preoccupied with hounding Kabila from power, the international
community has looked the other way while rebel groups, created and
manipulated by Rwanda and Uganda, were treated as 'freedom fighters'. It
took the assassination of Kabila in January 2001 for the situation to
son, Joseph Kabila, succeeded him and implemented a new policy of
'openness'. He accepted the deployment of a UN force, authorized a free
press and promised free and fair elections within a reasonable
time-frame. And most importantly, he opened markets to foreign interests
and investors, increased mining and logging concessions and reconciled
the Congo with the international financial institutions.
2002, South Africa, supported by the international community, brokered a
peace deal in Sun City. The result of this inter- Congolese dialogue was
a strange accord. Described as 'global and inclusive', it brought all
the warring parties, the parties of the former opposition and civil
society together in power. That is, it includes belligerents,
plunderers, collaborators from foreign armies, those responsible for
massive violations of human rights (including cases of cannibalism in
the region of Ituri), and the inheritors of Mobutu-ism and its corrupt
practices - who now find themselves associates in government.
main advantages of this deal, which consecrates impunity and rewards the
men of arms while neutralizing them, is that it has allowed the
reunification of the country and opens the door to the re-establishment
of central power and reconstruction, including a general election.
all, Congo is finally back in the fold. A draconian economic austerity
programme imposed on a people already impoverished by the Mobutu regime
and two successive wars has allowed the regime to reconcile itself with
the global financial institutions which have promised loans worth $3,900
million. A new mining code highly beneficial to foreign investors has
been proposed. South African companies, outposts of multinational
capital, are expecting rich pickings.
Mbeki on a recent visit to Kinshasa to sign various deals - including an
eightmillion- dollar gold-mining agreement for a South African company -
emphasized how key the Congo was to the success of NEPAD (New
Partnership for Africa's Development), a programme which will smooth the
progress of Western investment in Africa and, more than ever, assigns to
the continent the role of provider of raw materials. Every day, new
deals are being made in the salon of Kinshasa's Hotel Memling by
developers from all over the world jostling to offer projects and grab
the ever-patient Congolese continue to subsist on salaries of ten
dollars a month, walk two or three hours a day to get work and never
know in the morning whether they will eat at night. And in the eastern
provinces of Ituri and Kivu, despite the presence of UN forces, tens of
thousands of armed men continue to live by holding local populations to
will take years before the effects of war in this brutalized country are
Braeckman is a journalist for Soir de Bruxelles, a contributor to Le
Monde Diplomatique and author of several books on Central Africa
including, Rwanda: History of a genocide, Fayard 1994, The Congolese
Stake, Fayard 2001 and The New Predators, Fayard 2003.
The censored section of the 2003 report of the United Nations Panel of
Experts on the Pillage of Congo reveals that it was the revenue from a
company based in Goma whose directors are reputed to be close to Rwandan
officials. This allowed the rebels of RCD Goma to buy and transport the
arms they needed for their occupation of Kivu.
'Report of group of experts on the illegal exploitation of natural
reserves and other wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo', letter
of 12 April 2001, addressed to the UN Security Council by the Secretary
General, followed by letter of November 2001 and by the third report,
short history of plunder
there a place on earth which has been looted and exploited as thoroughly
as the Congo?
1491 Portuguese explorers visiting the African kingdom of Kongo opened
the door for the Atlantic slave trade. In 1526 Kongolese King Affonso I
wrote to the King of Portugal complaining: 'Each day the traders are
kidnapping our people - our land is entirely depopulated.'
1884 and 1906 the Belgian King Leopold II annexed and ruled the Congo as
a brutal personal fiefdom from which to funnel riches. Congolese people
were enslaved to gather ivory and rubber and faced devastating
punishments for failing to meet quotas. Their hands were chopped off,
they were beaten, executed, their villages were burnt, women were raped
and children kidnapped. The death-toll was of holocaust proportions,
estimated at 10 million people - half of the Congo's population.
Belgian state took over the running of the Congo in 1908, but the
exploitation continued. During the First World War, the population was
devastated once more by hunger, disease and death when they were
compelled to 120 days of forced labour per year. International diamond,
gold, mineral, timber, railroad and other corporations extracted
Congolese wealth in earnest: in the Second World War over 80 per cent of
the uranium in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs came from the Congo.
Congolese resistance culminated in independence in 1960. Patrice Lumumba
became the first directly elected Prime Minister of the country, but his
determination to use the Congo's riches to serve its people threatened
Western financial and corporate interests. Lumumba was arrested and
assassinated as a result of a vast conspiracy by US and Belgian
intelligence and his Congolese rivals, including Army Chief of Staff
Colonel Joseph Mobutu.
1965 and 1997 the military dictator Mobutu ruled a deeply corrupt,
authoritarian kleptocracy. This home-grown Leopold was supported by the
US to the tune of over a billion dollars, as well as by France and other
Western interests. With their approval, the wealth of the Congo poured
out of the country via foreign mining companies. What stayed behind went
to line the pockets of 'the big man' Mobutu - whom George Bush Sr once
described as 'one of our most valued friends' - and his cronies. He left
behind a bankrupted, ravaged country.
Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and
Heroism in Colonial Africa, Pan 2002; Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The
Congo from Leopold to Kabila, Zed Books 2002.