War Business in DR Congo: UK, US, Belgium, Germany in the drama

Big and rich nations in the world have been implicated in the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. International corporations and regimes in countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Belgium and Germany are found to be fuelling the war which has been described in various circles as the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

Twelve long years have gone by, since the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo broke out. Recent estimates of the death toll stand at 5.4 million and some 45, 000 people continue to die each month according to a Global Witness report.

Angolan War

The war which began in August 1998 was fuelled by rich minerals including water, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, tin, and other rich resources such as copper and timber.

Several human rights groups have charged that some multinational corporations from rich nations have been profiting from the war and have developed “elite networks” of key political, military, and business elites to plunder the Congo’s natural resources.

Despite the gravity of the war in this Central African country, and although the shocking death toll are enough to get media attention the world over, especially if it were to threaten influential nations in some way, the only version one gets from reading major Western newspapers, listening to major western radio stations and watching western television outlets is that which has to do with rapes, looting, killings and poverty stricken people. Little or no mention will be made of the fact that big and rich nations are actually making huge profits from the war.

Influential nations in the world benefit from the vast resources coming from the DR Congo for which people are dying over. A number of companies and western governments pressured a United Nations panel to omit details of shady business dealings in a report in October 2003. Apparently refusing to dance to the tunes of these companies and western governments, the UN panel published details which clearly implicated these companies and western governments’ involvement in the war in DR Congo even though the details did not have a clear position of the UN. A British newspaper, The Independent in a report written by Declan Walsh titled: UN cuts details of Western profiteers from Congo report; published October 27, 2003 exposed how the UN panel’s final report was apparently manipulated. Here is an excerpt of The Independent’s report:

“Last October [2002], the panel accused 85 companies of breaching OECD standards through their business activities. Rape, murder, torture and other human rights abuses followed the scramble to exploit Congo’s wealth after war exploded in 1998.

For example the trade in coltan, a rare mineral used in computers and mobile phones, had social effects “akin to slavery”, the panel said. But no Western government had investigated the companies alleged to have links with such abuses. Some, including ones from the UK, US, Belgium and Germany, had lobbied to have their companies’ names cleared from the “list of shame”. Many governments overtly or covertly exerted pressure on the panel and the Security Council to exonerate their companies. Some companies gave legitimate explanations for their business in Congo, or pulled out. But lawyers for others challenge the panel’s findings, often capitalizing on errors in earlier reports as proof of unreliability. In the report this week, the cases against 48 companies are ‘resolved’ and requiring ‘no further action’.”

When the UN finally released the report at the end of October 2003, they listed approximately 125 companies and individuals that had been named in a previous report by the panel for having contributed directly or indirectly to the conflict in the DR Congo.

Other companies, the report noted, may not have been directly linked to conflict, but had more indirect ties to the main protagonists. Such companies benefited from the chaotic environment in the DR Congo. For example, they would obtain concessions or contracts from the DR Congo on terms that were more favorable than they might receive in countries where there was peace and stability.

The craze for minerals

A Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for the United Nations Security Council, April 12, 2001 reported:

“Given the substantial increase in the price of coltan between late 1999 and late 2000, a period during which the world supply was decreasing while the demand was increasing; a kilo of coltan of average grade was estimated at $200. According to the estimates of professionals, the Rwandan army through Rwanda Metals was exporting at least 100 tons per month. The Panel estimates that the Rwandan army could have made $20 million per month; simply by selling the coltan that, on average, intermediaries buy from the small dealers at about $10 per kg. According to experts and dealers, at the highest estimates of all related costs (purchase and transport of the minerals), RPA must have made at least $250 million over a period of 18 months. This is substantial enough to finance the war. Here lies the vicious circle of the war. Coltan has permitted the Rwandan army to sustain its presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The army has provided protection and security to the individuals and companies extracting the mineral. These have made money which is shared with the army, which in turn continues to provide the enabling environment to continue the exploitation.”

The ore, Columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short, is not perhaps as well known as some of the other resources and minerals. However, the demand for the highly prized tantalum that comes from the refined coltan has enormous impacts, as highlighted by a follow up U.N. Security Council report of October 28, 2003 by an expert panel established on the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

“In 1999 and 2000 a sharp increase in the world prices of tantalum occurred, leading to a large increase in coltan production in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Part of that new production involved rebel groups and unscrupulous business people forcing farmers and their families to leave their land, or chasing people off land where coltan was found and forcing them to work in artisanal mines. As a result, the widespread destruction of agriculture and devastating social effects occurred, which in a number of instances where akin to slavery.”

“It [Tantalum, which is refined coltan] sells for $100 a pound, and it’s becoming increasingly vital to modern life. For the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust, a key component in everything from mobile phones made by Nokia and Ericsson and computer chips from Intel to Sony stereos and VCRs,” Kristi Essick wrote in her article – Guns, Money and Cell Phones which appeared in The Industry Standard on June 11 2001

This in a nut shell shows how the war in Congo serves as a market where big and rich nations in the world are directly, and on the other hand, indirectly amassing wealth while 45,000 people die each month. Rape, torture, looting and other crimes against humanity being perpetuated on civilians – women and children, by the various forces involved in the war are of course, worthy issues to receive western media’s attention; but to report these issues as if they were the only issues in the war is in itself a crime against humanity. The western media have to be honest, if not for the sake of the journalism profession, then for humanity’s sake. The covert and in other instances, the overt hand of international (multinational) corporations and western countries in fuelling the 12-year long war should be exposed. The western media must make it a special agenda to expose, instead of trying to exonerate those multinational corporations and western governments that are involved in this war. Most often than not, the western media have been quick to point at countries like Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Angola, Namibia, Burundi, and Zimbabwe as key parties in the war. They deliberately opt to misinform the world by not telling the audience which western countries are covertly allying with these African countries in turning the DR Congo into a jungle.

John Kakande in a report titled, US Army Operated Secretly in Congo, published on June 17, 2001 by allAfrica.com, noted that “the United States military has been covertly involved in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a US parliamentary subcommittee has been told. Intelligence specialist Wayne Madsen, appearing before the US House subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, also said American companies, including one linked to former President George Bush Snr, the father of [George Bush Jnr] US President, are stoking the Congo conflict for monetary gains.”

Laurent Kabila, who came to power in May 1997 after toppling President Mobutu Sese Seko, was also backed by the US. Accusations against the US-backed leader by rebels (made up of Congolese soldiers, Congolese Tutsi Banyamulenge, Rwandan, Ugandan and some Burundian government troops) of turning into a dictator, of mismanagement, corruption and supporting various paramilitary groups who oppose his former allies evidently led to his assassination by his own bodyguards on January 18, 2001.The conflict which broke out in 1998, escalated to a full scale war.

One fact should be made clear. The war in the DR Congo did not start from nowhere. Before the war broke out in August 1998, the destiny of Zaire – as the country was formerly known – had been tampered with as a result of western governments’ heavy interference with the internal affairs of the country.

“After 75 years of colonial rule, the Belgians left very abruptly, relinquishing the political rights to the people of Congo in 1960. However, economic rights were not there for the country to flourish,” Anup Shah wrote in an August 21, 2010 Global Issues report on the war in Congo.

A report by Gemini News Service, published on September 1, 2000 from the author – Derek Ingram, titled, 40 years on—Lumumba still haunts the West, noted that “more evidence has emerged that when United States president Dwight Eisenhower met his national security advisers to talk about the situation in Congo two months after the June 1961 independence he said Lumumba, the country’s first prime minister, should be eliminated.”

A few months after Lumumba became head of state, he was overthrown with US and European support for a Cold War ally, Mobutu Sese Seko, and for the rich resources that would then be available cheaply, rather than used for Congo’s own people and development, Shah wrote.

William D. Hartung and Bridget Moix, in their article titled, Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War, published in January 2000 by Arms Trade Resource Center, World Policy Institute, pointed out that “the U.S. prolonged the rule of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. Mobutu used his U.S.-supplied arsenal to repress his own people and plunder his nation’s economy for three decades, until his brutal regime was overthrown by Laurent Kabila’s forces in 1997. When Kabila took power, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support by developing a plan for new training operations with the armed forces.”

It is evident therefore that the war in the DR Congo goes far beyond the hundreds of rape cases, refugee crisis and killings that are reported by the western media. Charges of genocide levied on the warring parties will do little or no good if the UN and the so-called influential corporate western media organizations do not expose and effectively address the very visible hand of big and rich western nations in the fuelling of the war in the DR Congo, and save the lives of the helpless people of Congo.

The poor people of Congo are crying. Who will hear their cry? It is this cry that Salvatore Bulamuzi, – a member of the Lendu community cried and perhaps will continue to cry as his parents, two wives and five children were all killed in an attack on the town of Bunia, north-eastern DR Congo. In a report that carried by AFP on April 1, 2003, titled, – Our brothers who help kill us —economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east, Bulamuzi lamented:

“I am convinced now … that the lives of Congolese people no longer mean anything to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, our brothers who help kill us or those you call the international community.… Even God does not listen to our prayers any more and abandons us.”

About the Author: Manzie Vincent Doh is Assistant Editor at M4 Media Group in Beijing.

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