Congo


Canada's mining interests in Africa (click on picture to enlarge)

Canada's mining interests in Africa

From State of Mine:

Canada is a global mining giant. In fact, it is the world’s major force in mining, dominating the industry on every continent except Antarctica. Fifty-seven per cent of the world’s public mining companies list on the Toronto Stock Exchange, representing over 9990 mining projects world wide.

This giant is growing. In 2007, the TSE financed mining companies to the tune of $17 billion.

Supported by tax breaks and favourable legislation at home, and assisted by official development aid and diplomatic support abroad, mining companies have long found Canada to be *the* place to do business.

Mining, however, comes at an often devastating cost to communities that lie in its path. As resource prices rise, so do the stakes; conflict is escalating.

Canadian mining companies are heavily invested in Africa, and particularly in the DRC. Denis Tougis provides an overview of Canadian mining in Africa in Canada in Africa: The mining superpower.

Canada’s image as a moderate country and disinterested development partner in Africa is now thoroughly outdated.

Zahra Moloo describes some of the documented support for rebel groups and massacres by Canadian mining companies in Canada’s Contribution to Congo’s Wars:

The Congolese government surprised many when it announced early last year that it would be conducting a review of 63 mining contracts that were signed during the Second Congo War.

The review aimed to revisit the conditions under which mining concessions and contracts were granted during the bloodiest years of the conflict, which is also known as Africa’s World War, during which as many as 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998.

It is expected that the review will call for the re-negotiation of about 25 mining contracts and the possible cancellation of about 22 others. The release of the review was originally scheduled for October, but has been delayed since fighting broke out in the east of the country, displacing about half a million people.


The Second Congo War was fueled in large part by a scramble for resources. The war involved eight African states, multiple rebel groups and several very powerful multinational companies, among them Canadian companies. The war officially came to an end in 2003; conflict remains prevalent throughout the country; and according to the International Rescue Committee, 45,000 people die each month from war-related causes.

Moloo provides examples of Canadian mining companies’ involvement in funding and supporting the violence:

Anvil Mining employees were taken to Congolese courts
in June 2007 over allegations that they had provided logistical assistance and ground transportation to the Congolese Armed Forces during an assault on a fishing town called Kilwa in October 2004 in which 70 to 100 civilians were killed.

According to a report by MiningWatch Canada and Entraide Missionnaire, the company’s vehicles were used, among other things, to remove corpses in the aftermath of the assault.

Despite multiple eyewitness testimonies, the company employees were acquitted.

and …

The report revealed that in 2002, AngloGold Ashanti – a company partnered with Canada’s Barrick Gold – was negotiating with two rebel groups, the UPC (Hema Union des Patriotes Congolais) and the FNI (Front des Nationalists Integrationnistes) to have access to gold-abundant areas that were out of control of the central government in Kinshasa.

At the time, these rebel groups were carrying out massacres of civilians in the hundreds; The UPC killed about 800 civilians from late 2002 to early 2003, while the FNI forces killed some 500 civilians in May 2003 in a “48-day war.” In return for granting concessions to the company, the FNI were provided with logistical, transportation and housing assistance.

Moloo’s article was written this November. One has to wonder about the timing of the recent escalation of violence. What is the relationship between the October escalation of violence and the planned October release of the review of the mining contracts?

Moloo has also written an excellent history of mineral exploitation in the Congo: The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Economic War: Investigating the Origin of Anonymous Commodities in the Global Capitalist System.

Mikhael Missakabo writes in Congo-Kinshasa: Footprints And Paradoxes of Canadian Mining:

According to Alain Denault, author of ‘Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique’, Canadian mining firms operating in Africa are involved in levels of abuse worse than those perpetrated by the former colonial empires.

Today, Canadian firms own in excess of $300 billion worth of assets in the DRC, most of it acquired through dodgy contracts signed with mining parastatals.

Approximately 60% of mining companies operating in Africa are Canadian-owned or funded with Canadian capital. Everywhere that mining takes place in Africa there are serious problems. These challenges are not only socio-economic. They are also ecological, and the impact on human rights. Obviously, Africa does not deserve that which is good for Canada, an attitude which seems to pervade the decisions and actions of companies operating in the continent.

One wonders why the legal and moral obligations that apply to mining companies in Canada are not applicable in the tropics. It is obvious that the mining companies’ primary objective is profit. But this should not preclude the respect for the engagement conditions of host countries. These companies largely resort to means that would be scarcely acceptable in Canada: rapacious financial practices, human rights violations, violations of ecological standards, stockpiling of undervalued resources. All of these place the future of Africa at risk.

Advertisements

Thousands of civilians fleeing to Goma to escape the fighting.

Thousands of civilians fleeing to Goma to escape the fighting.

UN agencies have stepped up efforts to assist those displaced by the violence.

UN agencies have stepped up efforts to assist those displaced by the violence.

Pictures from a photogallery at allafrica.com

Mahmood Mamdani asks:

And the politics around genocide is, when is the slaughter of civilians a genocide or not? Which particular slaughter is going to be named genocide, and which one is not going to be named genocide? …
the mass slaughter in Congo, which, in terms of numbers, is probably ten times what happened, what has been happening in Darfur.

and answers:

Well, I think that what’s happening is that genocide is being instrumentalized by the biggest power on the earth today, which is the United States. It is being instrumentalized in a way that mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.

On Friday Slate published an article about the war in the Congo: Five Million Dead and Counting – The disaster in Congo is all the more tragic because it was utterly avoidable. By Michael J. Kavanagh:

“There are only girls left in the schools in my village,” one 13-year-old boy told me. The day before, he and three friends had run from rebel soldiers who’d come to kidnap them.

There are now more than 1 million displaced people scattered throughout the province. In the last 10 years of fighting, more than 5 million people have died in the Congolese conflict—mostly civilians who haven’t had access to enough food or health care because of the fighting. And let’s be clear: That’s 5 million and counting.


Power-hungry Nkunda, his shameless Rwandan supporters, and the feckless Congolese government are primarily to blame. But the Rwandan and Congolese governments remain in power only because of the foreign powers that support them with enormous amounts of aid and diplomatic support. The failure of the United Nations and the international community—by which I mean the European Union, the United States, and the African Union—is massive.


It was no secret that the army was only willing and able to disarm the FDLR, their erstwhile allies against Nkunda, with support from the United Nations and the international community and with cooperation from the Rwandans themselves.

But exactly when it was needed most—exactly when they had the chance to put the legacy of the Rwandan genocide to rest—the support and cooperation and pressure from the international community never materialized.


Eastern Congo is a place of vast wealth in land and minerals, and all sides have their hands in the pot—or in the mines or forests or in the slaughterhouses. Rarely does any side negotiate in good faith, which is perhaps understandable after 14 years of war. But in the past, the parties involved have proved responsive to diplomatic and military pressure—if it’s credible.

Right now, it’s not.


The most obvious solution would be to send an EU rapid-reaction force to fill the security vacuum, but EU diplomats are dithering because—well, there’s no other way to say it: DRC is not a genuine priority. Instead, Angola is sending troops to fight alongside the Congolese army. Rwanda is essentially already fighting alongside Nkunda. And if, in a few weeks, Uganda and Zimbabwe join in as well, we can all party like it’s 1998-2003.

Over the years, many world leaders have made the trip to Rwanda to stand before the gravesites of genocide victims and apologize for their inaction in 1994. But if the worth of an apology is measured not in words but in actions, most of these apologies have been rubbish. True repentance for Rwanda has always meant ending the Congolese conflict—especially in the Kivus.

So far there is no sign of any country with genuine intention to end the conflict. And there is a lot of indication that more nations will get involved, or get more involved. The Slate article seems to say that the US and EU diplomats became tired of the peace process. Was it tiredness, or complacency with the status quo? After all, the coltan and other minerals are still coming out. The US and EU and others continue to profit from access. The current head of the U.N. mission in Congo, Alan Doss, is widely viewed as incompetent, maybe clueless would be as correct a description, not a choice calculated to achieve any positive result.

As long as there is this level of violence and unrest in the eastern Congo, It will be very difficult for the Chinese to mine copper or build the infrastructure projects they have promised in return for the copper. Is this result welcomed by the current US administration? The US has tended to treat China as a rival in African countries. Does the US see the current escalation of violence in the eastern DRC operating to its benefit? Rwanda, in sponsoring Nkunda, is the prime instigator of this current wave of violence. And Rwanda is a US ally, some might say client or proxy. As Mamdani said of the US, quoted above:

… mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.

"Parade" in Rumangabo directed by Nkunda's soldiersNkunda’s forces in Rumangabo

France 24 has been doing a good job of covering the recent violence in the DRC. The first third of their weekly video report deals with the DRC and is here, Fleeing North Kivu’s Combat Zone. There is also this video report, Leaders to meet as thousands flee fighting. In the first of these the usual “ethnic conflict” reasons are trotted out, but they also get to the conflict over natural resources.

The AP finally reports the conflict as being over minerals Mining for minerals fuels Congo conflict.

“Basically, the rebels control the mines. They are selling them to middlemen who sell them to the next buyer and it goes up the chain,” he said.

For many years, especially since 1994:

Both Rwanda and Uganda provide arms and training to their respective rebel allies and have set up extensive links to facilitate the exploitation of mineral resources.  …

The illegal mining has been a huge windfall for Rwanda and Uganda. The two countries have very few mineral reserves of their own. But since they began extracting the DRC’s resources, their mineral exports have increased dramatically.

… The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources.

So it Rwanda has very little incentive to promote or make peace in the DRC, and plenty of incentive to keep the conflict going. Getting out of the DRC would mean a downturn of Rwandan GDP.

As Paul Rusesabagina says, “Nkunda is on a mission“. His mission is to maintain control of the illegal mining and its profits for the benefit of Rwanda.

Another question asked on France 24 is what is the relationship between this sudden increase in violence, and Chinese plans for mining and building infrastructure in the eastern Congo.

The violence and potential for more violence is greater than ever, as France 24 reported via Uruguay on November 1.

The rebels troops led by ethnic Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda “are backed by tanks” and “artillery” from Rwanda, according to Uruguayan military commander Jorge Rosales, who is overseeing the peacekeeping troops.

Rosales said it was “not easy to identify rebel forces,” but indicated that there is “high probability that troops from Rwanda are operating in the area.”

The rebels have also recently attacked camps for people displaced by the conflict, UN officials reported.

“These (rebel) troops are backed by tanks, something that General Nkunda had not had until now,” said Rosales.

Uruguayan peacekeeping troops have been attacked with “artillery fire,” and, Rosales said, “Nkunda has also not had artillery” until now.

Some 629 Uruguayan peacekeepers are in Goma, along with 700 peacekeepers from India.

Rebel forces are within two kilometers (1.6 miles) from the UN peacekeepers, eight kilometers north of Goma, said Montevideo.

The peacekeeping forces are in the DRC working secure the area and protect civilians, as well as United Nations personnel and facilities.

I saw another video report on France 24. I can’t find the link, but it interviewed one of Nkunda’s staff who was claiming we are just here to protect… and that the people were joyful to see them. It also showed footage of a celebratory demonstration of “support” that local people were forced to make by Nkunda’s soldiers.  (The photo above may be from that.)  You could tell by the expressions on people’s faces that nobody was happy to be there.

It sounds like Rwanda is pouring more and heavier arms into the DRC. Who is paying for these tanks and artillery? They were not there before now. Keep in mind Rwanda has been a big recipient of US military aid for the “War on Terror”. In the DRC it is the War of Terror.

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and captured "terrorists"

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and defeated "terrorists"

Rwanda is a key partner in the US “War on Terror”. But the US is looking for coltan, and other precious mineral resources, not terrorists, and the coltan and other resources are located in the Congo DRC, not in Rwanda. Coltan is critical to cell phones. The reason that people are being displaced in the DRC is because the US, and its clients in Rwanda and Uganda want the resources in the DRC. The destruction of villages, and the brutal and pervasive use of rape, is terrorism used to depopulate areas and preserve access to precious coltan and other natural resources. This terrorism is barely known in the US, even though the US helps fund it. The sale of DRC natural resources benefits the elites of Rwanda and Uganda, and powerful players in the United States.

The really main important things that people should know that is the war in the Congo is directly connected to the United States …

From an interview with Kambale Musavuli at Democracy Now

the root cause of the conflict in the Congo is the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources … the strife is not more so of an ethnic strife, but more so of the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources.

The rapes are a direct result of the war. We’re seeing it—the latest spasm that we’re seeing right now has been going on since ’96. The rapes, the murders, they all are being done as a way of mass displacement, if you have to put it in the context. As one person is brutalized in a community, the people in the neighborhood will be afraid, and that will cause them to be displaced. As you mentioned, we have about 1.5 million people internally displaced in the Congo. As this strategy has been used in the eastern part, we’re seeing masses of people being displaced from the villages, from the cities, simply because they live in a area rich of minerals. Now we’re seeing it very clearly, The Virunga Park was taken over yesterday, simply because there are resources that Laurent Nkunda exploit into the Virunga Park.

So, to end the rape, you must end the conflict. And to end the conflict, you must stop the resource exploitation of the Congo … we do know that Rwanda is supporting proxy forces in the eastern part of the Congo. And we can use such people who have Kagame’s ear, such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Cindy McCain, Rick Warren, to put pressure on Kagame to make sure that not—we do not see another nearly six million people dying in the eastern part of the Congo …

The US has paid at least $7 million to Rwanda in military assistance this year.

Just before Bush visited Rwanda in 2008, Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey wrote:

Will the leader of the most powerful country in the world have the courage to discuss Rwanda’s negative role in peace and economic development in the DRC? Will Bush castigate Kagame for not providing the political space for Hutus to return to Rwanda? This is not likely because of the strategic value of coltan, a metallic ore extracted from Central Africa, without which cell phones, computers, and other technologies cannot be made.

From 1996-2003, the Congolese people suffered a great deal from two wars that pitted Rwanda and its allies against the DRC. A recent report from the International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.5 million Congolese have died as a result of this conflict. According to Inter Press Service journalist Tito Dragon, “to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda.” In fact, in 2004, after a three-year investigation, a UN Panel of Experts implicated three major U.S. companies (Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, and OM Group) for fueling war in DRC by collaborating with rebel groups trafficking coltan. In spite of major human rights violations, Bush administration assistance to Rwanda continues today largely due to Kagame’s willingness to be engaged in the so called War on Terror.

From an interview with Paul Rusesabagina:

PR: … And there was no infrastructure in the Congo, so everything was fleeing the Congo by Rwanda. That was very well known. Smuggling minerals, smuggling coffee… Rwanda was producing more coffee than Congo… If you planted coffee over the whole country of Rwanda, you cannot have produced what we were selling outside. That was smuggling.

KHS: So, the Congo pillage is still going on by Rwanda
PR: So, it is as I told you. That is why General Nkunda is there. Nkunda is on a mission.
KHS: His mission is to make sure the raw materials keep coming into Rwanda
PR: And also that Kagame controls Eastern Congo And he does.

The picture of gorillas at the top of this post comes from this report:

Rebels in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked and are now occupying the headquarters of Virunga National Park’s gorilla sanctuary. News is coming in that the forces of renegade general Laurent Nkunda are vandalizing the area, and are keeping the rangers trapped.

Sometimes it is easier to think about horrors on the small scale, as with the gorillas rather than the great numbers of people whose lives are being devastated. In some estimates 1.5 million people have been displaced just by the recent fighting. They are subjected to unimaginable brutality, and have lost homes, possessions and family. The press continues to portray the violence in the eastern DRC as ethnic conflict arising from the massacres in Rwanda in 1994. But that avoids mention of the true root cause, the scramble for resources. The ethnic issues could be resolved if it did not pay some people to keep them festering.

Right now the BBC is reporting thousands of people displaced. They have posted some current video here.

And there is also this report on the current situation:

The fighting had started on Sunday [Oct 26] when Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (NCDP) launched a major offensive in eastern North Kivu province.

Late on Tuesday Nkunda’s men claimed to have taken a town near Goma, the provincial capital.

… “There are at least 850,000 internally displaced people from North Kivu province, and that was before the latest wave of fighting started in August. We’re talking of another 250,000 displaced since.

“If the UN is forced to withdraw from North Kivu, you’re talking about nearly a million displaced Congolese, with basically no protection from what are about about a dozen armed groups in North Kivu.”

Those groups are brutal, ruthless, and well supplied with arms. The more they can terrorize and drive the population out, the better they can control the resources. The people at the top of the militias get a percentage of profits. Many of the soldiers are children, whose experience in life is almost entirely violence. The soldiers doing the fighting live off what they can take from the people they terrorize. Nobody should have to live this way, neither terrorists nor terrorized. And none of us should be paying to facilitate this violence.

Added Oct 30:
For some additional perspective here are some further words from Kambale Musavuli from this article:

… [Every month] 45,000 people continue to die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and that the scale of devastation seen in Darfur happens in the Congo every five and a half months.

In reality, the source of the conflict in Congo for most of its history has been the scramble for its enormous wealth, not the internecine, ethnic bloodletting more commonly blamed. In the late 1990s, Congo was invaded twice by Rwanda and Uganda with the backing and support of the United States, as documented in the 2001 congressional hearings held by Representatives Cynthia McKinney and Tom Tancredo. It was these invasions that unleashed the tremendous suffering that exists in Congo today.

Nicolas Postal/EPA

Child soldiers from the Mai-Mai militia guard the headquarters of their leader in Kisharu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photograph: Nicolas Postal/EPA

In the Eastern DRC Laurent Nkunda, mentioned in the previous post, Part 1 of DRC- Minerals, militaries, money and violence, is the leader of the Tutsi militia. There are also Hutu militias, one of the largest of which is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The Guardian has a couple of image galleries of the people displaced by the violence in the eastern DRC, here and here. All of these militias conscript and indoctrinate child soldiers. From Chris McGreal in the Guardian:

… the extremist Hutu rebels who control large areas of eastern Congo and are among the most important causes of the conflict there that has claimed an estimated five million lives or more over the past decade and continues to kill about 45,000 people each month in Congo through the effects of war – principally starvation and disease.


While the rank and file of the FDLR survives by plundering, their leaders are involved in altogether more lucrative ventures. A 2007 World Bank-funded study estimates that the FDLR leadership makes millions of dollars a year from taking over mines in parts of North Kivu, such as Masisi and Walikale, or from those doing the hard labour through levying “taxes” of gold, coltan, diamonds and other minerals on mine owners.

The study estimates that the FDLR controls half of the mineral trade in the Kivus outside of the main towns, and oversees the smuggling of gold and diamonds for sale in neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Burundi. It is not alone in this. The Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundi armies, as well as warlords and militias, have also carved up the mineral plunder and smuggling rackets.

You can read the entire account of the FDLR with pictures here at the Guardian.

Also as mentioned in the previous post, the World Bank and the IMF have praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product from illegal mining of DRC resources. Both the World Bank and the IMF know neither Rwanda or Uganda has these mineral resources in their own countries. Such praise, and the accompanying financial incentives exacerbate the violence and exploitation.

The violence that erupted last week may be cooling down. Alan Doss, who represents the UN in the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

says calm has returned to Rutshuru in the country’s volatile North Kivu province following last week’s clashes between Government forces and armed rebel groups. … The clashes that broke out on 28 August between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the National Congress for People’s Defense, known by its French acronym CNDP, was some of the worst fighting since a peace deal was signed by the parties in January.

But there is a new player in town. The Chinese have come into the DRC in a big way with contracts to extract copper and cobalt, and in return build roads, railroads, clinics, schools, and two universities. This 20 minute video from the BBC describes the huge copper and cobalt mine they plan to exploit, and the network of roads, rail, schools and clinics the Chinese have promised to build in return. So far the Chinese seem to be very image conscious. However, this 12 minute BBC video from Zambia describes the Zambian public as highly disillusioned with the Chinese presence, particularly labor practices and safety issues, and Zambians say the Chinese management purposely ran the large clothing factory into the ground so it would not be competitive with subsidized textiles from China. China is doing the same thing the EU and US have been doing, destroy African markets by dumping subsidized goods. And the Zambians say promised schools and training never materialized.

Below is the map from the BBC video on China in the DRC with all the infrastructure promised in the Chinese contract for copper and cobalt in the DRC. The large icons are the promised universities. The second map is the same, but just shows the roads and rail promised.

DRC map with infrastructure projects promised by the Chinese

DRC map with infrastructure projects promised by the Chinese

DRC roads and rail line promised by the Chinese contract

DRC roads and rail line promised by the Chinese contract

In the map the roads run north and south, along the eastern side of the DRC. The rail line runs from east to west.

IF China actually builds the roads, rail, and actually builds schools and the two univeristies called for in the contract with the DRC, that would be quite remarkable and provide a long overdue genuine step to positive development. It would also provide a positive challenge to the west. Mostly the west, when it noticed at all, has bemoaned the fact that people are killing and raping in the DRC, but ignored the ongoing western role in subsidizing and encouraging this violence.

And how will the west react to this Chinese presence? As you can see, the road network is north and south, up and down the mineral rich eastern DRC, and the rail, west to southeast, can take minerals to the coast. Will the US and other foreign business and governments who are profiting from the current situation in the DRC allow the Chinese to build this infrastructure without interference?

Section of a PDF map of the Great Lakes region, one of many maps available at ecoi.net, click on map to enlarge.

The Washington Post recently featured an article on how women are becoming successful entrepreneurs in Rwanda.

“We have overwhelming evidence from almost all the developing regions of the world that [investment in] women make better economics,” said Winnie Byanyima, director of the United Nations Development Program’s gender team.


For the worst of reasons, Rwanda became a testing ground for such theories after the 1994 genocide.

As both female and male survivors sought to rebuild coffee plantations with financial and technical assistance from international organizations, Maraba’s women, most trying their hands at the business of farming for the first time, were by far the faster students. They showed more willingness than men, officials here said, to embrace new techniques aimed at improving quality and profit. Now, Maraba’s female farmers are outdoing their male counterparts in both, numbering about half of all farmers in the village’s coffee cooperative but producing 90 percent of its finest quality beans for export.

The march of female entrepreneurialism, playing out here and across Rwanda in industries from agribusiness to tourism, has proved to be a windfall for efforts to rebuild the nation and fight poverty. Women more than men invest profits in the family, renovate homes, improve nutrition, increase savings rates and spend on children’s education, officials here said.

It speaks to a seismic shift in gender economics in Rwanda’s post-genocide society, one that is altering the way younger generations of males view their mothers and sisters while offering a powerful lesson for other developing nations struggling to rebuild from the ashes of conflict.

“Rwanda’s economy has risen up from the genocide and prospered greatly on the backs of our women,” said Agnes Matilda Kalibata, minister of state in charge of agriculture. “Bringing women out of the home and fields has been essential to our rebuilding. In that process, Rwanda has changed forever. . . . We are becoming a nation that understands that there are huge financial benefits to equality.”

“I think that now, boys and girls are different than they were,” said Eric Muhire, a junior in high school. “Today, woman are in business; before, if a woman had some money, she would have to give it to the man. They could not compete against a man. But now, they are competing and doing better.”

This is a very positive and encouraging article. A lot of this was done by the use of micro loans. I hope that this trend continues in Rwanda, moving toward full participation by all citizens in the economy of the nation.

Right across the border, in North Kivu in the DRC, things are a lot uglier. Sexual violence continues on a scale that is unimaginable. Some have called it femicide, it is not just a matter of rape, in the Congo there is a medical term for it – vaginal destruction.

Dr Mukwege and others have said time and time again that the current saga of the Congo has been going on for more than a decade.

The sordid saga ebbs and flows. But it was brought back into sudden, vivid public notoriety by Eve Ensler’s trip to the Congo in July/August 2007, her visit to the Panzi hospital, her interviews with the women survivors of rape, and her visceral piece of writing in Glamour magazine which began with the words ‘I have just returned from Hell’

From Women left for dead – and the man who’s saving them by Eve Ensler:

Before I went to the Congo, I’d spent the past 10 years working on V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls. I’d traveled to the rape mines of the world, places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti, where rape has been used as a tool of war. But nothing I ever experienced felt as ghastly, terrifying and complete as the sexual torture and attempted destruction of the female species here. It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.

Dr. Mukwege has been fighting an heroic battle to save bodies and lives. But the odds are impossible, and not improving.

Stephen Lewis argues that the level of rape and sexual violence in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and the delinquency of the United Nations.

… suffice to say that in the vast historical panorama of violence against women there is a level of demonic dementia plumbed in the Congo that has seldom, if ever, been reached before.That’s the peg on which I want to hang these remarks. I want to set out an argument that essentially says that what’s happening in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and the delinquency of the United Nations.

Stephen Lewis goes on to say that even with the attention the violence in the Eastern Congo is beginning to receive, the recent peace commitment drafted by the UN hardly mentioned rape and sexual violence, and the amnesty provisions are a license to continue this violence without fear of accountability.

The same positive techniques that are rebuilding the economy in Rwanda can work in the Congo. In fact, they are already at work. But in places like North Kivu there isn’t a chance until the violence stops. Nevertheless, there are small efforts all around:

Chingwell Mutombu has created First Step Initiative (FSI), a microfinance organization setup for women in Democratic Republic of Congo. And she is just one of many working to improve conditions at home. She says:

My inspiration comes from the women I saw growing up. The concept of microfinancing is not new to African countries. They have been doing it for centuries. It is similar to when the community gathers money and gives it to one person to do business, and when the person is done with the money they give it to the next person. FSI was started to continue in that type of practice but through microfinancing which is more formal.

She gets a repayment rate of 95-98%, but there is far more need than resources. Most all microfinancing efforts in the DRC are headquartered in or near Kinshasha, although much of the need is out in the provinces among the villages.

But the violence and displacement in the Eastern Congo makes development of any kind next to impossible. To US and international business, the place is made of money:

The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt, and the world’s largest supply of high-grade copper.

These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance, economic prosperity, and consumer satisfaction. Because the United States does not have a domestic supply of many essential minerals, the U.S. government identifies sources of strategic minerals, particularly in Third World countries, then encourages U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate production of the needed materials. Historically, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has been an important source of strategic minerals for the United States. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which ensured U.S. access to those minerals for more than 30 years.

U.S. military aid has contributed significantly to the crisis. During the Cold War, the U.S. government shipped $400 million in arms and training to Mobutu. After Mobutu was overthrown, the Clinton administration transferred its military allegiance to Rwanda and Uganda, although even the U.S. State Department has accused both countries of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. During his historic visit to Africa in 1998, President Clinton praised Presidents Kagame and Musevini as leaders of the “African Renaissance,” just a few months before they launched their deadly invasion of the DRC with U.S. weapons and training. The United States is not the only culprit; many other countries, including France, Serbia, North Korea, China, and Belgium, share responsibility. But the U.S. presence has helped to open networks and supply lines, providing an increased number of arms to the region.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources. Although the IMF and World Bank were aware that the rise in GDP coincided with the DRC war, and that it was derived from exports of natural resources that neither country normally produced, they nonetheless touted both nations as economic success stories.

As noted above, the United States bears a fair amount of responsibility for the ongoing violence in the DRC. In Central Africa’s Great Lakes Region:

Today, President George W. Bush supports corrupt, illegitimate regimes that will either cooperate in the Global War on Terror, provide U.S. companies access to vital natural resources, or both. If history is any indication, this infusion of wealth and military training is likely to be disastrous for the people of Africa.

As Kagame hosts President Bush this week, (February 21, 2008) Rwanda continues incursions across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with support from the U.S. government.

From 1996-2003, the Congolese people suffered a great deal from two wars that pitted Rwanda and its allies against the DRC. A recent report from the International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.5 million Congolese have died as a result of this conflict. According to Inter Press Service journalist Tito Dragon, “to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda.” In fact, in 2004, after a three-year investigation, a UN Panel of Experts implicated three major U.S. companies (Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, and OM Group) for fueling war in DRC by collaborating with rebel groups trafficking coltan. In spite of major human rights violations, Bush administration assistance to Rwanda continues today largely due to Kagame’s willingness to be engaged in the so called War on Terror.

So who and what is the War on Terror fighting? The following, which has been repeated many thousands of times in the eastern Congo, certainly meets the definition of terrorism. From the conversations with Dr. Mukwege as reported by Eve Ensler:

Most doctors, teachers and lawyers fled the Congo after the wars started. It never occurred to Dr. Mukwege to leave his people at their most desperate hour.

He first became aware of the epidemic of rape in 1996. “I saw women who had been raped in an extremely barbaric way,” he recalls. “First, the women were raped in front of their children, their husbands and neighbors. Second, the rapes were done by many men at the same time. Third, not only were the women raped, but their vaginas were mutilated with guns and sticks. These situations show that sex was being used as a weapon that is cheap.

“When rape is done in front of your family,” he continues, “it destroys everyone. I have seen men suffer who watched their wives raped; they are not mentally stable anymore. The children are in even worse condition. Most of the time, when a woman suffers this much violence, she is not able to bear children afterward. Clearly these rapes are not done to satisfy any sexual desire but to destroy the soul. The whole family and community are broken.”

The US is funding this terrorism, rather than fighting it.

Although Kagame publicly denies any direct involvement, Rwandans acknowledge that their president funds renegade General Laurent Nkunda’s militia in the DRC – a militia whose primary purpose appears to be to keep Hutu rebels away from the Rwandan border. UN peacekeepers accuse Nkunda’s Tutsi faction of some of the worst human rights abuses of any rebel group currently operating in the eastern region.

Bush knows that Rwanda’s involvement in the armed conflict in the DRC delays peace in eastern Congo, but he continues to authorize military aid to Rwanda. In 2007, the United States armed and trained Rwandan soldiers with $7.2 million from the U.S. defense program Africa Contingent Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) and $260,000 from the International Military and Education (IMET) program. At the same time, the United States is involved in facilitating peace talks between Rwanda and the DRC and the various rebel groups operating in eastern Congo. Not only does arming Rwanda contradict the peace process, but it also delays the recovery of Rwanda from its 1994 genocide.

During the Cold War, the United States provided military aid to African countries to counter communism. Many of those countries – Somalia, Sudan, and the DRC – have now become hotspots of violence and economic chaos. It is no surprise that lending arms and financial support to corrupt dictators and human rights abusers contributes to destabilization, but still the U.S. government has yet to learn its lesson. Today, the rationale for providing military aid to countries like Rwanda is to counter terrorism; the methods and outcomes will likely be the same as they were in the Cold War era.

The Department of Defense argues that training and equipping African military forces will bring greater stability and legitimacy to African governments. This argument for professionalizing militaries was also made during the Cold War to support a policy that ultimately failed. Yet the same justification is being used to mask U.S. corporate interests in Africa’s vast resources.

For “anti-terrorism” read corporate welfare, at the expense of the citizens of Africa’s Great Lakes region, and ultimately, the citizens of the United States. Note in the Rwanda story at the beginning of this post, the military is conspicuously absent from the stories of development success. As long as the US leads its engagement with its military, the women, and all the citizens of the DRC will continue to suffer brutal terrorism. Only by leading with diplomacy and seeking political solutions will the US actually help rather than cause more harm. As Bahati Ntama Jacques points out:

Most countries have vehemently rejected the creation and implementation of a new U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM) and expanding the U.S. military footprint in Africa. Shifting U.S. policy away from defense toward human security, development, and diplomacy is the best path to long-term peace in the Great Lakes region and throughout Africa.

« Previous Page