Tag Archive | "Congo"

Not for Sale: Congo’s Forests Must be Protected from the Fossil Fuels Industry


NOVANEWS

The largest protected tropical rainforest in Africa – Salonga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo – is at risk from oil exploration thanks to a secretive deal with an opaque company.

As we have previously revealed, the Democratic Republic of Congo government is attempting to reclassify swathes of two UNESCO protected World Heritage Sites – Salonga and Virunga National Parks – to allow oil exploration to take place. In our new investigation, we shine a light on the opaque ownership and secret deals of one company that potentially stands to gain from government attempts to open up the area to oil, COMICO, which was allocated an oil block that partially overlaps Salonga National Park.

Download the full briefing here: Not For Sale – Congo’s forests must be protected from the fossil fuels industry.

We expose how individuals involved in the original deal to purchase these controversial oil rights include a politically connected individual, a convicted fraudster, a businessman embroiled in the Brazilian ‘Car Wash’ scandal and mysterious shell companies.

Moreover, the details of the contract remain unknown, in contravention of Congo’s own oil law. The opacity surrounding both the company and the terms of the deal raises serious concerns.

The prospect of oil work represents an urgent threat to Salonga’s important and fragile ecosystem, while the lack of transparency is especially concerning as the country remains embroiled in a political crisis.

World’s second largest tropical rainforest under threat

One of the three oil blocks assigned by the government to COMICO, a part UK-owned company, encroaches on Salonga National Park, the world’s second largest tropical rainforest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. The park is home to up to 40 percent of the world’s Bonobo population and many other endangered and rare species such as forest elephants, Congo peacocks, hippopotamuses and giant pangolins.

At the heart of the Congo basin, Salonga National Park stretches over 36,000 square kilometres – an area larger than Belgium. Its size means it plays a fundamental role in climate change mitigation and carbon storage.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is clear that any form of mineral, oil and gas exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status. If even World Heritage status cannot protect fragile ecosystems from oil work, it sends a message that the entire planet is up for sale to the fossil fuels industry, with potentially devastating environmental consequences.

Salonga and COMICO oil blocks

As well as the huge environmental risks associated with the deal, it is alarming that we don’t know in full who is behind COMICO or the terms of the deal.

At its formation in 2006 COMICO was controlled by two men: Montfort Konzi, a former Congolese politician and businessman, who was a cabinet member of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congolese political party Mouvement de Libération du Congo; and Idalécio de Oliveira, a controversial Portuguese businessman linked to the Brazilian Car Wash scandal.

Various companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions appeared to have obtained shares in COMICO just as it was in the process of acquiring Congolese oil permits. We have been able to trace links between two of these companies and Norman Leighton, a former business associate of Oliveira who was previously convicted of playing a part in a fraudulent investment scheme.

Despite our best efforts, we were unable to trace the ownership of one of these offshore companies – Shumba International, which held a 1.5 percent share of COMICO as of 2007. Shumba is now listed as ‘defunct’ on the Mauritius company register.

The adjustment of COMICO’s structure in this way, involving opaque offshore companies picking up shares just as COMICO was in the process of obtaining its contract, raises serious red flags, as does the presence of a former Congolese politician, Konzi, in the historic ownership structure.

Without full disclosure of the owners of these offshore companies we cannot be sure who benefits or has benefitted from this company that now owns controversial oil exploration rights in Salonga National Park. When contacted by Global Witness, lawyers representing the COMICO shareholders we have been able to identify, said the confidentiality around the full ownership of COMICO was for “legitimate commercial reasons unconnected with bribery and corruption or other financial crime”, and they stated “none of the other beneficial owners have been convicted of bribery, corruption, fraud or other financial crime.”

The opacity around COMICO’s ownership is matched by the lack of transparency surrounding the contract.

COMICO’s production sharing agreements (PSAs, i.e. its contract) were initially signed over 10 years ago, but the company was not able to begin exploration until Congo’s President Joseph Kabila signed an ordinance in February this year.

Congo’s oil law, passed in 2015, stipulates that new contracts should be published within sixty days of being approved. However, sixty days after President Kabila gave presidential approval authorising COMICO’s contract, there was – and, as of 28 May 2018, still is – no sign of the contract being made public.

Lawyers for COMICO told Global Witness that a $3 million signature bonus had been made in 2007, but that “no other payment, direct or indirect, have [sic] been made to the Congolese government or its officials or its representatives.” However, as the contract has not been made public, it is impossible to assess the terms of this oil deal, to understand whether it is beneficial for the people of Congo, or to know whether potentially significant payments into government coffers, such as signature bonuses (upfront payments made by companies to governments upon the completion of a contract), have been paid.

Need for transparency more urgent than ever

There is a long history of companies and political elites swooping in at times of crisis to exploit Congo’s natural resources behind closed doors, to the detriment of its people and natural habitats. Now, more than ever, the need for transparency in Congo’s natural resource deals is key.

The Congo still ranks among the poorest countries in the world and is 176th out of 187 on the most recent Human Development Index calculated by the UN. It had the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa last year, with almost 2.2 million people forced from their homes. Furthermore, the country is currently in the midst of an Ebola outbreak and the risk of famine and conflict is looming large.

In such a dire context, and with the Congolese economy depending almost entirely on its natural resource sectors for export revenues, it is vitally important that deals in these sectors are conducted transparently and that the revenues are used for the benefit of Congo’s people.

Moreover, the political climate in Congo is currently very tense as presidential elections due to be held in November 2016 have been repeatedly delayed, sparking widespread protest. Conflicts have been re-erupting across the country and appearing even in a region that had historically been peaceful. President Kabila has overstayed his constitutionally allowed two terms in power and has not ruled out changing the constitution to remove term limits so that he could stand for election a third time.

Congo’s political crisis is likely to worsen as it approaches the new December 2018 deadline for elections. In this atmosphere, opening up Salonga National Park to oil raises the possibility that the Kabila regime is seeking to extract more revenue from the country’s natural resources during this precarious time – possibly to build up a financial war chest for elections.

Our key recommendations

In light of our investigation, we are calling for the relevant actors to take the following key actions:

  • COMICO to commit to keeping out of Salonga National Park and to reveal a complete list of beneficial owners of the company both today and since 2006.
  • The Congolese government should publish its contract with COMICO, as stipulated by the oil law, and all payments made by the company to the Congolese government should also be made public.
  • Governments everywhere should stop allocating natural resource contracts in fragile ecosystems and the integrity of UNESCO World Heritage sites should be respected and preserved.
  • Congo should cancel all oil blocks that overlap or are adjacent to protected areas and national parks.

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500 Years Is Long Enough! Human Depravity in the Congo


NOVANEWS

I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.

As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.

The Congo

Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.

Slavery

However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo river, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hothschild, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade. See King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.

Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.

But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.

Colonization

One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.

Source: Medium

If you want to spend a few moments in touch with the horror of what some human beings do to other human beings, then I invite you to look at the sample photos of what Leopold did in ‘his’ colony in the Congo. See ‘“A Nightmare In Heaven” – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo’.

Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.

The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.

Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.

It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See ‘Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century’.

Independence then Dictatorship

By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.

But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people. See ‘Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century’.

So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel)Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970, nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed. See ‘“A Nightmare In Heaven” – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo’.

Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west  – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals. ‘Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.’ See ‘Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness’.

Invasion

Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration’ and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.

Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War’ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people –  most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo. See ‘Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness’.

During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’

Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current President Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’

Corporate and State Exploitation

While countries such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes ‘companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines’. See ‘“A Nightmare In Heaven” – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo’.

But many companies are benefitting. For example, a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal. See ‘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 some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski: ‘Behind the numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo’ and ‘Merchants of Death: Exposing Corporate-Financed Holocaust in Africa; White Collar War Crimes, Black African Fall Guys’.

Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?

A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed. See ‘The Impact of Dodd-Frank and Conflict Minerals Reforms on Eastern Congo’s Conflict’ and ‘Congo mines no longer in grip of warlords and militias, says report’.

In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-binding ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’.

And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis! See ‘EU lawmakers to limit import of conflict minerals’.

However, following the election of Donald Trump as US President, in April 2017 ‘the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission suspended key provisions of its “conflict minerals” rule’. Trump is also seeking to undo the Obama-era financial regulations, once again opening the door to the unimpeded trade in blood minerals by US corporations. See ‘“A Nightmare In Heaven” – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo’ and ‘Trump Moves to Roll Back Obama-Era Financial Regulations’.

Today

Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hitech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.

Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.

In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.

But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?

Source: Medium

Well,  according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because ‘the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.’ See ‘“A Nightmare In Heaven” – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo’.

So what is happening now?

In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.

Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 – see ‘River of Gold’ and ‘Illegal gold trade in Congo still benefiting armed groups, foreign companies’ – documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.

In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa. See ‘“This is what We Die for”: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt’.

In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain. See ‘First Blood Diamonds, Now Blood Computers?’

Of course, as you no doubt expect, some of the world’s largest corporate miners are in the Congo. These include Glencore (Switzerland) and Freeport-McMoRan (USA). But there are another 20 or more mining corporations in the Congo too, including Mawson West Limited (Australia), Forrest Group International (Belgium),  Anvil Mining (Canada), Randgold Resources (UK) and AngloGold Ashanti(South Africa).

Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’ See ‘Glencore reports seven dead in mining accident’.

Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’ program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The FORREST GROUP has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’

Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.

Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well. See ‘Satellite imagery assessment of forced relocations near the Luiswishi Mine’.

Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?

Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and facemasks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.

Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas ‘where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work’. See ‘“This is what We Die for”: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt’.

In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hitech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too. See ‘China plays long game on cobalt and electric batteries’.

Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long. See ‘China’s Congo Plan’ and ‘China vs. the US: The Struggle for Central Africa and the Congo’.

Having noted the above, however, there is plenty of evidence of corrupt Chinese business practice in the extraction and sale of strategic minerals in the Congo, including that documented in the above-mentioned Global Witness report. See ‘River of Gold’.

Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:

‘Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.

‘Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.’ See ‘“This is what We Die for”: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt’.

As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hitech products.

Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years, they are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

Social and Environmental Costs

Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. ‘Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.’ See ‘Conflict Profile: Democratic Republic of Congo’.

Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too. See ‘Peacekeepers gone wild: How much more abuse will the UN ignore in Congo?’

And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. See Child Soldiers International. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.

In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.

As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rainforests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil. For a taste of the reading on all this, see ‘Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush’‘The struggle to save the “Congolese unicorn”’‘Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks’ 

and ‘The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park’.

If you would like to watch a video about some of what is happening in the Congo, either of these videos will give you an unpleasant taste: ‘Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth’ and ‘Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo’.

Resisting the Violence

So what is happening to resist this violence and exploitation? Despite the horror, as always, some incredible people are working to end it.

Some Congolese activists resist the military dictatorship of Joseph Kabila, despite the enormous risks of doing so. See, for example, ‘Release the Congolese activists still in jail for planning peaceful demonstrations’.

Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.

The Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo, headed by Leon Simweragi, is a youth peace group that works to rehabilitate child soldiers as well as offer meaningful opportunities for the sustainable involvement of young people in matters that affect their lives and those of their community.

And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.

There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.

If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN  (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?’ and the website ‘Feelings First’ instructive.

Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.

If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’which references the Congo among many other examples of violence around the world.

And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives. See Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy.

If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.

For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.

This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!

Posted in AfricaComments Off on 500 Years Is Long Enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

Congo: A Neocolonial Project Managed by the UN Security Council


NOVANEWS
An Interview with Economist Jean-Claude Maswana

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the heart of Black Africa. Millions of Congolese have been murdered, massacred, enslaved, robbed of their resources, and driven from their homes since the Berlin Conference gave the “Congo Free State” to Belgium’s King Leopold II as his personal property in 1885.

Patrice Lumumba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence hero and first Prime Minister, famously wrote to his wife Pauline from captivity in 1960, shortly before his assassination:

“We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and the free and liberated peoples in every corner of the globe will ever remain at the side of the millions of Congolese who will not abandon the struggle until the day when there will be no more colonizers and no more of their mercenaries in our country.”

I spoke to Jean-Claude Maswana about the latest waves of aggression under current Congolese President Joseph Kabila. Maswana is a Congolese native and economics professor at Tsukuba University, Japan.

Kabila in 2002, with Thabo MbekiGeorge W. Bush, and Paul Kagame. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Ann Garrison: Professor Maswana, the Congolese never seem to get a break. On the 7th of December, Tanzanian peacekeepers who were actually trying to keep the peace in Congo’s Béni Territory were attacked. Fifteen were killed, more than 50 wounded. Then, on Christmas Eve, the Ugandan Army started shelling Béni Territory from across the border and Ugandan attack aircraft crossed into Congolese air space and started dropping bombs. On New Year’s Eve, the Congolese army attacked a peaceful protest march led by the Catholic Church. Is anyone on the side of the Congolese now?

Jean-Claude Maswana: The answer is no. The Congolese people have never had anyone on their side. Time to time, there have been some international organizations or NGOs pretending to be on the Congolese people’s side but their support never lasts long. In the last 20 years, since Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo, there have been no international institutions consistently on the Congolese people’s side. Again, my answer is a clear “no.”

AG: Not even the Catholic Church? Isn’t it the second most powerful institution in Congo, where more than half the population are Catholic?

JCM: Not even the Catholic Church even though it is Congo’s second most powerful institution and its most powerful non-state institution. In December 2016 when the Catholic Church played a key role in the so-called December 31st agreement between Kabila and the opposition, I didn’t feel the Catholic Church was on the side of the people. If they were, they wouldn’t have facilitated an agreement that was clearly against the country’s constitution and the people’s interests.

AG: OK, let’s step back and explain that. Kabila’s term was to have expired in December 2016, but he didn’t organize an election and he didn’t step down. Civil unrest broke out, and eventually this agreement mediated by the church was signed. What did the agreement say?

JCM: The agreement said that Kabila could stay in power so long as he organized the elections in December 2017. But back in December 2016 it was obvious that allowing Kabila to stay beyond his constitutional term limits was a huge mistake. There was abundant evidence that he would never hold those elections in December 2017. Those of us who opposed the agreement thought that was obvious, but the Catholic Church didn’t agree.

AG: But then the Catholic Church did lead this peaceful protest march on New Year’s Eve, in Kinshasa and other cities right?

JCM: That could be seen as siding with the Congolese people. Nevertheless, to be honest, I don’t personally think the Church was really siding with the people as it should have then. I don’t want to be seen as too critical of the Church as they have made some efforts, and some of them were beaten by soldiers on the front lines of the New Year’s Eve march, but the objective of that march was unclear. The Church should have taken a clear stance and refused to accept anything but Kabila’s departure from power. No more compromise should have been made after he once again failed to organize elections. The objective of the march was to pressure Kabila to implement the December 31, 2016 agreement, but he had already failed to do that.

AG: The Congolese army, the president’s republican guard, and the military police are heavily armed against the unarmed population, so what could the Catholic Church have done but organize a nonviolent march?

JCM: A peaceful march doesn’t change the situation on the ground. It doesn’t change the balance of political or military power. The Catholic Church could bring about such a change if it stopped recognizing Kabila’s illegal and unconstitutional presidency as legitimate. This would change the political balance of power and hopefully lead the way to the negotiated creation of a transitional government until free and fair elections could be organized in a reasonable time frame.

Unfortunately, the Church isn’t even close to refusing to recognize Kabila’s legitimacy. So it’s leaving the political balance of power untouched and Kabila is happy with this outcome.

AG: That’s very interesting because you’re saying that another kind of nonviolent protest is possible.

JCM: Yes, there are other forms of nonviolent protests that are not being implemented by the opposition or the Church.

AG: OK, at this point, it looks like the European Union, the US, all the NATO powers, and China are happy with the chaos and the mayhem. They’re not disturbed enough to do anything about it. Russia doesn’t seem to be very involved. And the UN Security Council has never been willing to acknowledge Rwanda or Uganda’s presence in the Congo, which is a violation of national sovereignty that the UN Charter would oblige them to stop if they did. So it’s really up to the Congolese people, right? There are no other significant players on the global chessboard who are willing to intervene on their behalf.

JCM: Yes, that’s an accurate description of the situation as I see it. The Congolese people are alone in their struggle against Kabila. Russia, China, and all the other powerful international players support Kabila because they have ongoing deals. There is an unspoken consensus of the powerful players for leaving the situation on the ground as it is. That’s the sad fact.

AG: So everyone’s getting the resources that they want, and the Congolese people continue to be murdered and massacred without any real intervention on their behalf. MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping operation, just seems to manage the conflict at a cost of more than $1 billion annually, most of which is paid by the West. On December 7, well-armed troops wearing Congolese uniforms actually attacked Tanzanian peacekeepers who were taking their mission seriously—trying to protect the population and stop the aggressors in Béni Territory—in a clear warning that real peacekeepers would not be tolerated.

JCM: Exactly. My reading is that the very same interests behind the murder of two UN experts earlier this year were behind the attacks on the Tanzanian peacekeepers. These attacks on UN experts and peacekeepers and Kabila’s unconstitutional grip on power are both part of the same movie by the same “producer.” The UN Security Council issues toothless, knee-jerk calls for justice and democracy in response to these crimes but nothing is done. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley went to see Kabila and told him he’s obliged to organize elections in December 2018—same time next year.

AG: Since you’ve told me several times now that there are no great powers willing to intervene on behalf of the Congolese, I looked back at the moment in Congo’s history when King Leopold’s enforcers were committing unspeakable atrocities to extract rubber and whatever other resources from the “Congo Free State,” which the Berlin Conference had given to him as his personal property in 1885. There was so much international outrage that Belgium finally took over, creating the Belgian Congo. That was no triumph over colonialism, but there was so much outrage about King Leopold’s brutality that the international community of the time finally reacted. Is anything like that conceivable now?

JCM: I don’t think so because the context is very different. Leopold II was more powerful than those who gave him the ownership of the “Congo Free State.”Unlike King Leopold the owner, Kabila has been given an assignment.International interests have decided to outsource Congolese resource extraction to him, and he is in turn allowed to grab his own share of the nation’s wealth. Kabila acts as the head of the local affiliate in a much larger multinational enterprise. So far as its executives are concerned, he and MONUSCO are both doing a great job, fulfilling their de facto mandate. Never mind what they say out loud in the UN Security Council, on UN Web TV, or through UN News. This multinational enterprise has been at Kabila’s side ever since he took power ten days after the assassination of his less compliant, adoptive father, Congolese President Laurent Désiré Kabila, in January 2017.

AG: So, basically, Leopold II really did own and control the Congo Free State as an individual, as a king, but Kabila’s just an apparatchik.

JCM: Yes, exactly.

AG: OK, so any real outrage would have to go beyond the apparatchik to the multinational enterprise, and that’s unlikely.

JCM: Yes, exactly.

AG: Early on you explained that the only real agency on behalf of the Congolese people is in the hands of the Congolese people, who would themselves have to stop recognizing Kabila as the rightful president. Is there anything that those of us in other parts of the world who are horrified by what continues to go on there can do to support them, even if we’re far from the centers of power?

JCM: Yes. First, just continue to do what you’ve been doing: spreading information and raising awareness among US citizens. The end goal could be to make the DRC tragedy an issue at some electoral level. Next, join and support the networks of those fighting the killing machine in DRC. Also, bring some international and different perspectives to the conflict to help us, the DRC people, expand our understanding of the tragedy. Most of the time, the most vulnerable and victimized in the DRC tragedy have a limited or incorrect understanding of who is really behind it, especially of who is behind it from outside the DRC.

AG: The information question reminded me of something. Just before the peaceful march on New Year’s Eve, Kabila had the Internet and SMS messaging switched off. Has that been restored?

JCM: Yes, the SMS and Internet are back, but even so, the control is in place. The monitoring system is in place; they have the technology, provided by some companies that I’m not going to name here. They have the technology in place and they’re monitoring everything and, from time to time, randomly checking people’s smart phones or other devices, or forcing people to open up their Facebook or Whatsapp accounts, for example.

AG: High tech surveillance in a nation where less than 10% of the population have electricity at home but as many as 23% may own cell phones.

JCM: Yes.

AG: To be continued?

JCM: Indeed.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on Congo: A Neocolonial Project Managed by the UN Security Council


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