‘I spend my days preparing for life, not for death’

As I read this interview, tears came to my eyes (not difficult since, it seems, I cry easily). Here is someone jailed for a quarter of a century for no reason other than saying and doing the things any human being would want to: be free, love others as one would want to be loved, deepest love for those who are most despised.

His spirit is still vibrant despite the punishment meant to kill him more than solitary confinement is meant to.

How and where does Mumia get the healing sap which he spreads around as he breathes, writes, draws…? shouldn’t quantum physicists be interested in finding out where does that kind of healing energy come from so that it can help those most in need of healing get some of it?

Well, it could just be that that is the reason why Mumia is kept in solitary, on death row. His healing energy is considered too dangerous by those who want to keep him there.

If he can be so healing from prison, why is it so hard for those outside prisons to do better? Or could it be that things are the other way round: he is free and we are shackled by our own habits and desires fashioned by a genocidal system?–Jacques Depelchin

Reposted from The Guardian, October 25, 2007. A PDF version is attached below.

The former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent 25 years on death row in the United States – despite strong evidence that he is innocent. In his first British interview, he talks to Laura Smith about life in solitary, how he has remained politically active, and why the Panthers are still relevant today

Laura Smith
Thursday October 25, 2007

Guardian

SCI Greene County Prison on the outskirts of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, sits low in the rural landscape so that it’s easy from the restaurants and petrol stations on the main road to miss the barbed wire coiled in endless circles. Inside, the plush leather chairs that squat on shiny floors make it feel more like a private hospital than a maximum security institution. But the black men in prison jumpsuits cleaning the floor, eyes downcast, dispel any such illusions. Signs spell out the rules: no hoods, no unauthorised persons, only $20 in cash allowed.

Death row – or at least the visiting area – is a curiously ordinary place. A central waiting room where a guard watches the goings-on. Institutional doors opening on to small boxes, each furnished with a table and chair. But then, inside the visiting room, there is the shock of a grown man in an orange jumpsuit, his hands cuffed, the space small enough for him to reach out and touch both walls. And between us a layer of thick, reinforced glass.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has lived at SCI Greene since January 1995. Convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of a police officer in his home town, Philadelphia, he spends his days in solitary confinement, in a room he has described as smaller than most people’s bathroom. When I arrive, he puts his fist to the glass in greeting. He is a tall, broad man with dreadlocked hair, still dark, and a beard slightly greying at the edges. He has lively eyes.

It is hard to know how to begin a conversation with Abu-Jamal, revered for his activism around the world as much as he is reviled as a cop killer by some in his home country. He is careful about who he agrees to see and rarely talks to the mainstream media – this is the first time he has granted an interview to a British newspaper. We start with the basics – the everyday restrictions of prison life. Visits: one a week – though it is difficult for his family to make the 660-mile, 11-hour round-trip from Philadelphia. Money: a stipend of less than $20 (£10) per month. Phone calls: three a week lasting 15 minutes each – but a quarter of an hour to Philadelphia costs $5.69 (£2.77).

This being Abu-Jamal, a campaigning journalist who has written five books about injustice while in prison, it is not long before we are on to the bigger questions: why SCI Greene, which takes most of its 1,700 inmates from Philadelphia, was built “the farthest you can be from Philly and still be in the state of Pennsylvania”. “I believe it is intentional,” he says. “I could count the times on my hand when I have seen this whole visiting area full.” And why Global Tel Net, the firm that provides the prison phone calls, is allowed to charge so much of people who have so little. His conclusion is characteristically pithy: “The poorest pay the most.”

Abu-Jamal has eight children, the eldest of whom is 38, and several grandchildren. How does he keep in touch? “Some grandchildren I have not seen. That’s difficult. You try to keep contact through the phone, you write. I send cards that I draw and paint. To let them know the old man still loves them.” Abu-Jamal’s father William died when he was nine; his mother Edith died in February 1990 – eight years after he was imprisoned. He goes very quiet telling me this, and there doesn’t seem much point asking how it felt not to be able to sit with her at the end.

Abu-Jamal has been locked up since he was 27. He is now 53. The story of how he ended up here has been told often. As a teenager he had been active in the Black Panther party but by 1981, with most of the party’s leaders either dead or in jail, he had become a well-respected radio reporter and president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists. Radio journalism was not well paid, however, and Abu-Jamal supplemented his income by driving a taxi at night.

In the early hours of December 9 1981, he was out in his cab when he saw his brother, Billy Cook, being stopped by a police officer, Daniel Faulkner. A struggle ensued, during which Cook says Faulkner assaulted him. Abu-Jamal got out of his cab. Minutes later, Faulkner had been shot dead and Abu-Jamal was slumped nearby with a bullet wound to the chest, his own gun not far away.

At his trial in 1982 it appeared an open and shut case. A former Black Panther with a history of antipathy towards the police (although no criminal record). A white police officer dead. A succession of eye-witnesses who testified that Abu-Jamal was the killer. And the icing on the cake: a confession made by Abu-Jamal himself at the hospital where he was taken for treatment.

But some inconvenient facts were obscured: Abu-Jamal’s gun was never tested to see whether it had been fired; his hands were never swabbed to establish whether he had fired it; and his gun’s bullets were never solidly linked to those that killed Faulkner. The crime scene was never secured.

Of the three witnesses, one has since admitted to lying under police pressure, another has disappeared amid evidence that she too was under duress, and the third initially told police that he had seen the killer run away, but changed his story. Evidence from others who said they saw a third man running away was played down.

Evidence of Abu-Jamal’s confession was equally shaky. Although two witnesses testified to hearing him shout, “I shot the motherfucker and I hope the motherfucker dies”, the doctors who treated him insist that his medical condition made such a thing impossible. Neither of the two police officers who claimed to have heard the confession reported it until more than two months after the shooting – after Abu-Jamal had made allegations of being abused by police during his arrest. On the contrary, one noted in his log at the time that “the negro male made no comment” in hospital.

The trial judge, Albert Sabo, was a former member of the powerful police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, known to favour prosecutors. He overturned permission Abu-Jamal had obtained to represent himself, excluded him from much of his own trial, and presided over jury selection in which the majority of black candidates were removed. A court stenographer overheard Sabo telling a colleague: “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”

There were other irregularities, so many that Amnesty International concluded in 2000 that the trial was “in violation of minimum international standards”, adding, “the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal”.

In the 25 years since, Abu-Jamal has appealed against his conviction many times, and many times has had his pleas rejected. He has had two dates set for his execution, only for them to be overturned by legal pressure. He is now awaiting the outcome of his latest appeal; this time by the second highest court in the US. His lead lawyer, Robert R Bryan, describes it as “the first time in 25 years that Mumia has had a chance at a free and fair trial”. Abu-Jamal is more circumspect. “I have learned not to do predictions,” he says. “It’s not helpful, psychologically. I don’t sit and fret about things.”

Instead, he spends his days writing about prison life and social struggles around the world. He takes reams of notes from books sent in by supporters, so that he can refer to them when they are taken away (he is allowed only seven in his cell). “I confess, I am a nerd,” he says, laughing. He uses his weekly phone calls to record radio commentaries that are broadcast around the world.

Then there are the speeches he records – he spoke at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty this year and the Million Man March in 1995 – the cards he paints for his family, and his drawing. He is currently working on his sixth book, Jailhouse Lawyers, about those prisoners who, like himself, help prepare legal cases with other inmates. He uses a beaten-up typewriter; he has never seen a computer. Asked about the work of which he is proudest, he cites his 2004 book, We Want Freedom, a history of the Black Panther party.

Abu-Jamal spends 22 hours a day alone in his cell – except at weekends, when it’s 24. For two hours between 7am and 9am every weekday he has the option of going out into the yard – or “cage”, as he prefers to call it. It is 60ft square and fenced on all sides, including overhead. Because “air is precious”, he rarely refuses, but not everyone takes up the offer. “People have different ways,” he says. “I know some guys who play chess for hours and hours, shouting the moves between cells. Some guys argue with other guys. Some guys used to enjoy smut books, but they’ve stopped those now. A lot of guys don’t come out. I think it’s depression. You get tired of seeing the same old faces. The role of television is the illusion of company, noise. I call it the fifth wall and the second window: the window of illusion.”

Many of the younger prisoners call him “papa” or “old head” and it is clear that he is touched. “When you are out in the yard, it’s dudes joshing,” he says. “Guys being guys, playing ball. You have this machismo.” One of the things that seems to keep him going are these relationships with other guys in “the hole”. Many of them have inspired me and taught me … about how things are on the street now, how young people are talking and walking.”

I ask how prison has changed him. “In ways I could not have imagined,” he says. “It has made me immensely patient. I was not before. It has given me an introspection that I hadn’t had before, and even a kind of compassion I hadn’t had before.”

In Abu-Jamal’s company, it is easy to forget that you are inside prison walls. As he talks, one is pulled into a world of urgent work that needs doing, of debates to be thrashed out, of injustices to be tackled. With characteristic eloquence, he calls Hurricane Katrina “a rude awakening from an illusion”, watching television “a profoundly ignorising experience” and observes that much commercial hip-hop contains “no distinction, except in beat and tone, to a Chrysler advert”. “If the message is, I am cool because I am rich, and if you get rich, you can be cool like me, that’s a pretty fucked-up message.” On American politics, he is damning. “You would think that a country that goes to war allegedly to spread democracy would practice it in its own country.”

Born Wesley Cook in the Philadelphia projects, he adopted the name Mumia as a 14-year-old (later adding Abu-Jamal – “father of Jamal” in Arabic – when his first son was born). The following year, aged just 15, he helped found the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther party after being handed a copy of their newspaper in the street. “I was like, whoah,” he says. “It just thrilled me. I was like, this is heaven. This is great. Everything. It was the truth. Uncut, unalloyed. It was everything. It fit me.”

He spent long days helping with party activities, which included free children’s breakfast programmes and the monitoring of police, whose corruption at that time has since become notorious (at least a third of the officers involved in Abu-Jamal’s investigations have since been found to have engaged in corrupt activities, including the fabrication of evidence to frame suspects).

Mostly, as the party’s lieutenant of information, he wrote, gathering stories for The Black Panther, the party’s newsletter. “It was great fun,” he remembers now. “You worked six and seven days a week and 18 hours a day for no pay … When I tell young people that now they are like, what was that last part? Are you crazy, man? But because we were socialists we didn’t want pay. We wanted to serve our people, free our people, stop the homicide and make revolution. We thought about the party morning, noon and night. It was a very busy but fulfilling life for thousands of people across the country. We were serving our people and what could be better than that?”

Subject to relentless disruption by the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Programme, which targeted radical and progressive organisations, and riven by internal disagreements, the Black Panthers imploded in the early 1970s. For Abu-Jamal it was a personal tragedy. “Despair,” he says when asked how it felt. “A profound despair.”

He is adamant that the party’s message is still relevant today. “Millions of black people are more isolated in economic, social and political terms than they were 30 years ago,” he says. “I remember a photograph of an elderly black woman (after Katrina) who had wrapped herself in the American flag and I remember looking at it and being so struck by it. Maybe she wasn’t thinking visually, she was probably very cold and hungry, but I couldn’t help thinking, what does citizenship mean? Are you a citizen if in the wealthiest country on earth you are left to starve, to sink or swim, to drown at the time of the flood?”

If Abu-Jamal’s latest appeal is successful he could be a granted a retrial or have the death penalty overturned. If it is not, his execution could quickly follow. He does not sound afraid. “I spend my days preparing for life, not preparing for death,” he says. “They haven’t stopped me from doing what I want every day. I believe in life, I believe in freedom, so my mind is not consumed with death. It’s with love, life and those things. In many ways, on many days, only my body is here, because I am thinking about what’s happening around the world.”

As we leave, people emerge from other visiting rooms into the central area. There’s a family with teenage children; a young mother whose little daughter has spent much of our interview peeking through the door – to Abu-Jamal’s delight; a grandfather being pushed in a wheelchair. A mother says to her children with a forced cheeriness: “That was a nice visit, wasn’t it? I’m sure glad we came.”

We step outside into a perfect summer day. All I can think of is my last view after saying goodbye to Abu-Jamal: a row of men, all black, standing behind glass. Their hands cuffed, their faces smiling goodbye to their families, their voices shouting greetings to each other. In a couple of minutes, each man will trek back to a cell no bigger than your bathroom, with no company but their own. But for now, just for now, there is the sight of life. And they’re drinking it in.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Cuba and the Recentering of African History

The following review appeared in African Studies Review, 50:2 (2007) 214-219. A PDF version is attached.

Victor Dreke. From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution. New York: Pathfinder Press, 2002. 182 pp. Photographs. Maps. Notes. Glossary. Index. $17.00. Paper.

Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisês Sío Wong. Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. New York: Pathfinder Press, 2005. 216 pp. Photographs. Maps. Charts. Notes. Glossary. Index. $20.00. Paper.

These books are the kinds of books historians are always hoping for, but that very rarely see the light of day. Their value for average readers and for scholars cannot be overstressed, for several reasons, the most important being the historical process of reconnecting Cuba and Africa at a time when such reconnecting continues to be fiercely discouraged by the powers-that-be. It is plausible that potential readers might dismiss the books as mere Cuban propaganda; such readers might even, to their own detriment, find in the books confirmation of their own ideological blinders. However, anyone making a sober assessment of what Cuba has had to go through since the overthrow of Battista (1959) would find it difficult not to be impressed not just by Cuba’s survival, but by its having thrived following the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989). The relentless destabilization schemes from various U.S. administrations seems to have had the exact opposite effect on the Cuban political leadership: it never stopped learning from its successes and its failures, from its enemies and its alleged allies. In retrospect, Cuba’s survival can be seen as one of the greatest feats of the generic resisters to capitalism since the overthrow of slavery in Haiti 1804. As in Haiti, the costs of contesting the written and unwritten rules of capitalism have been extremely high, inside and outside of Cuba. One has to remember the pressures on Nelson Mandela not to visit Cuba after he was released from jail to understand the extent to which the United States in particular (and any willing associate) will go to prevent the reconstruction of African societies on the basis of self-reliance and solidarity.1

In the aftermath of the Cold War, it would be too easy to dismiss these witnesses as ideological proxies eager to say what the Cuban leaders want to hear. Others will not like the advocacy approach of Mary-Alice Waters—the introducer, interviewer, editor, and president of Pathfinder Press, publisher of these texts—while minimizing the fact that such questioning is rarely raised when the opposite line, nay, the demonization of anything Cuban, is pushed.

Victor Dreke, the author/interviewee of From the Escambray to the Congo, was the number-two person in the Cuban group sent to the Congo in 1965 to fight on the side of the rebels in Eastern Congo (the group then led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila). The episode is well known and extensively documented, but with Dreke’s story we are finally offered a first-hand account by Che’s most trusted aide during their seven months in the Congo between April and November 1965. In addition to the details of Dreke’s role in assembling the right kind of persons for a mission then understood to be the most important Cuban mission since 1959, the reader gets a clear glimpse of some of the principles that allowed Cuba to do so much in the face of such constant threats to its own survival.

Dreke’s admiration for the Cuban leadership is evident, and reminiscent of Che’s own sentiments expressed in his farewell letter to Fidel just before leaving for the Congo. At times Dreke is aware that readers will not believe him—as when he lists the shortcomings that afflicted the mission on its way to the Congo and during its mission. For a mission considered a high priority by both Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, it is astounding, even from hindsight, to find out that it was based on almost nonexistent intelligence and very little advanced preparation: in retrospect, Che’s vision of what was to be accomplished was based largely on wishful thinking (namely, Che’s foco theory of voluntarism: start something and, by osmosis, a revolution will follow).

These men entered a situation that was far from ideal for the Cubans’ objectives of confronting their enemy in as many places as possible so that the pressure on Cuba itself would be lessened. Instead, they came to find out that the leaders (in particular Kabila and Soumialot) had described a situation that was not reflected in the reality they found on the ground. At the beginning Che was convinced that with time and hard work the discrepancy between expectations and reality could be reduced. But it only got worse; indeed, given how bad it got, one wonders how the whole operation did not end more disastrously than it did. Yet to the very end Che tried not to retreat, an outcome Fidel guessed at by dispatching emissaries to convince Che, as diplomatically as possible, to leave the Congo. Fortunately for them, Che finally resigned himself to the only possible avenue: retreat with honor, with their weapons. Indeed, Che himself prefaced his highly critical assessment by saying he was reporting on a disaster, but he added that he hoped that it would help avoid future disasters. How much the average Cubans and the leadership learned from the Congo’s disastrous mission can be guessed from what they accomplished on so many other fronts in Africa (especially in Angola), as so eloquently stressed by Armando Entralgo, the dean of Asia and African studies in Cuba, in his foreword to the volume focused on Victor Dreke.

Dreke’s account starts from his experience prior to the overthrow of
Battista. “From Escambray to the Congo” provides internal details often ignored in analyses of the durability and depth of the Cuban victory over the U.S. military, financial, and political arsenal directed against Cuba. The key of Cuban successes from the Escambray to the Congo and beyond could be summarized as unity, discipline, and self-reliance: “patria o muerte: venceremos.” In the global North it continues to be an article of faith that the only way out of underdevelopment is the Western Way. The idea that underdeveloped people could be successful in a different way was considered impossible; yet Cubans have demonstrated the fallacy of such an affirmation.

From 1959 through the Sierra Maestra campaign—mopping up operations in the Escambray against the bandits being supported by the United States, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Missile Crisis in October 1962—Che, Fidel, and their comrades managed to do something comparable to what the slaves did in Haiti between 1791 and 1804, with one big difference: so far, the winners of the battle against Battista and his allies have managed to preserve what they won, whereas the descendants of the former slaves are still battling the descendants of the enslavers to make Haiti what it was supposed to be rather than the so-called poorest country of the Western Hemisphere. What happened in Escambray proved to be one of the best training grounds of the Cuban Revolution. It is in Escambray that people like Dreke were tempered for the kinds of missions they performed in Africa. It was in Escambray, as Armando Entralgo eloquently writes in the foreword, that the Cubans saw themselves engaged in a long and bloody class warfare: the battle lines between revolution and counterrevolution were fought over daily; in these contexts, unity, discipline, creativity were not mere theoretical concepts. Entralgo’s foreword aptly synthesizes Dreke’s account: as a counter to the divisions imposed by the dominant system, unity could be singled out as the essential contribution of the Cubans to the emancipation of Africa and the diaspora.

With regard to the Congolese rebels’ leadership, the assessment is
mixed. There is obvious reluctance to stress the negative aspects, as can be seen in almost all accounts of the episode (in particular, Gleijeses 2002). Instead, Dreke prefers to focus on the unity within Cuba between its people and the leadership, without which Cuba would not have been able to survive not only the onslaught of the U.S. destabilizing campaigns, but also—and this cannot be overstressed—the lack of reliability of the Soviet Union. It was that combination of a lethal enemy and an ally reluctant to treat its ally as an equal that led the Cuban leadership to stress self-reliance above all, especially with regard to the relationship with other liberation movements in Africa.

Whereas almost from the moment Che and his companions set foot on the shores of Lake Tanganyika the Congo mission was seen as a failure, the experience in the Escambray was the kind of success that explains why the Cubans felt that they could reproduce their successes anywhere in the world. It was the victory in the Escambray, against the internal opponents of the socialist transformation in Cuba, that provided the kind of self-confidence without which someone like Dreke and his companions would not have been able to think that anything they undertook was possible.

Through the words of Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Mosês Sío Wong, Our History Is Still Being Written shifts the focus to Angola (1975–91), but not exclusively, as it follows each of the contributors in their various assignments inside and outside Cuba. Though of different backgrounds (General Sío Wong was head of strategic reserves, General Choy directed the cleaning up of Havana harbor, and General Chui almost died in Angola following a severe injury), they all served in Angola. Again, it is difficult not to see the connection between the successes in Angola and the earlier (internal and external) battles that prepared the Cuban for their victory over the armed forces of apartheid. In a subdued, almost humble, way, these two books can be seen as collective praise for what Cuba has been able to do, not just for specific African countries, but for the majority of humanity resisting the unrelenting assaults of the capitalist system. In the struggle for this goal, the internal and external successes were extraordinary, given the intensity and extension of hostility coming from the United States: on his visit to Cuba in July 1991, Nelson Mandela praised and thanked the Cubans for what he described as their “unparalleled contribution to African Freedom” (the speech is excerpted in an appendix mostly devoted to the battle of Cuito Cuanavale).

Choy, Chui, and Wong are all of Chinese origin—members of a group
that, like all nonwhite members of Cuban society under the Battista
regime, was the target of societal, political, and financial discrimination. However, unlike Dreke’s volume, this book also covers the period coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet Union. To me, the most fascinating sections are part 2 (“Strengthening the Revolution”) and part 3 (“The Special Period and Beyond”), in which the authors show how the Cuban people (and their leaders) managed to figure a way out of the crisis. With their backs to the wall, no retreat was possible; it is a story of ingenuity and sacrifice. At least in terms of the dominant mindset, Cuba is still perceived as being on the side of the losers; but such a mindset must continue to prescribe that Cuba remain on the losing side, for fear of attracting those who are eager to put an end to the systemic and systematic injustice that goes hand in hand with the dominant system.

It is difficult to assess precisely the internal political impact of the internationalist military missions, but it would also be difficult to claim that three hundred and seventy-five thousand Cubans, from foot soldiers to generals, fighting for a cause that each of them identified with, did not have a positive impact. For example, reading about backwardness in the midst of real or potential wealth was different from the shock many got when they saw with their own eyes “a country like Angola with great natural wealth . . . yet with a population facing needs of the most basic type” (101). It is clear from these books, but also from more scholarly works like that of Gleijeses mentioned above, that for the Cuban internationalists, the ideological fight was literally about Patria o muerte. The objectives that Chui, Choy, and Wong fought for in overseas were identical to those that continue to be fought for in Cuba today.

I have never visited Cuba, but I have followed the trials and tribulations of people who were determined not to rest until they gave the best of themselves in order to eradicate as much as possible the depredations of a dehumanizing system. Ideological foes tend to downplay their achievements by citing the outside support Cuba received from the Soviet Union, or the fact that it is an island, or its repressive policies. But even with all of these elements factored in, the explanations for Cuba’s resilience still fall short. Until, of course, reference is made to individual liberties.

What is the point, however, of defending or having individual liberties if, at the same time, such liberties would lead to accepting the inequalities that make hunger and ignorance acceptable while those who have the means end up using them to entrench injustices? As long as the global situation makes it a crime to think that capitalism can only reproduce itself through genocidal sequences, Cuba’s achievements will be difficult to assess in a serene fashion; suffice it to say that in the realm of education and health, few countries can match their record, given the resources at their disposal and given the hostility from the United States.

If Cuba had collapsed like the Soviet Union (or China), would these
two books have been written? Asking this question bears on the context in which histories tend to be produced, regardless of the focus. As many African countries approach the fiftieth anniversaries of their independence, how will decolonization be framed? It is a cliché to say that histories are written by the victors: in a continent that has often been on the losing side, should one be surprised if the assessments are presented from the angle of those eager to be on the side of the winners? More important, the question bears on issues that, because of Cold War framing, were either hidden or deliberately downplayed because opening them up would have forced a discussion of what really was at stake during the Cold War. Throughout the period, President Nyerere’s vision of an Africa rooted in solidarity (ujamaa) did lead to mistakes, but they were mistakes made on the basis of a conviction that the values promoted by capitalist development would continue the destruction of the continent as surely as it had been started under colonial rule.

Yet nurturing a system based on South-South solidarity relationships is slowly becoming an alternative, a viable solution to relations dictated solely by considerations determined by the rules and regulations of a predatory socioeconomic system. Whatever errors and abuses may have been committed by Cuba, there is no doubt that its survival, so far, can be attributed largely to the fact that its leaders ensured that the gap between their own lifestyle and that of the average Cuban was kept as narrow as possible. Solidarity with those at the bottom of society is always bound to slow those who would use the ideology of freedom and the market to give themselves the right to enrich themselves at the cost of the majority and, at the same time, assuage their conscience through charity. Such a vision for which Cubans fought—in Africa—has been denied to Africans.

References

Anderson, Jon Lee. 1997. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Grove Press.
Gleijeses, Piero. 2002. Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959–1976. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Kalfon, Pierre. 1997. Che: Ernesto Guevara, une légende du siècle. Paris: Seuil.
Taibo, Paco Ignacio, II. 1995. El año que estuvimos en ninguna parte. Tafalla: Txalaparta.

Note

1. For skeptical readers unconvinced by this reviewer’s approach, we can only suggest the following works of well-credentialed scholars: Gleijeses (2002); Kalfon (1997); Anderson (1997); Taibo (1995).

Jacques Depelchin
Ota Benga Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity
Berkeley, California

DRC’s Economic War

We are pleased, as part of our commitment to sharing thoughtful and insightful commentary on the Democratic Republic of Congo, to post this essay by Zahra Moloo. A full pdf version, formatted and with references is available but for those with assistive technology needs, the full text is posted below.

Congo Mine
Source Oxfam, NZ

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Economic War: Investigating the Origin of Anonymous Commodities in the Global Capitalist System

“Since the 19th century, when the world looks at Congo it sees a pile of riches with some black people inconveniently sitting on top of them. They eradicate the Congolese people so they can possess the mines and resources. They destroy us because we are an inconvenience.” As he speaks, I picture the raped women with bullets burying through their intestines and try to weigh them against the piles of blood-soaked electronic goods sitting beneath my Christmas tree with their little chunks of Congolese metal whirring inside. Bertrand smiles and says, “Tell me, who are the savages? Us, or you?”

-Johann Hari
“Congo’s Tragedy, the War the World Forgot”

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, first published in 1899 and years later subject to a polemical but much-needed critique by one of Africa’s most prolific writers, King Leopold’s colonial project in the Congo is described as “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.” More than a century later, after a protracted war in which an estimated 4.2 million citizens perished and the nation’s stability was invested in the UN’s largest peacekeeping force to date, Conrad’s oft-repeated phrase is, tragically, just as pertinent. Yet despite such baffling statistics, the Congo receives only cursory attention in the international media. When Western news analysts do find something of relevance to disseminate to their audiences, it remains unknowingly tainted by the same discourse which animated the historical narratives of European travelers and writers such as Conrad, seeking to project an image of this other world as antithetical in its “triumphant bestiality” to civilized European society. To be sure, Conrad’s writings carry overtly racist descriptions considered unacceptable today, but the simple act of using the title “Heart of Darkness” to describe the Congo war, as one American news report did in January 2002, perpetuates historical representations of the Congo as “inherently chaotic and irrational” and guarantees that western observers, worlds away from the daily suffering of the people on their television screens, will dismiss acts of violence as “lacking in political rationale.” With the purpose of rectifying common misrepresentations which by virtue of their carelessness are responsible for enacting a double violence in addition to the more palpable forms of violence enacted against the people of the Congo, this paper attempts to provide a more accurate depiction of the second Congo war which began in 1998 and which has been described as the deadliest since World War II. The very first step in redressing the errors of representation concerns the terminology employed when referring to the Congo war. To describe the Congo war as a “civil war” is not only erroneous but also irresponsible. The connection between American news observers and acts of grotesque violence taking place in the DRC is more direct than most acknowledge; the Congo war was an international war in which legitimate and illegitimate actors alike, neighboring African states, rebel groups, multinational companies and western consumers contributed to the creation of an “alternative system of profit” from the country’s abundant and lucrative natural resources.

A variety of resources abound in Africa. In 1979, the continent was responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s gold production, 75 per cent of its diamonds, and large quantities of antimony, manganese, chrome, copper, cobalt, coltan, uranium and petroleum. Large quantities of these resources are found in the Central African region, specifically in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an enormous swathe of land the size of Western Europe. 15 per cent of the world’s niobium reserves and 80 per cent of its tantalum reserves are found in Africa, and of this quantity, the Congo contains 60 per cent of the niobium deposits and 80 per cent of the tantalum. It is estimated that some $6 million in raw cobalt alone exits the DRC daily. In 2004, during the second Congo war, another cobalt ore, heterogenite, was departing the DRC at a rate of 6 000 tons per month. The abundance of natural resources in the Congo has been the primary factor influencing the country’s turbulent past and the profitability of resource extraction for the disparate actors involved in the war was responsible for perpetuating the 6-year conflict. Failure to adequately address and analyze the economic causes of the second Congo war is therefore little short of outrageous. Unfortunately, the problem of insufficient analysis of the causes and determinants of the Congo war is not restricted solely to the realm of media, but also includes scholarly explanations of the war that more often than not are suffused with familiar terminology borrowed from the discipline of political science which become unduly preoccupied with theoretical explanations of “state behavior,” “political order” and the like. Denis M Tull in his book The Reconfiguration of Political Order in Africa: A Case Study of North Kivu claims that in fact, hardly any other issue concerning the conflict in the DRC has attracted more attention by academics, the media and the wider public than the “interplay of violence and economics,” but if one peruses the limited literature on the second war in the DRC, it is clear that the explanations are found wanting. Even among the best literature on the Congo war, one finds that habitual academic detachment which expresses itself in the form of “fascination” with the “postcolonial traumas” afflicting the DRC. This is not to say that most academic works to date have failed to provide thorough explanations of the political causes and consequences of the Congo war, but that the most neglected feature of the war, namely the importance of natural resources, is the one which might best expose the motivations of the numerous actors in the war to continue engaging in conflict.

In no way does the fact of placing the onus for the war on the lucrative resource extraction industry and its respective actors minimize the historical political precedents to the Congo war, but these political factors cannot be divorced from economic determinants. This paper will therefore provide an analysis of the way in which Congo’s resources heralded an age of mass exploitation beginning with the reign of Leopold II of Belgium whose brutal practices resulted in 5 to 8 million deaths from murder, starvation, exhaustion and disease. It will go on to examine the transference of power from the hands of King Leopold II to the multinational companies operating in the Congo during Belgian colonialism and subsequently, during the rule of Mobutu. The main body of the paper will diverge from historical analyses to examine the mass appropriation of resources during the Congo war by the many disparate actors aforementioned and the ways in which they interacted to advance an effective economic agenda. Those who attempt to analyze 20th century civil wars of African countries in possession of lucrative mineral resources without adequately addressing the relationship between violence and profit are committing a gross act of injustice. It is my fervent hope that in addressing this issue, this paper will succeed in exposing the tyranny of modern capitalism in an increasingly integrated global economy and its role in eroding both the sovereignty of independent nations and the dignity of human individuals.

I. Resource Exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo Prior to the Civil War

The Most Profitable Colony in Africa: Leopold II and Belgian Colonialism
If one attempted to conceptualize the loss of sovereignty experienced by the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo over the course of more than a century, the starting point would perhaps be a day in the year 1885 when the state of the Congo was first proclaimed the personal possession of King Leopold II of Belgium. On that day, all “vacant land,” was declared the property of the state. Vast swathes of the country’s territory, including a number of inhabited villages were leased out to private companies whose shareholders were for the most part Belgian, but over 50 per cent of the profits went directly into the hands of the King. His profit making enterprise involved seizing as much ivory as possible from ivory raids, buying tusks from villagers or direct confiscation. Africans were often forced at gunpoint to accept extremely low prices in exchange for the ivory in their possession and tens of thousands of porters, carrying everything from ammunition to red wine on the road which brought ivory supplies from the interior to the sea, endured weeks of hunger and fatigue before perishing of exhaustion at the end of the voyages.
Even more appalling in its brutality than the ivory raids was the establishment of a highly profitable wild rubber industry which arose in the 1890s when the industrial world was developing an appetite for hoses, tubing, and rubber insulation for the telegraph, the telephone and electrical wiring. Increasing competition from the cultivation of rubber in Latin America and Asia acted as a further impetus to the development of the rubber industry in the Congo. The sole requirement for harvesting enormous quantities of rubber was labour, but as writer Adam Hochschild notes, labour could not be obtained through enslavement since it required adept skills for arduous, painful work. The system of collection instituted therefore required each man in a village to collect about 3 to 4 kilos of dried rubber per fortnight which meant full-time labour. If a village refused to provide rubber, its inhabitants would either be shot or have their hands cut off. Soldiers returned to their officials with baskets of hands or heads indicating the number of people killed.

By the turn of the century, the Congo was producing more than eleven million pounds of rubber a year and it was the most profitable colony in Africa, with total rubber earnings increasing by 96 times from 1890 to 1904. Of these proceeds, a significant portion went to companies such as the Compagnie du Kasai and the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber and Exploration Company (ABIR) which invested 1.35 francs per kilo for harvesting, and sold it in Antwerp for 10 francs per kilo, a profit of more than 700 per cent. In order to guarantee such high profits, the company ABIR in 1900 sent 159 firearms and 40 355 rounds of ammunition to a single rubber-collecting post out of the 35 existing ones to suppress rebellions against rubber-collecting. Of the money that went directly to King Leopold, a large part was invested in the development of public works and urban improvement in the country of Belgium. Today, the enthusiastic tourist can visit monuments and public works whose establishment was accompanied by a massacre of holocaust proportions. The Arcade du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, the Tervuren Museum, public works at Ostend, and extensions to the Royal Palace were all funded by the Congo Free State.
With the transfer of the Congo Free State colony from the private possession of the Belgian king to the Belgian government after 1908, the brutal massacres abated but the economic structure of the country remained intact. The country continued to finance the development of the Belgian metropolis, and with time, the development of other European countries. Its very existence, like most African territories under colonialism, was completely oriented toward the development of the industrialized world. So profitable was the colony that during World War Two, the Belgian government in London was in a position to expend 40 million pounds on its armed forces in Europe and Africa as well as on diplomatic service and related expenditures without having to extract any money from the Belgian gold reserve. Some of the tasks performed by the Congolese during this time included the same tasks performed under Leopold, such as rubber collecting and porterage. Economically, the country came to occupy an increasingly significant niche in the international economy, expanding away from the development of the little nation of Belgium to contribute to more ambitious projects such as the development of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which were made from Congolese high-quality uranium.

The most efficacious method to ensure that the Belgian Congo would yield profits as high as under Leopold entailed giving more autonomy to the companies established shortly before the transfer of power occurred in 1908. Such companies included Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK), described by Nzongola-Ntalaja as the “the giant mining company and the single most important business enterprise in the Congo’s economy.” Established in 1906, with direct ties to the royal family, this company owned the Shinkolobwe mine that provided uranium for the making of the atomic bombs. Others were involved in mineral and timber exploitation, especially in Katanga, one of the most economically strategic regions of the country where the second largest company after Union Minière, the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga (BCK) began constructing a railroad to transfer minerals from mining centres to international ports in Congo, Angola and Mozambique. Mineral exploitation was not restricted to Belgian companies, but included British involvement through the company Tanganyika Concessions Limited (TCL) which held 14.5 per cent of shares in the UMHK. 48 per cent of these shares belonged to British banks such as Barclays, Midland, Bearing and Rothschild. American and German interests, while limited, developed later in the form of investments in the colonial company Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (CCCI), established in 1887 for the purpose of constructing the lower Congo railroad.

With the proliferation of these companies the economy was re-directed from rubber extraction to other forms of mineral wealth. Before World War One, rubber and ivory extraction comprised 96 per cent of exports from the Belgian Congo; by 1926, mineral exports constituted 61 per cent of total exports. Copper production began in 1911, diamond mining in 1913, tin in 1918, and uranium and radium mining in 1922. By 1932 the country had attracted more than 100 million pounds of foreign capital, 56 per cent of which was controlled by the Belgian company Société Générale, which itself controlled Union Minière. Already by 1929 the company Union Minière was producing 140 000 tons of copper per year and copper accounted for 50 per cent of the Congo’s exports, 7 per cent of total world copper production. The company was the biggest single employer of Congolese labour, functioning in much the same way as had ABIR during the time of King Leopold. Authors Greg Lanning and Marti Mueller claim that the mining companies which grew progressively stronger in the colonial period acted as independent entities “only tenuously connected to the colonial administration,” with Union Minière virtually ruling the copper-rich Katanga province. In total, 61 per cent of capital invested in the Belgian Congo was linked to the development of the country’s mineral resources.

Also during Belgian colonial rule, companies representing the interests of other European countries became increasingly involved in extraction activities. Although these companies functioned relatively independently of the colonial administration, their interests were in no way divorced from the financial concerns of the countries where they were based. The early “internationalization” of the Congo through the proliferation of British, German and Belgian companies is testimony to the country’s enormous economic potential. One author has argued that this internationalization explains the upheavals which occurred during Congo’s independence in 1960 including the political chaos which emerged in Katanga province when secessionists, Union Minière, and Europeans with capital investments in the mineral-rich province favored the separation of the region from the country at large in order to sustain its autonomy. As the following pages will demonstrate, the multiplication of numerous interests expanded long after colonialism came to an end.

Scramble After Independence: The Cold War Years and Mobutu

After independence in 1960, the vast territory of the Congo was subject to a new scramble for resources which led to further internationalization of the region. Manning and Mueller claim that the 1950s just prior to independence was the “heyday of mining companies in Africa” when a “great wave of exploration swept across the continent” and mineral companies discovered huge reserves of unexploited bauxite, iron ore, copper and other lucrative resources. American interests in the Congo in particular had become more pronounced following the end of the Second World War which coincided with the rise of America’s military-industrial complex and its determination to assume control of strategic mineral resources. In the escalating tensions of the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower, acknowledged in his 1952 presidential campaign the vital importance of the Congo’s position in the international economy, stating that “whoever controls Belgian Congo will control the rest of the continent.” Exaggerating anxieties that the country would incline toward the Communist side in the Cold War struggle for power after its independence from Belgian, and determined to gain access to the country’s mineral wealth, the American government backed the assassination of democratically–elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and helped install Mobutu Sese Seko as president, one of the most corrupt African leaders who ruled from 1964 to 1997 and eventually drove the country to economic collapse. Assassinating Lumumba was also in the interests of Belgian private interest groups who feared the nationalization of the UMHK under a newly elected democratic government.

The official proclamation of independence in 1960 in no way meant that the country had gained sovereignty over its territory. Even Mobutu’s attempts to provide his country with the opportunity to become the “architect of its own destiny,” in the early years of independence, by instituting the Bakajika law of 1966 to enable the state to gain control of all land and mineral rights, and by transforming UMHK in 1967 into a nationalized company, Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines) were met with swift reprisals. The Belgian government immediately imposed an embargo on copper imports from the DRC and sought the cooperation of other European countries in imposing economic sanctions. The result was a compromise which consolidated foreign dominance over the mining industry as Mobutu granted full compensation, management, processing and marketing contracts to a sister company of the UMHK, the Société Générale des Minerais. The latter company was to take care of all the servicing required for the operation of the nationalized company, including employment of personnel, and industrial and commercial management of the company. This incident in the turbulent history of the Congo demonstrates to what extent governing elites in the post-colonial period became simple intermediaries between resources and international mining companies ardent to gain strategic economic control over the region. Throughout the 1970s, American and European companies extracted tens of millions of dollars worth of minerals, the revenues of which were funneled directly into Mobutu’s private Swiss bank accounts. The Congo’s wealth, as Timothy Longman succinctly states, “helped to prop up the Mobutu regime long after it had lost public support.”

The highly lucrative extractive enterprise initiated under Leopold II was not discontinued with the arrival of Congo’s independence. The type and process of extraction were altered, but fundamentally, the new pro-Western Congolese government continued to operate “under the old economic and administrative structures.” Toward the end of the twentieth century, the Congolese economy was tailored specifically to serve foreign economic interests which had effectively replaced Belgian monopoly over the country. The absence of a strong political culture espousing sovereignty and democracy was testimony to the “political decline” and foreign economic domination which characterized the three decades of Zaire’s independence. In 1997, the end of the Mobutu years heralded a new era in the history of the country, a particularly brutal war, and a new president in the form of Laurent Kabila, leader of the rebel groups Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, (ADFL). The remaining pages are devoted to examining the second Congo war which emerged as a product of the historical precedents described above.

II. The Second Congo War; an “Alternative System of Profit”

Precedents to the War
Although the Second Congo War cannot be properly understood without clarifying the causes and effects of the First Congo War, it is not within the scope of this paper to provide a proper and thorough analysis of the initial war which arose in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the Former Government of Rwanda, having fled the country, re-established administrative control over an estimated two million Rwandan refugees within the borders of the DRC. What is noteworthy about the first war is the speed with which the Congolese rebel group ADFL, backed by Uganda, Rwanda and Angola, was able to seize control of the mineral-rich areas of Shaba (formerly Katanga), eastern Zaire, Kasai and Kivu. The ADFL initiated a rebellion in early 1996 and by May 1997, its journey from the eastern peripheral regions of the country to the capital was complete. Mobutu fled to Morocco and Laurent Kabila declared himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, inheriting an external debt of $14 billion and a formal economy which had shrunk by over 40 per cent from 1988 to 1995.

The rebellion demonstrated that mineral-abundant regions had developed autonomy from Kinshasa, largely as a result of the predominance of mineral extraction of the type described in previous pages, where giant mining consortiums exploited rich mineral fields in disparate regions of the country over the course of a century. The rebellion was also a consequence of state collapse under Mobutu, which enabled a “web of complex power relations” to prevail in peripheral regions in the absence of proper state sovereignty, but this in turn was provoked and aided by the supremacy of foreign interests long after colonialism had ended.

Interestingly, although Kabila considered himself a revolutionary, liberating the country from the cancerous and stagnating rule of Mobutu, his personal desire to maintain power was no different from Mobutu’s, and in the years to come he consolidated rather than dissolved the economic structure in place which gave a free hand to those who wished to continue appropriating the country’s resources. If anything, a reciprocal relationship emerged between the rebel leader and foreign exploitative mining companies; Kabila recognized the importance of resource extraction to the success of his insurgency even before taking control of Kinshasa. In April 1997, he allegedly signed contracts with De Beers, a South African diamond conglomerate which for years had enjoyed monopoly access to Congo’s diamond fields under Mobutu, and with American Mineral Fields and Canadian-owned Tenke Mining Corporation, the latter eager to gain access to copper and cobalt reserves in Shaba province. Tenke was also given permission to buy diamonds in Kisangani, in return for supplying Kabila with cash and a jet for his private associates.

In addition to the companies, the American government, initially responsible for installing Mobutu in power, was one of the Kabila’s staunchest supporters. During the rebellion, an American diplomat and an ambassador frequently visited Kabila when the rebels were preparing to expand their regional insurgency with the aim of overthrowing Mobutu. When Kabila assumed power, the American government, in their unwavering support for both the Rwandan and the new Congolese government, went so far as to distort the number of refugees still remaining in Zaire, and instructed Kabila not to cooperate with UN investigations of the massacres of Hutu refugees during the ADFL rebellion. This sudden transfer of political support from Mobutu to Kabila on the part of mining companies and Western governments clearly indicates that economic incentives took precedence over concerns with democratic political legitimacy: Western countries supported a kleptocratic state under Mobutu until he was no longer useful after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Thereafter, a more promising leader emerged who espoused a “free market” approach in favor of the interests of mining companies and Western governments alike.

Soon after taking power, Kabila’s monopolization of power, frequent use of political repression, and final decision to distance himself from the external support of the Ugandan and Rwandan governments that were responsible for his victory in the first place led to an invasion orchestrated by Rwanda and Uganda in eastern Congo. In response, Kabila garnered support from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and convinced the government of the Central African Republic to grant his troops access to its territory. As the war escalated, the vested interests of the intervening countries grew until the war became not only profitable but also necessary for the various participants.

Regional Interests: Economic or Political?
Among the participants in the war whose primary motives are said to be political in nature include the governments of Angola, Rwanda and Uganda. It is worth considering the various interpretations which examine political motives for the rebellion, for even if economic incentives took precedence over political motivations, simplistic analyses limited solely to the economic domain preclude a nuanced understanding of the entire conflict.

Angola entered the war for the same reason it intervened in the 1996-1997 war: to defend itself against Jonas Savimbi’s rebel movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) which had suspected ties to Rwanda and Uganda, and to maintain a regime favorable to its interests in Kinshasa. The Angolan government’s support for President Laurent Kabila came secondary to its internal political motivations and on two documented occasions, the government welcomed, if not ordered, the removal of Kabila.

It is widely held that Uganda and Rwanda initiated the rebellion with the aim of deposing Kabila and enforcing border security and by August 1998, their rebels had seized control of Goma, Bukavu, Uvira and the lucrative city of Kisangani. However, in the absence of a cohesive political ideology or interest uniting the various anti-Kabila rebels, the Congolese anti-Kabila Movement Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie (RCD) as well as the Uganda-Rwanda alliance fragmented in the early stages of rebellion and the war was prolonged for eight years in a climate which precluded a definitive justification for any declared initial motives. Political fragmentation even occurred within military contingents. In the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), Ugandan soldiers were accused of taking sides with Hema communities against Lendu rivals, which alienated the Ugandan army from the Congolese a faction that had formed from the RCD aforementioned. Uganda’s failure to unify the various rebel factions further demonstrates the absence of an overarching aim, and anticipates the carving up of rebel-held territory into “virtual fiefdoms” as each faction tried to take power in eastern Congo.

It is unclear whether the fighting which broke out between the UPDF and the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) in August 1999, only one month after the signing of a cease-fire agreement was driven by political or economic motives. Over 600 soldiers and civilians were killed in an incident which political scientist Osita G. Afoaku claims reveals the differences between the two groups over the objectives and strategies of the war. By contrast, Timothy Longman posits that the fighting was fuelled by competition over diamonds being transported through Kisangani, suggesting perhaps that economic and political motives came to be indistinguishable over time. After all, he argues, Rwanda is a “small overpopulated country with almost no natural resources,” making its economic forays questionable to say the least. The tenuous nature of Rwanda’s apparent motives for invading the Congo is reinforced by the fact that Rwandan officials denied extraterritorial intervention in the Congo in the early stages of the war.

Evidence for the extent to which economic incentives determined invasion has been provided in the report, the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the report, several accounts in Kampala suggest that Ugandan military officials who had served in the first war in the DRC “had a taste of the business potential of the region” and had even begun preparations prior to the second war to occupy and import resources from diamond and gold mines located in the east of the country. A witness in the area of Durba claimed that the Ugandan army did not even fight any battles in the gold mining areas, and they were “only here for the gold.” As soon as the war began, eastern territories controlled by Ugandan and Rwandan-backed groups practically became “de facto states,” autonomous from any central governing authority, in a manner reminiscent of the early colonial period where peripheral territories developed separately from the rest of the country under the control of large mining companies.

The remaining countries intervening in the war include Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. Zimbabwe felt justified intervening in defense of the territorial sovereignty of a neighboring country and furthermore had the military capacity to do so, as did Namibia. South Africa did not contribute militarily, and failed to come to Kabila’s defense during the war, but interestingly provided arms to both sides of the conflict and alleged moral support to the anti-Kabila forces.

It is certainly true, as historian Michael Nest argues, that the immediate precedents to the war were in large part political in nature and encompassed a number of issues from Rwandan citizenship rights in the Congo to regime security and ethnic tensions, yet economic incentives cannot be ignored. The well-known “greed versus grievance” concept introduced by former head of the World Bank Paul Collier and developed by several theorists eager to define in concrete terms the motivating factors of rebel insurrections, acknowledges that “greed” for economic resources takes precedence over political grievances. Collier’s theory, while valuable in defining a theoretical framework in which to situate the opposition between the political and the economic factors influencing civil conflicts, is quite simplistic in presenting such a stark distinction between the two motivating factors and undermines both complex causal historical phenomena as well as the human dimension of the suffering of war victims. Nevertheless, it accurately concludes that “circumstances that determine financial viability are potentially important regardless of the motivation for rebellion.” In the Congo war, economic motivations to sustain the war assumed priority over initial political factors as multiple actors found themselves in precarious political positions but absorbed in enormously profitable economic arrangements.

African Countries Profiting from War
Access to the DRC’s gold and diamond fields was enormously profitable for both the Ugandan and the Rwandan economy. Given that Uganda has no known diamond production, Ugandan officials were unable to provide data to the UN Panel of Exports on the quantity and profit of diamond exports, yet statistics provided by the Diamond High Council reveal that diamonds were exported from Uganda in the years which coincided with the second Congo war. Rough diamond exports from Uganda increased from 1511.35 carats in 1997 prior to the war, the equivalent of US$198 302 dollars, to 1 1024.46 carats in 1999, a value of US$ 1813 500. Likewise, Ugandan niobium exports were zero in 1995, but fetched US$780 000 in 1999, according to the World Trade Organization. Uganda effectively “became” a diamond and niobium exporting country, with no official evidence to explain how this occurred. Officials were able to provide statistics on the export of other minerals, including gold, coltan, tin and cobalt; the glaring discrepancies between the quantity of mineral produced and the quantity exported is alarming. For instance, in 1997, Uganda was producing 1.81 tons of tin and exporting 4.43 tons of tin. In 2005, gold was the third top Ugandan export, after coffee and fish, but domestic production of gold is negligible. Statistics document huge discrepancies between gold production and exports during the Congo war:

Official Ugandan Gold Import, Export and Production, Figures in $US
Year 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Gold Exports 18,600,000 38,360,000 55,730,000 50,350,000 59,900,000 45,760,000 45,590,000
Gold Imports 0 2,000 3,076,000 890,000 0 2,000 n/a
Local Gold Production n/a 40,307 477,000 1,412 24,817 23,000 21,000

Discrepancy 18,600,000 38,317,693 52,177,000 49,458,588 59,875,183 45,735,000 45,569,000

Source: Human Rights Watch. From: Ugandan Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and Central Bank of Uganda. Statistics for 2004 are estimates.

The increase in gold exports evidently increased as the Congo war escalated, reaching a peak of US$ 59,900 000 in 2002 which constituted a shocking discrepancy of US$59, 875, 183 between production and export. As can be observed in the table above, official exports began to fall after 2002, the year in which a transitional government was installed in the Congo following the assassination of Laurent Kabila, and the UN peacekeeping forces MONUC were expanded from 5537 international military personnel to 8700.

Rwanda, like Uganda, has no known production of diamond, zinc, cobalt, manganese and uranium, but evidence obtained from the World Trade Organization, Belgium, and the Diamond High Council indicate that Rwanda exported a significant quantity of diamonds, receiving profits of $US 720 425 in 1997, and $US 1 788 036 in the year 2000. In the same period, Rwanda’s coltan exports are said to have doubled and in the years 1999 and 2000 alone, with the Rwandan army allegedly extracted resources in eastern Congo estimated at $250 million. Statistics on the profits garnered by the countries intervening in defense of Kabila are less extensive that those on the eastern regions of the country where Ugandan and Rwandan-backed groups were carrying out widespread atrocities, possibly because these countries were less invested in the clandestine illicit economy in minerals. Kabila himself gave his allies a share in the wealth of the country, including significant mining concessions to Zimbabwe. It has been documented that between 3000 and 5000 Zimbabwean soldiers were engaged in mining in the Shaba and Kasai Orientale Provinces during the war and Zimbabwe was also engaged in a logging contract to cut down 33 million hectares of trees with estimated profits worth $US 300 million through the Congolese company SOCEBO. Also since 1998, Angola has maintained a small military presence in oil-rich Bas-Congo. By the time the Lusaka Agreement was signed in 1999 to put an end to bring peace to the Congo, few of the combatants wanted to disengage from a war that had enabled them to profit enormously from the remaining “carcass” of a potentially rich country.

Perpetuating War: Beyond Regional Involvement
The habitual tendency to define a relationship between “African” issues divorced from a “separate international system” expresses itself, in the case of the second Congo war, in its characterization as “Africa’s First World War.” One of the most serious consequences of ascribing such a definition is that it detracts attention from the global interaction of the many participants without which the continued plunder of mineral resources would not have carried on unchecked. To be sure, certain features of the conflict warrant such a characterization, including the fact that physical extraction of resources took place on African soil, and several Central and Southern African countries were directly involved, not to mention Chad and Sudan. Insisting that the Congo war was primarily an African phenomenon is perhaps justifiable if international involvement occurred in the form of complicity or indifference from international actors or nation states. Yet the continuation of the conflict finds its very origin in the insidious, {albeit indirect}, contribution of Western countries, transnational mining companies and individual actors.

Among the countries that undoubtedly facilitated the continuation of the second Congo conflict is the United States, whose conspicuous historical intervention in the Congo during the Cold War years invariably led to the absence of a functioning democracy and the triumph of a predatory state under Mobutu. Augusta Muchai remarks that that a large percentage of the arms which were in circulation during the Congo war years were not acquired in the past decade, but rather during the Cold War. During the Mobutu years, the US provided $100 million in military training and $300 million in weapons to Zaire, the latter finding their way to a variety of sources over time through army defectors. Following the end of the Cold War, numerous countries in Eastern Europe including Romania, Slovakia, Belarus, and Bulgaria as well as Russia, North Korea and Brazil were willing to sell their arms for profit, and many found their way into Mobutu’s collection. Former colonizers, including France and Belgium also supplied military equipment to the governments of the Great Lakes region, with France providing military training as well as both heavy and light equipment to the Rwandan government in 1990. Shortly after, between 1991 and 1992, over US$ 6 million worth of arms were sent to the Rwandan government. After the overthrow of Mobutu, the US transferred its military allegiance to Uganda and Rwanda even though the state department had accused both countries of orchestrating widespread human rights abuses.

Western governments that provided weapons to African countries during the Cold War are perhaps only partially responsible for ensuring that such weapons are not used in illegal conflicts, but they are fully responsible for the consequences that ensue from direct assistance during or prior to the war years. It has been documented that the US helped to build the arsenals of eight of the nine governments directly involved in the war, trained the troops fighting on both sides of the conflict, and from 1991-1998, provided more than $227 million in training and weapons delivery to the continent, all of which was no doubt indispensable to the continuation of the conflict. Muchai demonstrates how the many resolutions undertaken to end the Second Congo conflict in the early years failed to address the contribution of the arms trade. All initiatives, including the Lusaka Agreement signed on 27 August 1999 focused on diplomatic, political and even military solutions without directly addressing the issue of arms proliferation, which had occurred over the course of decades through direct transfer of military equipment to all parties involved in the war.

One might argue that the provision of military assistance does not directly implicate the governments and weapons manufacturers in the atrocities perpetrated by rebel groups whose hands the weapons fall into, however, direct military aid was not the only contribution of Western governments to the continuation of the conflict. While weapons manufacturers are worlds away from end users in the Congo, and the purchase of a single weapon often involves several nations, corporations and brokers involved in the transfer of weapons at many different levels, political clout or “soft power” wielded by Western governments can go a long way toward impeding the escalation of conflict. Yet instead of adopting a firm diplomatic stance against the countries involved in the war, the US government had a double standard when addressing the conflict. The United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, condemned foreign intervention in the Congo as “unacceptable,” but the government declined to call for the immediate withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops and instead pressured Kabila to sign the Lusaka Agreement which treated the conflict as a “civil war,” Accordingly, UN peacekeepers were to be stationed along the ceasefire line in the middle of the country rather than at the borders where they could have monitored the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Congo. Not surprisingly, the Lusaka Agreement failed to bring peace to the country and the war was prolonged for several more years. The US was also among a number of Western countries that provided bilateral aid to the Ugandan and Rwandan governments supposedly intended for improvement in sanitation, health, governance and human rights, but which was instead documented in the savings budgets of the two countries, suggesting that these savings were used to finance the war.

International Financial Institutions, often inaccurately perceived as the moral watchdogs of the international political system, likewise contributed to the continuation of the conflict, most notably the International Monetary Fund which declined to take into consideration the uneasy connection between Uganda’s improved Balance of Payments and the exploitation of natural resources through illegal means. From 2001 to 2003, the IMF continued to vocalize its praise for what it perceived as Uganda’s sound economic policies. In a September 2003 review of Uganda’s economic performance, an IMF official expressed the institution’s support for Uganda’s export-led growth. In 2005, the IMF approved a 100 per cent debt relief initiative for the country, not to relieve the impoverishment of its citizens, but rather because it had “enjoyed robust economic expansion with low rates of inflation for more than five years,” a shocking demonstration of the ease with which the IMF can choose to disregard the connection between economic profit and widespread massacres occurring in the DRC.

Congo’s Dirty War: the Intersection of Legal and Illegal in the Global Economic Structure

The economic dimension of the Congo war which hearkens back to the colonial period and constitutes one of the most insidious and flagrant abuses of power in the country concerns the role of transnational mining companies directly implicated in the war. The proliferation of these numerous companies recalls the “internationalization” of the country which took place in the era of Belgian colonialism and throughout the mineral exploration activities of the 20th century. Eighty-five multinational companies operating in the DRC during the war are named in the UN Panel of Experts investigation for violation of the OECD guidelines on multinational enterprises. One of them is a Ugandan-Thai company, DARA-Forest which was denied a forest concession by authorities in Kinshasa, but proceeded with the logging of timber after obtaining permission from the RCD-ML Congolese rebel faction. Governments of the intervening countries granted several mining concessions to powerful multinational enterprises with the aim of financing the war and obtaining arms in return for the profits accruing to the companies, for instance, the Congolese government granted a monopoly over diamonds to the International Diamond Industries which enabled it to purchase arms and military equipment from the Israeli army, with whom the Director of the IDI, Dan Gertler, had “special ties.”

The frequently concealed connection between Western government elites and foreign mining companies enables Western countries to pay lip-service to the issue of resolving foreign conflicts, while quietly sanctioning the illegal activities of these companies whose profits are undoubtedly beneficial to them. Like the operation of mineral extraction companies in the colonial era, these companies function in a remarkably autonomous manner, as there are no legally binding mechanisms in place to regulate their behavior. The UN Panel of Experts lists numerous African individuals, heads of states and rebel groups involved in the extractive industry, but its investigation fails to include the role of Western government elites, leaving its evidence incomplete, and thereby inaccurate. The report by Human Rights Watch, The Curse of Gold, which thoroughly investigates the intimate connection between rebels groups and the gold company Anglo-Gold Ashanti, likewise fails to mention the connections between Western governments and mining companies. For instance, Human Rights Watch does not mention that AngloGold Ashanti is partnered with the company Anglo-American owned by the Oppenheimer family as well as with Canadian company Barrick Gold. Barrick Gold operates close to AngloGold Ashanti, in the town of Bunia where the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces controlled the mines at intermittent periods during the war. One of Barrick Gold’s advisors is former US President George HW Bush and previous directors of the company include Brian Mulroney, the former Prime Minister of Canada and former US Senator Howard Baker. The insidious nature of these economic networks which undermine judicial notions of “legal” and “illegal” become more apparent if one only observes the exchanges which occurred between legally sanctioned mining companies and rebel groups in the Congo.

In 2005, Human Rights Watch published a report on the human rights abuses linked to two key gold mining areas in the DRC bordering Uganda: Mongbwalu in Ituri District and Durba in the Haut-Uélé district. From 1998 to 2003, Ugandan soldiers extracted over $9 million worth of gold from the northeastern districts. Following Uganda’s and Rwanda’s withdrawal in 2003, local proxies were left behind by both sides, including the Hema Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and the Front des Nationalists et Intégrationnistes (FNI) which fought over gold-abundant areas, killing thousands of civilians. On November 18th, 2002, the UPC attacked Mongbwalu in a 6-day military operation. According to a witness in Mongbwalu, the combatants “took Kasore, a Lendu man in his thirties, from his family, and attacked him with knives and hammers. They killed him and his son (aged about 20) with knives. They cut his son’s throat and opened his chest. They cut the tendons on his heels, smashed his head and took out his intestines. The father was slaughtered and burnt.” It has been estimated that at least 800 civilians were killed in UPC attacks from late 2002 to early 2003. Like the Hema combatants who indiscriminately targeted all Lendu civilians, the FNI began indiscriminately killing all civilians suspected of having helped the Hema when they took over the areas occupied by the UPC. In May 2003, FNI forces receiving military support from Ugandan soldiers, killed some 500 civilians in a “48-Hour War” and in June, attacked several villages, torturing, burning and finally killing the Hema women that they found.

During this period, one of the largest gold companies in the world, Anglo-Gold Ashanti, which calls itself “a responsible corporate citizen” and claims that it “aims to operate in workplaces that are safe and healthy,” sent a company representative to Mongbwalu in May 2002 to make contact with the UPC concerning gold exploration activities. Although its mining contract and official communications were with the government in Kinshasa, the area around Mongbwalu where the mining was to occur was firmly out of the control of the central government. Subsequent to the transfer of power from the UPC to the FNI, between July and September 2003 when the FNI were conducting an ethnic killing campaign where victims had their arms tied, sticks shoved into their rectums and body parts cut off, the company AngloGold Ashanti obtained permission from the FNI to commence gold extraction activities. To protect its employees from militia groups, AngloGold Ashanti employed a private security company, ArmorGroup International. Several allegations have been leveled against these private companies for their tendency to resort to acts of terrorism, sabotage and violence against civilian populations. AngloGold Ashanti is only one among several companies supposedly operating within the law, carrying on enterprises which enrich their own pockets, those of their shareholders, as well as those of the rebels and private security firms carrying out brutal atrocities against civilian populations.

In return for granting concessions to AngloGold Ashanti, the FNI were given benefits of various types, including financial assistance in the form of an $8000 dollar payment in April 2005 and frequent levies of 6 US cents per kilogram of cargo flown into the airport at Mongbwalu. The company also provided the FNI with logistical, transportation, and housing assistance and, in a shocking demonstration of the nature of their means of operation, urged MONUC to “adopt a conciliatory stance in their dealings” with some of the FNI armed groups. Journalists have written that Human Rights Watch did not reveal the most damning evidence they found- that AngloGold Ashanti sent its top lawyers into the country to protect rebel militia leaders. In consequence, the intimate relationship between AngloGold Ashanti and the armed groups increased the latter’s prestige in the eyes of the President Kabila and in the area where they operated. As one interviewee ironically remarked, “Ashanti will give dignity to the FNI.” The company’s readiness to proceed unhindered in its extraction activities was revealed by Vice President of AngloAshanti Charles Carter, who in July 2004 expressed his excitement about the “growth prospects in Central Africa” and the Congo, “potentially a huge gold province.” Other allegations implicate Canadian company Anvil Mining in an October 2004 massacre at Kilwa in which the company provided the Congolese army with ground transportation to assist in the military assault of the town and to remove corpses left in the aftermath of the invasion. Clive Newall, the CEO of First Quantam Minerals, the largest shareholder in Anvil Mining, succinctly explained the stance of Canadian mining companies in the DRC, “It’s the holy grail of the copper industry. Companies are saying: to hell with the political risk, we just have to be here (in DRC).”

In many ways, the Second Congo war demonstrates that the colonial enterprise of the twentieth century is still flourishing quite successfully, in the form of direct foreign exploitation of the DRC’s mineral resources. The indisputable link between rebel groups, mining companies, private security firms and Western governments calls into question tenuous beliefs regarding the “legal” nature of economic transactions in the mineral industry. In a climate of war in which each side is invested in the continuance of war for economic profit, the concept of legality is continually reinterpreted, ignored for convenience purposes or discarded altogether. Yet despite the dangerous outcome of granting mining companies virtually free rein in their economic projects, the fact that these companies are expected to abide by the law means that at the very least, there is a possibility that legal action can be taken against them.

Conversely, the creation of what has been defined as an illicit economy in natural resources during the second Congo war precludes the possibility of adopting legal measures since identifying the culprits is almost impossible. In mineral-lucrative areas where mining concessions have not been granted to mining companies but instead exploited on a smaller scale by the rebel armies themselves, the journey of a mineral on its way to the global market reveals the functioning of more insidious forms of power. In this type of transaction, for instance in the case of gold, rebel groups and armies employ artisanal miners to work in the mines like slaves, beating them if they refuse to work under the deplorable conditions in the mines, or if they fail to deliver the amount of gold demanded. In one case, Ugandan soldiers recklessly directed local miners to mine the pillars of Gorumbwa mine which eventually collapsed killing one hundred miners trapped inside. A network of traders then transports the mineral either from the rebels or from the artisanal miners directly to trading houses located near the Ugandan border whose owners are closely connected to rebel groups. From there the gold is delivered to unauthorized Ugandan traders based in Kampala where the gold became “legalized,” which means it is treated as if it were a transit good, registered on various customs documents in order to “make” it acceptable on the unregulated global market. Over seventy per cent is then exported to Switzerland, where it is “officially registered as an import.” Some of the gold exported to Switzerland during the war has been purchased by one of the world’s leading refiners of gold, Metalor Technologies SA. The company has repeatedly denied that its goods are connected to criminal networks in the Congo, but given that Uganda has no domestic gold production, it is probable that Metalor’s gold originated in northeastern Congo. With regard to coltan production, a similar massive trafficking enterprise was undertaken; according to UN estimates, as much as 60 to 70 per cent of total coltan production was mined under the direct surveillance of the Rwandan army by late 2002, using methods of forces labour. The coltan was then transported to Rwandan companies, to international trading companies and finally to processing companies in Europe and elsewhere.

In this very complex web of unregulated and undocumented exchanges, the invisible connection between the first and last stage of transactions involving highly mobile mineral resources simply continues to exist within a global economic structure in which the interplay between legal and illegal factors makes the two concepts virtually indistinguishable. The integration of illegal activities into the very structure of the global economy makes the task of seeking just means to rectify these wrongs almost laughable. Even when it comes to redressing the illegal activities of transnational companies and the direct collusion they enjoy with illegal rebel groups outside the control of the central government, one imagines that the only sensible approach would be the application of legally binding mechanisms to mitigate and stem their illegal practices. However, there are no legally binding requirements that can regulate the activities of mining companies, and at the international level, no political will to directly confront the roots of the conflict. In their final report published in October 2003, the UN Panel of Experts claimed that the cases of the companies allegedly in violation of the OECD guidelines had been “resolved,” without any information on how this decision had been made. As for the UN Organization Mission in the DRC, the organization has not integrated the link between resource exploitation and war in the analysis they use to bring peace to the country. In short, most efforts undertaken at the international level to bring protracted warfare to an end in the DRC have persistently refused to address the economic origins of the problem.

The Final Transaction; Anonymous Commodities in the Market Economy
Presiding over the intricate web of economic exchanges in mineral resources is the global market where consumers at the buying end of the transaction remain incognizant of the fact that their cell phones, pagers, computers, and diamond rings have been obtained at the expense of millions of civilian lives. While many advocates of globalization celebrate the rapid advancement in technology which has transpired over only a few decades, they fail to acknowledge that increasingly efficient consumer goods that are the hallmark of today’s industrialized countries have been purchased with a corresponding deterioration of entire nations. The demand for coltan, a mineral used to process tantalum for mobile telephones, nuclear reactors and missile technology, has grown since 1992 at an average of 10 per cent as a result of the growing market in mobile phones and gold consoles. In the year 2000 during the Congo war, world wide consumption of tantalum rose by 38 per cent. One of the causes of the increasing demand for coltan was the popularity of Sony Playstations filled with coltan. Sony itself may not use Congolese coltan, but its demand for the mineral, 80 per cent of which is found in the Congo, increased the price, which in turn fuelled conflict over the resource. In late 2000, a deficit in supply of the mineral increased its price to $365 per pound. Authors Dena Montague and Frida Berrigan reveal that a global shortage of coltan in December 2000 caused a “wave of parental panic” in the US when PlayStation II suddenly became scarce. The sheer absurdity of today’s globalized and highly unequal economic system is summed up in the unexaggerated image of “kids in Congo… being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms.”

Ironically, Western countries’ attempts to make technological products environmentally friendly by banning lead from the solder used in cell phones and other electronic goods increased the demand for lead-free solder, ninety-five per cent of which consists of tin. In response, the world-wide price of tin was increased by an estimated 150 per cent between August 2002 and May 2004, which in turn intensified the conflict in the DRC. That the invisible hand of the market and consumer demand in Western countries, worlds away from the “civil war” in the Congo can indirectly determine the fate of real human lives begs the question: who is truly responsible for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Conclusion
It is questionable whether attempts by the International Criminal Court to bring to justice the rebel leaders responsible for carrying out widespread atrocities against Congolese civilians have yielded any concrete and long-term outcomes. Most efforts designed to enforce justice in the aftermath of the war have conveniently diverted attention from the integrated nature of the various actors functioning within elaborate economic networks and instead have adopted a narrow and restricted approach to the definition of “war crimes” and “illegal activities.” It is hardly surprising, given that the Congo war is only one outcome of a historical trend of global inequality that touches even the realm of international justice, that Western actors involved in perpetuating the war by providing financial and military assistance to the rebels are immune from prosecution. On April 3rd, 2007, the Democratic Republic of Congo suspended all new mining deals in order to review the contracts of the companies still operating in the country. One of them is AngloGold Ashanti. Yet given that no legally binding mechanisms exist to curb the illegal operations of transnational mining companies, it is unlikely that the future of the country will be drastically different from a past characterized by continued foreign domination.

The historical precedents to the Congo war, and in particular, the prominence of violence in the country from the time of King Leopold II to the period of recent conflict, preclude the possibility of analyzing the features of war in isolation or of dismissing it as a tragic but not so significant anomaly in the history of the region, a tendency which the mainstream media has consistently encouraged. Instead, a critical and nuanced attitude must be adopted for the purposes of rectifying common misconceptions and simplifications about the region as a whole, and more importantly, for the purposes of understanding not only how the second Congo war cannot be characterized as a “civil” or regional war, but also how it embodies the symbiotic relationship between war and resource extraction for profit. This latter feature reveals the true nature of today’s unregulated capitalist economy whose roots have penetrated every region of the world. As film director Hubert Sauper remarks in his statement about the fish industry around Lake Victoria: “I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil.” Likewise, similar comparisons can be made between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s economic war over mineral resources, and Sierra Leone’s and Angola’s civil wars over conflict diamonds. Perhaps the most disquieting truth about the trade in mineral resources is that upon arrival at their final destination in the market of consumer goods and electronic commodities, all traces of their original identity are lost, including the identities of the countless millions who perished to obtain them.

World Bank accused of razing DRC forests

Deforestation in the Congo
Source: New Scientist.

It is staggering the number of things which basically are not attended to in the DRC. Here we have the World Bank in charge of how the forests should be dealt with. Of course, what happens to people, especially those who live in the forest, including the pygmees, does not seem to matter. It is as if slavery never really ended because the same system which was born out of it has been carrying on. The system has allowed for more field slaves to become house slaves, and it has created possibilities for house slaves also to own slaves and other types of property.

The mindset which was born out of the enslaving of millions of people has not changed, it has been refined in such a way that its functioning is not understood as the source of the problem. By functioning I mean its objective, its raison d’être.

It is interesting that during the Mobutu years, in Zaire people complained a lot about the inversion of values. Now, in the US and in many other so-called advanced countries, one reads about the loss of values. By its very nature, capitalism, as such, cannot preserve values, it can only destroy them and replace them with its mindset, namely turn everything into money making schemes. As the popular saying has it, everyone is looking for how “to make a killing”. With millions looking for ways to make a killing, is it surprising that humanity is fast disappearing and can only hope to survive thanks to humanitarianism?

I have to end this with a question: how can one of the most advanced countries, the USA, still have the death penalty on its books and at the same time claim to be the country with such a high number of humanitarian organizations? Why can’t these humanitarian organizations turn their attention toward the biggest source of destruction of humanity?

Reposted from the Mail & Guardian Online, October 4, 2007.

The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the world’s second largest forest, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies, according to a report on an internal investigation by senior bank staff and outside experts. The report by the independent inspection panel also accuses the bank of misleading the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) government about the value of its forests and of breaking its own rules. The DRC’s rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon, locking nearly 8% of the planet’s carbon and having some of its richest biodiversity. Nearly 40-million people depend on the forests for medicines, shelter, timber and food. The report into the bank’s activities in the DRC since 2002 follows complaints made two years ago by an alliance of 12 Pygmy groups. The groups claimed that the bank-backed system of awarding vast logging concessions to companies to exploit the forests was causing “irreversible harm”. It will be discussed at board level in the World Bank within weeks and may lead to a complete rethink of how forestry in the DRC is practised. It is particularly embarrassing for the British government, which is a development partner of the bank and its third largest financial contributor. It encouraged the bank to intervene in the DRC forests with export-driven industrial logging and has earmarked about $100-million for further Congo basin forestry aid. When the bank moved back into the DRC in 2002, after years of war which cost up to four million lives, it said industrial forestry could contribute most strongly to the country’s recovery. In its rush to reform the economy it devised new forestry laws, divided the county into zones and aimed to create a favourable climate for industrial logging. But although the bank is legally committed to protecting the environment, and trying to alleviate poverty, the panel found that the policies it imposed on the DRC were having the opposite social and environmental effects:

* An area of 600 000 square kilometres of forest was earmarked for logging companies.
* The bank failed to address critical social and environmental issues.
* It ignored between 250 000 and 600 000 Pygmies believed to be living in the Congolese forests, even though their presence was well known and documented.
* It put the Pygmies in serious potential harm.

Criticism is made of the forestry reforms that the bank imposed in return for loans of more than $450-million. Initially, said the panel, “the bank provided [to the government] estimates of export revenue from logging concessions that turned out to be far too high. This encouraged a focus on reform of the forestry system at the expense of pursuing sustainable uses of forests, the potential for community forests and for conservation. For the most part foreign companies, or local companies controlled by foreigners, have been the beneficiaries of this,” the report said. In a scathing analysis of the bank’s economic reasoning, the panel said the bank had “distorted the real economic value of the country’s forests” by looking solely at the tax and revenue that increased industrial logging might generate. “There seems to have been little action to support alternative uses of the forest resources,” it said. The panel travelled deep into the forest to take evidence from the Pygmy communities, who told it they were not consulted before the bank launched its wide-ranging forestry reforms. One Pygmy leader told the panel: “We are being made poor in every aspect … the [logging] company prevents us from going into the forests.” Another said that the company had bought the land so that people could no longer live in the forests. “Roads are going ever deeper into the forests, opening it up. We are increasingly deprived of our foods and drugs. We have never seen anything from the bank except promises,” said a third. Research by non-government groups last year showed that 12 foreign-owned or foreign-controlled companies were encouraged by the bank to dominate the entire industry. Some had concessions of more than five million hectares, and all included Pygmy communities in their holdings. The bank is reviewing the legality of many of these concessions. On Wednesday international groups that have worked with Congolese communities said they were shocked by the panel’s findings. “The Pygmies must be fully involved in developing any future plans for the forest, and the bank need to find ways of helping them uphold their rights, rather than helping logging companies to destroy them,” said Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation. “The World Bank must change drastically its forest policies. Industrial logging is not contributing to poverty reduction, while its expansion undermines future financial benefits for environmental services,” said Staphan van Praet, the Africa forest campaigner for Greenpeace International.

Hundreds of thousands are refugees from Congo ethnic violence

This article is typical of the US media’s coverage of Africa, in that there is much discussion of ethnic conflict, poverty, hunger, displacement, western aid agencies’ attempts at rescue, etc., but nothing about any of the positive efforts toward change by Africans (unless funded by western NGOs), or about which western powers buy the resources people are fighting over and fund and train their armies, or about the three centuries of western slavetraders, colonialists, and imperialists who divided and conquered by pitting one ethnic group against another. The consistent presentation of African countries as embroiled in corruption and ethnic conflict, without discussion of the broader context, reinforces the prevailing myth that the only remedy is western crisis intervention, however inadequate. Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle, September 3, 2007.

(09-30) 04:00 PDT Mugunga Refugee Camp,
Democratic Republic of Congo —

Eugenie Luhendo was shot in the foot when soldiers loyal to a renegade Tutsi commander attacked her Hutu village in July.

While her children fled into the forest with other villagers of Ngugu, Luhendo was carried by a neighbor on a weeklong journey to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province some 60 miles away. There she became one of thousands of refugees at a camp called Mugunga run by United Nations aid workers and international peacekeepers.

“Many people died during the fighting,” said Luhendo, a 45-year-old war widow, while resting in the grim makeshift camp built among lava rocks. “Many times, we flee, then go back (to their villages). Thousands of people have the same story here.”

More than 200,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Congo this year, including more than 163,000 in North Kivu province, according to the United Nations. Since November, more than 3, 440 villagers have arrived at this dusty camp, according to camp administrators.

More than 1.2 million people have been displaced in eastern Congo, with some 800,000 in North Kivu province alone, according to the United Nations.

Although most of the Congo is at peace since U.N.-sponsored elections in 2006, the mineral-rich eastern provinces have been engulfed in violent ethnic clashes in recent months between troops loyal to dissident Congolese Tutsi Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese army, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the main Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo.

And if fighting continues, U.N. officials say another 280,000 Congolese may be on the move by the end of the year, crippling an already thinly stretched emergency effort.

“A huge need will explode and we’ll try to limit the death toll from hunger, a lack of health care, (and) epidemics that may occur,” said Patrick Lavand’Homme, head of U.N. humanitarian efforts in the North Kivu province. “We are very close to a huge humanitarian crisis if armed groups” continue.

The genesis of the recent fighting is continued ethnic tension following the 1994 genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates by two Hutu militias – Interhamwe and Impuzamugambi. In its aftermath, more than 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees and militiamen who committed the genocide sought refuge together in the Congo. Since then, sporadic clashes have flared between Rwandan and Congolese ethnic groups and armies of both nations.

In 1996 and 1998, Rwandan troops invaded the Congo, claiming former Hutu soldiers and militiamen posed a threat to the nation’s security by attacking Congolese villages. The invasion sparked a war that caused the death of more than 4 million people. Even though Rwanda withdrew its troops in 2002, it has repeatedly threatened to invade the Congo once again, citing the Congolese government’s failure to disarm the Rwanda liberation forces.

At the Mugunga camp, many refugees have lost contact with their children and abandoned their land, and they depend on international aid agencies. But camp officials say the monthly food distribution has not been enough to feed new arrivals. A shortage has forced refugees to share food with newcomers even though they lack food, clean water and medical care.

“There is no food and no school for the children,” said Ngulu Mongera Tanganika, a refugee who helps coordinate aid distribution at the Mugunga camp. “We need medical assistance because we are facing diseases” such as diarrhea, malaria and cholera.

Many refugees arrived at the end of last year after Tutsi soldiers under Nkunda clashed with the Congolese army, and again in May, after the two sides agreed to integrate their troops and concentrate on attacking the Rwanda liberation forces.

Now, according to Mugunga officials, the camp is experiencing a third wave of refugees as a result of increased fighting between the army and brigades of Nkunda against the Hutu rebels. The refugees, who are of numerous ethnic groups, have suffered rape, mutilation and armed robbery, says Moho Faustin, a refugee who serves as the camp’s spokesman.

At Mugunga, more than 2,500 hovels made of banana leaves and plastic tarps have been erected, with another 1,400 more to be built, said Faustin, who fled his village last November.

Last month, a 71-year-old woman became the first to die from cholera, an often-fatal disease usually caused by contaminated drinking water. Since then, 10 new cases have emerged.

Faustin says an average of five babies are born each week, and many do not survive. Camp elders are negotiating with local authorities to obtain more land to bury the dead. “We have people dying from cholera, diarrhea and hunger,” he said. “We have a small health center, but it is not sufficient. We are in a war against time.”

Farther north, the violence is even worse.

“We have at least four armed groups here,” said Dominique Bofomdo Lofeko, the government administrator for the Rutshuru administrative territory in North Kivu.

Lofeko says his area also has “Mai-Mai” militias, a local term for community-based groups led by warlords and village elders, many of whom claim to be fighting in self-defense. “All of these groups are raping, looting, murdering the civilian population,” said Lofeko. “They are killing people like cows and goats here in Rutshuru.”

As the situation deteriorates, aid agencies say it will become increasingly difficult to provide humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable populations.

“Our politics is not to put people in danger,” said Paulin Nkwosseu, program manager for Solidarites, a French humanitarian organization that works with the World Food Program to distribute emergency relief in North Kivu. “It is very difficult to respond to this kind of need.”

Back in Mugunga, Faustin spends most of his days distributing blankets, metal cups and spoons. Each family receives 132 pounds of cornmeal flour, 40 pounds of peas, 1.3 gallons of soy oil, and one cup of salt. “The families who arrived yesterday have yet to be registered,” he said. “Even those who were registered three weeks ago are hungry and waiting for help.”

Gabriel Hanyurwabake, the neighbor who carried Luhendo to the camp, lost six children in the latest fighting. He has fled violence repeatedly in the past 15 years. His brother, Alphonse Batibwira, was taken in 2006 by Nkunda’s soldiers, castrated and killed.

“We are suffering here,” said Hanyurwabake. “We ask you to think about the kids. As adults, we’ve lost a lot of things, but we would like to save our kids.”

As Luhendo sits on a pile of lava rocks among the sick, she can barely move. Although medics removed the bullet when she arrived at the camp, her foot hasn’t healed properly and is visibly swollen. She does not know the whereabouts of her six children, who scattered during the attack.

“I am fed up. I lost my kids. I lost my husband,” she said. “I may live or I may die. But I will remain here.”