The problem of the DRC remains almost the same: externally influenced decisions always call for more and more external interventionism. As far as I know, there has not been a real sum-up of UN peace missions in the DRC since the 1960s. The presence of MONUC [United Nations Mission in the Congo] prevents the leadership from taking the necessary measures to build a real army and a real policy for defending the country. Especially when one sees that certain members of MONUC have been accused of involvement in looting resources, one should be very careful in bringing more UN troops. Wars in the DRC have been organized for looting resources. Proposing the same medicine for curing the disease that seems to thrive on outside interventionism won’t change much, in my opinion.
What is needed is more upgrading of the Amani program [Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace] to make it a regional one, including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Sudan, and Tanzania. What may also be needed is to find a way of organizing with some independent military experts to professionally organize the army.
A correction needs to be made in the article: the Southeastern region, which includes Katanga, is not now part of the rebels’ zone of operation as the article seems to suggest. –Ernest Wamba dia Wamba Bazunini
In a recent statement from the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC), the possibility was raised of a greater military presence there under U.N. auspices. This announcement comes at a time when there has been an escalation of fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese National Army in North and South Kivu provinces, located in mineral-rich eastern Congo.
U.N. special envoy Alan Doss reported to journalists on Oct. 3 that the request for a greater military presence was made during a closed session of the Security Council. Doss did not say how many additional troops were requested. There are currently 17,000 U.N. soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the largest so-called peacekeeping force in the world.
Despite a peace agreement signed in 2003 ending a five-year war among regional rebel groups backed by the neighboring U.S.-allied countries of Uganda and Rwanda, and despite a 2006 election won by President Joseph Kabila, two other political and military factions remained alienated from the central government.
Soon thereafter serious conflict erupted, and has grown over the last two years. A former colony of Belgium, which extracted immense wealth from this African country, Congo gained its independence in 1960 but has been beset by the intervention of outside imperialist forces and their surrogates ever since.
In early October the Kabila government reported to the Security Council that the administration had obtained photographs of Rwandan military forces inside DRC territory. Although the Rwandan government denied the allegation that its forces crossed the border into North Kivu, 34 photographs turned over to Reuters press agency purportedly show weapons, Rwandan currency, a medical insurance card and a military satchel that bore the inscription “Rwanda Defense Force.” (Reuters, Oct. 11)
In response to the photographs, Congolese Ambassador to the United Nations Atoki Ileka forwarded a letter to Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui, the current president of the Security Council, confirming the Kabila government’s concern that neighboring Rwanda was preparing for a major incursion into Congolese territory.
It has been reported that the rebel leader, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese military officer, has received material assistance from the Rwandan government. Nkunda, who is of Tutsi ethnic origins and operates in eastern DRC, has accused the Congolese government of being allied with members of the Hutu ethnic group who were involved in the mass killings in Rwanda during 1994.
Nkunda’s rebels, who call themselves the National Congress for the Defense of the People, are very active in eastern DRC. It is alleged that they wear Rwandan military uniforms and speak Kinyarwanda, a language used on both sides of the Congolese and Rwandan borders.
As a result of fighting, since Aug. 28 dozens of civilians have been reported killed and injured and some 10,000 have been internally displaced. In a recent statement, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières—MSF) said that the humanitarian situation in North Kivu was rapidly deteriorating.
The Inter-Regional Information Network, a U.N. affiliate, reported that “The head of MSF in Goma, Axelle Delamotte Saint Pierre, said villagers in Rumangabo, Rubare and Rutshuru areas had been displaced and were now living with other families or in precarious conditions.”
The IRIN report went on to state that “Delamotte Saint Pierre said MSF had attended to some 90 injured people at the general hospital in Rutshuru. A local [nongovernmental organization] official, Jerome Tanzi, said the villages of Katale, Bushenge, Kabaya, Nkokwe, Ntamugenga, Kazuba and Biruma had been emptied after the residents fled fighting between the army and the rebel group CNDP,” headed by Laurent Nkunda.
On Oct. 9 the rebel group issued a statement claiming it had captured a government military base at Rumangabo, 25 miles north of the city of Goma. MONUC reported that dozens of Congolese soldiers were killed in the attack.
Kabila calls for national mobilization against rebels
On Oct. 11 President Kabila went on Congolese television and appealed to the people of eastern DRC to take up arms and defeat the rebels under the control of Laurent Nkunda. Kabila—who took power after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2003—was elected as president in a national poll held in 2006.
Two days earlier, Kabila had told the people: “Over and above any political divide, we must mobilize as one behind our armed forces and our elected representatives to preserve peace and the unity and territorial integrity of the country.” He commended the efforts of the Congolese National Army, saying that “despite their youth and the imponderables of an unconventional war, [they] have consistently resisted the enemy attacks with courage.”
Kabila went on to say that while “we thought a page had turned on this country’s tumultuous history with the establishing of new institutions, the sound of boots is once again being heard in the east, with echoes in Ituri [a northern province], where brothers’ blood is again being spilled.”
The president continued by pointing out that Nkunda’s aim was “not to protect his ethnic community as he has always claimed, but to divide the country to bring about the expansionism of a neighboring territory,” referring to Rwanda.
In addition to Kabila’s statement on national television, the country’s new prime minister, Adolphe Muzito, stated in an interview on Oct. 11 with Radio France International that he would soon visit the eastern regions to work toward bringing peace to the area.
Prime Minister Muzito said that the purpose of the visit was to “reinforce discipline and give the resources and control over them so that they are not used to attack anyone but to defend the country.”
Conversely, rebel leader Nkunda said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview on Oct. 8 that his forces would continue fighting against the central government based in the capital of Kinshasha. According to the BBC, Nkunda “called on all Congolese people to ‘stand up’ to the national government and said his rebel group would ‘fight until the people are liberated.’”
On Oct. 10 the African Union Commissioner Jean Ping traveled to the DRC and met with leading Congolese governmental officials, including President Kabila and members of parliament. He also held discussions with MONUC special envoy Alan Doss.
Ping said, “I have come to meet with Congolese authorities to understand the situation on the ground before putting forward solutions.”
What’s at stake in eastern DRC
Underlying the continuing conflict in the DRC are the vast, highly concentrated mineral resources in the eastern regions. The southeast and eastern areas as a whole contain ore of every mineral listed in the periodic resource tables.
A report issued by the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons in 2001 stated that as a result of rebel activity, almost 40 percent of the Congo’s wealth from natural resources was outside the control of the national government.
One source of mineral wealth is the large deposit of copper found in an area 140-by-30 miles extending from the Katanga region into neighboring Zambia. This area is known as the copper belt. During the period of the former U.S.-backed leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, the DRC was the fifth-largest producer of copper in the world. In addition, it was considered the leading producer of cobalt and the second-largest producer of industrial diamonds.
The mining of copper and cobalt was under the control of a government firm, Gecamines, which allowed Western transnationals to extract the minerals in return for royalties. These imperialist corporations were always pressuring the government to let them keep an even larger share of the wealth. In recent years, partnerships between the DRC government and transnational firms have proven to be problematic due to the ongoing rebel activity in the mineral-producing areas.
For example, a Washington Post fact sheet reported on Nov. 28, 2001, that “The Société du Terril de Lubumbashi (STL), a consortium consisting of 7s, a Belgian and a U.S. company have invested $120 million in a project aimed at extracting cobalt, copper and zinc oxide from the slag heap in Lubumbashi using the world’s second-largest electric oven. The new facility is expected to produce an alloy with cobalt content of between 15-22 percent.
“In addition, the exploitation of the Kolwezi slag heap by Congo Mineral Developments (CMD), a 50/50 joint venture between American Mineral Fields (AMZ) and AngloGold, has also recently been extended for another year. And in April , the government approved the new terms of the copper-cobalt tailings in a $350-million deal with AMZ.”
However, rebel activity in these regions has led to the massive theft of the natural resources of the DRC. For example, while the country is the largest producer of industrial diamonds, an illegal trade outside government control generates anywhere between $300 million and $500 million per year.
Another important mineral found in abundance in this region is coltan, which is used in cell phones. According to the Washington Post, another problem for the national government is “the theft of coltan, the new wonder mineral of which large deposits have been recently discovered and exploited in rebel-held areas of North Kivu. Technological advances and increased global consumption, especially of high-tech manufactured goods, has turned coltan into one of the most sought after raw materials.
“Its uses vary from making tantalum capacitors in cell phones, computers, game consoles and camcorders to pharmaceuticals, chemicals and automotive industries. In a recently published U.N.-sponsored report on the illegal exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources and other forms of wealth, it was estimated that up to 100 tons a month of tantalum was exported by the Rwandan army. Likewise, Ugandan exports of the mineral rose from 2.5 tons in 1997 just before the war, to nearly 70 tons in 1999.”