By Asad Ismi
“I’m interested in land not [black people].” — Cecil Rhodes
Rarely has Western savagery been more destructive than in the Congo. After 115 years of Belgian colonialism and U.S. neo-colonialism, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today is a war-ravaged, balkanized country where an incredible 2.5 million people have died during the last two and a half years and 2.3 million have been displaced. OXFAM called this “the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster.” The catastrophic war which began in August 1998 has been imposed on the long-suffering Congolese by U.S. proxies Rwanda and Uganda which have occupied the eastern half of the Congo and are plundering and looting it with most of the proceeds going to the West.
King Leopold and the CIA
Genocide and plunder have been Western policy towards the mineral-rich Congo since the Berlin Conference of 1885 when European nations divided Africa between them, and King Leopold II of Belgium got the Congo as his personal property. Ten million Congolese were killed under Belgian rule which lasted until 1960. The Congo’s population was cut in half. Belgian domination was marked by slavery, forced labour and torture aimed at extracting the maximum amount of ivory and rubber from the Central African country. The people of the Congo “probably suffered more than any other colonized group.” Their hands were cut off for not working hard enough and on one day 1,000 severed hands were delivered in baskets to an official. Women were kidnapped to force their husbands to collect rubber sap and Congolese were shot for sport. Such atrocities were documented by George Washington Williams, an African-American visiting the Congo, who invented the term “crimes against humanity” to describe them.
The U.S. took over the Congo from Belgium in 1960-61 in a bloody coup after the CIA arranged the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first elected leader. In his place the Agency installed its paid agent Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko who continued the looting and killing started by Leopold, for another 37 years. The U.S. considered the socialist Lumumba to be pro-Soviet and President Eisenhower himself approved his assassination. The CIA sent Sidney Gottlieb, its top scientist (under the code name “Joe from Paris”), to the Congo with deadly biological toxins to use on Lumumba. This particular assassination plot was unsuccessful but Lumumba was killed by Mobutu’s troops on January 17, 1961.
Until his ouster in 1997, Mobutu was Africa’s most brutal and corrupt ruler who massacred and tortured thousands of people, and plundered his country with U.S. backing. From 1965 to 1991, Zaire (as Mobutu named the Congo) got more than $1.5 billion in U.S. economic and military aid. In return, U.S. multinational corporations increased their share of Zaire’s abundant minerals. Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic. The Congo borders nine African states and in terms of mineral wealth it is the richest country in Africa holding the world’s biggest copper, cobalt and cadmium deposits. The Congo contains 80% of the world’s cobalt (essential for jet aviation, defense and other high-tech production), 10% of its copper, and one-third of its diamonds in addition to possessing considerable reserves of gold, uranium and manganese. Other resources include coltan (used in cell phones, jet engines and fibre optics), timber, oil, coffee, tin, zinc and palm oil. Former U.S. President George Bush who was Mobutu’s friend for 20 years, has interests in mining companies in the Congo. In addition to getting a share of Congolese wealth, the U.S. used the country as a base to attack the left-wing MPLA government in Angola after it took power in 1975.
According to the World Bank, ( a long-time supporter of Mobutu’s), 64.7% of Zaire’s budget was reserved for Mobutu’s “discretionary spending” in 1992. Official Zairian figures put the number at 95%. Such astounding pillage made Mobutu (according to himself) one of the three richest men in the world while impoverishing Zairians and destroying the country’s infrastructure. One-third of Zaire’s citizens died from malnutrition under Mobutu with “countless others” suffering permanent brain damage in youth.
A Balkanized Congo
Mobutu’s unlimited greed was his undoing. As long as he shared the looting with U.S., Belgian, French, British, Dutch and other Western corporations which dominated the Zairian economy, the U.S. supported him. But, as one observer put it, “when he kept too much for himself and became an embarrassment the U.S. was ready to see him overthrown.” In October 1996, the Rwandan army along with Ugandan troops invaded Zaire and by May 1997 had taken over the country and forced Mobutu to flee. To give the invasion the cover of a local rebellion, the Tutsi Rwandan forces called themselves the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and recruited Laurent Kabila, an exiled Congolese Marxist opponent of Mobutu’s, as a figurehead leader. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Many Africans [concluded that] the Zairian rebellion was the brainchild of Washington from the very start.” Rwanda and Uganda are the U.S.’ “staunchest allies in the region.” Paul Kagame, the Rwandan leader, was trained at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. U.S. Special Forces had been training the Rwandan army since 1994 in counterinsurgency, combat and psychological operations. This included instructions about fighting in Zaire. Rwandan soldiers were also trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (U.S.), in July-August 1996 (just before the invasion), in land navigation, rifle marksmanship, patrolling and small-unit leadership.
Also in August 1996, Kagame visited Washington to discuss his concerns about Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire with U.S. officials. The Hutus are the majority ethnic group in Rwanda (85%) while Tutsis make up the minority (15%). In April 1994, the Hutu government had unleashed a genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and 50,000 Hutus in 89 days. Kagame’s Tutsi rebel force, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) then invaded Rwanda from Uganda and took power. A million Hutus fled to eastern Zaire. Kagame considered the Hutu refugee camps a “dangerous threat to his regime” because Hutu militia who had carried out the genocide were amongst the civilians. As one observer put it, “it was clear to the U.S….that Kagame was prepared to act and that this was certainly in the U.S. government’s interest.”
Once the Rwandans had installed Kabila in power, his relations with them quickly deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila expelled Rwandan and Ugandan forces from the Congo. He cited as his reasons a failed assassination attempt against him and the Rwandan army’s killings of Hutu refugees. On August 2, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo and occupied its eastern half where they remain today having set up surrogate “rebel” armies called Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma created by Rwanda) and Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC created by Uganda). Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began “Africa’s First World War” involving seven armies, which has killed 2.5 million people and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination.
This domination is being continued through Washington’s use of Rwanda and Uganda to partition the Congo and loot its resources. The U.S. backed the Rwandan/Ugandan invasion of the Congo and according to Human Rights Watch apparently justified it. The Washington Post has reported that U.S. soldiers were sighted in the company of Rwandan troops in the Congo on July 23 and 24, 1998. At the start of hostilities, the U.S. reacted with “a remarkable silence.” When a statement was issued it explained that the invasion was intended to counter genocide and blamed the Congolese government for failing to deal with border security. Susan Rice, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told Congress that the U.S. “fully understands their [Rwanda and Uganda’s] legitimate security interests in countering insurgent attacks from Congolese soil.” Rice added that foreign intervention in the Congo was “unacceptable” but Washington declined to call for the immediate withdrawal of its close allies, the Rwandan and Ugandan forces, which it has trained, armed and financed. If foreign intervention really was unacceptable, the U.S. could have ended it by cutting off its considerable military and economic support for Rwanda and Uganda and sanctioning the countries. Instead, Rice pressed for a ceasefire in place and pressured Kabila into signing the Lusaka Accord which treated the conflict as a civil war and called for a step-by-step withdrawal of foreign troops (in 180 days) rather than an immediate one.
The result is a partitioned Congo with Rwanda and Uganda still occupying the eastern half having ignored all deadlines for leaving. The ceasefire is regularly violated. Kabila accepted the Lusaka Accord only because of the implicit U.S. threat that “refusal would be met by even greater assistance to the rebels and the potential dismantling of the entire country.” This message was dramatically reinforced on January 17, 2001, when Laurent Kabila himself was assassinated on the same day that Lumumba had been, forty years ago. Joseph Kabila, Laurent’s son, took over as President. Thus the U.S. has ensured continued Western dominance of the Congo by destroying the country itself as it existed when Mobutu was overthrown. Just as in the Berlin Conference of 1885, the West is again redrawing the Congo’s boundaries and this process is once more accompanied by plunder and large-scale killing.
Armies of Business
According to a U.N. report released in April 2001, Rwanda and Uganda are looting and plundering the resources of the eastern Congo and illegally exporting them to the West. The eastern Congo contains most of the country’s minerals. The report titled “Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo” details “mass-scale looting” and extraction carried out by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the occupied zones between September 1998 and August 1999. During this time, the eastern Congo was “drained of existing stockpiles, including minerals, agricultural and forest products and livestock.” Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian soldiers visited banks, factories, farms and storage facilities to remove their contents and load them into vehicles. In November 1998, the Rwandan army transported seven years worth of coltan stock (about 1,500 tons) to Kigali (Rwanda’s capital).
Following the looting of stockpiles, Rwanda and Uganda have been extracting diamonds, gold, coltan, timber and coffee from the eastern Congo and illegally exporting these to the West. Rwanda has made U.S.$250 million in 18 months from coltan exports alone. According to the “Christian Science Monitor,” every day cargo flights full of diamonds, gold and palm oil leave the Congo for Kigali and Kampala (Uganda’s capital). Seven to ten such daily flights come into Kigali. Most of their cargo is loaded on to planes bound for Europe. Diamond exports from Rwanda and Uganda to the West have surged since 1998 yet neither country has any diamond mines. During 1999-2000, Uganda exported U.S.$3 million worth of diamonds. Diamond dealers in the Congo provide U.S.$2 million a year to the Rwandan army.
The looting and extraction of resources has been accompanied by the “constitution of criminal cartels” in occupied areas, created or protected by top military commanders. The U.N. report blames Presidents Kagame and Museveni (of Uganda) for “indirectly” giving “criminal cartels a unique opportunity to organize and operate in this fragile and sensitive area.;” the document warns that these cartels which have “ramifications and connections worldwide…represent the next serious security problem in the region.”
Significantly, the U.N. report points out that the illegal exploitation of the eastern Congo has been abetted by Western companies, governments, multilateral institutions and diplomats. Rwanda’s coltan exports are transported by Sabena, the Belgian national airline, while Citibank carries out the required financial transactions. Ramnik Kotecha, the U.S. Honorary Consul in the eastern Congo, promotes deals between Rwandan coltan sellers and U.S. companies. Kotecha himself also deals in coltan. Uncertified timber from occupied Congo has been imported by companies in Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland and the U.S. Western governments rewarded Rwanda for invading the Congo by doubling aid to the country from $26.1 million in 1997 to $51.5 million in 1999. The U.S., Britain, Denmark and Germany were the bilateral donors. Rwanda could thus spend more money on the war. Rewards have been promoted for Rwanda and Uganda by the the World Bank too, which has praised the latter’s economic performance following its Congolese diamond and gold exports. The Bank has pushed the case of both countries for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative (a new debt relief programme) and dismissed the fact that Uganda’s improved economic statistics stem from its illegal exploitation of the Congo.
The U.N. report also lists 35 companies illegally importing minerals from the eastern Congo through Rwanda but does not give the national origin of these companies. Instead, the report specifies the destination of the material. Twenty-six of the companies’ destinations are in the West. The firms include Cogem, Transintra, Issa, Finconcorde, Cogecom, Tradement, MDW, Sogem, Soger, Cogea, Finiming, Cicle, Eagleswing, Union-Transport and Banro Resources, a Canadian company (see section below). Ten of the 35 companies are importing coltan to Belgium; three are importing the same resource to the Netherlands, three to Germany, two to Britain and one to Switzerland.
Along with plundering the eastern Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have committed “devastating human rights abuses” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The Rwandan army and RCD Goma “have regularly slaughtered civilians in massacres and extrajudicial executions” as well as tortured and raped villagers. As Alison Des Forges of HRW put it in April 2001, “While Ugandan commanders were plundering gold, looting timber, exporting coffee and controlling illicit trade monopolies in the Ituri district, their troops were killing and otherwise abusing the local population.” Uganda’s encouragement of (and participation in) fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups has resulted in 7,400 deaths. Human rights violations are widespread on the Congolese government side as well including “indiscriminate attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions [and] rape.” Kabila’s allies Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia are also profiting from the war. However, the Kabila regime cannot be accused of being a foreign military occupier; nor did it initiate the current war.
Also benefiting from the war are ten Canadian mining companies with investments in the Congo. These are: Barrick Gold, American Mineral Fields (AMF), Tenke Mining, Banro Resource, Consolidated Trillion, First Quantum Minerals, International Panorama Resource, Melkior Resources, Samax Gold and Starpoint Goldfields. These companies have been awarded valuable concessions in mining copper, cobalt, gold, platinum and zinc deposits. Even before Laurent Kabila came to power he had signed deals with AMF and Tenke Mining. In March 1997, Jean Raymond Boulle, founder of AMF, signed a $1 billion agreement with Kabila’s rebel army to develop a zinc mine at Kipushi, and a cobalt venture in Kolwezi; Boulle also received approval to sell diamonds in Shaba province. As part of these arrangements, Boulle lent Kabila a leased jet.
In early 1997, Kabila sent a representative to Toronto to speak to mining companies about “investment opportunites.” According to Dale Grant, editor of “Defence Policy Review,” this trip “may have raised as much as $50 million to support Kabila’s march on the capital of Kinshasa.” On May 12, 1997, Tenke Mining announced that it had signed a deal with Kabila confirming the terms of a contract the company had previously signed with Mobutu’s government in November 1996. At this point, Kabila had not yet taken power. The urgent need to finance the war has compelled the Congo government to reach quick agreements with mining companies over exploration rights. The companies can thus gain resources for less than they would in peace conditions.
According to the “Christian Science Monitor,” Laurent Kabila “adopted a circle of Canadian advisers.” Part of this “Congo inner circle” was Joe Clark, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and former Canadian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. In the mid 1990s, Clark became First Quantum Mineral’s special adviser on Africa. He stated: “The government of Congo knows that if it’s going to make progress quickly in terms of using assets that create jobs, mining is more likely to do it than other sectors.”
Barrick Gold and Banro hold mining properties in eastern Congo under Rwandan/Ugandan control. Banro has 47 mining concessions in Sud Kivu and Maniema provinces while Barrick got exploration and exploitation rights to “a huge tract of land” (82,000 sq. km) in Orientale province. As reported in “Le Monde Diplomatique,” Barrick and Banro have been accused of “funding military operations in exchange for lucrative contracts.” Banro is also included in the U.N. list of companies involved in the illegal exploitation of the eastern Congo (see above). The company is importing cassiterites (tin ores) from the rebel area into Canada.
Heart of Darkness
The destruction of the Congo says much more about the West than it does about the Central African country. It reveals most clearly that the West is largely a criminal enterprise, the prosperity of which is based on the genocide of Third World people and the theft of their resources. The Congo is perhaps the worst example of this but the West has followed the same policy in Asia, Africa and Latin America for centuries. In this sense, Western countries can be seen as a murderous mafia led by their godfather the United States government for which no amount of blood and wealth is enough. Today, the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide are being tried in Tanzania. It is time to try those responsible in the U.S. and Belgium as well for more than a century of genocide and plunder in the Congo. And that will just be the beginning of dealing with the West’s horrendous crimes against humanity.
This article is dedicated to Patrice Lumumba.
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, October 2001. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/october-2001-western-heart-darkness
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor‘s international affairs correspondent and author of the report Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in and Trade with Colombia (2000).