MAC: Mines and Communities

Armies Of Business

Published by MAC on 2001-04-15

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.

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