Category Archives: Congo

Rwanda’s genocide and the bloody legacy of Anglo-American guilt

Chris McGreal writes: The United States is allowing one tragic foreign policy failure to compound another.

Eighteen years ago, President Bill Clinton watched passively as the Hutu extremist regime in Rwanda oversaw the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. His administration refused even to utter the word genocide for fear it would oblige the US to intervene.

Clinton wasn’t alone. One of the leaders of the Tutsi rebels fighting the genocidal regime told me at the time that during his attempts to persuade the UK government to intervene at the UN, he concluded that British officials regarded the Tutsi victims as little more than ants. The French spent their time trying to get the UN to authorise action that would have propped up the Hutu extremist leadership because they feared the alternative would diminish Paris’s influence in central Africa.

The aftermath was a searing experience for Clinton, his Africa gurus and national security advisers – one of whom is now the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who may well replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state – that has continued to shape American policy toward Rwanda. When the fighting ended, the true cost of western inaction was laid bare at the mass graves. [Continue reading…]


The Israeli billionaire accused of looting Congo at the expense of its people

Bloomberg Markets Magazine: Dan Gertler’s bearded face lights up as he looks out the helicopter window. Below, an installation twice the size of Monaco rises from a clearing in the central African forest, where it transforms ore mined from the ochre earth into sheets of copper.

“Look at it, look at it,” the Israeli billionaire, 38, shouts through the headset above the thrum of rotors. “This is what life is all about,” Gertler says as the chopper lands in the scorching, dry afternoon heat of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Everyone comes with dreams and illusions and promises. Everyone wants quick deals. They don’t want to invest. We are real.”

Wearing a black suit by French fashion house Zilli, ritual white tassels hanging off both hips and a black-velvet yarmulke, Gertler hops out into the dust of Mutanda, a mine controlled by his partner, Glencore International Plc (GLEN), that holds cobalt and some of the highest-grade copper in the world, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

He climbs into an air-conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser to tour the mine, tapping messages into one of his three BlackBerrys, whose batteries, like those of smartphones and laptops everywhere, often depend on cobalt to keep their charge.

Gertler has stakes in companies that control 9.6 percent of world cobalt production, based on U.S. Geological Survey data and company figures.

That’s just the beginning of Gertler’s influence in Congo, the largest country of sub-Saharan Africa, with the world’s richest deposits of cobalt and major reserves of copper, diamonds, gold, tin and coltan, an ore containing the metal tantalum, which is used in consumer electronics. His Gibraltar- registered Fleurette Properties Ltd. owns stakes in various Congolese mines through at least 60 holding companies in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands.

Gertler, whose grandfather co-founded Israel’s diamond exchange in 1947, arrived in Congo in 1997 seeking rough diamonds. The 23-year-old trader struck a deep friendship with Joseph Kabila, who then headed the Congolese army and today is the nation’s president. Since those early days, Gertler has invested in iron ore, gold, cobalt and copper as well as agriculture, oil and banking. In the process, he’s built up a net worth of at least $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He’s also acquired a roster of critics. Many of the government’s deals with Gertler deprive Congo’s 68 million people of badly needed funds, according to the London-based anticorruption group Global Witness and lawmakers from Congo and the U.K., the country’s second-biggest aid donor after the U.S.

“Dan Gertler is essentially looting Congo at the expense of its people,” says Jean Pierre Muteba, the head of a group of nongovernmental organizations that monitor the mining sector in Katanga province, where most of Congo’s copper is located.

“He has political connections, so state companies sell him mines for low prices and he sells them on for huge profits. That’s how he’s become a billionaire.”

In the eight months preceding November 2011 elections, in which Kabila won a second five-year term, companies affiliated with Gertler bought shares in five mining ventures from three state-owned firms, according to minutes of board meetings, company filings and documents published later. The state companies didn’t announce the sales.

In at least three of the cases, prices paid were below valuations of the projects made by analysts at Deutsche Bank AG, London-based Numis Securities Ltd. and Oriel Securities Ltd. and Atlanta-based consulting firm Golder Associates Inc.

Gertler denies that he purchased companies at below-market rates or that any of his deals have involved kickbacks.

“The lies are screaming to the heavens,” he says in his native Hebrew in a June interview, during three days Bloomberg reporters spent with him in Congo and Israel.

He returns from Congo to his home in Bnei Brak, an ultra- Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, each week to spend the Sabbath with his wife, Anat, and their nine children. [Continue reading…]


Congo: a case study in how not to run a peace process

John Prendergast writes: Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of war-torn eastern Congo would the withdrawal of M23 rebels from Congo’s eastern provincial capital of Goma be cause for major celebration. The truth is that the retreat is just the latest chapter in a long story involving competing mafia-like political and military alliances controlled by leaders in the capitals of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, all of whom justify their actions in terms of national security concerns to mask economic and political interests. Sometimes these competing elites fight each other and sometimes they cooperate for control of lucrative resources such as land, livestock, minerals, and timber.

The opportunity that the rebel withdrawal presents should not be squandered by leaving the resolution of the conflict solely to these three governments while ignoring the root causes and the real representatives of the local communities most affected by the bloody conflict in eastern Congo. The time has come, finally, for a real international peace effort — the kind that actually has a chance of ending the deadliest war the world has witnessed since World War II. This week, the biggest guns are once again assembling to re-divide the pie — this time in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where peace talks are beginning between the main combatants.

By global standards, the effort to construct a credible peace process for Congo is manifestly derelict, and has only condemned that country to further cycles of devastating conflict. Each time that Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels with shifting acronyms have taken or threatened Goma over the past decade, hasty backroom negotiations have produced deeply flawed deals that have reduced the military pressure on Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s weakened government and permitted the Rwandan-backed rebels to administer strategic eastern zones and oversee taxation and resource looting. When one looks behind the occasional United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for an end to violence, the international diplomatic response is exposed as shockingly ineffective — perhaps even violating the Hippocratic Oath’s command to “do no harm.”

An entire semester’s curriculum could be built around Congo as a case study for how not to run a peace process. Every item on any conflict resolution 101 checklist has been violated or neglected. [Continue reading…]


Gaza grabs the headlines as Congo once more descends into chaos

Ian Birrell writes: Once again, the apparently insoluble struggle between Israel and Palestine has flared up before flickering into uneasy standoff. As usual, world leaders issued fierce warnings, diplomats flew in and the media flooded the region to cover the mayhem as both sides spewed out the empty cliches of conflict. After eight days of fighting, nearly 160 people lay dead.

Meanwhile, 2,300 miles further south, events took a sharp turn for the worse in another interminable regional war. This one also involves survivors of genocide ruthlessly focused on securing their future at any cost. But the resulting conflict is far bloodier, far more brutal, far more devastating, far more destructive – yet it gains scarcely a glance from the rest of the world.

Such is the cycle of despair in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – scene of massacres, of mass rape, of children forced to fight, of families fleeing in fear again and again, so many sordid events that rarely make the headlines. It can seem a conflict of crushing complexity rooted in thorny issues of identity and race, involving murderous militias with an alphabet of acronyms and savagely exploited by grasping outsiders. But consider one simple fact: right now, there is the risk of another round breaking out in the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

If you missed the fleeting news reports, a rebel army of 1,500 men waltzed into Goma, a city of one million people, on Tuesday. In doing so, they humiliated not just the useless Congolese government but also the hapless blue helmets of the biggest United Nations peacekeeping mission, costing nearly £1bn a year. There are so many peacekeepers and development agencies in Goma it has become a boom town, home to some of the most expensive housing in Africa. Yet again, all these people proved impotent.

The leaders of this insurgent force, the M23, have declared their aim to march across this vast country to capture the capital, Kinshasa. Since it is backed by Rwanda and Uganda, which used proxy armies to do this once before in 1997, such threats cannot be dismissed. Joseph Kabila, the Congolese president, who, through fear of a coup, corruption and incompetence, castrated his own military, is reported to have responded by asking Angola to send troops to save him.

It is all a dismal echo of the Great African War, which officially ended in 2003 but dribbled on for another five years. This began when Rwanda and Uganda invaded in 1998, saw 11 countries from Angola to Zimbabwe involved and left more than five million dead and millions more displaced. There were war crimes on all sides as armies brutalised those unfortunate people living above the fabulous seams of minerals that fuelled the fighting. [Continue reading…]


Economic crimes in Congo

James North writes: The 73 million human beings who live here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to struggle through one of the greatest humanitarian disasters on the planet since the end of the Second World War. By one estimate, more than 5 million people have died since the Second Congo War broke out in 1998. Fighting has just started up again in eastern Congo; hundreds are already dead, and there may already be more than 200,000 refugees, adding to the 2 million Congolese already displaced by war. Doctors Without Borders has just warned that the renewed violence is blocking efforts to control an outbreak of cholera.

Far more people have died in Congo over the years than in Syria or Libya, but the mainstream Western press is barely paying attention to the resurgent fighting—and it has mostly ignored other dangerous developments, like the botched presidential election last November and the possible theft of billions of dollars from the country’s mining industry.

The DR Congo’s future depends greatly on what happens here, in southeastern Katanga province. Katanga has tremendous reserves of copper and cobalt, which Belgian colonialists began exploiting nearly a century ago. Then, after independence, the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko seized power. He turned out to be a vicious and incompetent kleptomaniac, but he was supported for decades by the United States, other Western countries, Citibank and the International Monetary Fund. Mobutu looted the mining industry, which had all but collapsed by the time he finally fled, in 1997.

Now, foreign mining companies are coming back to Congo. If the Congolese people can force the mining giants to pay their government fairly, this country has a chance. The government has no other significant source of potential revenue. With the rising earnings from mining, it could slowly but steadily create a professional army to replace the current bands of unpaid uniformed looters who rape and kill civilians with impunity. The government could invest in education and health. It could reduce the 70 percent rate of undernourishment. It could start to raise a potentially rich country, in which there is no shortage of intelligent, hard-working people, from last place—187 out of 187—in the Human Development Index.

Here in Katanga, despite a few signs of hope, the outlook is still grim. President Joseph Kabila has repeatedly promised both the international community and his own people that his government will make public the amount of money the mining companies are paying it. But Kabila continues to stall, even as information has surfaced of a shocking new deal that may have cheated the Congolese people out of more than $5 billion—a lot of money anywhere, but a stupendous amount in a country with an annual budget of only $7.2 billion, half of which is international aid. And there is every depressing indication that the international community will not call the government’s bluff, just as it has already let Kabila get away with fraud in the November 2011 elections. [Continue reading…]


The world capital of killing

Nicholas Kristof writes from Congo:

It’s easy to wonder how world leaders, journalists, religious figures and ordinary citizens looked the other way while six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And it’s even easier to assume that we’d do better.

But so far the brutal war here in eastern Congo has not only lasted longer than the Holocaust but also appears to have claimed more lives. A peer- reviewed study put the Congo war’s death toll at 5.4 million as of April 2007 and rising at 45,000 a month. That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.

What those numbers don’t capture is the way Congo has become the world capital of rape, torture and mutilation, in ways that sear survivors like Jeanne Mukuninwa, a beautiful, cheerful young woman of 19 who somehow musters the courage to giggle.