Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mining and Military Interests at Core of Eastern DRC Conflict

Mining and Military Interests at Core of Eastern DRC Conflict

M23 rebels seize Goma and other areas in North Kivu

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A continuing conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo North Kivu province has led to the convening of a regional summit in Kampala, Uganda in late November. The March 23 (M23) rebel organization had taken control of the town of Goma and other areas in this mineral-rich area of the country.

M23 headed by Commander Sultani Makenga, a former member of the Congolese Defense Forces (FARDC), mutinied from the national army after a series of grievances were not met. Makenga says that he will halt the M23 operations if the central government of President Joseph Kabila negotiates an acceptable settlement.

On November 26, Makenga traveled to Kampala to join negotiations involving the DRC government, Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo also participated in the talks which initially issued a series of demands to the rebels.

In response to the meetings in Kampala, the African Union posted on its website a statement from Commission Chair Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma which emphasized importance of the decisions made at the Extraordinary Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The ICGLR issued a 10-point plan for the ending of the conflict in the eastern DRC. (African Union website)

The plan includes the immediate withdrawal of M23 from Goma and other towns. The summit also wanted the rebel group to cease talk about marching towards the capital of Kinshasa to overthrow the current Congolese government.

“The Chairperson of the Commission welcomes the commitment of the DRC government to listen, evaluate and resolve any legitimate grievances of the M23. She urges the M23 immediately to take the steps expected of it, in line with the Kampala decisions,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

Others attending the ICGLR Summit was Mozambican Foreign Affairs Minister Oldemiro Julio Marques Baloi , South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and East African Community Secretary General Richard Sezibera. The political leader of M23, Jean-Marie Runiga, indicated that a withdrawal from Goma was possible if talks were held directly with President Kabila.

Regional and International Context

Most observers, including the United Nations, believe that M23 is supported by the Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame. The leadership of the rebel movement is from the Tutsi nationality, which is the dominated group in neighboring Rwanda.

Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have intervened militarily, politically and economically in the eastern DRC for many years. Between, 1998-2003, a war against the attempted annexation of the east of the country as well as a plot aimed at regime-change was waged against the government in Kinshasa then led by the father of the current president, Laurent Kabila.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) military commission intervened under the leadership of Zimbabwe in August 1998. Zimbabwe along with troops from Namibia and Angola halted the movement westward and south by the-then Congolese Democratic Rally (RCD), a rebel group established and coordinated by Rwanda and Uganda with the assistance of Burundi.

Millions were reportedly killed during the 1998-2003 war and subsequent conflicts over the following decade. In 2008, another rebel group, also largely Tutsi-based, called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (NCDP), headed by Laurent Nkunda Batware, took control of several areas in the region. A peace agreement and the integration of rebel forces into the FARDC was the result of negotiations between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

The current conflict is viewed as deriving from the breakdown in relations between the DRC and its Rwandan and Ugandan neighbors over the last year. Although Rwanda and Uganda have denied any involvement or support for the M23 rebels, much documented proof exist of repeated interventions by these United States supported regimes.

Despite the fact that the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations has called for a halt to the conflict, mining firms based in North America and Europe have substantial interests in the region which is a source of coltan, copper, cobalt and other strategic resources. The U.S. and NATO continue to rely on the role played by the military forces of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in carrying out their aims in East and Central Africa.

Mineral Firms and Imperialist Militarism

Since the late 19th century, Congo has been a major hub for the extraction of natural resources that have earned tremendous profits for the world capitalist economy. From the Belgian rubber plantations of the colonial period to the unregulated looting of the coveted minerals of the 21st century, this region has monumental attraction for transnational corporations and international financial institutions.

It is estimated that the DRC contains $24 trillion in mineral deposits that are yet to be extracted. The world’s largest reserves of cobalt and large quantities of diamonds, gold and copper are located inside the country, particularly in the east and the south.

In 2010, DRC President Joseph Kabila placed a temporary ban on the mining of resources in the eastern DRC. This was done to illustrate the massive theft of minerals from the country by corporations with the assistance of rebel groups and the military forces of Rwanda and Uganda.

During the occupation of the eastern region by the RCD rebels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Rwandan and Ugandan backed group was paid $1million per month to provide coltan to mining firms. As of 2011, at least twenty-five international mining firms were involved in the exploitation of the resources in the DRC.

These firms are based in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, the United States and other countries. Two leading firms from the U.S., Century Aluminum and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., are well aware of the source and conditions under which these resources are extracted.

U.S. and Canadian firms are responsible for mining more than two-thirds of Congolese copper and cobalt. In July 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act including Section 1502, ostensibly designed to create transparency in the mining industry. (International Crisis Group Report, January 18, 2012)

Nonetheless, the legislation has come under criticism because of its failure to halt the massive looting, environmental damage and resultant conflict in the mining sector in the DRC. According to the International Crisis Group, “The Dodd-Frank Act disclosure also does not ban or penalize the use of conflict minerals.”

In the southern regional province of Katanga, the Glencore firm has come under criticism for its use of child labor and the environmental crimes committed. A BBC documentary released in April, probed the role of Glencore in using children as young as 10 to work in the company’s mining operations.

The documentary featured on the Panorama program entitled “Billionaires Behaving Badly?,” highlighted an interview with Ivan Glasenberg, the head of the Switzerland based firm. The program reported that children were hired to climb down a hand-dug mineshaft 150ft deep without any breathing or safety equipment. (mining.com, April 14)

Glasenberg denied the abuses pointed out in the BBC documentary and said that the Tilwezembe mine had been closed since 2008 when the DRC government took action against the firm. Extraction within the facilities was then turned over to small scale operators known as artisanal miners.

Glasenberg told the BBC that “We definitely do not profit from child labor in any part of the world. This is adhered to strictly.” (Telegraph. co.uk, April 16)

“We are pleading with the government to remove the artisanal miners from our concessions,” Glasenberg said. The company later pursued a $100billion merger with Xstrata, another leading mining firm with involvement in the Republic of South Africa, where miners struck for months demanding better working conditions and salaries.

Glencore was also cited for allegations that it allowed the dumping of acid into a river located nearby its facilities. The firm says that it has inherited mining practices that have been in effect for decades.

The role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is significant in these mining operations since much of the capital is supplied by them for these profit-making ventures. Negotiations surrounding a debt-relief program broke down between the World Bank and the DRC in 2010 when the Canadian government attempted to block the deal due to problems associated with the operations of two Canadian mining firms inside the country.

The vast reservoir of minerals is of course linked to the rising militarism of the Pentagon and NATO in East and Central Africa. The Obama administration has enhanced funding for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and increased the number of Central Intelligence Agency personnel in the region.

There are U.S. Special Forces and Advisers deployed in the DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Drone operations are continuing in Somalia, Ethiopia and the Seychelles.

With recent findings of oil and natural gas throughout East and Central Africa, the involvement of transnational corporations, international banks and the imperialist military forces will inevitably escalate.

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