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D.R. CONGO: Minerals Flow Abroad, Misery Remains***

by Elco B Thu Jul 13th, 2006 at 08:41:01 AM EST

International companies and local elites in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are pocketing revenues from copper and cobalt production instead of sharing it with local communities or spending it to reduce poverty. This is a nice sentence, written by Emad Mekay in his article from today released by IPS.. It is a summary of a report by Global Witness on the ongoing pillage of DR Congo.

                                             Local mining in Katanga.

***back from front page

Some time ago talos wrote a story about  The Invisible Congo Tragedy. His well documented story gave a overview of the actual situation in DR Congo in the light of the elections to be held on 24 July.
In the discussionthread it became clear that the problems are overwhelming and little is known about what is really going on in that country.

DR Congo is a big, big country: for an idea:the distance between Matadi and Bunia is about the same as Paris - Moskou. Not an easy task to run such a vast country. They had a war during years, total lack of infrastructure, corruption and still troubles big enough to trigger the largest UN intervention (MONUC)
of today, and on top of that a European Battlegroup has now operational headquarters in Kinshasa (Operation EUFOR RD Congo).  

The reoport released by Global Witness only reveals what's going on in the cupper and cobalt mining.
From their press release from 5/6/2006:

"In the run-up to elections, politicians and companies have been scrambling to get their hands on ever-greater shares of the lucrative mineral trade, with little or no regard for the welfare of the Congolese population," said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness. "The plunder of the DRC's natural resources continues to undermine the country's opportunities for peace, stability and development."
Global Witness's research confirmed entrenched patterns of illicit exports of minerals across the DRC-Zambia border, with government and security officials either turning a blind eye to false or inaccurate export certificates, or actively colluding with trading companies to circumvent control procedures. Large quantities of minerals are leaving the country undeclared, representing a huge loss for the Congolese economy - but a vast gain for a small number of powerful actors. The big influx of foreign companies pouring into Katanga since 2004 has presented yet more opportunities for the political elite to enrich itself.
Global Witness also documented the harsh labour conditions in the artisanal mines, the complete absence of safety precautions and the failure of both the government and companies to take responsibility for the health and safety of tens of thousands of artisanal miners.

"Scores of miners have died in 2005 alone, mostly when trapped under collapsing mineshafts," said Patrick Alley. "No one is investigating these deaths or taking action to prevent further accidents. The government seems indifferent to their plight and trading companies are happy to continue buying products mined in these conditions in the full knowledge that miners are risking their lives every day.

Resentment is growing among the population of Katanga as they see vast profits flowing out of the country with no change in their own economic situation. An artisanal miner in Katanga told Global Witness: "We know that the Congo is rich. But despite this, we don't even have enough to eat. Only one category of people profits."

The report contains lots of figures, names of investors and shows in detail how an elite in DR Congo enriches themselves and how the hunt from other country's for raw materials is going on.
The Congolese people again are the victims. Colonialism is replaced by Globalisation.
The report (PDF) available in Eng. and French.


..of our lifetime...

and nobdy seems to care..

A  pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jul 6th, 2006 at 04:04:19 PM EST
Thanks for posting this, Elco B.

There is, unfortunately for the Congo, a long history of pillaging of natural resources while abusing and at times massacring the people of Congo.

We need only remember the "rubber terror" in King Leopold's personal colony, which was so well documented in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.  (I've tried to make that an ET-friendly link by clicking through the ad on the front page, but I'm not sure it took....)

I'm going to take the liberty of quoting a bit from a chapter in Hochschild's book:

The Wood That Weeps

The raid on the capital. like many other events in the Congo, was triggered by a discovery far away.  One day a few years before William Sheppard first embarked for Africa, a veterinary surgeon with a majestic white beard was tinkering with his son's tricycle at his home in Belfast, Ireland.  John Dunlop was trying to solve a problem that had bedeviled bicyclists for many years: how do you get a gentle ride without springs?  Dunlop finally devised a practical way of making a long-sought solution, an inflatable rubber tire.  In 1890 the Dunlop Company began making tires -- setting off a bicycle craze and starting a new industry just in time, it turned out, for the coming of the automobile.

Suddenly factories could not get enough of the magical commodity, and its price rose througout the 1890s.  Nowhere did the boom have a more drastic impact on people's lives than in the equatorial rain forest, where wild rubber vines snaked high into the trees, that covered nearly half of King Leopold's Congo.

By the turn of the century, the État Indépendant du Congo had become, far and away, the most profitable colony in Africa.  The profits came swiftly because, transportation costs aside, harvesting wild rubber required no cultivation, no fertlizers, no capital investment in expensive equipment.  It required only labor.

How was this labor to be found?  For the Congo's rulers, this posed a problem.  They could not simply round up men, chain them together, and put them to work under the eye of an overseer with a chicotte, as they did with porters.  To gather wild rubber, people must dipserse widely through the rain forest and often climb trees.

No payments of trinkets or brass wire were enough to make people stay in the flooded forest for days at a time to do work that was so arduous -- and physically painful.  A gatherer had to dry the syrup-like rubber so that it would coagulate, and often the only way to do so was to spread the substance on his arms, thighs and chest.  "The first few times it is not without pain that the man pulls it off the hairy parts of his body," Louis Chaltin, a Force Publique officer, confided to his journal in 1892.  "The native doesn't like making rubber.  He has to be compelled to do it."

"How was he to be compelled?" asks Hochschild.  By taking his family hostage, and then "selling" them back "for a couple of goats apiece" after the harvester met his rubber quota.

Sometimes the hostages were women, sometimes children, sometimes elders or chiefs.  Every state or company post in the rubber areas had a stockade for hostages.  If you were a male villager, resisting the order to gather rubber could mean death for your wife.  She might die anyway, for in the stockades food was scarce and conditions were harsh.  "The women taken during the last raid at Engwettra are causing me no end of trouble," wrote Force Publique officer Georges Bricusse in his diary on November 2, 1895.  "All the soldiers want one.  The sentries who are supposed to watch them unchain the prettiest ones and rape them."

And then there were the hands:  always the right hand, severed and usually smoked to preserve them in the humid jungle.

If a village refused to submit to the rubber regime, state or company troops or their allies sometimes shot everyone in sight, so that nearby villages would get the message.  But on such occasions some European officers were mistrustful.  For each cartridge issued to their soldiers they demanded proof that the bullet had been used to kill someone, not "wasted" in hunting or, worse yet, saved for possible use in a mutiny.  The standard proof was the right hand from a corpse. Or occasionally not from a corpse.  "Sometimes," said one officer to a missionary, soldiers "shot a cartridge at an animal in hunting; they then cut off a hand from a living man." In some military units there was even a "keeper of the hands"; his job was the smoking.

A Force Publique officer who passed through Fiévez's post in 1894 quotes Fiévez himself describing what he did when the surrounding villages failed to supply his troops with the fish and manioc he had demanded:  I made war against them.  One example was enough:  a hundred heads cut off, and there have ben plenty of supplies at the station ever since.  My goal is ultimately humanitarian.  I killed a hundred people... but that allowed five hundred others to live."

With "humanitarian" ground rules that included cutting off hands and heads, sadists like Fiévez had a field day.  The station chief at M'Bima used his revolver to shoot holes in African's earlobes.  Raoul de Premorel, and agent working along the Kasai River, enjoyed giving large doeses of castor oil to people he considered malingerers.  When villagers, in a desperate attempt to meet the weight quota, turned in rubber mixed with dirt or pebbles to the agent Albéric Detiège, he made them eat it.  When two porters failed to use a designated latrine, a district commisioner, Jean Verdussen, ordered them paraded in front of troops, their faces rubbed with excrement.

As news of the wite man's soldiers and their baskets of severed hands spread through the Congo, a myth gained credence with Africans that was a curious reversal of the white obsession with black cannibalism.  The cans of corned beef seen in whte men's houses, it was said, did not contain meat from the animals shown on the label; they contained chopped-up hands.

Apologies to Hochschild for so liberally quoting from his text.  This is only a fraction of a single chapter.  Anyone wishing for a better understanding of the underpinnings of the DRC's current catastrophe could do worse than to start with King Leopold's Ghost.

The brutal pillaging of Congo by the West began 120 years ago.  It has not stopped for one instant since then.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jul 6th, 2006 at 04:06:29 PM EST
What I failed to mention, of course, was that the brutal Belgian reign in Congo was ended in large part due to activism -- the Congo Reform Association was one of the earliest international human rights movements to evolve in the era of mass media.  

From Hochschild:

The crusade that E.D. Morel now orchestrated through the Congo Reform Association exerted a relentless, growing pressure on the Belgian, British and American governments.  Almost never has one man, possessed of no wealth, title or official post, caused so much trouble for the governments of several major countries.  Morel knew that officials like Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey would act only "when kicked, and if the process of kicking is stopped, he will do nothing." To this kicking, Morel devoted more than a decade of his life.

Morel, of course, didn't act alone.  Public outrage, crossing borders and oceans, was sparked and fueled by courageous reports of the atrocities, reports from an unlikely coterie of diplomats, journalists, missionaries and activists.

That, unfortunately, is what the Democratic Republic of Congo lacks today -- public outrage forcing the powers of the world to do something, to make Congo somewhat less of a hell on earth than it is.

There are reports from NGOs, there are stories in my newspaper, there are blog posts like this one, and the world gazes on indifferently, demanding no change, requiring of their leaders no committment to ending the misery.

They will move only when kicked.  We must kick them.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jul 6th, 2006 at 05:16:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My suggestions:

Don't renew your mobile phone
Don't renew your computer
Don't buy a new piece of computer hardware

Buy second hand if necessary.

The stormy present: great diary.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jul 6th, 2006 at 09:38:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Elco B!

Great diary!  Stormy present!  Great comments!  kcurie!  True!

Elco B!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jul 6th, 2006 at 09:41:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well , you forgot the diamonds, tropical wood stuff.....
Maybe, it would be more usefull to go to your bank and see if they have investements in corporations active overthere.  Here in Belgium a major bank was effectively  pressed by an action of a rather small group of people to  abandon their part in a mining company in DR Congo.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 01:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Elmo B, great diary. I do hope that we can provide one exception over here of the "noone seems to care" part of kcurie's point.

Let me just add two related news items:

"More than half of the presidential candidates in Democratic Republic of Congo's landmark elections, due this month, have called for a postponement.

Twenty of the 33 candidates say the elections are being badly organised and question why an extra 5m ballot papers have been printed..."

and most importantly, an interview with Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Director of UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, in which the African political scientist does not mince words:

...What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non-African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo. While its mineral resources are so abundant that a young Belgian geologist declared the country a geological scandal at the beginning of the last century, the real scandal of the Congo include the facts that its uranium was used to build the first atomic bombs in the world and its wealth has since the days of King Leopold II been used not in the interests of its people but to the benefit of its rulers and their external allies.

The forthcoming election means more to the international community, which is spending heavily on it and even sending in European Union forces to supplement MONUC to ensure that it is being held, than to the Congolese people. The major powers of the world and the international organizations under their control would like to legitimize their current client regime in Kinshasa so they can continue unfettered to extract all the resources they need from the Congo...

...Since the current transitional government has not fulfilled the requirements laid out in the Sun City/Pretoria accord for free and fair elections, the ritual of 30 July is likely to confirm Joseph Kabila as President, but it will not change the political situation of the country for the better. Violence will continue in the northeast, and corruption and incompetence will remain the most salient features of a government with an externally-driven agenda...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 07:35:19 PM EST
I meant of course, Elco B. Sorry...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 08:02:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, here in Belgium we expect major troubles during and immediatly after the elections in DR Congo. An indication for that was the fact the Belgian part of the European Battlke group had major exercises before leaving for Benin and Gabon, where yhey stay on call'in case off..'.
ALL those exercises, crossing a large river with speed boots, storm-landings with C-130 Hercules planes.... were organised to execute evacuations. I couldn't find anything about what is done to help organize the elections.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun Jul 9th, 2006 at 01:35:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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