Global Policy Forum

The Looting of Congo

New York Times
May 29, 2001

From the depredations of Belgian colonial rule through the cold-war kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko, the vast Central African nation now called Congo has been ransacked by foreigners and their African collaborators. Africans and non-Africans alike have extracted diamonds, gold, copper, timber, elephant tusks and other resources in a lawless commercial culture. As both Secretary of State Colin Powell and members of the United Nations Security Council have crisscrossed Africa in recent days to encourage the withdrawal of foreign troops from Congo, a disturbing U.N. report offers fresh evidence of the degree to which Congo's nearly three-year-old civil war serves the economic interests of some of the West's staunchest African allies and an array of foreign businesses.

The U.N. report documents in impressive detail the role of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the wholesale looting of eastern Congo. The panel concluded that the leaders of Uganda and Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame, two of Washington's allies during the Clinton administration, were "on the verge of becoming godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict."

The panel did not accuse the two men of profiting personally. But it properly held them accountable for failing to prevent their top generals, relatives and associates, along with proxy rebels and warlords in regions under their control, from profiting in league with criminal cartels and foreign companies. Mr. Museveni has denounced the report and noted that it overlooks the crimes of Uganda's main rivals in Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Congo itself have likewise engaged in thievery.

But the U.N. report also makes clear that Africans have exploited Congo's natural resources in league with reputable foreign companies and financial institutions. Some three dozen businesses, based in Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, India, Pakistan and Russia, are identified as having imported minerals from Congo through Uganda and Rwanda.

The world must find ways to deter non-African companies and financial institutions that are only too prepared to take advantage of Congo's misery. An embargo on minerals, timber, gold or diamonds shipped from the states whose forces currently occupy territory in Congo -- states that would not normally export large quantities of these resources -- may be necessary. Public and private financial institutions should reconsider doing business with banks in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi that have close ties with the armies and rebel militias engaged in Congo. As many as 2.5 million Congolese may have died from starvation and disease in eastern Congo. Legitimate companies should have no business profiting from this catastrophe.

More Information on the DRC
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on the Dark Side of Resources
More Information on Sanctions


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