I am grateful to Ken Anderson for notifying readers of this blog of his article published in The Public Record titled, “Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front” (16 December 2009). I had promised myself to feature this earlier, but as with so much other intended writing for this blog, a large backlog formed given the rush of current events. Having said that, Anderson’s article is very much current, about imperial wars by proxy masked by the media as “ethnic conflict,” part of what we might call a twenty-first century Scramble for Africa. Indeed, anthropology has been at the forefront of the demystification of the politics of the “tribe” since the 1960s, that to see this logic reinvented in the case of the mass media’s reporting on Afghanistan tells us how little we have progressed in furthering public understanding, even when journalists themselves are confronted with these arguments (as they were here on this blog).
AFRICOM (the U.S. military’s new Africa Command, which promises to incorporate new Human Terrain Teams), is firmly situated within this neo-colonial imbroglio between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, U.S. mining corporations, and China. Anderson’s detailed research and careful analysis is well worth reading.
Given the copyright restrictions governing the article, I will only post select extracts below with my own annotations.
Rwanda is one of the military contenders for securing access to Congo’s rich mineral deposits that are illegally extracted and provide vital inputs from everything from cell phones to jet turbines and Tomahawk missiles. With reference to Rwanda, Anderson points out:
Rwandan president Paul Kagame is essentially a US military asset planted in central Africa, having been trained at US military command school in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas up until the Uganda-backed invasion of Rwanda by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990. The invasion led to the installation of Kagame as president. He remains firmly entrenched in Kigali, with enthusiastic US support.
A United Nations panel that was charged with documenting the illegal extraction of mineral wealth from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), pointed to a complex array of military and corporate interests behind the violence in the region, noting there is,
an array of 119 different companies involved in mining operations and transportation of minerals, including 12 companies based in the United Kingdom, 9 United States firms, 21 companies based in Belgium, 12 in South Africa, 4 in Germany, 5 in Canada and 2 in Switzerland. Many of the 29 companies that were found in violation of law, though registered in Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, were really just front operations for western firms operating in conjunction with local Ugandan, Rwandan and Congolese government officials. Israeli firms operating in the Congo mining theatre had close ties to the government in Kinshasa, as well as to luminaries of the Democratic Party in the United States.
The so-called renegade armies operating in the region fund themselves by acting as gatekeepers for illegal resource extraction, while the Congolese national treasury crumbles and, with it, social spending. Anderson proceeds to criticize the narratives produced by dominant Western media, governments, and even some NGOs in producing “cover for western corporate involvement in the virulent, deadly corruption that sits at the heart of the Congolese wars.”
In 2006, when a reformist Joseph Kabila won office, a commitment was made to review all contracts with Western mining companies operating in the DRC. The result of the DRC’s review the following year came with a realignment of the DRC’s international connections, favouring China because China in return favoured local economic development without the political conditionalities of agencies such as the International Monetary Fund:
Subsequent to the announcement of the mining contract review, Kabila’s government announced that it would sign a multi-billion dollar agreement with the Chinese government (now standing at $9 billion) that would give the Chinese direct access to mineral resources in exchange for a host of infrastructure projects, including roads, hospitals and health care centers, schools, railroads, housing, and two hydroelectric projects. This is not altruistic, obviously. The Sino-Congolese agreement consigns the Chinese a 68% share in the joint venture and the rights to two large cobalt and copper concessions, while the proposed road and rail systems will obviously be used for mineral transport. Opposition parties criticized the deal, claiming that Kabila intended to “sell off our natural heritage to the detriment of several generations,” words that ring hollow in light of the organized plunder of recent years. In fact, considering how little Congo has received from western interests in the region, China’s planned expenditures would be a veritable boon to the country. True to China’s diplomatic and business form in Africa and elsewhere, the deal came with no imposition of the kind of “political reform” that usually accompanies financial investment from western institutions such as the IMF.
As Western mining companies, which had benefited from illegal extraction within Congo, and that had recruited private militias, suddenly saw their stocks crumble, a new development occurred. In came AFRICOM, and competition against China was critical to this supposed “humanitarian” and “development” effort in the hands of the U.S. military and some suspiciously compliant American development NGOs (the term “non-governmental” is getting to be seriously abused beyond repair):
US State and Defense Department advisor, Dr. J. Peter Pham, informed Congress that AFRICOM necessarily would be focused on China’s movements in Africa and that China was the only “near-peer competitor” to the United States.
China is currently importing approximately 2.6 million barrels of crude per day, about half of its consumption; more than 765,000 of those barrels, roughly a third of its imports, come from African sources, especially Sudan, Angola, and Congo (Brazzaville). … Chinese President Hu Jintao announced a three-year, $3 billion program in preferential loans and expanded aid for Africa. These funds come on top of the $3 billion in loans and $2 billion in export credits that Hu announced in October 2006 at the opening of the historic Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which brought nearly fifty African heads of state and ministers to the Chinese capital. Intentionally or not, many analysts expect that Africa, especially the states along its oil-rich western coastline, will increasingly become a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and its only real near-peer competitor on the global stage, China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure access to resources.
The DRC is a vital source of coltan ore, possessing 80% of the world’s supply, from which both niobium and tantalum are derived. The U.S. military exhausted its stockpile of tantalum in 2007, and has only refurbished it two thirds of its 2006 level. Tantalum is used in the manufacture of electronic capacitors.
As for some of the “rebel” armies, Anderson notes that while proclaiming their interest in defending themselves against ethnic violence and ethnic injustice, they occasionally add some “unusual” items to their lists of demands, such as this one, where in an interview a rebel general,
voiced his opposition to a $9 billion US deal that allows China access to Congo’s vast mineral reserves in exchange for infrastructure improvements.
Toward the conclusion of his article, Anderson is unsparing toward the mainstream media in the West and the hypocrisy of those will spare no passion in denouncing 19th century colonization of Africa, while turning a blind eye to the current wave of recolonization:
Current conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are only the latest in a long and shameful legacy of western misemployment and exploitation. Millions suffer, millions die, and our political class and complicit media organs shout and cry about all the ethnic tension they claim leads to this suffering. Never are the operations and fortunes of western corporate interests mentioned, nor too the presence of US and European military troops who are there, aiding and abetting the slaughter.
Indeed, so ready are the powers that be, and their supporters, ready to absolve themselves that, as Anderson notes, Condoleeza Rice, adding to her repertoire of scandalous distortions, said that the U.S. was “dragged” into Iraq. We all need to do whatever we can to “drag” them out of their chosen interventions and wars of conquest. May severe economic crisis and worldwide resistance visit some “birth pangs” in the imperial household.
Coltan Mining in the Congo
Also see Ken Anderson’s robust blog on many related matters:
RELATED REPORTS AND ANALYSES:
by Michael Keating
12 December 2008
by Jooneed Khan
3 November 2008
by Keith Harmon Snow
4 February 2008
by Gwalgen Geordie Dent
14 May 2007
by Gwalgen Geordie Dent
26 May 2007