Kenneth Anderson: Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front

Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo

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.

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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.

Children mining coltan in Congo
Children mining coltan in Congo. Photograph by Mvemba Phezo Dizolele.

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.

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Coltan Mining in the Congo

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Also see Ken Anderson’s robust blog on many related matters:

SHOCKFRONT.ORG

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RELATED REPORTS AND ANALYSES:

The UN’s Latest Disgrace in Eastern Congo

by Michael Keating
12 December 2008
Dissident Voice

“Looters’ War” in the Congo
UN report exposes role of Canadian mining companies

by Jooneed Khan
3 November 2008
The Dominion

Over Five Million Dead in Congo? Fifteen Hundred People Daily?
Behind the Numbers Redux: How Truth is Hidden, Even When it Seems to Be Told

by Keith Harmon Snow
4 February 2008
Dissident Voice

Canada in the Congo War:
Role of mining, resource extraction has been neglected

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent
14 May 2007
The Dominion

Mining the Congo:
Canadian mining companies in the DRC

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent
26 May 2007
The Dominion

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17 thoughts on “Kenneth Anderson: Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front

  1. And not only DRC, of course. When I was in southern Sudan just after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, I met several “prospectors”, usually based in Kampala, Uganda, who had close protection teams derived from both the Ugandan army and the southern Sudanese SPLA. Brits, Belgians, Italians, and the inevitable Russians, were all afforded these escorts through negotiation with serving SPLA officers and SPLM apparatchiks, and operated with the consent of local leaders. I can’t comment on their relationships with the Ugandans, as I simply don’t know how that worked, but it was obvious that both Uganda and the SPLM were in cahoots with these speculators.

  2. Thanks Ken and Tim, these are fascinating accounts of a region where events are being kept deliberately murky and distant. When something almost benign by comparison comes out in a film like _Darwin’s Nightmare_ a lot of people are left reeling, and others skeptical that it is all a little too much. Instead, worse realities abound, and the mass media continue to feed us a line about Africa as mired in poverty presumably all due to some internal, domestic deficiencies of character and a deficit of reason, as if no outside interests were bloodying their hands. I should stop getting shocked, and I am surprised that I cannot stop.

  3. Love the blog, love your writing Maximilian (though I often disagree with everything you say, as a revisionist fabian socialist who does not work from Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism anymore :) ).

    I do West African history, and while I love how you hold the United States and other rich white-ass countries (I refuse to use the term ‘The West’ because I find it overused and essentialist) accountable, but your article presents a view of China’s entry into the Congo as some sort of “alternative” to foreign interference or exploitation. You phrase Kabila’s (who is HARDLY a reformist) 2006 statement as beneficial:
    “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”
    So the DRC government, which is just as complicit in the raping of its land, is now teaming up with another government (actually China has been involved in the DRC for some time, but not in this capacity) which has assigned no ‘conditionalities’, and that is not worth criticizing? Your solution (ok, you offer no solution, just salient criticisms) to the situation is that a worthless government should be given carte blanche to do what they want? The IMF conditionalities AND China’s (hypocritical) policies of non-interference are just as detrimental to human welfare. I want to make clear that China is not ‘worse’ than the United States, but I must stress to you that it is not in any way better, or the lesser of two evils. China interferes (see: any Zambian elections over the past decade or so), China has imperial and neocolonial ambitions in continental Africa (everything from isolating Taiwan, to markets for cheap goods, to sources of unproccessed raw materials, to virulent racism), and China is angling to control their own mines in the Congo. They could not give two damns about the people of the DRC, and they have historically not given two damns about Africans in general… much like Britain, France, or the United States. All governments and all business interests on the continent are concerned with power, and do not think that some are better than others.

  4. It’s only an accident if it ever seems that I work from Lenin’s theory of imperialism.

    Those are very strong points that you raised and I think I was generally following in line with the original article itself. I would have thought many of the same things about China that you express (with less of the wider African detail), but I am wondering if you are saying that what is generally true about China in Africa is also true about China in the DRC. I would tend to think that it would be, but I myself cannot be certain of that without knowing more. Also, don’t you risk completely erasing the social investments China was willing to undertake in the DRC that the author talks about? Who else was offering that? Which other political leader in the DRC was seeking that kind of assistance? These are not counter-criticisms I am raising, masked as questions, but actual questions. I am certainly prepared to believe that all sides, and all foreign powers are (or were, depending on the impact of the economic contraction) seeking their own angles for conquering the DRC’s resources. I am just wondering about who has sought to compete with China’s promised development assistance, and which other parties sought to undo the influence of Western mining interests?

    By the way, as you see, I do use West, in part because it essentializes itself.

    In the meantime, many thanks for visiting and for commenting. Hopefully the author can come back and add any points or clarifications he might think necessary.

  5. Just the briefest follow up imaginable…

    Winslow, the way you describe China’s investment and natural resource extraction activities abroad would certainly fit perfectly with what we know of China’s timber and mining operations in Guyana and Suriname, and what most newspaper readers heard about China’s relationship with the military rulers of Myanmar.

    So my question is a simple one, not knowing as much about China’s external profile as I should: is there absolutely no nation whose alliance/allegiance China wishes to cultivate? Is it always a sneak attack on natural resources?

    Thinking again about the Caribbean, I know that China has made massive investments in the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, in social infrastructure, housing, etc. — those are resource-poor nations…all they have to offer is their votes in the UN. Are these the only exceptions, or would China have other motives, besides economic ones, for cultivating ties with the DRC?

    That is my brief follow up.

  6. Maximilian,

    Thanks for the reply! I am still a bushy-tailed grad student, so everything smacks of heavy-handed theory to me before I become cloned into believing whatever my research advisor wants me to believe is THE TRUTH (I am a Robinson and Gallaghar fan myself, heavily flawed as it is, but truth be told I do not think that European Imperialism, and a greater Western Imperialism, can be theorized, but whatever).

    As per your reply, I apologize for completely screwing up and giving a rather simplistic portrayal of Chinese involvement in Africa: Africa is not a country, and Chinese involvement means MANY different things that involve, circumvent, or ignore the government, which in itself is no worse than any other government. I sort of gave the current picture of a penetrating China in contrast to static African victims (a perception that is all too popular in the US :( ).

    I fundamentally question what development means, whether pre-1960s modernization theory to ‘market-driven’ development during the 1980s to the current masturbatory buzzwords of ‘sustainable’ development involving ‘civil society’. This relates to aid because aid is perceived as the highest point of altruistic wealth transfers. Aid is also seen as helping in the project of development. Then what, pray tell, is the point of aid if we do not know what development is? If development is industrialization, then how did it happen? Slavery? Colonization? Should not we be advocating for African countries to colonize other places then? If development is having a country assert itself, then what about Ghana and Guinea in the 60s? If development is tied to indicators of wealth, health and happiness a la UN markers, then will an aid package from China change any of those indicators? Will the roads, houses, and mines that it builds really help anything outside of their direct interests? I say this because in my own research as an undergrad I worked on the importance of Liberian rubber during WWII, and I was FLOODED with books talking about just how much the Firestone company had done for Liberia, and once I find that damn paper I will try to quote some numbers for you and perhaps convert them to 2008 dollars. Or I can quote parliamentary debates in England prior to the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and demonstrate just how much the British ‘gave’ the Indians in what modern parlance would be called aid. You would probably scoff at the comparison, but China is aiming for the sort of relationship with the DRC as the Americans were cultivating in Liberia once they figured out they could grow rubber there. Not a colony exactly, not quite a semi-colony, but a country who is always looking to make its big brother happy. Considering the amount of aid going to the DRC via USAID, http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cbj2006/afr/cd.html the Chinese project certainly looks better. Though again, the US is investing more in Iraq than China is in the DRC…

    To your point about overall Chinese investment in the West Indies, the Europeans invested in them as well, and built schools, roads, etc. The University of the West Indies was established in 1948, after all. Of course, no one now would consider these anything more than window dressing on the imperial project. If the Chinese are embarking on modern economic imperialism (European imperial theories changed drastically over the century, and they figured out that the most efficient way to make money was through neo-colonies, a strategy all countries are following), as I believe, I see all of these projects as window-dressing.

    China is not quite as mercenary as I portray them, but then again neither is the United States or England. How did the Chinese come to gain recognition from the UN in 1971, wrestling it away from Taiwan? Through an influx of votes from African countries, most of which had government that did not particularly like the Chinese government, but they were bribed to do so (The country that built the national soccer stadium first was the country that got recognition :) ). How will China continue to pursue its imperial ambitions via the UN? By having allies. While the United States made a temporary attempt at unilateral action over the past 8 years (Do not try to portray Clinton as a unilateralist, he was not, and while Reagan was an evil man with evil policies, he masked his unilateralism quite well), both China and the United States will be trying to cultivate as many relationships as possible. China is just another great power.

    The West essentializes itself to a point, but is also quite good at finding differences amongst each other and slaughtering each other based on those differences. I will continue to use rich-ass white countries :).

  7. Thanks again very much Winslow, your visit and the commentary above are both very welcome. I will need time to digest it, but my first reactions were that I essentially agree with all of your comments. I think the key thing for people like me is to spend much more time learning about China’s external ambitions and engagements, since it is likely that it could become the world’s leading superpower within our lifetimes, and to stay informed about something as vast as Africa seeing that, once more, it has become a new frontier for renewed imperial expansion.

    I share you same thoughts about development (and if you can theorize that you can theorize at least one dimension of imperialism, as well as getting a hold on what “West” means in practice, especially in terms of “bridging the gap”). I realize that at least for some “development” has also come to mean undoing the damage caused by (neo)colonial “underdevelopment” (I am borrowing from Walter Rodney of course), but what that is meant to actually look like appears foggy to me.

    Also, even if anonymously, if you should ever wish for me to post an essay of yours on this blog, I would be more than happy to.

    Very best wishes.

  8. Sorry for jumping into this a bit late (I’ve been in the process of moving over the last couple of weeks). Good discussion here, and I thought I would just pop a few comments down.

    My article certainly never sought to portray China’s latest move into the Congo as altruistic. In fact, it clearly is not. The agreement terms were heavily in favour of China (a 64/36 share, I believe), and all the glorious infrastructure proposed was clearly going to be used to move raw materiel out of the country. Of course, having a healthy and educated population always helps to some degree. China knows that. Everyone seems to know the value of an educated population except Republicans in the US.

    China is simply trying to move in on what has traditionally been turf dominated and controlled by western business interests — whether essentialist or not — for literally decades. Prior to the Chinese moving into African, it was the Soviet Union the US was supposedly in a Cold War battle with, even though much of the heated maneuvering was driven by a great deal of White House paranoia or, more likely, anti-Soviet excuses were used for any number of incursions and interventions in places where the locals had decided they might like to run things themselves.

    I certainly didn’t indicate that China was going to be sort of saviour of Africa, but Max is quite right to ask what other deals out there would have competed against China’s $9 billion agreement. The answer is none. The deal was exactly what it appeared to be: leverage to get China more deeply into the region and cut out western middle men. China does not want supply lines dependent upon interests that it might consider hostile; this is the same stance the US would have — does have. Even though world markets for materiel are highly interconnected, China knows that, in a supply crunch, they could wind up getting shut out. There is nothing complicated about this.

    Winslow may not believe that Kabila is much of a reformer, but he certainly shook up the mining sector in Congo with the contract review. I consider that nothing but a good thing, because unlike China’s agreement, western mining companies and their ancillary businesses have returned essentially nothing to Congo. And corrupt Congolese politicians have been more than happy to keep mining revenue mostly for themselves, Mobutu being the premier example. Of course, as I indicated in the article, Nkunda’s advance on Goma threw panic into the air and, surprise! the mining contract review suddenly had to be tabled indefinitely.

    Nkunda now has been “arrested,” in a “joint” military effort by the DRC and Rwanda. In reality, he was retired mostly because he had simply called too much attention to himself, and as noted in the article, made some rather untoward comments about the China-Congo agreement that no “rebel” bent on supposed humanitarian concerns ought to have concerned himself with. As we have seen with any number of African tinpots — or leaders as we call them before they become tinpots — they have a shelf life. It varies, but inevitably, their usefulness will wane and they will deposed by some rival who likely has the firm hand of the US right on their back.

    “China is not quite as mercenary as I portray them, then again neither is the United States or England.” I’m not sure just what this statement is based on, but it certainly has nothing much to do with reality. Especially in the case of the US, I suggest a reading of William Blum’s Killing Hope, US Military and CIA Interventions Since WWII, in order to get a sense of just how mercenary the US has been in the course of the last 60 years. Of course, it’s never really stopped, with the destruction of Iraq only the latest in a long line of mercenary transgressions.

  9. Good! Thanks very much for that Kenneth. I believe that in my condensation of your article I must have over simplified some points, but I thought I understood you to be saying exactly what you explain above, and it seems very reasonable to me.

  10. Hello.

    I am a student journalist for Al Talib newsmagazine at UCLA and I am writing an article on conflict minerals in Congo. I would like to use a picture from your website and I am asking permission because I did not see any captions or copyright information. Here is a link to the picture I would like to use:

    Please get back to me as soon as possible.

    Thanks so much.

    -Anum Iqbal
    Staff Writer
    Al Talib Newsmagazine
    University of California, Los Angeles

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