Congo: mineral struggle behind electoral dispute

President Joseph Kabila and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi both claim victory in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nov. 28 elections, and at least 18 have been killed in political violence in the stand-off. The majority of those killed were shot by Kabila’s Republican Guard. Many more have been injured by riot police using tear gas and baton charges against the supporters of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). Thousands have fled the capital Kinshasa across the river to the Republic of the Congo. The electoral commission has awarded victory to Kabila, of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

The Carter Center, which provided the only international monitoring, has condemned the outcome as “lacking credibility,” noting that turnout in some Kabila strongholds was impossibly high. Results from thousands of polling stations on opposition turf were lost. The Catholic church, which deployed 30,000 observers, has also rejected the results. (FT, The Hindu, In Defense of Marxism, Dec. 13)

Spectre of secession in Eastern Congo
In the violence-torn east of the country, armed militiamen have been burning voter cards to keep people from going to the polls. Among those running for legislative office is Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, commander of the eastern Mai-Mai Sheka militia, accused of ordering the rapes of hundreds of women last year, as well as targeting children and other war crimes. On the eve of the election, the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee imposed a worldwide travel ban and asset freeze on Sheka, at the recommendation of the US, UK and France. (RTT News, Nov. 29; AP, Nov. 21)

An estimated 5 million people died in years of war in Congo that began as a result of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Although violence in fact continues in Congo’s East, the war officially ended in 2002, when Kabila and Rwandan president Paul Kagame agreed to a peace accord, and Rwandan troops pulled out of Congo’s territory. The accord stated that Kabila would remain president of Congo until new elections that took place in 2006—which saw him winning with 58% of the vote. Another wave of clashes, killing hundreds, followed the 2006 elections.

Kabila’s pay-off for the peace deal with Kagame was Rwanda’s arrest of Laurent Nkunda, former head of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a Rwanda-backed Tutsi rebel group. Kagame’s pay-off was assurance that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) would be crushed—and the right of Rwanda to intervene again if events proved otherwise. The FDLR was accused of sheltering Hutu genocidaires who fled to Congo when Rwanda’s Hutu-dominated regime collapsed after the 1994 crisis. The CNDP rebels—who fought the FDLR in eastern Congo—were given amnesty for previous atrocities they committed, and have retained a parallel chain of command in the Congolese army. Under a 2009 peace deal, they were officially to the “integrated” into the national army, while the CNDP would continue to exist as a political party. (Hudson New York, Nov. 30; WorldPress, Nov. 27)

The CNDP aggressively backed Kabila in the recent elections—with military units composed of “former” CNDP fighters allegedly pressuring residents to vote for him. Military units used convoys to distribute Kabila campaign material, including t-shirts and posters. Since the elections, there has been growing talk in eastern Congo that the CNDP will secede if Kabila does not maintain power. The CNDP, through army units under its control, is already the de facto power over most of North and South Kivu. (CSM, Nov. 26)

Tshisekedi was an outspoken opponent of renewed Rwandan intervention in Congo in the aftermath of the 2002 peace deal.

The mineral angle
Congo’s vast mineral wealth was (and is) a goad to the war—an irony, given the country’s last place ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index. DR Congo holds more than half of the world’s cobalt, 30% of all diamonds, 70% of coltan—a vital ingredient in mobile phones—as well as huge deposits of gold, copper and various other minerals. Kabila recently negotiated a $6 billion barter deal with China, trading access to minerals for infrastructure including roads, railways, hospitals and bridges. DR Congo is clearly strategic to China’s ambitions in Africa. With his father Laurent Kabila installed as DR Congo’s leader after the 1997 revolution, Joseph Kabila was sent to China for military training, and later became army chief of staff before inheriting the presidency. (BBC News, Dec. 9; AP, Nov. 21)

But the West is trying to leverage aid to Kabila to gain corporate access to Congo’s minerals. The IMF and World Bank forgave Congo about $12 billion in debt last year after the government agreed to economic “reforms.” British MP Eric Joyce accuses Kabila of selling off the mineral assets to “shell” companies in the British Virgin Islands at a loss. The shell companies are allegedly flipping the mineral assets at windfall profits—presumably going into the coffers of Kabila or cronies, at a tremendous loss to Congo’s treasury. Joyce says the IMF, World Bank and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative have failed to enforce the requirements of a $551 million credit facility calling for a public tender process for the sale of state assets. Earlier this year, the IMF said government reforms in extractive industries are “proceeding satisfactorily.” (VOA, Dec. 13; The Economist, Nov. 26)

See our last posts on Congo, Central Africa and the global mineral cartel.

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