UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — The volatile situation in the Congo is of immediate concern here.
Observers are referring to the warfare in the Congo as “a world war within a world war” because of the intervention of armies from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe.
Three aspects of the conflict in which an estimated 3.5 million people have died since 1998 are central to an understanding of it.
First, there is the ethnic fighting in the resource-rich, northeast Ituri district; second, a continuing United Nations investigation of the illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources; and third, the disastrous history of the Congo since it won its independence from Belgium.
“The ongoing strife in Ituri is a humanitarian catastrophe,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council last month. “Military offensives continue to cause widespread suffering. The illicit exploitation of natural resources has criminalized the conflict, making it all the more difficult to stop.”
Annan recommended that the military strength of the U.N. mission in the country be boosted to 10,800 troops and that its mandate be extended to June 2004.
On May 30, the Security Council authorized the dispatch of 1,400 troops. The force would be deployed until Sept. 1, 2003. France, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries said they would contribute to the deployment. However, Pakistan and Nigeria specified a reservation, saying that the U.N. would have to pay the costs.
The troops would supplement a contingent of 700 Uruguayan soldiers pledged to protect several thousand persons now sheltering within the perimeter of the U.N. compound at Bunia in the Ituri district. The Uruguayans are lightly armed, and may not fire unless attacked.
On June 9-10, 200 French troops arrived in Bunia. Soldiers of the Hema ethnic militia control the town beyond the compound’s perimeter. An estimated 430 persons have died in recent clashes between the Hema and Lendu ethnic militias. The Lendus have been expelled from the town.
That is the immediate situation on the ground.
At the same time, a U.N. panel of experts based in Nairobi, Kenya under Security Council direction is providing insight into the fundamental causes of the fighting. The panel is continuing its investigation of 85 multinational enterprises, 18 companies, and 54 individuals making deals in the Congo for its natural resources.
The operations of these parties have received scant attention in the international press.
Yet among the multinational enterprises whose activities are being probed are the Ahmad Diamond Corp. (Belgium); Barclays Bank (United Kingdom); De Beers (South Africa); First Quantum Minerals (Canada); Eagle Wings Resources International (U.S.); Kemet Electronics Corporation (U.S.); Trinitech corporation (U.S.); Nac Kazatomprom (Kazakhstan); Dara Forest (Thailand); Orion Mining (South Africa).
Congolese natural resources include oil and gas, copper, diamonds, coltan, gold, zinc, and cobalt.
The U.N. panel explained in a report last October that the conflict was being fought not only over minerals but farm produce, land and “even tax revenues.”
“Criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe and the government of the Congo have benefited from the microconflicts,” the panel said. “Those groups will not disband voluntarily even as the foreign military forces continue their withdrawals. They have built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation.”
Elite networks and powerful individuals are exercising economic control over portions of the Congo, the panel went on. Their tactics are disguised to cover “high levels of theft.”
“Local militias and local politicians have supplemented the role that State armies previously played in ensuring access to and control of valuable resources and diverting State revenues,” the panel said.
“The looting that was previously conducted by the armies themselves has been replaced with organized systems of embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, the use of stock options as kickbacks and diversion of State funds conducted by groups that closely resemble criminal organizations.”
Current events in the Congo are following closely upon those of the past. The Congo became independent from Belgium on June 30, 1960. In July, Belgian troops flown from Europe intervened in an attempt to protect Belgian interests in the Congo’s copper deposits. Their intervention set off a four-year war.
A 20,000-man U.N. force was committed in a peacemaking attempt.
In early 1961, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was murdered. Joseph Mobutu, chief of staff of the Congolese army, seized power on Sept. 13. On Sept. 17 U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash about which questions still remain. Hammarskjold was on his way to Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where cease-fire talks were to be held.
Fighting continued for almost three more years. With U.S. support, Mobutu remained in power until 1997. Mobutu is described in the Statesman’s Yearbook 2003 as “one of the most destructive tyrants of the African independence era.”
On the night of May 15-16, 1997, Mobutu fled the country, and Laurent-Desire Kabila who had lead a revolt against his rule came to power. On Jan. 16, 2001, Kabila was assassinated; his son, Joseph, succeeded him.
External forces once again entered the Congo to separate it from its wealth.
The future of the Congo, its population of 47 million, and its vast resources, continues to be up for grabs, for plundering, subject to lawlessness, human rights violations, sexual abuse and rape of women, and the forced enlistment of children as soldiers.
The authority of the Congo’s central government does not extend to it’s resources. The struggle for possession of them is being carried out extra-legally, violently. International efforts to control the violence are minimal, limited to areas where civilians are identifiable and directly threatened.