Corporations Reaping Millions
as Congo Suffers Deadliest Conflict Since World War II
January 23, 2008
A new mortality report from the
International Rescue Committee says that as many as 5.4 million
people have died from war-related causes in the Congo since 1998.
A staggering 45,000 people continue to die each month, both from
the conflict and the related humanitarian crisis. Amidst the deadliest
conflict since World War II, hundreds of international corporations
have reaped enormous profits from extracting and processing Congolese
minerals. We speak to Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo and
Nita Evele of Congo Global Action.
Maurice Carney, Co-Founder and
Executive Director of Friends of the Congo, an advocacy organization
based in Washington, D.C.
Nita Evele, Co-Chair of Congo
Global Action, a coalition of human rights, humanitarian and other
organizations advocating for justice in the DRC.
AMY GOODMAN: The conflict in the Democratic
Republic of Congo is often called the "Forgotten War,"
even though it's the deadliest since World War II. A new mortality
report from the International Rescue Committee says the death
rate in the Congo remains as high today as it was during the brutal
war that officially ended in 2003. The mortality survey found
as many as 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes
in the Congo since 1998. A staggering 45,000 people continue to
die each month both from the conflict and the related humanitarian
crisis, despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping
force and billions of dollars in international aid.
Meanwhile, a US- and European Union-mediated
ceasefire deal between the Congolese government and rival rebel
factions in the east of the country has threatened to fall apart
Tuesday, the deal announced Monday in the war-torn and diamond-rich
North Kivu province. But Tutsi rebels from General Laurent Nkunda's
National Council for Defense of the People, or CNDP, refused to
accept the ceasefire. They said the government is not doing enough
to protect the Tutsi minority in eastern Congo from Rwandan Hutu
militias, known as the FDLR, or Democratic Forces for the Liberation
0. RENE BANDI: For us, the problem of
FDLR is the main problem. If that problem is apart, it's not integrated
in a global solution, I think there will be problems.
AMY GOODMAN: That was a spokesperson for
the CNDP led by General Laurent Nkunda, who is wanted by the Congolese
government for war crimes. Some reports indicate the talks broke
down over whether or not to grant Nkunda amnesty. The representative
of the Mai Mai rebel group, a Congolese militia that's been fighting
Nkunda's forces in eastern Congo, also threatened to pull out
of the agreement Tuesday.
0. MAI MAI REPRESENTATIVE: We are very
concerned, because we are looking for peace and we are ready to
do peace, to make peace take place in our region. We are very
tired with fighting. So if the CNDP doesn't accept, doesn't agree
to send the documents, it means he needs to continue fighting
against our population. And as we said, we always said and everybody
know, we are just defending. We are protecting our population.
As long as the CNDP should continue to reject the agreement that
we need to sign, it means he needs to continue fighting. And we
are ready to protect our population against any attacks, any aggression,
which can come from them.
AMY GOODMAN: Over one million civilians
have been displaced from the war-ravaged North and South Kivu
provinces to escape fighting between government soldiers, Mai
Mai militia and Tutsi rebels loyal to General Nkunda. Deo Bolingo
is one of the many displaced people from this region, desperate
for the peace deal to be implemented.
0. DEO BOLINGO: [translated] All my hopes
are in this conference. They should end the war. But if they cannot
end it, at this point even old people, children, mothers and youth-the
entire population, everyone-should be given a gun, so that everyone
should know that they are dying for their lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Although war, poverty, malnutrition
and disease continue to stalk the lives of millions of Congolese,
the Democratic Republic of Congo also has some of the world's
richest deposits of mineral wealth. As a result, hundreds of international
corporations have reaped enormous profits from extracting and
processing Congolese minerals.
In June 2007, the Congolese government
initiated a process to review sixty-one mining contracts established
during the war in the so-called transitional period from 2003
to 2006. The review is complete, but the government has yet to
publish the results. When a Congolese newspaper published in November
what it claimed were leaked results of the review, several publicly
traded mining stocks in the New York, London and Toronto exchanges
plummeted. The leaked report indicates that the contracts could
be renegotiated or even cancelled.
Maurice Carney is with us in Washington,
co-founder and executive director of Friends of the Congo, an
advocacy group that seeks to raise awareness about the crisis
in the Congo. Nita Evele is a Congolese activist and co-chair
of Congo Global Action, a coalition of humanitarian, human rights
and other groups advocating for justice in the Congo. Maurice
Carney and Nita Evele join us from Washington, D.C.
Can you, Nita, lay out the crisis right
now on the ground?
NITA EVELE: OK. Good morning, Amy, and
thank you for having us. The crisis on the ground is that the
rebel group of Nkunda and the Mai Mai and all those people attack
the population in villages. And right now we have almost 800,000
people displaced in the Congo. They were fleeing the conflicts
between the army of FRDC-I mean, the Congolese army, who are fighting
the militia of General Nkunda. So there's a big crisis, and people
are suffering on camps without food and water. Kids are dying
of cholera and other diseases.
AMY GOODMAN: Maurice Carney, the International
Rescue Committee calls this the worst conflict since World War
II. You've written extensively about the involvement of multinational
corporations in fueling the unrest. Can you talk about this?
MAURICE CARNEY: Certainly. When you look
at the Congo, you have to look at the corporate influence and
everything that takes place in the Congo. When you look at the
situation as it currently is, people usually talk about rape occurring
at horrendous scales. However, there are basically two types of
rape taking place in the Congo. One is the rape of the women and
children, and the other is the rape of the land, the natural resources.
And the Congo has tremendous natural resources. We're talking
about thirty percent of the world's reserves of cobalt, ten percent
of the world's reserve of copper, eighty percent of the world's
reserve of coltan. And these multinational corporations are profiting
at enormous rates while the Congolese people are suffering tremendously.
AMY GOODMAN: Which companies?
MAURICE CARNEY: Well, there are a number
of companies. From 2001 to 2003, the United Nations did a report
on the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the Congo.
There are a number of American companies. We have Cabot Corporation,
for example, out of Boston, Massachusetts, that was named in that
report. Cabot-the former CEO of Cabot Corporation is Samuel Bodman,
current Secretary of Energy in the Bush administration. We have
the OM Group out of Cleveland, Ohio, is another company, American
company, named in the report. We also have Freeport-McMoRan, who
acquired mining rights from Phelps Dodge out of Phoenix, Arizona,
who have been involved in copper exploitation in the Congo. And
Global Witness said the copper mines, the Tenke Fungurume mine
that Freeport-McMoRan has, represents one of the richest deposits
of copper in the world. However, the Congolese government and
Congolese people are not benefiting from the contracts that were
established and that provided Freeport-McMoRan with those resources.
We have a number of Canadian companies.
Almost every Canadian prime minister since Pierre Trudeau has
been involved in the mining company in the Congo. We're talking
about Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, all of them profiting
from the natural resources of the Congo while the Congolese people
suffer. The reports from the Congolese government state that eighty
percent of the population live on thirty cents or less a day,
while you have billions of dollars going out the back door and
into the pockets of mining companies.
AMY GOODMAN: Maurice Carney, you write
how the $500 million investment in assuring, well, then-President
Kabila's ascendancy to power "was the beginning of the pay
off for the West's investment. It is for this reason," you
say, "that many Congolese surmised that Kabila was summoned
to Washington in October 2007 because he may have strayed from
the game plan when he signed a $5 billion deal with China."
Even as he ventured there, you say, to Washington, "he first
had to stop in Phoenix, Arizona to visit Tim Snider (recently
replaced by Richard Adkerson), CEO of Freeport-McMoRan Copper
& Gold." Talk more about this relationship. Yes, corporations
are there, but what exactly are they doing? Who are they making
these deals with?
MAURICE CARNEY: Well, they're making these
deals with the Kabila government. In fact, Kabila was put in place
by the Western powers because he was pliant leader. He was going
to facilitate access to Congo's vast geostrategic resources. So
that's the reason why Kabila-the main reason why Kabila was put
in power. The International Crisis Group had done a study in 2007
which stated as much, where it documented that Western ambassadors
were celebrating that Kabila won the elections, because they now
knew that they would have the legitimate access to the natural
resources of the Congo.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Maurice
Carney, co-founder and executive director of Friends of the Congo,
and Nita Evele, co-chair of Congo Global Action. Nita, how aware
are people on the ground of these large multinational corporations
and their relationship to what's happening?
NITA EVELE: Oh, the country knows about
all that. We see, since Kabila is in power, all the multinationals
are there thriving. The Congolese people know about all the contract-reviewing
commission. We had one in 2006 by Lutundula, who never had been
publicized to the population, but it was leaked to the internet,
and everybody saw how all those companies made a deal with Kabila
to plunder the country. They sold MIBA, for example-MIBA is the
diamond company in the Kasai-for only $14 million, while the company
was making a hundred times more than that. So the country knows
about what's going on.
And usually, the people in the Congo used
to do diamond-like an artisanal miners, but since those company
bought all these lands, they cannot mine those lands anymore.
Some villages were sold to the Russians, for example, and the
people were kicked out of their land. So it's a big mess, big,
big mess. And people know about that. There are rivers who were
sold to multinational company, and people cannot go take-have
water to drink. So it's something that people know about, and
people are talking about it. And everybody know how those companies
are benefiting and Kabila's people are benefiting, and the country
and the population are getting poorer and poorer every single
AMY GOODMAN: Maurice Carney, the role
of the international financial institutions, like the World Bank?
MAURICE CARNEY: Yes, there's really four
entities that are involved in keeping the Congo dependent, and
one of those entities are international financial institutions,
multinational institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank.
In fact, Antonio Guterres had given an interview earlier in January
to the Financial Times where he stated that the International
Monetary Fund had set up financial rules that pretty much restrict
the Congolese government. At least they prevented the Congolese
government from having the necessary resources to pay its soldiers.
And as a result of the government not having the resources to
pay its soldiers, the soldiers then feast on the population through-by
stealing, by raping. So you see how the constriction that's put
on the government by the international financial institutions
feed the violence that is there in the Congo.
In addition to that, you have the World
Bank, for example, which went into the Congo much in the fashion
as Naomi Klein describes in her disaster capitalism: they went
in after the conflict in 2002, established the mining laws, and
the mining laws provided the legal framework for the multinational
corporations to come in and establish contracts with the government.
Now, even though the mining laws were in place and they required
transparency and adherence to the OECD laws, the mining companies
came in, and the contracts were opaque. They weren't transparent.
And World Bank studies clearly document this, but they have refused
to publish those studies which demonstrate how the mining contracts
that's been established by multinational corporations are actually
odious contracts and absolutely do not serve the interests of
the Congolese people, but serve the interest of investors from
AMY GOODMAN: Maurice Carney, can you talk
about the foreign fighters? It's often described as a civil war,
and yet the fighters from Uganda and Rwanda, what role do they
MAURICE CARNEY: Right, a "civil war"
is a misnomer. Congo has been invaded twice, first in 1996 primarily
by Rwanda and Uganda, when they installed Kabila in power, and
they did this with the backing of the United States. They could
not have invaded the Congo without the backing of the United States,
as Cynthia McKinney documented in her congressional hearing in
2001. Then, when Kabila did not serve the interests of the Rwandans
and the Ugandans and the US, then he was gotten rid of. He was
assassinated on January 16, 2001.
The Rwandans and Ugandans then invaded
the Congo a second time in 1998. And it was this second invasion
that the study from the IRC-it has been documented-where 5.4 million
Congolese have died. Fifty percent of those Congolese are less
than five years old. And the main cause of death is not so much
of violent conflict, but from treatable diseases such as diarrhea
and pneumonia, all diseases that can be treated. So you have basically
Rwanda and Uganda playing a destructive role in the Congo.
When they established peace deals to get-to
be removed from the Congo, they left proxy forces in the Congo
who were controlling areas that were endowed with gold and tin
and diamonds. So even though the Rwandans and Ugandans backed
out, and even though they profited tremendously while the were
in the Congo with their own forces, they left proxy forces in
the Congo. And this started in the Clinton administration and
extended into the Bush administration. And if you recall, Amy,
during this time, they were saying that Kagame of Rwanda-
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds, Maurice.
MAURICE CARNEY: OK. Kagame of Rwanda,
Museveni of Uganda were the future leaders of Africa, and one
thing they all had in common is that they've invaded other African
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there
right now, but we will come back, because this is a critical discussion,
the worst conflict since World War II. Maurice Carney, co-founder
and executive director of Friends of the Congo, and Nita Evele,
co-chair of Congo Global Action.