The continuing conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province led to convening a regional summit in Kampala, Uganda, in late November. The March 23 rebel organization had taken control of the town of Goma and other areas in this mineral-rich area of the country.
M23 Commander Sultani Makenga, a former member of the Congolese Defense Forces (FARDC), says he will halt M23 operations if the central government of President Joseph Kabila negotiates an acceptable settlement.
Most observers, including the United Nations, believe that M23 is supported by the Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame. Washington supported Kagame and his group even before they took power in Rwanda.
Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have intervened militarily, politically and economically in the eastern DRC for many years. Between 1998 and 2003, a war against the attempted annexation of the east of the country, as well as a plot aimed at regime change, was waged against the government in Kinshasa, then led by Laurent Kabila, father of the current president.
The Southern African Development Community military commission intervened under the leadership of Zimbabwe in August 1998. Zimbabwe, along with troops from Namibia and Angola, halted the movement westward and south by the then-Congolese Democratic Rally (RCD), a rebel group established and coordinated by Rwanda and Uganda with the assistance of Burundi.
Millions of people were reportedly killed during the 1998-2003 war and subsequent conflicts over the following years.
The current conflict is viewed as rooted in the breakdown in relations between the DRC and its Rwandan and Ugandan neighbors over the last year. Although Rwanda and Uganda have denied any involvement or support for the M23 rebels, much documented proof exists of repeated interventions by these U.S.-backed regimes.
Despite the fact that the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations have called for a halt to the conflict, mining firms based in North America and Europe have substantial interests in the region, which is a source of coltan, copper, cobalt and other strategic resources. The U.S. and NATO continue to rely on the role played by the military forces of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in carrying out their aims in East and Central Africa.
Mineral firms and imperialist militarism
Since the late 19th century, Congo has been a major hub for the extraction of natural resources that earned tremendous profits for the world capitalist economy. From the Belgian rubber plantations of the colonial period to the unregulated looting of coveted minerals in the 21th century, this region has monumental attraction for transnational corporations and international financial institutions.
It is estimated that the DRC contains $24 trillion in mineral deposits that are yet to be extracted. The world’s largest reserves of cobalt and large quantities of diamonds, gold and copper are located insideCongo,particularly in the east and the south.
During the occupation of the eastern region by the RCD rebels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed group was paid $1 million per month to provide coltan to mining firms. As of 2011, at least 25 international mining firms were involved in the exploitation of the resources in the DRC.
These firms are based in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, the United States and other countries. Two leading firms from the U.S. — Century Aluminum and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold — are well aware of the source and conditions under which these resources are extracted.
U.S. and Canadian firms are responsible for mining more than two-thirds of Congolese copper and cobalt. In July 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including Section 1502, ostensibly designed to create transparency in the mining industry. (International Crisis Group Report, Jan. 18)
Nonetheless, the legislation has come under criticism because of its failure to halt the massive looting, environmental damage and resultant conflict in the mining sector in the DRC. According to the International Crisis Group, “The Dodd-Frank Act disclosure also does not ban or penalize the use of conflict minerals.”
In the southern regional province of Katanga, the Glencore firm has come under criticism for its use of child labor and environmental crimes. A documentary released by the BBC in April probed Glencore’s use of children as young as 10 to work in the company’s mining operations.
Allegations were also made that Glencore allowed the dumping of acid into a river located near its facilities. The firm says it has inherited mining practices that have been in effect for decades.
Glencore was originally known as Marc Rich & Co. Rich fled prosecution in the U.S. for $48 million unpaid taxes but was pardoned by Bill Clinton.
The role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is significant in these mining operations, since much of the capital is supplied by them for these profit-making ventures. Negotiations surrounding a debt-relief program broke down between the World Bank and the DRC in 2010 when the Canadian government attempted to block the deal due to problems associated with the operation of two Canadian mining firms inside the country.
The vast reservoir of minerals in East and Central Africa is of course linked to the rising militarism of the Pentagon and NATO in this region. The Obama administration has increased funding for the U.S. Africa Command and raised the number of CIA personnel in the region.
There are U.S. Special Forces and advisers deployed in the DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Drone operations continue in Somalia, Ethiopia and the Seychelles.
With recent findings of oil and natural gas throughout East and Central Africa, the involvement of transnational corporations, international banks and the imperialist military forces will inevitably escalate.