Congo’s Agony
Issue #
182

By Gary K. Busch

The African territory that includes Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been in a virtual state of war since 1995. The wars in eastern Congo have caused the deaths of millions of Congolese, who have paid the price for living in a very rich and unmanaged country with failing or nonexistent civil institutions. These wars, centered mainly in eastern Congo (North and South Kivu and Maniema) have involved nine African nations and directly affected the lives of 50 million Congolese.

Between August 1998 and April 2004, some 3.8 million people died violent deaths in the DRC. Since 2004 this number has almost tripled. Many of these deaths were due to starvation or disease resulting from the war as well as from summary executions and capture by irregular marauding bands. Millions more were internally displaced or sought asylum in neighboring countries. Rape was endemic; insecurity was the rule and impunity the response.

Initially, these wars and the rapes, murders and pillaging associated with them derived from the efforts of Uganda and Rwanda to profit from the valuable mineral resources of eastern Congo. However, no matter how valuable the pillage of coltan, diamonds and other mineral ores might be (these industries are huge and involve thousands of conscripted artisanal miners), their value cannot compare to the potential for oil and gas wealth.

OIL AND GAS DISCOVERIES

In 2009, Heritage Oil discovered oil in Uganda. The oil and gas industries in East and Central Africa have been the world’s most important area of exploration in the last nine years. Africa has the world’s most frequent and substantial new findings of oil and gas. A joint report by the African Development Bank, the African Union and the African Development Fund observed oil reserves in Africa grew by more than 25 percent and gas by more than 100 percent since the late 1980s.

In May 2012, Kenya announced its second profitable oil discovery in two months, a large oil deposit in the remote northern Turkana region. Kenya has become the latest country to join the great African oil boom, following recent discoveries in Uganda and the DRC. The East African Community now forming can count on a better energy future with the Kenyan discovery, in addition to the substantial reserves in Uganda and the gas discovered in Tanzania. South Sudan, with its large oil reserves, has applied for membership in the East African Community. There are also large oil and gas fields in Somalia.

Unfortunately, the good fortune that smiled on Eastern and Central Africa has only brought war and destruction in its wake. The Uganda finds in the Albert Graven were located in the seabed of Lake Albert. The border between Uganda and the DRC runs down the middle of the lake. Uganda wants all the oil and has been funding the various insurgencies to control it; skirmishes have taken place between the two national armies and the border is heavily patrolled.

Extensive oil and gas reserves have also been found beneath Lake Tanganyika, which shares a border with the DRC, Tanzania, Zambia, and Burundi. Tanzania has largely avoided any role in the conflict and has collaborated with the DRC in extracting oil and gas. Nonetheless it has a stake in the conflict.

Perhaps the most contentious and conflicted result of oil and gas finds in the region has been Vanoil of Canada’s success in finding oil beneath Lake Kivu on the Rwanda-DRC border. Lake Kivu is a unique gas-bearing lake in the western leg of the African Rift Valleys, making it a small but very interesting component of the Great Lakes of Africa. Vanoil holds exclusive exploration rights to the 627-square-mile oil and gas concession in the East Kivu Graben, which straddles Rwanda and the DRC and is the southern extension of the Albertine Graben in Uganda where major oil discoveries have been made by Tullow Oil and Heritage Oil.

In March 2007, the governments of the DRC and Rwanda met with the assembled lake experts and developers at Gisenyi on the northern shore of Lake Kivu to commence an initiative to define the rules and regulations of safe and environmentally sound exploitation of Lake Kivu’s gas reserves. Without strict adherence to these rules, the whole lake could explode. These regulations were necessary to define the safest means of degassing the lake, but also to share that definition and the resources equitably between the countries involved. The Management Prescriptions for the development of Lake Kivu now form the basis of regulations on the lake and the guide by which the bilateral authority being formed will control the development of the lake’s resources. Rwanda seeks to alter this by taking control of the other side of the lake. It has recently taken over Goma through its surrogates in the M23 movement and plans to exploit the oil reserves with Vanoil and to seek a competent gas partner for the buried methane.

IMPUNITY RULES

Why do Rwanda and Uganda, whose armies invaded the DRC in 1998 to remove Laurent Kabila from power and were soundly defeated in battle by the DRC, the Zimbabweans, Angolans and Namibians, now feel that they can renew their struggle to conquer the mineral wealth of the DRC with such impunity? After a brief lapse they began to support surrogate armies in the DRC with weapons, training and communications. This was particularly true of the Banyamulenge (the Tutsi who lived in eastern Congo and were part of Kagame’s Tutsi diaspora). They continued to rape and pillage and compelled the artisanal miners of the Kivus to work for their marauding bands, producing coltan and diamonds. This exploitation of the DRC and its human and mineral wealth continued even when peace agreements like the Lusaka Accords, which supposedly ended the war, were signed.

Instead of warring armies, eastern Congo became controlled by warlords and militias whose exploitation took the form of pillage, rape and murder. Most of these groups have affinities with either the Rwandan or Ugandan governments, which handle the physical trade in the wealth that is exported. The Rwandans have been backing “rebel” military warlords like Laurent Nkunda or Bosco Ntanganda. These provide a fig leaf for Rwanda’s continuing rape of the Congo. Others do the same for Uganda. They operate with impunity. The people most responsible for the continuing atrocities are protected.

Theoretically, the United Nations has had teams of peacekeepers in the DRC as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Its track record is not impressive. Two of the built-in reasons for their lack of success were (1) relying at the beginning on the French military, which encamped at Ituri and refused to leave the city because the rebels killed two French officers on the first outing; and (2) relying on Rwandan troops to coordinate the fight against the rebels they are covertly supporting in the name of MONUSCO. This scheme offers limited hope for the Congolese. In fact, many peacekeepers of the MONUSCO were engaged in rape, murder and pillaging. Some have been prosecuted and sent home. Their presence in the DRC adds to the fears of the population, as their actions are often indistinguishable from those of the marauding bands they are supposed to control.

The world seems to be in a state of paralysis in dealing with the daily violation of almost every human right the world community pretends it believes in. It was pushed to the back of the U.N. and African Union’s agendas for years. It has only resurfaced because the M23 rebels have announced that they are going to take over the entire DRC; that is, to restart the 1998 war. That is a different question.

THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES

The reason this catalogue of horrors has continued unabated for the last six years is that the governments of Uganda and Rwanda are covered by the aegis of U.S. military initiatives in East and Central Africa. They provide, at great expense to the U.S. taxpayer and at a high level of reward to the Museveni and Kagame clans, the troops for the U.S. surrogate army. Their soldiers fight for the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. The United States gives them arms, equipment, training, air support, cash and immunity for their gross violations of human rights of their neighbors. The U.S. AFRICOM command relies on Uganda and Rwanda to carry out its missions in East and Central Africa. The U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, who became the United States’ main supporter of the anti-Kabila alliance when she was assistant secretary of state for Africa, now defends the two with a passion at the U.N.

The United States has been at war in Africa since the 1950s — in Angola, the DRC, Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Libya and Djibouti, to name but a few countries. In most cases the United States has financed, armed and supervised indigenous forces. In its support of the anti-MPLA forces in Angola, it sent arms and equipment to the UNITA opposition. In the DRC, Larry Devlin of the CIA was an unofficial minister of Mobutu’s government; the United States ran its own air force in the Congo. U.S. airmen supported the South African forces in Kwando, Fort Doppies and Encana bases in the Caprivi region of Namibia. At these bases one could also find soldiers from southern Rhodesia and German, French, Portuguese and other
NATO troops.

One of the largest of these bases was at Wheelus Field, just east of Tripoli, Libya. During the Korean War, Wheelus was used by the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC), later becoming a primary training ground for NATO forces. Wheelus became a vital link in SAC war plans for use as a bomber, tanker refuelling and recon-fighter base. The United States left in 1970. Another giant base was Kagnew Field in Asmara, Eritrea, home to the U.S. Army’s 4th Detachment of the Second Signal Service Battalion. Kagnew Station became home for more than 5,000 U.S. citizens during the 1960s. Kagnew Station operated until April 29, 1977.

Today the U.S. battle in North Africa is with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which combines drug and diamond smuggling with terrorist acts. This battle has required a lot of troops on the ground as advisers and trainers, as well as teams of DEA agents across West Africa. The United States is preparing to sustain and support the soldiers who will seek to remove the Muslim fundamentalist extremists in Mali.

According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service Study published in November 2010, Washington has dispatched anywhere between hundreds and several thousand combat troops and dozens of fighter planes and warships to buttress client dictatorships or to unseat adversarial regimes in dozens of countries, almost on a yearly basis. The record shows that U.S. armed forces intervened in Africa 47 times prior to the current endeavor.

Between the mid-1950s and the end of the 1970s, only four overt military operations were recorded, though large-scale proxy and clandestine military operations were pervasive. Under Reagan and the first Bush (1980–91), military intervention accelerated to eight overt operations, not counting the large-scale clandestine “special forces” and proxy wars in southern Africa. Under the Clinton regime, militarized intervention in Africa took off. Between 1992 and 2000, the United States conducted 17 armed incursions, including a large-scale invasion of Somalia and military backing for the Rwandan regime.

Clinton intervened in Liberia, Gabon, Congo and Sierra Leone to prop up troubled regimes. He bombed the Sudan and dispatched military personnel to Kenya and Ethiopia to back proxy clients assaulting Somalia. Under George W. Bush, 15 military interventions took place, mainly in Central and East Africa.

Most of the U.S. African outreach is disproportionally built on military links to client military chiefs. The Pentagon has military ties with 53 African countries (including Libya prior to the current attack). Washington’s efforts to militarize Africa and turn its armies into proxy mercenaries protecting property and fighting terrorists were accelerated after 9/11. The Bush administration announced in 2002 that Africa was a “strategic priority in fighting terrorism.” Henceforth, U.S. foreign policy strategists, with the backing of both liberal and neoconservative members of Congress, moved to centralize and coordinate a military policy on a continent-wide basis, forming the African Command (AFRICOM). The latter organizes African armies, euphemistically called “cooperative partnerships,” to conduct neocolonial wars based on bilateral agreements as well as “multilateral” links with the Organization of African Unity.

A typical building block is the annual Operation Flintlock exercises, in which U.S., African and European military forces combine to engage in a series of multinational military exercises designed to foster and develop international security cooperation in North and West Africa. The latest exercises were part of the Trans-Sahara Counter-
Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and included 600 U.S. Marines and Special Forces, units from France and Britain and smaller European contingents from Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. African countries with military representation included Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania,Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco.

MUSEVENI AND KAGAME

In Central Africa one of the key actors in the relations between Uganda and the rest of the world and a good indicator of the role of President Yoweri Museveni is his brother, General Salim Saleh. Salim Saleh is a money launderer, drug dealer, resource thief, plunderer and advisor to the President of Uganda on military matters. Formerly, he was the Ugandan minister of state for microfinance. Before that, he was a high-ranking military official. He has been implicated by the U.N. Security Council for plundering natural resources in the DRC.

The U.S. government was fully aware of Museveni’s participation in these crimes, just as it was aware of the barbaric practices of its favorite African despot, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, whose proxy armies have killed thousands of civilians in the DRC. However, their armies are needed by AFRICOM, and so it is unlikely that these two will face major problems unless they actually do try to take over the DRC.

THE DRC’S WEAKNESSES

The root of many of the DRC’s difficulties lies with the fact that its current leader, President Joseph Kabila, is weak, vacillating and bereft of the support of a united nation. Unlike his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who commanded the loyalty of much of the DRC, Joseph is seen as aloof, manipulative and without a set of core beliefs. That weakness has alienated many in the national army. The army needs discipline, a purpose and the materials to engage with its enemies. The Kabila government has not been able to supply these, so the country is vulnerable. The citizens of the DRC have suffered grievously for many years, following a brief period of hope after independence. Their future looks no better.

The countries that supported the DRC in its last war against the Ugandan and Rwandan invaders may well intervene again. This would be a disaster for regional African politics. If the United States can bring itself to actually do something positive to restrain its military surrogates in Uganda and Rwanda and indicate that they are not immune to prosecution for crimes against humanity, then perhaps there is a chance to establish peace in eastern DRC. Without a stern contingency being imposed by the United States in the region, the lure of a fast buck to be made in the oil and gas businesses will circumvent any humanitarian impulse by Museveni and Kagame. Washington’s current policy of wringing its hands and saying nothing is a disgrace to the values it constantly professes for the continent.

Gary K. Busch is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations ocnus.net

A longer version of this article was originally published on Pambazuka.org.