Congo: After The Gold Rush



Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

July 5, 2011: A demonstration (against cheating during voting registration) in the capital turned violent. Many voters see the November elections as being manipulated, so the current (very corrupt) politicians can stay in power and keep stealing. This is not popular with most Congolese.

July 4, 2011: Why fight in the Congo? Tribes fight one another for territory, but natural resources attract outsiders, and this vast country has a lot of resources. The Congo may have over $24 trillion in minerals –and that is recoverable minerals. The $24 trillion estimate is made by mining companies and mineral analysts. That is more than enough money to bankroll paved roads and schools for the entire country. However, the Congo’s old plagues of tribal rivalries and corruption mean that recovering the minerals is difficult (the chaos) and just distribution and use of the royalties is even more difficult (thanks to the pilferage). At the moment 70 to 80 percent of the working mines are controlled by militias. Some of the militias are bandit groups. Some are tribal war parties masquerading as a political party. Some are nominally Congolese Army units. Controlling a mine is a source of revenue for the militia, tribe, or army unit. There is a gray area here that receives little attention in the international media. Many legitimate Congolese Army units gripe that their pay is stolen or is in arrears. A commander controlling a mine can pay his troops.

June 30, 2011: UN peacekeepers with MONUSCO (United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) have launched another offensive operation in North Kivu province (eastern Congo). This offensive is centered on the Grand Nord area in the province and is the second offensive operation in North Kivu within the last three weeks. The primary target of the UN attacks is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia.

June 29, 2011: Police engaged a group of attackers in an hour-long firefight in the mining town of Lubumbashi (Katanga province, a major copper-producing region). The attackers may have been trying to seize a Congolese Army weapons depot in the city. A mining company headquarters and storage facility, located near the weapons depot, might also have been the target. Police killed two gunmen. Several civilians died in the battle, including two civilian security guards.

June 28, 2011: The UN Security Council reauthorized the Congo peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO). The Security Council extended MONUSCO’s mandate until June 30, 2012. MONUSCO currently has around 17,000 soldiers assigned, with 1,000 police and 1,000 in the organization’s support staff. MONUSCO’s primary mission in the next year will be to help the Congolese government run the national elections. MONUSCO will provide security, logistical, and technical support.

June 23, 2011: Investigators in South Kivu have confirmed that a mass rape occurred earlier this month in the town of Fizi. Some 60 women were raped by deserters from the Congolese Army (FARDC). Deserters is not quite accurate, since the rapists were formerly members of PARECO, a rebel militia. Refugee sources also confirmed that the gang stole cattle and looted a local medical aid station.

June 16, 2011: India has told the UN that it still intends to withdraw (in July) four Mi-35  helicopters it has committed to the UN’s MONUSCO operation in the Congo. The Indian withdrawal makes peacekeeping tougher for MONUSCO, which is already short of helicopters (both transport and attack). The Indian statement cited maintenance difficulties and operational requirements back in India.

June 9, 2011: Nearly fifty human rights and aid organizations have asked the UN to beef up its peacekeeping capabilities in the eastern Congo. The non-governmental organizations said that UN forces are not properly equipped and lack the ability to protect civilians in the region, particularly in North and South Kivu provinces. The NGOs argue (correctly) that violence will increase as elections approach.

June 8, 2011: MONUSCO has launched a new offensive (Operation Restore Hope) in the eastern Congo.  The objective is to attack and disarm militias operating in the Rutshuru district of North Kivu province. The key target is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia. The offensive will continue for at least ten days. Since early April attacks by militias on unarmed civilians have increased in the Rutshuru area.

May 26, 2011: The Congo government, several economic NGOs, and representatives of the mineral mining industry are discussing how to best create an international certification system that would certify that minerals from the Congo are not illegal, smuggled minerals (so called conflict minerals). The idea is to create a certification process similar to the one which traces the origins of gem stones (usually diamonds). This is a tough process. The gem stones certification system is not perfect – blood diamonds still turn up for sale around the world. Geologists and chemists can study an ore and know with reasonable certainty where the ore was mined, so there are ways to link ore to a specific mine. In concept, the idea is a good one, since it might help pinch the finances of gangs and rogue militias. However, the bogey man here is governmental corruption. If the people running the mine can pay the government inspectors to blame someone else, the effort to police the mining industry collapses.  

May 18, 2011: China is shrugging off accusations of neo-colonialism and is plowing ahead with its infrastructure-for-resources deal in the Congo. China and the World Bank are putting around $600 million into the Congo’s railroad system. The Congo has around 3,000 kilometers of railroad track, but much of it is unusable. The project begins with a four-year plan to repair and then upgrade track and equipment.

May 12, 2011: A court in Kenya has charged three men with stealing and smuggling 2.5 tons of Congolese gold. The three individuals were arrested in Nairobi with over 400 kilograms (880 pounds, worth $19 million) of gold in their possession. Kenya security officials claimed that the three men began smuggling the tons of gold out of the Congo in July 2010. The Congo government identified one of the men as Jean-Claude Mudeke Kabamba (nom de guerre General Kabamba). Kabamba is linked to a Mai-Mai militia group that operates in the eastern Congo. The government reported that Kabamba is also involved in acquiring weapons for the Mai-Mai militia and shipping the weapons into the Congo.


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