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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Q&A: Plunder in Congo
Foreign troops are finally moving out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as - ostensibly - "Africa's World War" winds down.

But a United Nations monitoring group is warning that the plundering of forests, minerals and precious stones - by both domestic and foreign soldiers - persists. BBC News Online examines the group's call for sanctions against the culprits.

Remind me. Who's in the Congo, and what are they meant to have done?

Three decades of misrule by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko came to an end in 1997 with his death - only to usher in a brutal civil war.

The war has brought millions of deaths and millions more people displaced. It has also seen the ascension and subsequent demise of the subsequent president Laurent Kabila, and the eventual granting of the presidency to his son, Joseph Kabila.

Along the way Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia have contributed troops ostensibly to support government forces, while Rwanda and Uganda have set up camp in the east of the massive country supposedly in response to uprisings across their own borders.

The result was a multilateral war where government and rebel forces - and their external supporters - seemed more concerned about piling into the DRC's timber, minerals and precious stones than bringing the conflict to a conclusion.

As the central government in Kinshasa has gathered strength, it has prevailed upon its allies to get out - while international pressure, coupled with convoluted peace talks in South Africa, as done the same for Rwanda and Burundi.

But if they're all leaving, what's all the fuss about?

The fuss is about the billions which may well have been looted to date, by all sides in the conflict.

And although the scale of the pullback is impressive, there are still thousands of troops on the ground.

Maps of troop deployments continue to bear a spooky resemblance to maps showing where timber, diamond and minerals - particularly the coltan prized for electronic goods - can be found.

Still, the government - with the help of the World Bank - has been forcing a renegotiation of some of the massively lopsided resource licensing deals it had to sign early in the four-year conflict.

A Zimbabwean logging deal which paid royalties of just half a US cent a hectare - about one-hundredth the going rate elsewhere in Africa - has now been scrapped, although 2,500-3,000 troops remain in the key diamond mining area of Mbuji-Mayi.

And the Rwandan pullback has left their clients in the East, the RCD rebel movement, in disarray, leaving space for a disruption in resource exploitation as the rival Mai-Mai group takes control.

Meanwhile, coltan exploitation has dropped off as international prices have plummeted.

Is this the first time the UN has paid attention to this?

Far from it.

This is the third report in 18 months issued by the Monitoring Group, which was set up in 2001.

Rwandan soldiers captured by DRC government forces
Rwanda is pulling back, leaving some troops as PoWs
The first two made clear the extent of involvement by senior political and military figures from all the countries involved - but particularly Zimbabwe on the government side and Rwanda on the rebels'.

This one goes a step further.

It not only names the individuals most involved from the countries concerned. It lists companies - mostly Congolese front companies and unofficial and official subcontractors, but four Antwerp-based diamond dealers - who are most responsible.

And it even picks out 85 multinationals, ranging from unknown outfits to big blue-chips such as the UK's Barclays Bank, diamond giant De Beers and big mining players like Anglo American.

All, it says, should be subject to financial sanctions in some way.

It's all very well talking about sanctions. But is this just going to be one of those reports that everyone nods at and ignores?

It's a lot too early to say. After all, the Security Council only received the report a couple of days ago, and will not debate it till Thursday 24 October.

The recommendations are, for a UN report, far-reaching.

The panel says countries still involved in resource trafficking - in other words, most of them - should have four or five months to pull out and then face cutbacks in the aid they receive.

There is a need, it says, for "forceful disincentives" - and a "proactive monitoring body".

Businesses and individuals should be hit with travel bans, asset freezes and blocking orders on dealings with mainstream financial systems, it says - a similar procedure to that activated for dealing with those suspected of involvement with terrorist finance.

As for the 85 corporations accused of breaching the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's rules of behaviour for multinationals, their home country governments should take action against them - and "are complicit when they do not take remedial measures".

Experts in the field believe that companies are more sensitive these days to this kind of accusation than once they were.

The Security Council is also known to have been taking more and more of an interest into the issue, with the French in particular vocal on the need to crack down.

But the interests involved include some iconic names. Taking them on could well be a step too far.

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See also:

21 Oct 02 | Business
20 Oct 02 | Africa
07 Aug 02 | Business
24 May 02 | Africa
10 Apr 02 | Business
20 Nov 01 | Business
01 Aug 01 | Africa
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