Conflict in the Congo: Geopolitics of Plunder

January 20, 2013 (excerpt from Nile Bowie's Congo’s M23 conflict: Rebellion or Resource War?) - It must be recognized that Kagame controls a vastly wealthy and mineral-rich area of eastern Congo – an area that has long been integrated into Rwanda’s economy – with total complicity from the United States. As Washington prepares to escalate its military presence throughout the African continent with AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, what long-term objectives does Uncle Sam have in the Congo, considered the world’s most resource-rich nation? Washington is crusading against China's export restrictions on minerals that are crucial components in the production of consumer electronics such as flat-screen televisions, smart phones, laptop batteries, and a host of other products. The US sees these Chinese export policies as a means of Beijing attempting to monopolize the mineral and rare earth market.

In a 2010 white paper entitled “Critical Raw Materials for the EU,” the European Commission cites the immediate need for reserve supplies of tantalum, cobalt, niobium, and tungsten among others; the US Department of Energy 2010 white paper “Critical Mineral Strategy” also acknowledged the strategic importance of these key components. In 1980, Pentagon documents acknowledged shortages of cobalt, titanium, chromium, tantalum, beryllium, and nickel. The US Congressional Budget Office’s 1982 report “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral” notes that cobalt alloys are critical to the aerospace and weapons industries and that 64 per cent of the world’s cobalt reserves lay in the Katanga Copper Belt, running from southeastern Congo into northern Zambia.

Additionally, the sole piece of legislation authored by President Obama during his time as a Senator was SB 2125, the“Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006”. In the legislation, Obama acknowledges Congo as a long-term interest to the United States and further alludes to the threat of Hutu militias as an apparent pretext for continued interference in the region; Section 201(6) of the bill specifically calls for the protection of natural resources in the eastern DRC. The United States does not like the fact that President Kabila in Kinshasa has become very comfortable with Beijing, and worries that Congo will drift into Chinese economic orbit. Under the current regime in Congo, Chinese commercial activities have significantly increased not only in the mining sector, but also considerably in the telecommunications field.

In 2000, the Chinese ZTE Corporation finalized a $12.6 million deal with the Congolese government to establish the first Sino-Congolese telecommunications company; furthermore, the DRC exported $1.4 billion worth of cobalt between 2007 and 2008. The majority of Congolese raw materials like cobalt, copper ore and a variety of hardwoodsare exported to China for further processing and 90 per cent of the processing plants in resource rich southeastern Katanga province are owned by Chinese nationals. In 2008, a consortium of Chinese companies were granted the rights to mining operations in Katanga in exchange for US$6 billion in infrastructure investments, including the construction of two hospitals, four universities and a hydroelectric power project. In 2009, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded renegotiation of the deal, arguing that the agreement between China and the DRC violated the foreign debt relief program for so-called HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) nations. The IMF successfully blocked the deal in May 2009, calling for a more feasibility study of the DRCs mineral concessions. An article published by Shamus Cooke of Workers Action explains:

“This act instantly transformed Kabila from an unreliable friend to an enemy. The US and China have been madly scrambling for Africa’s immense wealth of raw materials, and Kabila’s new alliance with China was too much for the US to bear. Kabila further inflamed his former allies by demanding that the international corporations exploiting the Congo’s precious metals have their super-profit contracts re-negotiated, so that the country might actually receive some benefit from its riches.”
During a diplomatic tour of Africa in 2011, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton herself has irresponsibly insinuatedChina’s guilt in perpetuating a creeping “new colonialism.” China annually invests an estimated $5.5 billion in Africa, with only 29 per cent of direct investment in the mining sector in 2009 – while more than half was directed toward domestic manufacturing, finance, and construction industries. China has further committed $10 billion in concessional loans to Africa between 2009 and 2012. As Africa’s largest trading partner, China imports 1.5 million barrels of oil from Africa per day, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of its total imports. Over the past decade, 750,000 Chinese nationals have settled in Africa; China’s deepening economic engagement in Africa and its crucial role in developing the mineral sector, telecommunications industry and much needed infrastructural projects is creating "deep nervousness" in the West, according to David Shinn, the former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

Read the entire article on Nile Bowie's blog here