Congo Week 2024

Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front

The recently intensified conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a proxy war intended to stifle Sino-Congolese economic cooperation and promised “mining reform.” Western media remain complicit in the operation by perpetuating the narrative charade of “ethnic tension.”

“For there is, in our own time, an absolute taboo among the corporate news media and the political class against mentioning anything to do with the strategic and economic reasons for war.”

– Robert Newman
On its face, the recent New York Times story, Congo’s Riches, Looted by Renegade Troops, is an excellent journalist endeavour. Richly detailed and well drawn, the story drills down into the strife and hardship of life surrounding the operations of a single, “illegal” mining operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, run by the enigmatic commander of a “renegade brigade of army troops.” Readers are informed that the renegade commander, Colonel Matumo, runs his operation “like a mafia,” where the rightful owners of the mining concessions, “British and South African investors,” fear to tread. There is truth in this story, which is exactly why it serves so well as a tool of disinformation. But it a very small truth. Though the story attempts to pass itself off as a definitive study of illegal Congo mining, as implied by the overwrought headline, it is anything but that. Indeed, as an explanation of Congolese conflict, the story of Colonel Matumo is equivalent in kind to studying the life of a family facing home foreclosure and presenting it as an understanding of the financial collapse on Wall Street. The two are related, but in no way does the smaller story impart any understanding of the far larger, devastating morass.

Without reference at all to any larger context, readers are left with the impression that Congo’s terrible strife, especially the recent escalation of hostilities, are a chaotic jumble of localized squabbles over eastern Congo’s rich mineral wealth, while ethnic tension and enmity between Hutu and Tutsi fuel the fighting on an orthogonal trajectory of years-long tribal conflict. Much of what consumers of western media see regarding the fighting in Congo follows these narratives, while occasionally offering to say that “Congo’s riches fuel its war.” Beyond the immediate militias that are using mineral extraction to fund their operations, what is never said is just who else, exactly, are those enjoying the vast riches beyond the borders of Congo. Knowing that those vital industrial minerals coming out of Congo don’t just magically appear in cell phones, computers, turbine jet engines, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the diamond cartels of Antwerp, it is self-evident that something more, much more, is going on in the dark heart of Africa.

Congo has experienced a long arc of exploitation and abuse and the hands of western colonial power precisely because the subsoil of the eastern provinces is one of the riches repositories of minerals on the planet. Though stories of abuse by King Leopold II and his various agents are legion, Congo’s more recent history has seen the country as a central front between western interests and oppositional forces, all seeking to exploit the contents of Congolese soil. And so it was when Congo won its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. Within six months, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was dead and in the trunk of a CIA agent’s car. Lumumba had been making the usual and always disturbing noises about social programs and land reform, two phrases that immediately strike fear of “communism” into the hearts of western powers, who only hear that their decades-long ways of doing business might come to a shuddering halt under the yoke of popular, democratic reform. But as history informs us, it remains usually the case that the those attempting to alter the entrenched status quo are the ones likely to be brought to a shuddering halt.
The eventual installation of a deferential and appropriately militaristic General Joseph Mobutu, (ne: Mobutu Sese Seko), ensured that Congo’s brief flirtation with democracy and its associated dangers would not soon be revived. With US and European backing, the notoriously kleptocratic Mobutu held the reigns for more than thirty years, while western business had nearly free and entirely unregulated access to Congolese resources. Finally, his embarrassing existence outweighed his strategic importance in a post-Soviet era, and Mobutu was dispatched in a Rwanda-Uganda backed coup in 1997. The deep reason for this is a vision of balkanization of Congo territory, as expressed in 1996 by Walter Kansteiner, a man who would go on to become Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs in the Bush administration and who now sits on the board of Sierra Rutile Limited, a titanium mining company with a storied history of “corporate exploitation” in Africa. Setting a model for post-colonial corporate exploitation of African resources, Sierra Rulite “maintains its own private armed reaction force.”
At this point, it is important to understand that Congo became, and remains to this day, an intersection of three competing resource extraction networks that were instantiated and entrenched during the years of conflict in the post-Mobutu era. Described in stunning detail by several reports from the UN Security Council Panel of Experts who studied the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these three networks are controlled by three proximate powers in frictional conjunction in the mining zones of eastern Congo: Uganda, Rwanda and the Congolese government. Each governing entity provides armed forces — often supplemented with and trained by private western military contractors — which have installed themselves in various regions adjacent to their own countries, and have maintained a baseline equilibrium since the end of the Second Congo War. As is well known, these various armies, militias and other militant factions are almost all backed by the United States and various European governments. Rwanda and Uganda are both ardently supported by US interests. Indeed, Rwandan president Paul Kagame is essentially a US military asset planted in central Africa, having been trained at US military command school in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas up until the Uganda-backed invasion of Rwanda by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990. The invasion led to the installation of Kagame as president. He remains firmly entrenched in Kigali, with enthusiastic US support.
What is essential in these Congo resource operations, indeed, it is the sine qua non of the operations themselves, is the intimate participation by a vast array of western business interests, all forming alliances with the various governments. The alliances and affiliations form intricate webs within the three resource extraction networks, company affiliations dictated by resource interests. The UN Expert Panel reported an array of 119 different companies involved in mining operations and transportation of minerals, including 12 companies based in the United Kingdom, 9 United States firms, 21 companies based in Belgium, 12 in South Africa, 4 in Germany, 5 in Canada and 2 in Switzerland. Many of the 29 companies that were found in violation of law, though registered in Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, were really just front operations for western firms operating in conjunction with local Ugandan, Rwandan and Congolese government officials. Israeli firms operating in the Congo mining theatre had close ties to the government in Kinshasa, as well as to luminaries of the Democratic Party in the United States.
But how do these networks operate so as to illegally extract minerals from Congo? The UN Expert Panel offers a case study in how coltan (columbite-tantalite) makes its way from eastern Congo into the larger world through the Rwandan “elite network.” It is worth quoting at length.

Eagle Wings Resources International, a coltan comptoir in Bukavu, is a subsidiary of Trinitech International Inc., based in Ohio, United States. Eagle Wings has offices in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The manager of Eagle Wings in Kigali has close ties to the Rwandan regime. Consequently, Eagle Wings operates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Rwanda-controlled comptoir with all the privileges derived from this connection. Eagle Wings is not obliged to fulfil its full responsibilities to the public treasury managed by the RCD-Goma administration. Like other Rwanda-controlled coltan comptoirs, Eagle Wings collaborates with RPA to receive privileged access to coltan sites and captive labour.

Approximately 25 per cent of Eagle Wings coltan is shipped from Kigali to the Ulba Metallurgical Plant of NAC Kazatomprom, in Kazakhstan. Another 25 per cent is sold to the parent company of Eagle Wings, Trinitech International Inc. in the United States, which arranges for sales to both Ulba and to the Chinese processing facility at Ningxia Non-Ferrous Metals Smeltery (NNMS). H. C. Starck, based in Germany and a subsidiary of the transnational corporation Bayer AG, purchases about 15 per cent of Eagle Wings coltan. H. C. Starck has denied on numerous occasions obtaining coltan originating from Central Africa. In a press statement issued on 24 May 2002, H. C. Starck reiterated that the company had purchased no material originating in Central Africa since August 2001. The Panel possesses documents showing the contrary. In the same press release, H. C. Starck claimed that its coltan originates from peasant suppliers and not from rebel groups. In fact, no coltan exits from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo without benefiting either the rebel group or foreign armies.

In one instance on which the Panel has documentation, Mozambique Gemstone Company provided false documents establishing Mozambique as the origin of a shipment of coltan originating in Rwanda and transiting through South Africa. Mozambique Gemstone Company then sold the consignment to AMC African Trading and Consulting Company Ltd., based in South Africa, which subsequently sold the consignment to H. C. Starck Ltd. in Rayong, Thailand, on 21 September 2001. H. C. Starck sent a letter of credit for this consignment on 9 May 2002 to Chemie Pharmacie Holland, which oversaw the transaction, and which is a commercial partner of Eagle Wings providing logistical and financial services. Eagle Wings is the only coltan source for Chemie Pharmacie. Eagle Wings has no operations in Mozambique.

Neither, it must be noted, does Rwanda have coltan.
Some of these operating companies have changed ownership in the years since the cited UN report. For example, the mention of H.C. Starck is of particular interest in the current context because former owner Bayer AG sold H.C. Starck in 2007 to the private equity houses of Advent International and The Carlyle Group.
The purpose of simmering conflict becomes apparent at this point; conflict provides cover. In order that such networks could possibly operate surreptitiously and on such a scale, conflict ensures that observation and investigation become extremely difficult, if not outright fatal. Unlike nominal business environments, wherein stability and transparency are deemed a requirement, illegal operations demand chaos and false front narratives to explain it away from the underlying profit-taking performance. Scale is important: the bigger the corrupt operations, the bigger the conflict needed to cover the footprints.
Returning the case of Colonel Matumo, the question begged but not answered by the New York Times story is, why has any brigade of the Congolese army gone renegade? Again, the UN Security Council Expert Panel report provides a basis of understanding. Within the organized asset stripping programs in the Congolese government network, officials of parastatals, in concert with western companies such as US-based OM Group, conspire to siphon off enormous revenue from mining operations, depleting the public treasury. All public spending has seen serious decline, including payrolls for soldiers. Unpaid and armed, these Congolese army soldiers became predators, preying on the very population they are supposedly meant to protect. Armed soldiers formed independent profiteering militias, often organizing their own illegal mining operations in order to pay and supply themselves. One such operation is that of Colonel Matumo and his is but one of many such small scale operations. Once entrenched in the operation, the “soldiers” have essentially decided to remain in business, knowing full well that no trust can be placed in the government in Kinshasa.
But the scale of these operations can hardly be said to represent the bulk, or even a large fraction, of the minerals extracted from Congo. Indeed, as Christopher Asselineau of Simmons & Simmons Global Mining Group informs us, ”any functioning industrial mining venture has a production capacity that far exceeds that of thousands of individual, illegal mines.” But the New York Times headline carries the histrionic implication that most if not all of “Congo’s riches” are being looted by dastardly “renegade troops.” Asselineau calls this a “popular theme among uninspired politicians and NGOs.” And, apparently, a western media that is either too lazy or complicit in the game to examine the true nature of Congolese resource extraction and the wars that surround it. The New York Timesstory, and indeed most if not all western media sources, provide one narrative described above: cover for western corporate involvement in the virulent, deadly corruption that sits at the heart of the Congolese wars.
Kabila, China, and “Contract Reform”
After Joseph Kabila was installed as president subsequent to the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001, the Democratic Republic of the Congo held general elections in July, 2006. It would be the country’s first election since 1960, the one that led to the almost immediate US-backed assassination of prime minister Patrice Lumumba. The 2006 election delivered a mandate to Joseph Kabila, a man who appears to be considerably more charitably inclined toward his country’s population than his father. Also, and as with any democratically elected leader, there was an obvious recognition by Kabila that he would need to pay some tribute to the long-suffering population of his war ravaged country.
Indeed, within months of his confirmation, Kabila set about on path of reform, specifically focusing on the many mining contracts that father Laurent had signed with various western companies during the First Congo War. Those contracts were seen as terribly lopsided in favor of western interests, which received the brunt of mining revenue at the expense of the government treasury, itself being looted by the various corrupt schemes describe by the UN Expert Panel reports. The rhetoric of reform, so hated by any entrenched establishment that is profiting wildly from the status quo, was making a comeback on the political stage of Congo.
And so it began in the spring of 2007. Mere months after Kabila’s confirmation, news was circulating that the major mining contracts held by a vast array of western companies would come under review by a Congolese government panel. This panel would review the contracts and make recommendations to Kabila’s government on how to proceed. While the promise of the review caused little concern at the time, that would change considerably upon release of the panel’s report later that year.
Promise of reform kept coming. Subsequent to the announcement of the mining contract review, Kabila’s government announced that it would sign a multi-billion dollar agreement with the Chinese government (now standing at $9 billion) that would give the Chinese direct access to mineral resources in exchange for a host of infrastructure projects, including roads, hospitals and health care centers, schools, railroads, housing, and two hydroelectric projects. This is not altruistic, obviously. The Sino-Congolese agreement consigns the Chinese a 68% share in the joint venture and the rights to two large cobalt and copper concessions, while the proposed road and rail systems will obviously be used for mineral transport. Opposition parties criticized the deal, claiming that Kabila intended to “sell off our natural heritage to the detriment of several generations,” words that ring hollow in light of the organized plunder of recent years. In fact, considering how little Congo has received from western interests in the region, China’s planned expenditures would be a veritable boon to the country. True to China’s diplomatic and business form in Africa and elsewhere, the deal came with no imposition of the kind of “political reform” that usually accompanies financial investment from western institutions such as the IMF.
In November, 2007, with the backdrop of the Chinese agreement and skyrocketing world commodity prices, Kabila’s government-appointed panel leaked the contract review recommending that all extant mining contracts be renegotiated or cancelled due to “irregularities” in license origination and negotiation, or, in a marvel of understatement, “disrespect of the Congo’s mining code.” At the time, Resource Investor termed the report a “contract shake-up” that was rocking the mining sector. Shares of major mining companies plunged. Freeport-McMoRan, BHP Billiton, AngloGold Ashanti, Nikanor and Katanga Mining (the two companies merged two days later in a $3.3 billion deal that created “one of the world’s largest independent copper and cobalt producers.”), all had some 37 contracts with the Congolese government that were classified for renegotiation. For Anvil Mining, its claim to the Dikulushi copper-silver mine was recommended for termination; its stock price collapsed 19% in one day.
It was within this and the context of China’s larger push into Africa that the Bush administration announced the formation of AFRICOM, devoted, as we were told by commander of AFRICOM General William Ward, to “work with the nations of Africa and their organizations to assist them in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security.” Furthermore, AFRICOM’s mission statement claims that

U.S. Africa Command intends to work with African nations and African organizations to build regional security and crisis-response capacity in support of U.S. government efforts in Africa.

It is left unsaid just what those “U.S. government efforts” would be, but the propaganda that US military efforts in Africa will be one big humanitarian operation is being applied in thick coats.
However little White House and US military rhetoric tells us regarding AFRICOM’s intent, US State and Defense Department advisor, Dr. J. Peter Pham, informed Congress that AFRICOM necessarily would be focused on China’s movements in Africa and that China was the only “near-peer competitor” to the United States.

China is currently importing approximately 2.6 million barrels of crude per day, about half of its consumption; more than 765,000 of those barrels—roughly a third of its imports—come from African sources, especially Sudan, Angola, and Congo (Brazzaville). … Chinese President Hu Jintao announced a three-year, $3 billion program in preferential loans and expanded aid for Africa. These funds come on top of the $3 billion in loans and $2 billion in export credits that Hu announced in October 2006 at the opening of the historic Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which brought nearly fifty African heads of state and ministers to the Chinese capital. Intentionally or not, many analysts expect that Africa—especially the states along its oil-rich western coastline—will increasingly becoming a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and its only real near-peer competitor on the global stage, China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure access to resources.

This testimony was given in August, 2007, mere weeks after the China-Congo agreement was announced. AFRICOM was then established October 1, 2007 and it didn’t take long before George Bush made his one and only trip to Africa in February, 2008, a whirlwind, five country tour that naturally made a stop in Rwanda. There, Bush heaped praise, and millions of dollars of new military aid, on the US military asset in Kigali, a man known in more polite circles as President Paul Kagame.
Coltan and the U.S. Military
Apart from the realization that China’s efforts generally threaten the well-connected, entrenched, and highly profitable presence of western corporate interests in Congo, there is one curious detail that pertains to the relationship of the US military and vital coltan ore, from which both niobium and the highly conductive transition metal, tantalum, are derived. Tantalum is used in the manufacture of electronic capacitors that find their way into almost every electronic device currently made.
In a 2008 report by Talison Minerals on the state of the Tantalum Industry, marketing manager Paul Wallwork indicated that in early 2007, the US Defense Logistics Agency exhausted its stockpile of tantalum, placing the US Defense Department into a precarious, if brief, period of supply uncertainty. The DLA is responsible for “logistics support for the missions of the Military Departments and the Unified Combatant Commands under conditions of peace and war” and “supplies the Nation’s military services and several civilian agencies with the critical resources they need to accomplish their worldwide missions.” Tantalum stocks have been rebuilt only to about two thirds of their 2006 level. What the tantalum stockpile exhaustion event indicated was that the US Defense Department had a direct stake in securing Congolese resources, which is now thought to possess 80% of the world’s coltan.
The Near Term Arc of Conflict
The narrative arc is well described. Conflict stasis was established; an equilibrium of simmering population abuse and organized, unfettered resource plunder by the instantiated resource extraction networks. Of the three networks, the two most significant ones were the Rwandan and Congolese operations.
In the first two years if this decade, a recession hit the United States in the wake of the “dot-com” crash and commodity prices tumbled. Mineral demand plunged, and the simmering Congolese conflict eased. Then, as the housing market in the United States overheated American consumption, and the Chinese economy went into overdrive, resource demand escalated sharply and conflict in the Congo once again was on the boil. Resources grew scarce in the high demand environment. When the housing market and financial industry collapsed in the United States, investors moved money from those markets into commodities, further driving prices. Oil, gold, silver, copper, tin, cobalt, coltan, all saw record price increases subsequent to initial news of the uncertain state of Bear Stearns in mid-2007, just as the US Defense Department had exhausted its own stockpile of critical coltan. Recovery of the stockpile further drove demand.
At the same time Wall Street started on its own destabilizing wobble, China approached the government in Kinshasa and signed a $9 billion agreement for direct access to that country’s mining operations, while the Kabila government signaled its intention to renegotiate contracts with western mining companies and, in some cases, threatened to kill long-standing contracts with major western mining and resource interests. In testimony before Congress, a State and Defense Department advisor warned that Africa was “increasingly becoming a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and … China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure assess to resources.” In the fall of 2007, the Bush administration announced the formation of a new Unified Combatant Command, AFRICOM. On a five country tour of Africa in February of 2008, George Bush visited Rwanda and promised even more military aid to the Kagame regime. Sino-Congolese contracts proceeded in face of opposition complaint. And then, in August of 2008, seemingly unprovoked rumblings in the eastern, mineral rich Congo stirred anew, led by the indefatigable General Laurent Nkunda, a former officer in the Rwandan military.
A Sudden New Rise of Laurent Nkunda
When Congo and China signed three specific contracts in July of 2008, one for a Kinshasa hospital and two for roads in Kinshasa and the mining province of Katanga, the “rebel” General Laurent Nkunda and his Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) militia began engagement of a “serious escalation of fighting” in August, 2008, in North Kivu province, which shattered the conflict stasis in Congo. Complaining, once again, about Hutu “genocidaires” who had escaped to Congo in 1994 after the now infamous Rwandan massacre, Nkunda was adamant that his mission was purely humanitarian in nature. The former Rwandan army officer claimed that Congolese soldiers and Hutu militia were a threat to his Tutsi brothers and sisters, and was only rising up in resistance against a newly imagined threat of more violence against the Tutsi population in eastern Congo. Western media reports carry this theme of “ethnic tension” hither and yon, without mention of Nkunda’s previous employment as an officer in US-funded military machine of Paul Kagame, nor the well-known support Kagame has provided Nkunda’s CNDP “rebel” militia.
But Nkunda himself has given lie to the facade of ethnic tension and fears of “genocide.” In fact, in a call for negotiation during a ceasefire, Nkunda expressed a rather odd concern for someone claiming to be worried only about the massacre of Tutsis. During one interview, the rebel general

voiced his opposition to a $9 billion US deal that allows China access to Congo’s vast mineral reserves in exchange for infrastructure improvements.

Undoubtedly, this is a rather orthogonal concern for someone who only wants to “fight for our freedom.”
Nkunda and the Rwanda regime have repeatedly denied that Rwanda is supporting the rebel Tutsi general. But a newly released UN Security Council Expert Panel report (12 December, 2008) found evidence that

Rwandan authorities have been complicit in recruiting soldiers, including children, facilitated the supply of military equipment, and sent their own officers and units to the DRC to support the CNDP.

During and prior to the escalation, Nkunda forces captured several “large weapons stocks” and looted the Katsiro weapon depot in September, 2008. The panel has evidence that Nkunda forces have received “several shipments” of Rwanda military uniforms, which are then “cleansed” of Rwanda flags. Interestingly, the uniform shipments originated in Boston, Massachusetts. Allegations mount that Nkunda’s militia receives shipments of ammunition from both Rwanda and Uganda.
Contract Reform Threatened
The Rwanda-backed conflict escalation appears to be having its intended effect upon the Kabila government’s reform effort. Indeed, the new contracts, with better terms for Congo, and the $9 billion China-Congo agreement may unravel completely.
After weeks of fighting between the CNDP, the Congolese army and its various militias, The Wall Street Journalreported that the “unrest” was disrupting the mining contract reforms as recommended earlier in the year by a Kabila government panel.

As rebel fighting in eastern Congo threatens to escalate into a regional conflict, government officials in Kinshasa have put on hold important decisions affecting the mining industry, a delay that likely pushes back international investment plans and undercuts the country’s efforts to rebuild its shattered economy. …

Recently, Congo’s mining ministry completed a review of the state’s contracts with international companies. It was one of a series of moves by African countries to seek better terms amid booming commodity prices. The ministry renegotiated some 60 concession agreements.

But Congo’s lawmakers have failed to sign off on the new deals. They have been preoccupied by the recent fighting and humanitarian crisis in North Kivu province, near Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda. Renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda has surrounded the provincial capital of Goma and has threatened United Nations peacekeepers and government troops. This week, Angola said it will send troops to the country, raising fears the fighting could draw in other countries.

“This war in the east is taking all of the government’s attention,” said Deputy Minister of Mines Victor Kasango in a telephone interview. “We are waiting for things to calm down.”

As indicated earlier, Kabila intended to use better contract terms to “replenish drained state coffers and to repair infrastructure,” but now those new contracts languish unattended as Nkunda continues the threats, fighting, and calls for negotiation. Analysts are now indicating that the mining companies could leverage the conflict, delay, and recent steep decline in commodity prices to “force fresh contract talks.”
Worldwide Commodity Demand Collapse
As it has in many an economic arena, the Wall Street generated financial crisis has had severe, deleterious effects upon Chinese manufacturing and, hence, China’s demand for a wide variety of resources. Collapsing world demand for goods led to China’s largest manufacturing contraction on record in November. Demand and prices for copper, cobalt, tin, zinc and coltan have seen steep declines in recent weeks and an end to poor economic news appears nowhere in sight. But the economic malaise striking far and wide may actually provide some relief for the Democratic Republic of Congo, however temporary it may be.
As is true for coltan, Congo is the world’s largest source of the crucial industrial metal, cobalt. In recent weeks, collapsing markets has slowed industrial activity in China so rapidly, world demand for cobalt has effectively “ground to halt.” In fact, the situation is so bleak, London-listed Camec “mothballed” its Mukondo mine in Congo, considered to be one of the world’s richest sources of cobalt. Six months ago, China was “buying record quantities of the metal,” but that activity has all but evaporated.
This is exactly the leverage mining companies hoped for in the face of Kabila’s contract mining reform efforts. But mine operators and Kabila surely know that depressed demand will not last forever. Depressed demand may last for a considerable period, but eventually, demand will resume its inevitable climb. Nonetheless, Congo might be hopeful that Rwanda-generated conflict pressure in the eastern provinces may relax, as mining interests hit upon world demand collapse as leverage against the Kabila government. This maybe one reason why all parties currently seem so amenable to negotiation right now. Kabila may have no alternative but to renegotiate the new contracts, as he watches his own treasury shrivel as mines trim operations or shut down altogether.
Should this occur, it seems reasonable to imagine a status quo ante proposition, that this current episode of heightened US/Rwanda backed violence will eventually equilibrate to the earlier stasis of resource plunder, which will ultimately prevent the imposition of China onto the Congolese resource stage.
Conflict Resolution Scenarios
At present, there are two possible outcomes to the current Rwanda-backed conflict escalation, both of which will see the Sino-Congolese agreement, in its current form, scrapped. One, either China reneges on the $9 billion agreement or, through its negotiation with the Kagame regime, the Kabila government withdraws from or significantly curtails terms of the agreement. In this case, Nkunda’s forces will suddenly find themselves appeased by some other specious aspect of a Congo-Rwanda accord. The status quo returns.
Two, the Kabila government and China remain committed to their agreement, in which case Nkunda forces advance on Kinshasa and take out Kabila. An interim government takes the reins until new elections. They or a newly elected regime then scuttle the China agreement.
Of those two, curtailment presents the best diplomatic solution and can be presented in a specious manner under the pretext of collapsing resource demand and China’s own manufacturing downturn. This has the salutary feature of actually being something to which the Chinese could agree and, for reasons already stated, China may be amenable to such a resolution. Not that they have much of choice.
F. William Engdahl has called the present situation in the Congo a US-backed “resources grab.” But he states this incorrectly. Congolese resources were already grabbed — have been grabbed for quite sometime — by the United States and its allies. What is going on now is not a new grab, per se, but the prevention of an above-the-board grab by China, which was seeking to cut out all those western corporate middle men who have been profiting handsomely for so long.
Realist Foreign Policy Returns with a Vengeance
The ongoing, currently escalated strife in Congo represents the return of US foreign policy to that of past decades, prior to the dominance of neoconservatives in the White House administration. In no way is this meant to imply that this is good for the Congolese people or anyone else caught the crosshairs of global resource competition. Clearly, it is not. But covert proxy actions have been the standard operating procedure of “US interests” for a very long time, something well established and quite effective in that regard.
Besides, the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated that that route was impossible; there is simply no US military capacity to carry out similar direct operations like Bush’s wars. Furthermore, the US had reliable and fully compliant client already installed to to the heavy lifting already. There was little need and certainly no patience in the American population for Bush to start publicly sending troops into Congo. Funding for “military aid and training” was all that was required to get the ball rolling over any Congolese desire for autonomy, independence, and to reap the rewards of their own rich soil. In Africa, US foreign policy can still get away with murderous proxy wars, especially when so many allies are also involved in making fortunes on the backs of dark and destitute people, people who likely have little understanding of what on their own earth is going on.
Current conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are only the latest in a long and shameful legacy of western misemployment and exploitation. Millions suffer, millions die, and our political class and complicit media organs shout and cry about all the ethnic tension they claim leads to this suffering. Never are the operations and fortunes of western corporate interests mentioned, nor too the presence of US and European military troops who are there, aiding and abetting the slaughter.
Will this change? Will the west somehow find a way to bring itself to see and admit what it has wrought in Africa? Will we recognize the utter futility of seeing the world as a set piece for what Pepe Escobar has called “liquid war,” the condition of continuous strife and war for the world’s dwindling resources? It seems so, because western society remains willfully blinded by a corporate media that spends far more energy cover up imperial crimes than exposing them. More often than not, and even in face of evidence to the contrary, western fingers insist on pointing at and blaming everyone and everything else. In a recent round of historical revisionism, Condoleezza Rice had the temerity to say that the United States was “dragged” into Iraq.
Western society is willing to do admit its hand in atrocity when the historical distance is appropriate — oh yes, those nineteenth century European colonial powers were horrible, horrible! – but will pretend as though they have nothing to do with the killing now, even as we enjoy the enormous menu of material riches that Africa has to plunder. Western corporation interests are there, we are told, just trying to do the right thing amidst a land filled with hordes of squabbling dark people who just don’t know how to live peaceably. So, we tell ourselves that we must send them “military advisors,” and guns, and mortars, and rocket propelled grenade launchers. And lots of them.
It’s funny, though, how peaceably well those people seem to live wherever they aren’t sitting atop a wealth of mineral resources the industrial world needs to fuel its insatiable consumption.

An astronomer who has worked on a number of NASA projects, Ken lives in Baltimore, where he devotes his scientific training to observations and inferences about current affairs, politics and the media. He authorsShockfront and The Bonehead Compendium.