Despite the withdrawal of foreign forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), "elite criminal networks" have become so deeply entrenched that continued illegal exploitation of the country's natural resources is assured, independent of the physical presence of foreign armies, said the latest report from the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC.
"Three distinct criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe and the Government of the DRC have benefited from overlapping micro-conflicts [and] will not disband voluntarily even as the foreign military forces continue their withdrawals," said the Panel in the report, released on Monday.
"The looting that was previously conducted by the armies themselves has been replaced with organised systems of embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, the use of stock options as kickbacks and diversion of state funds conducted by groups that closely resemble criminal organisations," it said.
The human toll
The humanitarian consequences of the financially driven conflict had been horrific: in the five eastern provinces of the DRC, the number of excess deaths directly attributable to the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation since the outbreak of war up to September 2002 had been between three million and 3.5 million people, said the panel.
Based on interviews with local and international relief NGOs, the Panel reported a mortality rate for children under five years of 35 percent in areas most affected by the conflict, while malnutrition studies carried out by NGOs in both northern Katanga and the Kivus had shown that, in some places, 25 percent to 30 percent of all children under five years were malnourished.
Widespread and repeated displacement had become commonplace: the Panel quoted the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as having estimated that in the northern Katanga area alone, 350,000 displaced persons were living away from their homes, with neighbours, in the cities or in the bush, while in North Kivu, four out of five rural residents had been forcibly displaced at one time or another since 1998. This is the highest number ever registered for Africa.
The Panel also cited a recent study by Medecins Sans Frontieres conducted in Kilwa - deemed to be "a representative town" in the southern Katanga Province - it was found that one in four children were dying over a period of two years.
Years of armed conflict had led to a social environment in which men abused women on a staggering scale throughout the eastern DRC, and children became instruments of war, forced to work in the mines and conscripted into armed forces, the report said. Destroyed farm production had resulted in food insecurity, malnutrition and high mortality rates for the displaced and host populations, while malnutrition, in turn, had substantially increased the exposure of the population to life-threatening illnesses, it added.
Unemployment had become the norm: an income survey by civil society groups in Butembo had found that 90 percent lived on a few cents a day and ate one meal a day, prompting many women to resort to prostitution as their sole source of income, the Panel reported.
Three zones of control
In areas controlled by the DRC government and its allies, the Panel reported that the diversion of funds from state companies and public coffers, by fraud or under the pretext of serving the war effort, had contributed to eliminating funds available for public services. Most government soldiers were unpaid and turned intlo social predators, financing themselves through theft and pillage, living off the population they were presumed to protect, while the government's "elite criminal network" benefited from the instability, its representatives in Kinshasa and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) had fuelled instability by supporting armed groups opposing Rwanda and Burundi.
"Although troops of the ZDF have been a major guarantor of the security of the Government of the DRC against regional rivals, its senior officers have enriched themselves from the country's mineral assets under the pretext of arrangements set up to repay Zimbabwe for military services," the Panel noted. "Now ZDF is establishing new companies and contractual arrangements to defend its economic interests in the longer term should there be a complete withdrawal of ZDF troops."
Chief figures in this "elite network" from the DRC government were said to include Minister of National Security Mwenze Kongolo; Director of the National Intelligence Agency Didier Kazadi Nyembwe; Minister of Presidency and Portfolio Augustin Katumba Mwanke; the president of the state diamond company, Societe miniere de Bakwanga (MIBA), Jean-Charles Okoto; Planning Minister and former Deputy Defence Minister Gen Denis Kalume Numbi; the director general of Sengamines, Yumba Monga; and former Minister of the Presidency Pierre Victor Mpoyo.
The "key strategist" for the Zimbabwean branch of the network was said to be Speaker of Parliament and former National Security Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, with his key ally being ZDF Commander Gen Vitalis Zvinavashe. Among the businessmen in the elite network, the Panel cited a Belgian national, George Forrest; Zimbabwean-backed entrepreneurs John Bredenkamp and one Al-Shanfari; a "convicted criminal based in South Africa", Nico Shefer; and three Lebanese "clans" - Ahmad, Nassour, and Khanafer.
In areas controlled by Uganda and its allied rebel organisations, the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) "continue to provoke ethnic conflict" for economic gain, particularly in the northeastern DRC province of Ituri, the Panel reported. The "elite network" operating out of Uganda was decentralised and loosely hierarchical, unlike the network operating out of Rwanda, it said.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the UPDF withdrawal from the DRC, a paramilitary force was being trained under the personal authority of Lt-Gen (Salim) Saleh, which, according to the Panel's sources, is expected to continue facilitating the commercial activities of UPDF officers after their departure. The Panel cited Saleh, a half-brother of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and Maj-Gen James Kazini as "the key figures" behind this "elite network", which was also said to include Col Noble Mayombo, Col Kahinda Otafiire, and Col Peter Kerim.
Rebel politicians and administrators such as Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, John Tibasima and Mbusa Nyamwisi of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani-Mouvement de liberation (RCD-K-ML); Roger Lumbala of RCD-National, and Thomas Lubanga of the Union des Patriotes Congolais were also implicated, while private entrepreneurs were said to include Sam Engola, Jacob Manu Soba, Mannase Savo and other Savo family members.
As for the announced withdrawal of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) from the DRC, the Panel disputed the veracity of this claim by the Kigali authorities, countering that the number of soldiers who had left the DRC was, so far, only a portion of the total number of RPA troops in eastern DRC, which various sources estimate at between 35,000 and 50,000. "Instead of departing for Rwanda, large numbers of Rwandan Hutus serving in the RPA have been provided with new uniforms" and assigned to brigades of the Rwandan-backed Congolese rebel movement, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma).
As for Rwanda's repeated claims concerning its security as justification for the continued presence of its armed forces, the Panel reported to have "extensive evidence to the contrary". Using a term employed by the Congo Desk of the RPA, Rwanda's "real long-term purpose" was to "secure property".
"RPA battalions that specialise in mining activities remain in place, though they have ceased wearing RPA uniforms, and will continue the activities under a commercial guise," said the Panel. "The rationale for Rwanda's presence is to increase the numbers of Rwandans in the eastern DRC and to encourage those settled there to act in unison to support its exercise of economic control."
The Panel decided that an embargo or moratorium banning the export of raw materials originating in the DRC "does not seem to be a viable means of helping to improve the situation of the country's Government, citizens or natural environment", noting that this would require massive technical and financial aid for the population to offset the humanitarian impact of such restrictive measures.
However, concerned that if it did not recommend any punitive measures and thereby encourage a continuation of the exploitation by different criminal organisations, the Panel proposed imposing certain restrictions on business enterprises and individuals, ranging from travel bans to freezing of personal assets to barring of access to banking facilities.
Similarly, to promote peace and good governance, the Panel called for a reduction of official development aid to developing nations implicated in DRC exploitation. It cautioned, however, that reductions be applied to institutional budget support, stablisation lending or project lending and not sector-specific allocations.
As an added incentive, the Panel recommended disbursement of aid for the DRC and other Great Lakes countries involved in the conflict, for reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes aimed at creating jobs, rebuilding infrastructure and improving conditions for local populations, notably in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation. However, "disbursal should be contingent on the adherence to peace agreements".
The Panel supported the idea of an international conference on peace, security, democracy and sustainable development in the Great Lakes region, and likewise called for the support of efforts towards regional economic integration as a means of bringing countries involved in the conflict closer and as acting as a barrier to future outbreaks of armed conflicts, via trade and other regional organisations.
It also urged reconstruction and reform of DRC state institutions, with a view to increasing Kinshasa's capacity to secure its territory and borders, as a fundamental "counterpoint" to the withdrawal of the foreign troops.
Echoing a call made during the inter-Congolese dialogue, the Panel endorsed the establishment of a special commission to examine the validity of economic and financial agreements reached since the fall of the late DRC leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1997.
The Panel insisted that governments of countries whose individuals, companies and financial institutions were involved in activities in DRC should assume their share of responsibility. It proposed adherence of business enterprises to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development guidelines as a mechanism for bringing violations to the attention of governments of countries where the enterprises were registered.
Finally, the Panel suggested that the UN Security Council establish a monitoring body to report regularly on its findings, including recommendations about further action to halt activities that violated the Council's decisions. Similarly, specialised industry organisations could be requested to monitor trade in commodities from conflict areas. For example, all member states where trade in rough diamonds was being carried out should join the Kimberley Process.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions