Congo’s Conflict Gold: Now Who Controls the Gold Corridor?

13 Jan
http:// Africareview.com

http:// Africareview.com

As with any issue there are basic facts that need to be considered before the rest of the story makes any sense. So I shall start by posting the most crucial information first. According to a 2013 United Nations Report concerning “Conflict Gold” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), “98% of all gold taken from mines in the DRC in 2013 was smuggled out of the Congo illegally and sold to gold traders in Uganda. The value of this gold has been estimated to have been between $313 million dollars (US) and $409 million dollars (US). Potential tax revenues collected by the government of the DRC would have been over $8 million dollars (US) had this gold been sold though legal channels. Could the many wars in the Congo as well as the diverse rebel groups living there be nothing more than a ruse used to cloud the real objective- the illegal removal of gold and minerals from the DRC by the countries which border it and the countries which profit by selling this gold on the international market?

On Thursday, December 12, 2013 a representative for M23 signed two documents agreeing to lay down their arms and fight no more while the government of the DRC promised to support the eleven points agreed upon by both parties in the newly- composed peace settlement. This meeting took place at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya arranged and brokered by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya while Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Joyce Banda, President of Malawi looked on. At the conclusion of this eighteen month war many living in East and Central Africa felt that this truce continued to be an uneasy one. Only one month earlier to the day DRC’s government negotiators had refused to sign a cease-fire agreement with M23 in Kampala, Uganda because they objected to the title of the settlement agreement. Some of the major concessions in this pact: 1.) M23 will transform into a political party. This is nothing new; most of the political parties in the DRC today started out as militia groups. 2.) An exchange of prisoners on both sides. 3.) Resettlement of the 800,000 people displaced by the fighting. 4.) Establishment of a national committee charged with investigating claims and awarding damages related to the confiscation or destruction of property and/or goods during the war.5.) Reintegration of M23 troops into Congolese society.

Both sides agreed that “there would be no amnesty for those soldiers wanted for war crimes” but the specific terms of this condition is relatively unclear. Does this mean that all officers indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands for “Crimes against Humanity” will stand trial there or does President Joseph Kabila have something different in mind? Might the government of the DRC conduct its own “war” trials and if so, just how impartial would they be?

By November 2012, M23 appeared to have the better army as it had won most of its major engagements against the Congolese Army (FARDC). Eventually it fought its way into Goma; taking this, the capital city of North Kivu Province  located but a few miles from the border shared between the DRC and Rwanda. About this time civilians on both sides of the border began a running dialogue about the improved quality of M23’s weapons (unique AK-47 rifle barrels); the brand new uniforms and mud boots they had been issued; and especially the hats they wore which were identical to those worn by soldiers in the Rwandan army. In the opinion of many residents close to the fighting Rwanda had openly supported M23 from their side of the border going as far as to help plan the entire insurrection.

But by November 2013, M23 began to incur severe losses. Two possible reasons for this turn of events: 1.) the appearance of MONUSCO’s UN Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo, a 3,000 member force composed of African soldiers from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. This military arm of the UN has been charged with eliminating the armed rebel groups in the Great Lakes Region. Their knowledge of the region as well as the use of advanced technology when added to the original Congolese forces (FARDC) in the area helped them outmaneuver and outfight M23. 2.) It also appeared as if any monetary support as well as the weekly supply train of weapons, materials, and recruits donated by Rwanda suddenly ceased. Although Rwanda has always denied any involvement in the M23 revolt, government officials there may have become reluctant to continue supporting M23 once Britain, the United States then the UN Security Council began to openly question their level of participation in this war.

But it was also common knowledge that M23 also supported its war through funds raised by smuggling gold across the border into the neighboring countries of Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda but especially Uganda. Word on the street was that M23 forged a lucrative arrangement with the government of Uganda then opened a special smuggling route that it used to move large amounts of gold into the capital city of Kampala right into to the hands of specific gold traders there. Almost any citizen of Uganda can tell you that his/her country removes some gold out of mines located near the border between Uganda and the DRC; but none of them produce enough gold to justify the immense amount traded in Ugandan markets then funneled into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by shady gold dealers. From where did all of this gold originate?

In a November, 2012 a special report to The United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee written by a “Group of Experts” stated that a major smuggling ring led by M23 officers moved conflict gold through the border town of Bunagana straight into the Kampala gold market. The town of Walikale was also named as another locale where the “gold corridor” operated in North Kivu Province.

And the more pressing question? Now that M23 has agreed to the conditions of this latest peace accord what rebel group will inherit its gold smuggling operations? Who out of the more than 30 other political militias operating in and around the border region along eastern Congo as of 2014- has the power and the contacts to make that happen? My money is on the new and improved ADF- NALU an organization created by the merger between the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda. ADF has recently changed its ideological objective from that of a small, grass-roots retaliatory group seeking to overthrow Musesveni’s government in Uganda to a more structured Islamist- governed Congolese organization with official ties to al- Shabaab. It’s not the same group it was even three years ago which made some Ugandan journalists doubt that it was ADF who launched the first attack on the settlement at Kamango on July 21st, 2013. Two attacks later- the final one coming on December 28th, 2013 and most reporters were convinced that ADF-NALU had been responsible for all three raids.

But what would induce the ADF to change its operational tactics as well as its political affiliation? It has always had close ties to Sudan’s Sunni Muslims (Tabliq) and still receives some monetary support from them. The old ADF would have never attacked the Congolese army save in self- defense. They have nowhere the resources of the Congolese army nor could they hold off an attack by armed military forces (FARDC) for long. So why risk the lives of their men? They are a small locally-based set of camps spread throughout Beni -Lubero territory with about 1,200 men at their disposal; although their numbers may have increased lately as they have been visited by members of other terrorist organizations who have conducted training sessions at their camps. Most of these rebels are no longer Ugandan citizens as before and this new generation of fighters has Congolese  Bandandi roots and relatives living in the local communities surrounding them. So it would be unusual for them to attack and kill Congolese civilians without a compelling motive. And why would they try to capture an entire town when they do not have the manpower to hold it for very long? What would they gain by provoking the Congolese army and alienating the very people with whom they conduct business every day?

When interviewed after the third Kamango attack in December, 2013 many of the residents there reported that “the armed men urged them to flee into Uganda”? Seems like the ADF wanted the people to vacate the premises immediately rather than secure the town for themselves and if so, why? This shall all be discussed at length in my next blog.

Kat Nickerson                                                    Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                       January 12, 2014

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