BY JEFF SHANTZ
The death toll from the ongoing war in the Congo, which began in 1998, is higher than in any other since World War II, with an estimated 4.7 million killed in the last four years alone. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid agency based in New York, reports that the mortality rate in the Congo is higher than any other country on the planet.
According to IRC president George Rupp, the crisis in the Congo is "a humanitarian catastrophe of horrid and shocking proportions. The worst mortality projections in the event of a lengthy war in Iraq, and the death toll from all the recent wars in the Balkans, don't even come close."
Despite these horrible facts, the crisis has gone largely unnoticed and unreported upon in the West. As David Johnson, the director of IRC operations in eastern Congo, has stated: "This is the worst calamity in Africa this century, and one which the world has consistently found reasons to overlook."
The war started in August 1998, when an uprising backed by the Ugandan and Rwandan governments (which receive their main support from the US and Britain) was launched in the country's eastern regions against the government of Laurent Kabila. The Ugandan government claimed it was defending its western borders against rebels based in Rwanda, while the Rwandan force claimed to be defending itself against Hutu militias on the Congo border. Apparently this border protection required Rwandan forces to occupy the diamond-rich town of Kisangani, 700 miles inside the Congolese border.
The conflict quickly spread, as combatants from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe entered the war, ostensibly in support of Kabila's government. There has been evidence of involvement by mercenary companies, including the US company MPRI, Britain's Sandline and the South African Executive Outcome.
The responses to the crisis, or failures to respond, by Western governments have been motivated by their interests in the vast mineral resources of eastern Congo. Most of the Congo's gold production comes from the northeastern parts of the country that have experienced most of the conflict.
The main gold exploration ventures in Congo are those of Banro, a Canadian company cited for violations by the UN Security Council, and the Anglo-American/Barrick joint venture. Banro, through its 93%-owned subsidiary, SAKIMA SARL, controls 10 mining permits and 47 mining concessions covering an area of 10,271 square kilometres of eastern Congo. After an agreement with the government of Congo, Banro came to hold 100% title to the Twangiza, Kamituga, Lugushwa and Namoya gold deposits.
South Africa's AngloGold, the world's largest gold producer, and Barrick Gold of Canada, the second largest gold producer, joined together on an exploration venture encompassing 57,000 square kilometres of north-eastern Congo in the area along the Ugandan border which has been torn by conflict. Barrick had succeeded, in 1996, in getting the Gold Office of Kilomoto, the government monopoly of the country's former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, to transfer mining rights over almost all of its 82,000 square kilometres of land to Barrick. The area holds an estimated 100 tons of gold in reserve. George Bush senior was instrumental in winning the Barrick deal.
Another Canadian outfit, First Quantum Minerals, a firm with copper-mining interests, was cited by a special UN panel for paying government ministers to obtain mining rights. According to the report, First Quantum offered the government a US$100 million down payment. The payment list included the national security minister, the director of the national intelligence agency and the former minister of the presidency.
From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.
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