The Vile Scramble For Loot, How British Corporations are Fuelling War in the Congo

By Robert Miller


The Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering what is almost certainly the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. In their 2007 study of mortality rates in the DRC the International Rescue Committee estimated that, as a result of the war, "5.4 million excess deaths have occurred between August 1998 and April 2007." The IRC report also estimated that the "DR Congo's national crude mortality rate (CMR) of 2.2 deaths per 1,000 per month is 57 percent higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa", and in eastern provinces, which are the most violent, the CMR is "2.6 deaths per 1,000 per month, a rate that is 85 percent higher than the sub-Saharan average." [1 The charity "Raise Hope for Congo" reports that "45,000 people die each month [in Eastern Congo], mostly from hunger and disease resulting from the ongoing conflict, and over 1 million people have been displaced." [2 That is approximately 1,500 deaths a day, 62 deaths an hour and a death every minute. If you take the figure of 45,000 deaths a month as constant then at the time of writing (November 2009), 1,350,000 people have died as a result of the war in Eastern Congo since the IRC published its study. That would put the total amount of excess deaths at 6,750,000 (6.75 million).

According to the British charity Save the Congo, "You could take all lives lost in Bosnia, Rwanda 1994 [sic] and Darfur then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, then add a 9-11 every single day for 356 days and then go through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, multiply by 2 and you still don't reach the number of lives that has been lost in the Congo since the war started." They also say that "[hundreds of thousands] of women and young girls have been brutally gang raped and around 40% of all adult women have been made widows."[3]

All over Eastern Congo there are wards "full of women who have been gang-raped and then shot in the vagina." According to Dr Denis Mukwege, "Around ten percent of the gang-rape victims have had this happen to them".[4] This means that tens of thousands of women have been raped and shot in the vagina. And this affects of women of all ages, from 3 year olds to old ladies.

The Congolese people live in abject poverty. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest proportion of starving people in the world, according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, which ranked the Congo as a 42.7. That is an increase from 25.5 (which is still ranked as "alarming") in 1990. [5 Women often have to carry "more than their own body-weight in wood or coal or sand, all day, every day" just to make enough money to survive.[6]

According to the IRC report on mortality rates in the Congo:

The majority of deaths have been due to infectious diseases, malnutrition and neonatal- and pregnancy-related conditions. Increased rates of disease are likely related to the social and economic disturbances caused by conflict, including disruption of health services, poor food security, deterioration of infrastructure and population displacement. Children, who are particularly susceptible to these easily preventable and treatable conditions, accounted for 47 percent of deaths, even though they constituted only 19 percent of the total population.[7]

Men and women in the DRC have life expectancies of 42 and 47 years, respectively, making an average life expectancy of 44 years. The under-5 mortality rate is 205 per 1,000 live births. That means that 1 in 5 Congolese children die before they reach the age of 5. Only 29% of rural Congolese have access to clean water sources and only 23% have access to decent sanitation. 31% of children under 5 are underweight, 452 people in every 100,000 have malaria and 551 in every 100,000 have tuberculosis. The maternal mortality rate is 990 per 100,000 live births.[8]

Compare this to Britain, where the life expectancy at birth is 78, the under-5 mortality rate is 6 per 1,000 live births (more than 34 times less than in the DRC), nearly 100% of the population has access to improved water sources and improved sanitation, the proportion of malnourished children is close to 0%[9] and the maternal mortality rate is 261 per 100,000 live births[10] (almost 4 times lower than in the DRC).

In the Congo, "since 1998, as many as 85 percent of those living near the front lines [of the war] have been affected by violence" and in Eastern DRC, which is the main area of fighting, mortality rates are "one third higher than the rest of the DRC",[11] where mortality rates are already terrible. But how did all of this happen?

The (second) Congo war began in 1998 when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Congo, launching "a bloody military offensive to overthrow [Congolese president] Laurent Kabila". The offensive failed but Rwanda and Uganda stayed in the Congo to take advantage of the rich resources of the country. They were soon joined by "Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as dozens of home grown militia groups and private armies" who wanted a piece of the spoils. "In 2002 and 2003 ... Rwanda and Uganda, after intense international pressure, decided to withdraw from Congo but each, however, leaving behind dozens of armed groups they had created and trained while occupying the Congo".[12] There are now armed groups all over the DRC, many with different loyalties, all fighting mercilessly to get access to the riches under the ground.

Global Witness has said that "The minerals scattered all over North and South Kivu have acted as a magnet for rebel groups and military factions throughout the last 12 years."[13] The Panel of Experts at the UN reported in 2001 that "the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold."[14] The same report stated that "the role of the private sector in the exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the war has been vital. A number of companies have been involved and have fuelled the war directly, trading arms for natural resources. Others have facilitated access to financial resources, which are used to purchase weapons. Companies trading minerals, which the Panel considered to be ‘the engine of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo' have prepared the field for illegal mining activities in the country."[15]

These military factions and rebel groups are among the most brutal in the world. These groups include the Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) from Rwanda, the Congrés National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) from Rwanda, the Patriotes Résistants Congolaise (PARECO), various Mai-Mai groups who fight alongside the Congolese army, the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes (FRF) and the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC). These groups have atrocious human rights records, and murder and rape are common. There are huge numbers of child soldiers in the DRC: Control Arms reports that "about 30,000 to 35,000 children have been recruited" by armed groups since the start of the war.[16]

The only reason these groups are able to survive is because they control the mines. "The Congo possesses over 80 per cent of the world's reserve of coltan.[17] and has vast amounts of casserite (tin ore), gold, wolframite, pyrochlore, diamonds, clays, copper, cobalt, gas, nickel, oil, tungstone, zinc, iron, kaolin, niobium, ochre, bauxite, marble, phosphates, saline, granite, emerald, monazite, silver, uranium, platinum and lead. The DRC is "the only country on earth that houses all elements found on the periodic table".[18] The Congo is probably the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources.

The rebel groups use their control over the natural resources to gain profit and power. Global Witness believes that "the profits they make through this plunder enable some of the most violent armed groups to stay alive."[19] Without this money they would not be able to recruit soldiers. "UNICEF says the militias can are [sic] offering ... $60-a-month to carry on seizing and raping and killing" and when people are starving they will accept anything in order to keep their families alive.[20] The war is mainly fought to keep control over the mines and is mainly funded through profits made by that mining. Without those profits, it is unlikely that the war would continue.

Corporations all around the world, including those in Britain, are trading for these minerals and are making a huge profit off the warring factions. If it wasn't for this trade then it is extremely unlikely that the war would be able to continue. But the profits made off these minerals - especially colton which is needed for electronics such as mobile phones, computers and televisions - are too great for the corporations to ignore.
In trading for these minerals, a whole host of foreign corporations fund the worst holocaust since World War II. This report focuses on corporations in Britain and how they are fuelling the war and human rights abuses in the Congo.

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