[A-List] DR Congo: international plunder
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 4 05:39:48 MST 2002
No. 1068, 29 November - 12 December 2002
Letter from Lubumbashi
from Our Own Correspondent
We learned of what amounted to a coup d'etat from a notorious gossip in the
Park Hotel. The most powerful "tontons" in the Democratic Republic of Congo
had been suspended by our boy wonder president, Joseph Kabila.
Out went security minister Mwenze Kongolo, presidency minister Katumba
Mwanke, planning minister General Kalume Numbi and spy chief Kazadi Nyembe.
And in comes ... Well, no one is exactly sure. The best clue is the arrival
in town of several well-guarded Angolan and South African business types
following the hasty departure of our Zimbabwean military brothers bearing
large parcels of gem diamonds.
The suspension of the four worst "pilleurs" of the regime and the departure
of some of their collaborators occasioned much rejoicing here. "Lubum" is a
mining city and Mwenze and Katumba had been sharing out concessions too
freely with their Zimbabwean and Belgian pals. We were too polite to
complain until a UN investigation revealed that some $5bn of our mineral
assets have been discreetly relocated from our beleaguered state mining
companies to a group of private companies whose shares are held by Ministers
Mwenze, Katumba and Kalume and associates.
The latest theory here is that all these assets will be yanked back from the
departing ministers and their allies to be auctioned again to the thronging
Angolans and South Africans. After four years of what anyone with a US visa
calls "Africa's world war", we tell ourselves the only way is up. But then
we said that when Joseph's father, corpulent rebel leader Laurent-Desire
Kabila, toppled Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.
After three unhappy years at the helm, Laurent-Desire was shot in the ear by
a bodyguard and spirited off to Zimbabwe to expire. At his funeral in
Kinshasa a week later, three Zimbabwe Air Force Chinese F7 fighter jets
crashed into each other and 30-year-old Joseph emerged as leader of Africa's
newest dynasty. Smiling sweetly and speaking wisely, Joseph was nevertheless
held prisoner by the tontons. Unable to drive the Rwandan and Ugandan
"pilleurs" from the east, and unwilling to stop our Zimbabwean allies from
pillaging the south, we wondered what was the point of Joseph.
Always semi-detached from Congo, Lubum seemed to be heading for total
divorce. Our city and its mineral rich hinterland of Katanga have come under
the sway of a military-business cabal. Swaggerer-in-chief is New Zealander,
turned Belgian, turned Congolese commercant George Forrest. Moustachioed
George is also France's honorary consul in Lubum and renowned for his
Bastille Day parties. Sensibly he joined the same freemason's lodge as
Belgian foreign minister and Congo afficionado Louis Michel.
Formerly Mobutu's bag man and military supplier, Monsieur George now pledges
allegiance to the Kabila dynasty, and in Katanga has helped America's OM
Group scoop up a $2bn stockpile of germanium, a rare metal used in
communication satellites. As you drive into Lubum from the south, you can't
miss George's giant blue oven coughing acrid smoke into the sky. Funny that
after a private meeting with George in his Lubum mansion, Belgian senate
investigators concluded that his business ethics were entirely proper -- in
the Congolese context.
Deputy chief swaggerer is military and tobacco salesman John Bredenkamp,
who's hoovered up a billion dollars of cobalt reserves in Katanga for a
$400,000 down payment to his political pals in Kinshasa -- on top of his
$15m spent so far on extraction. Thirty years ago he was busting UN
sanctions to keep Ian Smith in planes to bomb rebel positions in Rhodesia.
Now he calls himself Zimbabwean, does business with Mugabe's army, operates
his businesses out of Britain, sells British Aerospace (BAE Systems)
military kit and is Lady Thatcher's neighbour in Mayfair. It seems your
prime minister Tony Blair's indignation against Mugabe's carpetbaggers is a
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