by Kim Petersen
June 5, 2003
There is a fresh outbreak of killings in Bunia, Ituria province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Recent violence has claimed over 300 lives. It represents a fraction of the scale of killing that has so far failed to stir much world attention. However, since the US-UK forces have wrested control of Iraqi oil, some news has started to emerge from the DRC. Ethnic militias have fired upon the beleaguered UN observers and there are calls to augment the UN peacekeeping troops. France has prepared a detachment and the UK is making a contribution. It was after all Prime Minister Tony Blair who declared in 2001: “And I tell you if Rwanda happened again today as it did in 1993, when a million people were slaughtered in cold blood, we would have a moral duty to act there also.” Well, the number according to the International Red Cross is 3.3 million and climbing in the DRC so Mr. Blair is more than a little late considering that the violence had already begun in 1998 and was continuing during his declamation.
Mr. Blair is backed by his partner US President George Bush who said there is a “moral duty to act” to act in Africa and elsewhere. Mr. Bush pledged, “America will not look away. This great nation is stepping forward to help.” Bill Fletcher of the NGO TransAfrica Forum contradicted US president Bush’s recent state department pronouncement: “The U.S. interest in Africa is in direct relationship to oil in the ground. Angola, yes. Equatorial Guinea, yes. But DRC, no.”
Mr. Fletcher said, “The international community just doesn't care. Over two million people dead. So what?”
The DRC is not oil rich but is nonetheless resource rich. It has timber, diamonds, gold, copper, and other esoteric minerals such as coltan, used in mobile phones and video games. Therefore the DRC has attracted transnational mining concerns. Unfortunately corporatism has raised its ugly head here. Keith Harmon Snow reported matter-of-factly on the misery in the DRC: “The human devastation in poverty, disease, torture and massacres is uncountable. Adjectives do not describe the suffering.”
The western media has portrayed the conflict in central Africa as another bout of tribalism, this time between the Lendu and Hema. This immoral reasoning neglects the role of colonial and corporate exploitation in the DRC. An expert UN panel investigating the illegal exploitation of DRC’s resources found that a “predatory network of elites” (including army and government leaders) had been established to fight an “economy of war.” As a result of the investigation the panel called upon the UN to impose financial penalties. Eight of these 29 companies were Canadian: American Mineral Fields, Banro, First Quarterly, Hrambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources, Tenke. The firms strongly deny the findings. Canadian private tyrannies riding roughshod over third world peoples is not new.
In 1994 Canadian mining company Kahama Mining Corporation acquired the rights to a large gold-mining concession in Tanzania. The problem was that there were hundreds-of-thousands of small-scale miners working the site. So in a bid to remove the small-scale miners from the gold-rich Bulyanhulu area the company had the Tanzanian police forcibly evacuate the area while the company bulldozers filled in the shafts. Fifty-seven miners were allegedly buried alive. Since then any investigation has been blocked by the Tanzanian government and Barrick Gold *, which took over Kahama in 1999.
Lawyer's Environmental Action Team (LEAT) of Tanzania has affirmed the allegations against Kahama Mining and the Tanzanian police. LEAT has also assembled important evidence that tens of thousands of small-scale miners and their families were forcibly evicted from the area without any compensation.
Tanzanian human rights lawyer Tundu Lissu has been tracking this case for a long time. “The video, the photographs and the testimony of family members and eye witnesses show incontrovertibly that there was a massacre. All this in its totality proves a scandal of international proportions.” There has been no justice and very few of the removed miners have been recompensed. Yet scarcely a peep has been heard from the Canadian government. Conversely the Canadian government and World Bank have been underwriting Barrick Gold’s involvement in this travesty.
In northeast Africa Sudan hasn’t registered much in the pathetic mainstream media. Meera Karunananthan asked why? Mel Middleton founder of Alberta-based NGO Freedom Quest International replied: “Unfortunately, reports of massacres, human rights abuses, slavery and crimes against humanity in the Sudan are so numerous that they are no longer newsworthy. It seems as long as the people being killed are black Africans, the mainstream media shows little interest.”
Talisman Energy represented Canadian oil interests in Sudan. It has since sold its stake in a multinational consortium Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). Amnesty International (AI) cited over 2 million deaths in the civil war since 1983 and 5 million displaced people. Sudan has been beset by “mass human rights abuses” such as kidnapping, rape, and arbitrary murders. “Thousands of people, particularly women and teenagers, have been abducted and allegedly forced into unpaid domestic labour in conditions reminiscent of slavery.” Famine threatens many Sudanese but the fighting disrupts humanitarian food-distribution operations. Despite this some foreign companies have decided to seek profit in this hostile atmosphere. AI found that oil fields are a particular concern because their operations impact on the human rights of the local people. AI has recorded the “attacks, burning and looting of villages and the killings and forced displacement of civilians living near the GNPOC oilfields.” AI noted:
Talisman Energy of Canada has highlighted its investments in social development projects in the region, including the building of a hospital and some roadworks. But Talisman Energy has also helped build an airstrip which has been used by military aircraft as a base to bomb civilian populations and property in raids on areas that the government claimed were rebel strongholds.
Meanwhile Canada is contributing 30 to 50 troops and two transport planes to the UN peacekeeping contingent on its way to the DRC. It is a meek Canadian government response to an African disaster in which corporate Canada is badly tainted.
When it comes to exploiting the profit potential of Africa, Canadian firms, among others, are quick off the mark with government blessing. However, when Africa finds itself in difficulty the response tends to be lethargic and met with appropriate rhetoric but not backed up by deeds. It led UN Special Envoy for Africa Stephen Lewis to lament: “Explain to me, if you will, why we have to grovel to extract a few billion dollars to prevent the deaths of more than two million people every year…We know there is a lot of money out there but something must be profoundly wrong somewhere. Something is morally wrong.”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
* Listen to a Democracy Now! interview with investigative reporter Greg Palast on “Corporate Profiteering: From Congo to Iraq.”