Thursday, November 19, 2009
CONGO GOLD It is time to address the killing fields of the Congo
Here is one tonne of gold ,times this by 40
About 40 tons of gold is smuggled annually out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most is shipped to Dubai via its neighbor, Uganda, according to a UN official in charge of the arms embargo.The official, Dino Mahtani, told the BBC that most of the gold was controlled by rebel groups who buy weapons with the proceeds.
Mahtani, who is due to report to a UN Security Council meeting this week, said that the money helps sustain armed groups in the field. Mahtani quoted from a report of the DRC senate. This talked of roughly $1.24 b worth of gold, or 40 tonnes, smuggled out every year “without any customs declaration.”
“A lot of this gold,” he said, “is controlled by armed group networks, in particular the FDLR, a Rwandan-based rebel group partly made up of members involved in the 1994 genocide, and who continue to operate in eastern Congo”. This trade, he added, is one of the most significant avenues of direct finance for the armed groups.
Uganda is a key conduit from DRC to the world market in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Once the gold leaves Dubai it is virtually untraceable. Between 1995 and 2006, gold was among Uganda’s top three exports; and according to the Uganda Export Promotion Board, the country exported a total of $342 worth of gold between 2003 and 2008. In 2006 alone a record $122.6m worth of gold and gold compounds were exported. Yet, statistics from the energy and mineral ministry says that Ugandan mines produce a negligible amount of gold per year. A Human Rights Watch report in 2005 revealed that gold that arrived in the country with no documentation left as a legitimate export, and linked Ugandan businessmen to rebel groups in the DRC.
The UN has had an arms embargo in place in the DRC for six years following the peace accord between the government and the rebels.
Sanctions were applied to two gold-trading companies that operated out of Uganda, but UN investigators say it would be “quite easy” for people to evade the sanctions, because they apply only to the companies and not to individuals.
This week Mahtani will present evidence from travel documents, phone records and customs certificates to the Security Council, outlining how Congolese gold is traded.
“When you place companies on a sanctions list”, he said, “and you don’t sanction directors of those companies, then it’s easy for them to simply change behaviour, set up new front companies and carry on operating.”
The Security Council will have to decide whether to impose further sanctions.
The minerals of eastern Congo have kept this part of Central Africa unstable for many decades. When the Rwandan genocidaires and refugees fled there in 1994 their conflict continued in this mineral-rich area. In 1996-7 when Rwandan and Ugandan forces attempted to oust former president Mobutu, and install Laurent Kabila, eastern Congo was the scene of operations, where it is estimated some 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease. While the killing was going on, army officers were suspected of being involved in the smuggling of gold and other minerals, and mahogany, across the DRC’s eastern borders.
Now there is greater peace in the region, and the DRC government seems to be getting its act together, it is high time these and many other abuses in these African “killing fields” were exposed.
Martyn Drakard is a writer and analyst based in Kenya and Uganda.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009