Congo: War Looters

A new United Nations report on the plundering of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has set off a ripple effect in the African press. Predictably, independent and opposition newspapers have generally applauded the report’s detailed contents, while pro-government papers have been skeptical or outright defiant.

The 50-plus-page report, made public on Oct. 21, names Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Zimbabwean individuals—along with Western individuals and corporations—as members or beneficiaries of  “elite networks” siphoning off diamonds, coltan ore (used for laptop computers and cell phones), and other resources for private profit to the detriment of the Congolese people. Now that the armies of these countries are withdrawing from the DRC after four years of involvement in the DRC’s civil war, the report says, they have left corporate and other mechanisms in place to ensure a continuing flow of wealth out of the DRC.

“Robbers, all of them!” blared Le Potentiel on Oct. 22. But for the pro-government L’Avenir (Oct. 23), the latest report was “politicized.” The newspaper said that in its view, the authors of the report—six international diplomats led by an Egyptian, Mahmoud Kassem—felt obliged to “tar Zimbabwe with the same brush as Rwanda and Uganda.”

On Nov. 5, after President Joseph Kabila had fired one of the key Congolese accused in the report, MIBA mining conglomerate chairman Jean-Charles Okoto, Le Phare wrote that “Okoto represents a long history of sulfurous joint ventures with Zimbabwe....He is just the tree hiding the forest. His fall means that behind him, the entire ‘elite network’ that served as a bridgehead for Zimbabwean interests is set to crumble.”

In Zimbabwe, where new laws curbing press freedom have the independent press wary but unbowed, the Zimbabwe Independent mocked the government-owned The Herald’s response. “The Herald’s chorus of denials is becoming more shrill as evidence of the regime’s wrongdoing piles up. ‘We didn’t loot DRC!’ was the best so far,” the Independent wrote.

In Uganda, The Monitor (Oct. 23) deliberated over the five top Ugandan officials named by the report as participants in the plunder. “It is embarrassing that the top security leadership of the country should be fingered by the U.N. panel as looters,” wrote the paper in a brave editorial published less than a week after the Ugandan army ended a week-long blockade of the newspaper’s offices. Its two top editors face charges of publishing news prejudicial to national security.

New Vision, a Ugandan daily that operates under a charter to be constructively critical, at first agreed with the government that the report ignored Uganda’s “legitimate security concerns” in the DRC (Oct. 24). But the paper also noted various domestic reactions to the report, including opposition calls for a no-confidence motion in President Yoweri Museveni if he fails to take action against alleged military looters.