A historical background to the Jean-Pierre Bemba Arrest (Part 3)

Vilwar (2003) argues that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is possibly the most mineral rich place on earth.  The DRC holds millions of tons of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, and uranium. It is reported that the uranium used to make the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were built using Congolese uranium. 

 The DRC, however, is known for its coltan. Coltan is a substance made up of columbium and tantalum, and it is used to make mobile phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and microcapacitors, explains Vilwar.

When the civil war in the DRC was at its peak at the end of 2000, there was an unprecedented ‘gold rush for coltan’, writes Vilwar.  The price of coltan rose tenfold over a few months. Vilwar explains that in January 2000, an international trader would have paid between US$30 and US$40 for a pound (lb) of unprocessed coltan; but by December 2000 the price had risen to US$380/lb. Vilwar points out that this price increase was driven by a sudden, steep rise in the demand for tantalum powder, as a result of a high demand for rechargeable batteries, a new generation of mobile phones and the consumer rush following the launch of the Sony Playstation 2.

It is reported that Rwandan soldiers and their allies were making about US$20 million a month solely from the trade in coltan.  According to Global Witness, the prices of the Congolese coltan were fixed in Rwanda and Uganda. It was then flown to industrialised countries through Belgium and Dubai. The former Belgium national airline, Sabena, was used to transport the coltan to its destination. Martinair, an airline based in Amsterdam, eventually replaced Sabena.

The DRC is also known for its diamonds.  It is reported that from the 1930s onwards the DRC provided more than half of the world’s industrial diamonds. Global Witness explains that DRC diamonds are mined on a commercial level by the state-owned mining companies MIBA and Sengamines.

Under the Mobutu regime, De Beers held an exclusive three to five year marketing contract with MIBA to purchase all of the state owned company’s official output. This continued until Mobutu was ousted and Laurent Kabila put an end to the De Beers monopoly in 1997, according to Global Witness. Not all was lost for De Beers though. The diamond company owns a 20% stake in the diamond trading company Sibeka, with the other 80% of the shares held by Belgian company, Umicore. Sibeka, in turn, owns 20% of MIBA.  The latter is one of the world largest producers of industrial diamonds, with an output of 9 million carats per year, according to Global Witness.

The DRC has gold also; and the majority of gold production comes from the northeast of the country. During Mobutu’s rule, the state-owned gold-mining company, Offices of the Gold Mines of Kilo-Moto (Okimo), was granted gold-mining concessions in the area, explains Prosansky (2007). This concession is one of the largest unexplored gold reserves

in Africa, adds Prosansky.  It was for this reason that Ashanti Goldfields purchased a stake in a mining lease agreement with Okimo in 1998. Ashanti Goldfields merged with AngloGold, and now operates in the DRC through a subsidiary called AngloGold Ashanti Kilo (AGK). AGK is a joint venture between AngloGold Ashanti and Okimo, and owns a 13.8% non-contributory share, points out Prosansky.

Because of the civil war, AngloGold Ashanti began its gold-mining exploration in the Northeastern Ituri District of the DRC in 2003. However, although the war was supposed to be officially over, there was still fighting going on in certain parts of the country, especially in the Ituri area. So, when AngloGold Ashanti began working in the region, the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) were vying for power in the area, writes Prosansky.  

Naturally, the paths of these two profit-driven organizations crossed. According to Human Rights Watch, AGK had to set up a relationship with the FNI, since the FNI maintained de facto control over mines in Ituri. Prosansky points out that in 2003, AGK representatives met with FNI leader Floribert Njabu, who indicated his support for AGK to commence work in the area.

AngloGold Ashanti claims that it did not establish a relationship with the FNI, and that any encounters with the FNI were unavoidable and inevitable. According to Prosansky, Steve Lenahan of AngloGold Ashanti admits that the company ‘had contacts with the FNI,’ though in the same way the company had contacts with the Congolese government.

From these ‘contacts’ with the FNI, the company paid $1100 in freight landing taxes to the FNI, from February to October 2004. Furthermore, AngloGold Ashanti provided the FNI with ground transportation. And in January 2005, the company paid the FNI $8 000 to support the FNI’s trip to Kinshasa, writes Prosansky.

From early 2003 till 2007, the FNI killed civilians and used forced labour in its attempt to control the gold mining trade in Ituri. AngloGold Ashanti operated alongside the FNI, and from time to time paid the FNI money, the FNI often used the company’s four-by- four vehicle to travel around the area, and the FNI leader, Floribert Njabu, lived in a house on the company’s concession that was guarded by FNI combatants, some of them child soldiers, writes Prosansky.

It was not a surprise then when AngloGold Ashanti posted $2.629 billion of gold income in 2005, while the DRC’s 2005 GDP was seven billion dollars. It is through ‘interactions’ with oppressive organisations like the FNI that AngloGold Ashanti built its reputation as one of the foremost gold producers in Africa. 


The all-inclusive power sharing agreement between the rebel forces and the government outlawed the killing of civilians and set in motion a process towards peace in the country, but it certainly did not stop the looting and exploitation of the natural resources.

Most rebel groups have been defeated and have been disarmed, Bemba is in jail, and the government is controlled by the World Bank, which now facilitates the looting and the exploitation of the resources.  According to Global Witness, the World Bank reopened its office in Kinshasa in December 2001, following its suspension of financial assistance to the DRC in 1993.

The World Bank has given the DRC government a grant of US$164 million and a loan of US$50 million, reports Global Witness. The World Bank money comes with ‘technical advice’ on the design of the new DRC mining codes, forestry and investment codes; as well as debt management, expenditure review, public enterprise reform and the ‘fight against corruption’.

Moreover, in 2002, the Bank approved a US$450 million Economic Recovery Credit for the DRC to support ‘economics reforms’ in that country. In addition, in the same year, the Bank approved a US$454 million Emergency Multi-Sector Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Project (EMRRP). Global Witness explains that the EMRRP is part of a broader US$1.74 billion priority program, designed with Bank assistance and is ‘supported by a broad range of donors.’

In 2003, year after receiving money from the World Bank, the DRC government drafted a new Mining Code in conjunction with the World Bank, writes Prosansky (2007). He explains that the Code aims to facilitate privatization and does not provide an effective avenue for redress. Why should the World Bank care about redress and social justice when its projects in the DRC are the continuation of war by other means?

As Global Witness points out, despite reports by the UN Experts panel and human rights organisations, there has not been any firm international action to address the issue of resources exploitation in the DRC. The World Bank is currently managing the exploitation of the natural resources in this post-civil war period. That is until another rebel leader decides to rise up against the present government and the World Bank and send the Congo back to another civil war.

Now that Jean-Pierre Bemba has been arrested and therefore safely out of the picture, we can be sure that he is not likely to be the rebel leader who sends the country back into civil war. I am more than convinced that this is one of the reasons he was arrested in May this year. 

The International Court might have taken care of Bemba, but it certainly has not begun to deal with the environment that creates the Bembas of this world.


Amnesty International Report (2003). Democratic Republic of Congo: ‘Our brothers who help kill us’- Economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east. Amnesty International Website. Retrieved on 21 June, 2008, from: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR62/010/2003/en/dom-AFR620102003en.pdf

Ganesan, A. & Vines, A. (2004). Engine of war: Resources, greed, and the predatory state. Human Rights Watch website. Retrieved on 21 June, 2008, from: http://www.hrw.org/wr2k4/14.htm

Global Witness Report. (2004). Same old story: A background study on the natural resources in Democratic Republic of Congo. Global Policy Website. Retrieved on 21 June, 2008, from: http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/congo/2004/07congonatres.pdf

Papaioannou, A. (2006). The illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A case study on corporate complicity in human rights abuses.  In O. De Schutter (Ed.), Transnational Corporations and human rights, (pp. 263 – 286). Portland: Hart Publishing.

Prosansky, B. (2007). Mining gold in a conflict zone: The context, ramifications, and lessons of AngloAshanti’s activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, 5, 236 – 274.

Vilwar, E. (2003). The lost world war. Corporate Watch Newsletter (13). Retrieved on 21 June, 2008, from: http://archive.corporatewatch.org.uk/newsletter/issue13/newsletter13.pdf

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