The armies of Uganda, Zimbabwe and Rwanda have established permanent paramilitary and criminal proxies in Congo to control the country's trade in diamonds, gold and other natural resources after their soldiers withdraw under the terms of U.N.-monitored peace deals, according to a United Nations report.
The 59-page report paints a grim portrait of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where international criminal networks, backed by invading African armies, have extracted mineral wealth worth billions of dollars, looted the country's national and local treasuries, and contributed to the deaths of more than 3 million people. The report concludes that peace agreements signed in Lusaka, Zambia, Luanda, Angola and Pretoria, South Africa, designed to oversee the withdrawal of foreign troops, are unlikely to mark a major improvement.
"All three countries have anticipated the day when pressure from the international community would make it impossible to maintain large forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo," according to the report by a U.N. panel of experts. "The governments of Rwanda and Zimbabwe, as well as powerful individuals in Uganda, have adopted other strategies for maintaining the mechanisms for revenue generation, many of which involve criminal activities, once their troops have departed."
The authors of the report recommended imposing a financial and travel ban on 83 individuals and companies, including foreign businessmen, senior Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Zimbabwean military officers, as well as multinational firms from Africa, Europe and the former Soviet Union. It charged that 85 multinational firms are in violation of guidelines established by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development governing corporate conduct in conflict zones.
After backing the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko by the late Congolese leader Laurent Kabila in 1997, Uganda and Rwanda turned against their former ally in August 1998. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola intervened on behalf of Kabila, who was later killed by a palace guard, and was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. At the height of the war, more than 40,000 troops from seven countries were deployed in Congo. But under international pressure, the foreign armies have begun to withdraw.
The report says the initial motivations for the war have been replaced largely by economic interests. "These conflicts are fought over minerals, farm produce, land and even tax revenues," the report said. "The elite networks derive financial benefit through a variety of criminal activities, including theft, embezzlement, diversion of public funds, undervaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non-payment of taxes, kickback to public officials and bribery."
Each foreign power has developed unique strategies for enforcing control over its respective sphere of influence. The Rwandan military, which uses its Congo gains to finance its military operations, has placed Rwandan businessmen in charge of Congolese state companies to ensure control over the water, power and transportation facilities in eastern Congo. It also has obtained large numbers of Congolese passports and has begun to assign Rwandan soldiers to local rebel movements, to protect assets under Rwandan control.
Senior Ugandan military officers, including retired Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh, a brother of President Yoweri Museveni, have "taken steps to train local militia to serve as a paramilitary force," the report said, and added, "there will be little change in the control Ugandans now exercise over trade flows and economic resources." Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military and business elites have transferred ownership of at least $5 billion of assets from state-owned mining companies to private firms they control, and are paying no taxes.