Sarkozy: why doesn’t Congo just share?

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who briefly visited DRC this week, suggested in January that DR Congo share its mineral wealth with Rwanda as a way to end violence around the main eastern city of Goma, as reported by the BBC on Thursday’s news post.

I wonder what he means, exactly, by sharing.

A multitude of reports by human rights organizations, the UN, and scholarly books about Congo such as those by Georges Nzongola and Thomas Turner, all point to Rwanda’s illegal involvement in the control of eastern DRC’s mineral wealth. For example, Nzongola showed that Rwanda’s exports of minerals it does not have in sufficient quantity increased considerably during the conflict in the 1990s. The UN Panel of Experts Report of 2002 stated: “On the basis of of its analysis of considerable documentation and oral testimony, the Panel holds the view that the rationale for Rwanda’s presence is to increase the numbers of Rwandans in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and to encourage those settled there to act in unison to support is exercise of economic control.” [text bolded by me]

The report presents an excerpt of an interview by a UN officer in 2002 with an Interahamwe soldier living in the area of Bukavu.

We haven’t fought much with the RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] in the last two years. We think they are tired of this war, like we are. In any case, they aren’t here in the Congo to chase us, like they pretend. I have seen the gold and coltan mining they do here, we see how they rob the population. These are the reasons for their being here. The RPA come and shoot in the air and raid the villagers’ houses but they don’t attack us anymore.

Sarkozy would do well to learn some history and context about the DRC before making preposterous suggestions. A commentary by Carney and Crawford on Friends of the Congo, for example, offer more constructive solutions:

1. Pressure Rwanda to stop supporting its rebel proxies in the Congo
2. Encourage Rwanda to create democratic space for the Hutu to return

France is already wearing a thin veil over its self-interest ever since its backhanded involvement in the Rwandan genocide, which I will explore in later posts. The BBC article reports that the Congolese media–not surprisingly–was in an uproar over Sarkozy’s comments, and accused Paris of trying to use DR Congo’s mineral wealth to help mend its ties with Rwanda.

Perhaps Sarkozy’s notion of sharing is along the lines of the “cooperation” enjoyed by French firms such as nuclear giant Areva, who just signed a deal to exploit uranium in the DRC. Executives of other companies who are “chasing contracts in various sectors”, such as France Telecom, cement maker Lafarge, and construction group Vinci, accompanied Sarkozy in his two-day African tour. No doubt, there will be enough to go around.

-CN

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