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Which Way Africa?

By Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo


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The untapped mineral wealth of DRCongo is equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the USA combined. It is estimated at US$24 trillion, which would make DRCongo the richest nation in the world. In comparison, Saudi Arabia, for example, has oil reserves valued at a “mere” US$18 trillion and Saudi Arabians don’t even need to pay taxes.

According to an NA report, DRCongo’s mineral wealth, especially Colombo-tantalite, commonly known as coltan, is easily smuggled and thus fuel the conflicts devastating the country and its population. Moreover, the UN troops meant to protect the people are scheduled to pull out starting from June 2010. These troops, baptised MONUC, are the largest deployed UN contingent anywhere on the planet. In 2000 they numbered some 5,300; today the figure stands at more than 20,000 and are still there to manage “The illegal exploitation of natural resources [which] continues to fuel internal conflict.”

Coltan is a mineral able to become heat-resistant when reduced to powder, holding extremely high levels of electric charge. This makes coltan the best heat resistor to utilise in power-storing capacities of countless thousands of electronic devices such as spacecraft, computers, tantalum capacitors, laptops, mobile phones. The use of the mineral has helped to turn many electronic devices and wireless technology into practical tiny miniatures with mega capabilities. But the mineral, including others such as gold, diamond, cassiterite and wolframite, is one of the multi-billion dollar illegal trades that is crippling eastern DRCongo and funding the ongoing conflict that has caused the death of 5 million people since 1996.

“MONUC is unpopular,” reports NA, “particularly since it is perceived as being incapable of protecting civilians in this vast, populous and war-torn country, which is as large as Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, Armenia, Spain, Albania and Italy put together!”

Now, imagine scattering some 20,000 UN troops all over the above European countries to protect their warring rebel forces, government armies and civilians –  from the Balkan to Ireland, the Baltic Sea to Sicily! Moreover – aside from the inadequate number – these UN troops come from poor countries and therefore lack adequate training. The rich nations prefer to pay instead of sending their own citizens – it’s cheaper because a soldier from say Uganda or Pakistan considers a salary of US$500-600 a month an absolute fortune.

But it is not only the rich nations and their multinational firms who have their fingers in the till. Think of the rebel forces of the Hutu, Tutsi, Ugandan plus their own governments’ official armies, and the Congolese themselves. Journalist Bjorn Willum of Denmark reported that Rwanda produced 83 tons of coltan from its own mines in 2000 yet miraculously managed to export 603 tons. Willum further reveals that the Rwandan Army, during the period it was conjointly being funded and trained from the US Army, made a staggering US$250 million over 18 months from stolen Congolese minerals. Not hard to guess how Rwanda could export more than 7 times its own production of coltan.

The advent of new products in the world market also drastically affect the price of coltran, making it ever more a bone to fight over. The Sony PlayStation 2, for example, which hit the market in 2000, skyrocketed the price of coltran from US$49 to US$275 per pound – a price increase of over 560%! DRCongo gets less than a fraction of the money because, according to the UN, the multinationals are “the engine of the conflict in the DRC.” A ban on travel plus asset freeze was slapped by the UN Security Council on companies that supported armed groups dealing with illegal minerals from eastern Congo. In May 2009, the US Senate passed a bill requiring US multinationals to declare the provenances of their ores.

But with the militia on the rampage and greedy multinationals on the prowl, there will be no fundamental change, if any at all. Especially when the Congolese government itself requested the UN to withdraw all its MONUC troops by June 2011, which will be before the presidential election.

The second presidential election in the DRCongo in 40 years. Once again some stooge will be propped up on the presidential mantle with a bank account in Washington, Zurich, Paris or London – or all of them. You can join me and bet your money on it. Unless Africans finally unite and take care of their own household themselves.

If Africans stop butchering each other for dirt, plundering the continent’s wealth and then stashing the wealth in economies outside the continent, rejecting to buy local home-made clothes for some cheap synthetics from “abroad” (read “inferiority complex”) Taiwan or China, we’d long be manufacturing our own Sunny PlayStation, pumping resources into the R&D of African tropical diseases in super labs in the continent and lending development money to the rest of the world.