Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Great Game in central Africa

Uganda's strongman Yoweri Museveni, until recently a darling of the west, has blamed 'meddling' by donor countries for his failure to end 19 years of conflict in the country's north. This was after Britain cancelled $9.52 million in aid to his government in the first sign of concern among donors over delays in Uganda's return to multi-party politics. Museveni also criticized western exploitation of Africa's natural resources.

So foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of Uganda's problems?

While foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) too, I suspect Museveni's complaints would receive little sympathy for his Congolese neighbors.

Former guerilla leader Museveni and his Ugandan military have been a main culprit in the 'meddling' and exploitation in the DRC. In the late 90s, Uganda and Rwanda invaded the eastern DRC under the pretext of security. However, it quickly became clear the purpose was to suck dry the eastern DRC's gold and other mineral wealth. When then-allies Uganda and Rwanda wanted the same mineral-rich areas in the eastern DRC, they turned on each other, with the poor Congolese caught in the exploiters' crossfire.

The group Human Rights Watch issued a report stating: It is absolutely no coincidence that some of the bitterest fighting in the DR Congo conflict and some of the most abominable treatment of civilians has taken place near Bunia in Ituri District, the site of one of Africa's richest goldfields, notes the BBC.

Ugandan and Rwandan troops and a whole range of armed factions and militias fought over the area. One local resident told Human Rights Watch: "Every time there was a change of armed group, the first thing they did was start digging for gold."

The report also detailed rape, summary executions, ethnic killings and forced labor that occured in the mines.

The sheer scale of Ugandan exploitation is staggering. The report points out the profits made by Uganda, which exported nearly $60m worth of gold in 2002. Yet Uganda only produced $25,000 worth of gold itself that year, and recorded no legal imports.

Astonishing when you consider that the $60m figure is almost 10 times as much as Uganda was exporting in 1998... before its invasion of the DRC for 'security' reasons.

The Ugandan government has always denied any looting in the DRC. But for obvious reasons, no one believes them.

The good news?

A Swiss-based gold refining company, Matalor Technologies, says it has now suspended gold imports from Uganda following United Nations and Human Rights Watch investigations into the gold trade in DR Congo.

Now let's hope other refining companies follow suit.

Unfortunately, many western countries have a fixation on the sole fact of conducting supposedly free and fair elections while overlooking how those elected governments conduct themselves once installed. It's telling that British aid to Uganda was suspended not because of its looting of the DRC, but because Museveni was dragging his feet in authorizing political parties. In other words, it's okay to pillage a neighbor so long as you have the facade of democracy.

Further sanctions should be applied to Museveni and his government so long as it's perpetuating continental instability by its own 'meddling' and exploitation in foreign lands.

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