Thursday, December 3, 2009

Banro Teams With Kinshasa To Rob Congo

They won't begin opening the presents until Christmas 2011, but the shareholders of Canadian mining concern Banro received a whopping gift from the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo this year. It was final agreement allowing the company to develop gold mines worth some $13 billion in return for a token royalty of one percent of revenues. The agreement has to go down as one of the worst ever for the DRC, where the bankrupt government of a nation the size of Western Europe can't provide even basic services to its 65 million citizens.

Banro has been granted a 25 year license (with rights to renew for another 25 years) to develop four gold mining concessions on 2600 square kilometers of land along the Twangiza-Namoya gold belt in the South Kivu and Maniema provinces of the DRC. They also have the right to explore on another 3,100 sq km. The company crows that the four properties hold over 11 million ounces of gold, worth over $13 billion at current prices.

The most advanced of the four is Twangiza, a 1,164 sq km concession which Banro has owned under one agreement or another since 1996. The company expects to begin shipping gold from there in the fourth quarter of 2011. The other three concessions, Kanituga, Lagushwa,and Namoya, have been essentially inactive for over a decade.

The agreement with Joseph Kabila's government would be laughable if it weren't such a crime. The company is to pay a one percent royalty on revenues, which, if amortized over the 25 year term at current spot gold prices, will amount to a much-less-than-whopping $5 million per year. That's also assuming the company reports all revenue--a big assumption given the recent estimate by the DRC Senate that 80% of mineral exports from the eastern provinces of the country are never reported.

An additional four percent of net profits (after the company recoups its total investment) are to be funneled through Kinshasa for local development projects. The key term in the latter clause, of course, is "net profits" which will probably amount to zero if the company's accountants are even minimally competent.

What about taxes? Banro will pay none for a good long time. The agreement gives the company a ten-year tax holiday.

The final kicker is that the parastatal mining company Gecamines has no stake in the operation. Banro owns 100% of the equity in the concessions, so if the company decides to flip the deal to another operator, the DRC gets nothing.

So what does the DRC get in return? The company estimates that it has created approximately 1,300 jobs in the DRC in the last three years. It has also funded several schools, hospitals, water projects, and other humanitarian efforts. It is unclear how much of that is funded by royalties or other payments that are required under previous agreements.

I find it astounding that Kinshasa essentially gave away this lucrative mining concession. Many of the other deals I've examined have not been good ones--Freeport's Tenke project and the recent China copper-for-infrastructure deal come to mind--but the Banro concession is far beyond the pale. The company made a great deal for its shareholders at the expense of the people of the Congo. There are two parties to the contract, however, and the other one is the government of the DRC that agreed to it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sad Flip Side To China-Congo Deal

I've taken a very cautious attitude toward the $6 billion deal between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo. My hesitation to endorse it has been based on the economics of the deal, which calls for Chinese companies to build infrastructure in the DRC in return for large copper concessions. This isn't a gift--the DRC is paying for those projects by not collecting royalties for the copper the Chinese will be mining. The projects will also be completed by Chinese companies, so the profits from the road building, etc., will go not to Congolese companies for further circulation through the DRC economy, either. Those objections aside, however, there is a positive flip side to the structure of the deal.

It actually lies in the way the DRC is paying for the infrastructure projects. Under a normal mining concession, the company, Chinese or otherwise, would pay royalties and fees into the national treasury based on the amount of material the mines produce. They would also pay taxes (albeit usually very small amounts) based on their profits. This cash is a significant source of revenue for the government. It is also a significant temptation.

There is no guarantee that the funds would be used by the DRC government to build roads, hospitals, or schools. There are no assurances that the funds used for military payrolls don't end up in the off-shore bank accounts of corrupt officers. It is almost as likely that the money will go for buying votes in the next election or vacations on the French Riviera for bureaucrats as for training nurses or maintaining roads so farmers can get their goods to market.

In other words, by keeping the Congolese people's share of the mining revenues out of the hands of the government, the deal accomplishes the quite worthwhile goal of rebuilding some of the infrastructure that was destroyed in the war and subsequent on-going conflict. That approach doesn't say much for the ability of the Congolese to govern themselves, but it puts trains back on the tracks.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nitty-Gritty Of Congo - China Reconstruction Deal

One of the more interesting chapters in Paul Collier's thought-provoking work, Wars, Guns, and Votes, discusses the economic effects of armed conflict and the nitty-gritty of post-conflict reconstruction. He talks not about the horrors of rape and the disruption of societal services, but the more mundane but no less disastrous destruction of infrastructure and, perhaps even more importantly, the collapse of industries like construction, which he explains is one of the hardest hit.

Collier points out that while aid agencies rush about setting up conferences on reconciliation and lining up financing for big construction projects in the post-conflict period, they overlook the fact that the civil conflict has most likely decimated the skilled labor force. In a normal economy, the construction industry is a key provider of jobs for unskilled youths who learn from the older workers who have been on the job for a while. When armed conflict disrupts that educational process, the capabilities of the labor force atrophies, creating an impediment to development.

The shortage of skilled labor creates a bottleneck that pushes up construction prices, further undermining government and donor efforts to rebuild the country. Many countries turn to outside contractors like the Chinese to rebuild their infrastructure. As Collier says:

"...the Chinese face no bottlenecks because they routinely bring in absolutely everything, including the entire workforce. But resorting to the Chinese throws out the main short-term benefit from the recovery of the construction sector, which is to generate jobs for young men"
Without those jobs, the young men don't learn the skills necessary to build their country over the long term. The lack of jobs also makes them more inclined to look for employment with rebel groups and armed gangs preying on the civilian population, thus further undermining the possibilities of peace during reconstruction. Collier continues:
"Post-conflict situations need squads of bricklayers, plumbers, welders, and so forth, who set about training young men. Unfortunately, it is too mundane for the development agencies to organize it. We need Bricklayers Without Borders."
Such drawbacks aren't necessarily inherent in development-for-minerals deals with the Chinese like the $6 billion deal the Democratic Republic of Congo is in the process of negotiating. If the deal follows the patterns of other Chinese projects in Africa, however, it is a likely side effect.

That is not to say that there are no advantages to the controversial DRC-China pact. I'll discuss one of the biggest tomorrow.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Provocative Reading On African Democracy

I just finished one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. It's Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places

Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford and Director for the Center for the Study of African Economies, contends that our obsession with democracy as the be-all and end-all of governance for every nation in the world is a big mistake. He points out that voting is good but far from a panacea for developing countries who lack the social structure, legal systems, stability, and economic prospects to make the results of their elections work. Collier's contentions aren't based on guesswork, either, but rather on statistical studies that examine not our beliefs about developing countries but the reality of them.

I was particularly intrigued by his comments about the Democratic Republic of Congo, which provides numerous examples of the situations he explores. Here's one passage that neatly sums up the current status of the legitimate Congolese mining industry:

"Is democracy the key to peace in these societies?....The recent record is not entirely encouraging....

"Take the transitional government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing that they had only three years in power before facing elections and the possible loss of office, ministers set about plundering the public purse. But the public purse was pretty small because tax revenue had withered away: as you will see, low taxation is part of the strategy of misgovernance. But plunder can extend beyond tax revenue. One strategy would be to borrow: saddle future citizens with liabilities and run off with the proceeds. Unfortunately for the new leaders of the DRC, this strategy was not feasible: President Mobutu had already used it to the hilt so that the country was beyond its neck in debt. No bank was going to lend.

"But there was an alternative. The Congo is mineral-rich. Much of these resources are unexploited because under President Mobutu it would have been folly for a company to incur investment necessary to sink a mine. The president was stuck in what economists call the time-consistency problem: because he could not bind himself from confiscating investments, no sane company would make them. But by the time of the transitional government the global boom in commodity prices had changed the calculus of risk: it was worth paying a little something for the exploitation rights that the transitional government could legally confer. And so the ministers of the transitional government of the DRC mortgaged the future of its citizens as surely as if they had issued debt, by selling off national assets at bargain prices. A few months ago I had lunch with one of the shrewd purchasers of these rights: a good lunch it was too. He became a little upset when I told him that the rights ought to be renegotiated."

While I found most of Collier's observations highly believable, I can't say the same for his proposed solutions, which I found mostly impractical or even totally impossible except in theory. Still, the solutions he proposes are like the rest of the work--very tasty food for thought.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Report From The Scene In Eastern Congo

My associate Joseph Mbangu recently returned from a fascinating, productive trip to his native Congo. His observations are not only cogent but make good reading as well. Check them out at his new blog, The Congo Solution.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

CBS Overlooks How Congolese Criminals Fund FDLR

The 60 Minutes report on how illicit gold mines support the FDLR was worthwhile and timely, but it barely grazed the surface of the issue. For another, more in-depth view of the way mineral exploitation is destroying the Congo, read the recent special report to the UN Security Council on MONUC's support of anti-FDLR military operations in North and South Kivu. The report bears close analysis on many issues. Most of the media coverage of the report excoriates (justly) that operation for its abject failure to defeat the FDLR (widely identified as remnants of the Rwandan Hutu genocidaires) while destroying the civilian communities it is supposed to protect.

What I found fascinating and even more damning, however, were the reported details of the convoluted relationships between the many groups profiting from the conflict. It should be noted that, while elements in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and other nearby countries are reaping the rewards of the continuing conflict, none of those profits would be possible without the substantial participation of Congolese elements in the illicit sale of minerals, arms, and even agricultural products.

I hope to comment on the report in several posts (and will post a link to the full report when I find one online), but let me begin with one section that demonstrates how pervasive the criminality really is. The authors of the report and MONUC both report that FDLR and various Mai Mai units have formed an alliance to exploit significant gold reserves in Lubero and Walikale territories. The operation is led by General Kakule Sikula Lafontaine, military commander of the Mai Mai alliance known as PARECO. The report says:

" sources as well as a former Mai Mai leader interviewed by the Group reported that Gen. Lafontaine, who has several kinship ties to the Nande traders in Butembo, acts as an intermediary between the FDLR and many traders in Butembo, organizing the delivery of general goods to the FDLR in exchange for brokering gold deals."
The traders in question are Congolese also:
"The gold from Kasugho and Oninga is principally sold to Kahindo Muhiwa, Katina Kambale Mbayahi and Kambale Vikalwe, three Nande gold traders based in Butembo who the Group cited in its December 2008 report"
Their company is known as Glory Minerals, which was formed in 2008 and received approval from the Centre d’Expertise d’Evaluation et de Certification (CEEC) in Kinshasa to operate as an official gold exporting company. The investigators confirmed, however, that
"...Glory Minerals continues to source gold from FDLR-controlled areas."
The three Congolese businessmen are reported to travel regularly to Kampala and Dubai to sell the gold they've purchased from the FDLR. They deal largely with Indian businessmen based in Kampala who in turn sell the gold to the United Arab Emirates. The gold itself is smuggled to Kampala by road or by commercial flight to Entebbe and finally to Dubai.

This is but one example of the sad state of affairs outlined in the report, dated November 9, 2009, and known officially as the Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It reveals many unfortunate facts, not the least of which is that crime knows no nationality. Until the government of the DRC enforces its own laws and moves against the indigenous criminals on its own soil, all the blockades, embargoes, and conflict mineral resolutions in the world aren't going to end the rape of the nation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 23, 2009

Video Report On Congo Conflict Minerals

As Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced his bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to help stop the use of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo in cell phones and other electronic devices, my colleague Rima Abdelkader filed this incisive report.

During McDermott's press conference introducing the bill, the Congressman explained why the continuing conflict in Congo is important to him and to all Americans.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More On The AFRICOM Debate

One of my posts regarding AFRICOM has prompted a healthy and civil discussion of the issues from readers. Let me add a thought or two:

While there have been many misguided ventures financed by the IMF and others (including the U.S.) in Africa, not all have failed. Nor have all the failures been due to the source. The U.S. is not an evil country as it is so often portrayed. Much good is done by the people, corporations, and yes, the government of the U.S. for the people of Africa and elsewhere in the world. Are U.S. aid programs perfect? Of course not. Are U.S. investments without strings? Of course not. Nor are those by China, Germany, France, or Britain. The question I would pose is, if these powers don't invest in Africa, who will? Development of third world economies, improvement of living conditions, and peace in the societies won't happen without investment and assistance.

What prompted the discussion, of course, is the growing influence of AFRICOM. Please keep in mind that AFRICOM is no more than the re-organization of existing U.S. military operations on the continent. I have very mixed feelings about the use of U.S. military assets for humanitarian purposes as I wrote when AFRICOM was announced, but would like to suggest that we look beyond the rhetoric to see what's actually happening on the ground, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

AFRICOM has offered training assistance in two key areas that would be a great help to Congo. One is in the justice system, where U.S. legal experts have provided training in the investigation and prosecution of rape and other crimes by Congolese military personnel. The other is in training programs for FARDC units designed to discourage crimes against the civilians the army is supposed to be protecting. It should be noted that both programs were conducted upon the express invitation of the Congolese government.

I don't advocate military solutions for social problems, but the transfer of knowledge is far from an invasion of sovereignty. In these instances, the U.S. provided expertise lacking in the Congo. How is that wrong?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, September 14, 2009

Run For Congo Women On The Heart Of Diamonds Team

If you want to do something positive for the people of the Congo, join the Heart of Diamonds team at the NY Run for Congo Women on Saturday, September 26. It will be held on Roosevelt Island in New York at 8:30 AM at Firefighter's Field. Registration is only $25 and funds raised go to support the work of Women for Women International in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This four-star charity helps women provide for their families by teaching them skills they need to end the cycle of poverty and suffering. It advances funds to help them start businesses and teaches them to protect themselves against the terror around them. Even if you can't participate that day, donations of any size are very welcome and--what's more--your contribution will be matched by a wonderful supporter of Women for Women International who has pledged an additional $100,000 for that purpose!

Today in the DRC, people are struggling to maintain peace and rebuild their lives after one of the deadliest wars in all of history. As many as 6,000,000 people have died as a direct result of the ongoing conflict. Perhaps even worse than the loss of life is the staggering number of women and children who have been tortured, mutilated, and sexually violated by forces vying for control of the Congo's mineral wealth. As you may have learned from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip to the DRC, rape as a weapon of terror in Congo has reached epic proportions. The women of the DRC desperately need our help right now.

Won't you please join us? Invite your friends, too. Even if you can't participate that day, your contribution will do a world of good for women in the Congo. When you sign up for the run, don't forget to join the Heart of Diamonds team. And when you're there, pick up some raffle tickets for a chance to win some great prizes including autographed copies of Heart of Diamonds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Women For Women International Weighs In On Clinton Visit

Among the important commentators about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo was Zainib Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International. Her appearance on Jim Lehrer's PBS NewsHour added welcome depth to the coverage of Clinton's visit.

I'll be sponsoring a team in the New York Women for Women International Run for Congo Women on September 26. Last year, my wife and I were happy to raise a significant amount for the group's efforts to help Congolese women rebuild their lives. I hope you'll join us in supporting the cause this year. Even if you can't run, a small donation can make a big difference in the life of a women in the Congo.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clinton Advocates The Right Things In Congo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo--particularly her stop in Goma--was a tremendous step toward bringing an end to the violence that keeps that nation on its knees. Not only did her presence draw renewed attention to the epidemic of sexual violence that has victimized hundreds of thousands of Congolese women, children, and even men, but the very specific steps she advocated are exactly the ones I believe need to be taken to bring peace to the DRC. What's more, she pledged specific actions (and money) from the U.S. to move the process along.

During her tour of Magunga Camp, where 18,000 displaced people live in crowded temporary housing after being uprooted by the fighting that continues in the eastern provinces, Clinton pledged $17 million in American aid to help fight the gang rape and sexual mutilation that have destroyed so many lives in the region. At least $10 million will go toward training and equipping doctors to treat the victims of attacks. Some funds will also be used for prevention.

"We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many — that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment," she said during a press conference.
Clinton said that the U.S. supports military efforts to pacify insurgents who continue to victimize the population in order to control valuable mineral resources in the region. While acknowledging that civilians suffer from military action, Clinton was very clear in her advocacy of firm action against the perpetrators. Not unsurprisingly, she stopped short of offering U.S. troops to support the effort. She did, however, urge the United Nations to intensify its efforts to defeat the FDLR and other militias.

The Secretary of State pulled no punches when it came to the Congolese army, either. She bluntly said that Congolese soldiers and commanders need to be held accountable for their abuses of civilians as well. Congolese forces have repeatedly been reported to have raped and brutalized villagers in an effort to extort money and supplies from them. Clinton laid much of the blame for that at the feet of the government:
"We believe that a disciplined, paid army is a more effective fighting force. We believe that more can be done to protect civilians while you are trying to kill and capture insurgents."
Clinton also said the U.S. will send a team of legal, financial, and other experts to come up with specific recommendations for overcoming Congo's problems with corruption. She said Congolese President Joseph Kabila accepted that offer during their meeting in Goma.

I found it particularly refreshing that Clinton's remarks went far beyond the usual hand wringing and finger pointing that characterize so much of the rhetoric surrounding the situation in the DRC. She identified the problem (conflict-driven sexual violence), pinpointed its cause (the fight over control of the Congo's mineral wealth), and offered specific, deliverable actions that will help solve it. Are the simple steps she advocated a silver bullet? No, but that's exactly why they stand a chance to make a difference.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hope Among The Ruins Of Eastern Congo

While the conflict in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo flares anew, two recent significant events lead me to express some guarded optimism that an end to the humanitarian crisis is achievable.

The first was a meeting held last week between Congo's Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame, the first time elected leaders of the two countries had met face-to-face in thirteen years. The two-hour meeting took place in Goma, heart of the conflict-ridden eastern provinces, and came just a month after the two countries resumed full diplomatic relations including the exchange of ambassadors.

As I have written in the past, I believe the only route to lasting peace in the Congo is through recognition by both nations that their mutual economic interests are best served by cooperation rather than bloody battle for control of the region's assets. Initial steps in that direction were announced at this meeting, with an agreement to jointly develop natural gas reserves in Lake Kivu, which lies between the two countries, and to revive joint economic and trade commissions that have lain dormant for years. There was also a renewed pledge to close down militias operating in the region.

The second bit of encouragement came during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Kinshasa, where she spoke out clearly and forcefully against not only sexual violence against women but identified the armed conflict for control of the Congo's mineral wealth as the root cause of the epidemic of rape and sexual mutilation that has sickened the world. She urged Kabila's government and the United Nations to take the steps necessary to bring an end to the conflict. While she stopped well short of offering U.S. military assistance, I wonder if her remarks presage such a move.

Clinton visits Goma tomorrow, where she is scheduled to meet with victims of rape and speak about the horrors of sexual violence that has claimed hundreds of thousands of women.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congo Rape: An Anniversary Prescription

As the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrates forty-nine years of independence today, it is time to make some hard choices to stop the epidemic of rape that has infected the nation like an insidious disease. Hundreds of thousands of women of all ages have been attacked and mutilated, publicly abused and often forced into sex slavery. They aren't the only sufferers; their children are scarred by the crime, their husbands humiliated, their villages destroyed.

Some view rape as a symptom of a larger illness that afflicts the Congo, but I believe it is a disease in and of itself—one that threatens to kill the nation. Like many chronic afflictions, it will only be cured when the root causes of the illness are vigorously treated. To eliminate rape in the Congo, three difficult remedies are required.

The first course of treatment is to end the armed struggle for control of mines and other assets in the Eastern provinces of the DRC. Gang rape is used as a weapon to terrorize the populace around the mines that produce gold, tantalum, and tin and it will continue to be employed until someone conclusively defeats the various armed groups that profit from those mines. These include the FDLR (remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe that fled to the Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide), local Mayi-Mayi militia, and even rogue elements of the Congolese army itself.

Just as important is disenfranchising the businessmen and politicians both inside and outside the Congo who profit from the chaos. Non-combatant leaders of these groups, whether they be in Kinshasa, Kigali, Munich, Brussels, or Paris, must be charged with war crimes and turned over to the ICC for prosecution. Their ill-gotten gains should be confiscated and returned to the DRC.

Unfortunately, this treatment will require intervention by a well-equipped, professional armed force ready to complete the job. The Congolese army, the FARDC, is a poorly-led collection of untrained men, many of whom were “integrated” into the national army after fighting against it as members of various rebel militias. Congolese troops, upset over lack of pay, recently fired on UN forces with whom they are supposedly allied.

U.N. forces themselves are fettered by a confusing mandate and troops spread too thinly over a huge area. They recently stepped up the campaign against the FDLR, but haven't shown much success. Retaliation from that action and a joint Congolese-Rwandan campaign earlier this year has actually increased the number of attacks against women in the region.

A competent force from the African Union, European Union, or even the United States, one that doesn't report to those with economic interests in the region, will be necessary to complete this crucial first course of treatment.

The second stage is to prepare the patient to care for himself. The FARDC must be turned into a professional army. Soldiers need to be paid so they have less incentive to extort the civilian population. They must be taught that rape is wrong and perpetrators will be punished. The command structure must be cleaned out and corrupt officers replaced by competent leaders. Recent statements by Africom Commander William E. "Kip" Ward that the U.S. military will be working with the Congolese to raise the professionalism of their armed forces is a welcome start in that process.

The criminal justice system in the DRC needs to be strengthened as well. Steps have been taken in this direction, but much more has to happen before women can safely come forward to press charges against rapists without fear of retribution and with some hope that justice will actually be meted out. The 2006 national law criminalizing rape sounds good--the maximum penalty was doubled to 20 years and rape investigations are to be given priority--but that's just on paper. Until there are sufficient trained policemen and women to enforce them, rapists will continue ravaging society.

The third stage of treatment will perhaps be the hardest of all. A culture of impunity has been created during the years of the rape epidemic and it will probably take many more years of interdiction and education to eradicate it. An entire generation of young men have grown up seeing violence against women as normal. They've been taught that it is perfectly all right to demand sex from any woman at any time and to take it by force if refused. With eighty percent of all children in this generation denied an education by the war in Congo and a million refugees still homeless while the fighting continues, there is no social infrastructure to teach them otherwise.

Support services for the victims of rape have gained traction in the last couple of years and the spotlight on their suffering grows brighter and brighter with films like "The Greatest Silence: Rape In the Congo," "Lumo," and Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Ruined." Organizations like Women for Women International and Heal Africa are doing wonderful work to give these women back their lives.

But little or nothing is being done to instill a sense of shame and a core of decency to the men who commit these horrors. Until they are treated, the disease will never be cured.

The Congo that achieved freedom from Belgium in 1960 should have become the beating heart of Africa. With $25 trillion dollars in mineral wealth, more than enough potential hydroelectricity to power the continent, and vast regions of fallow land that could feed hundreds of millions of people, the DRC should be a vibrant, booming nation. It teeters instead on the brink of failed statehood; a sad shell of a nation that survives mainly due to the indomitable spirit of its people.

That spirit has survived more than a century of colonial oppression, war, and kleptocracy, but it is threatened now by the debilitating disease of rape. Unless that sickness is cured, the future of this should-be great nation is in serious doubt.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 29, 2009

U.S. Senate Takes On Congo Conflict Minerals

This report on CNN provides a good overview of the conflict mineral situation and various responses to it, including the bill (S.3058) co-sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) currently in committee.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 18, 2009

AMD Changes "Congo" In Response To Letter

The open letter I published here and on Daily Kos last week convinced computer chip giant AMD Corporation to change a product code name, according to an online report on technology site CNET News. I had complained about the company’s recent decision to name a new computer chip “Congo” because of the connection between conflict minerals used in electronic devices and the brutal war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the letter, I pointed out that nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country's mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

While use of the term "Congo" was certainly inadvertent and many, especially in the tech world, felt I was making a mountain out of a mole hill, the company recognized that the code name was ill-chosen. Here's what they told CNET News reporter Elinor Mills:

Contacted for comment this week, AMD spokesman John Taylor said the company "truly regrets" causing any offense, even unintentionally. "It was an oversight not to see that (the code name) could be viewed in an entirely different context," he said.

AMD began using the name "2nd Generation Ultrathin Platform" instead of Congo as part of a natural pre-launch naming transition, Taylor said. "The Daily Kos blog helped finalize and expedite a process that was already in motion," he added. "We're striving for that codename to be retired."
I appreciate AMD’s response to the naming issue. What’s equally important is their statement that AMD adheres to the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Code of Conduct, which is researching extractive metals supply chains for tin, tantalum, and cobalt.

Thanks to all who joined in the complaint to AMD by communicating with the company in response to the original post.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Congo" Shout Out To Hewlett Packard

The newly-announced "Congo" microchip from AMD will reportedly be used to power laptops built by Hewlett-Packard. I conveyed my outrage to HP CEO Mark Hurd in the following letter:

June 9, 2009

Mr. Mark Hurd
Chief Executive Officer
Hewlett-Packard Company
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1185

Dear Mr. Hurd:

You may not realize it, but your company has decided to use a new AMD microchip that links your products to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. I’m referring to the recently announced "Congo" chip from AMD, which I understand is slated to be introduced in an HP laptop this year.

Nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country's mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

Among the prizes that fuel this conflict are gold, tungsten, coltan, and cassiterite. Coltan, as I’m sure you know, is a source of tantalum, a mineral used in the manufacture of capacitors widely used in many electronics including ultra-thin laptops like the ones destined to be powered by AMD’s "Congo" chips. Tin, a key material in the production of many electronic components, comes from cassiterite. Both ores are mined under horrific conditions in the DRC from deposits controlled by various militias and rebel groups. The Enough Project estimates that these groups generate some $144 million from the illicit trade in these and other minerals. Those profits buy weapons that have killed millions of people and threaten to destroy the nation known as "Congo."

While the new AMD chip may not include these minerals, connecting the product to the conflict is an incredibly bad idea. Your statement of corporate responsibility reads in part:

"We fulfill our responsibility to society by being an economic, intellectual and social asset to each country and community where we do business."
On behalf of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I urge you to fulfill that promise and ask AMD to change this product name. I also call on you to commit to policing your supply chain to ensure that your company's purchases do not contribute to the abuse and deaths of innocent people.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Dave Donelson
Author of Heart of Diamonds

This entire affair may seem like a small marketing faux pas, but the term "Congo chip" is already being used as a generic term and will evidently be adopted by other manufacturers to describe the technology. According to Brook Crothers of CNET:
Other vendors will follow with low-power dual-core Congo chips later this year, according to AMD. The new silicon will be used in 24 designs across 11 different PC makers--though AMD says this list is expected to grow.
What's next in the totally tasteless world of technology marketing, "Holocaust" chips?

Yesterday, I provided a link to AMD. If you would like to email this letter (or your own thoughts) to HP CEO Mark Hurd, the company provides a convenient form for that purpose.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 8, 2009

AMD "Congo" Decision An Outrage

The recent decision by AMD to name a new computer chip "Congo" has to go down in marketing history as one of the cruelest decisions ever made. Here's the letter I sent in response:

June 8, 2009

Mr. Dirk Meyer
Chief Executive Officer
AMD Corporation
PO Box 3453
Sunnyvale, CA 94088-3453

Dear Mr. Meyer:

Your company's recent decision to name a new microchip "Congo" is astoundingly heartless and ill-informed. Did you really mean to link your product to the world's worst humanitarian crisis?

Nearly six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 and the death toll continues to mount as fighting over the country's mineral resources continues. Currently, more than a million Congolese have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that 250,000 women have been brutally raped and mutilated by armed groups seeking to control communities where mines are located.

Among the prizes that fuel this conflict are gold, tungsten, coltan, and cassiterite. Coltan, as you know, is a source of tantalum, a mineral used in the manufacture of capacitors widely used in many electronics including ultra-thin laptops like the ones destined to be powered by your "Congo" chips. Tin, a key material in the production of many electronic components, comes from cassiterite. Both ores are mined under horrific conditions in the DRC from deposits controlled by various militias and rebel groups. The Enough Project estimates that these groups generate some $144 million from the illicit trade in these and other minerals. Those profits buy weapons that have killed millions of people and threaten to destroy the nation known as "Congo."

While your new chip may not include these minerals, connecting the product to the conflict is an incredibly bad idea. Your statement of corporate responsibility reads in part:

"Our success in business is built on a core value of respect for people. From our employees around the world, to our customers and partners, to the families who live in the communities where we operate - people come first and foremost."
On behalf of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I urge you to fulfill that promise and change this product name. I also call on you to commit to policing your supply chain to ensure that your company's purchases do not contribute to the abuse and deaths of innocent people.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Dave Donelson
Author of Heart of Diamonds

If you'd like to email this message (or your own) to AMD, feel free:

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Westchester Libraries Hear Why Congo Matters

I recently spoke about Why Congo Matters at the Westchester Library System's 18th Annual Book and Author Luncheon. Here's the video of my full remarks.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inside Heart of Diamonds

WBAI-FM's Wuyi Jacobs recently produced a series of shows about the Congo for his program, AfroBeat Radio. The last installment included a long conversation with me about Heart of Diamonds and how the book reflects the true Congo. Wuyi also asked me about my travels in Africa and how Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness influenced Heart of Diamonds.

The program aired May 16, 2009, as part of WBAI's fundraiser. To hear a 26-minute excerpt (mp3), click here.

Previous programs in the series included interviews with Congolese activists Joseph Mbangu and Misengabo Kapuadi as well as several scholars and knowledgeable observers of the DRC.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Ruined" Benefit For Congo Women

If you haven't yet seen "Ruined," Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-prize-winning play about rape in the Congo, make sure to attend the June 14 matinee in New York. Proceeds from that performance will go to support women in the Congo through the work of Friends of the Congo and Congo Global Action. I saw the play early in its NY run and can't say enough about it's importance in understanding the terrible effect of terror rape on the victims and society in the DRC.

Following this special performance, filmmaker Lisa Jackson will moderate a panel of Congolese women who will speak out about the continuing violence. The participants include Amini Kajunju, Georges Malaika Foundation; Marie-Claire Faray, Common Cause UK; Marie Mossi, National Network of Women; Gorethy Nabushosi, Congo Restoration; and Maman Jean Kasongo, Fondation Shalupe. In addition to Friends of the Congo and Congo Global Action, the panel is sponsored by the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in the Arts and Media Columbia College Chicago.

This video underscores the importance of this event:

The play and panel discussion will be at the Manhattan Theater Club, New York City Center at 130 West 56th Street. Tickets are available through the box office or Friends of the Congo.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Sobering View Of Africa's Future

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary MiraclesAfrica: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
by Richard Dowden

As an author and activist, I am generally optimistic about Africa's future, but Richard Dowden tempered my hope with a sobering dose of reality based on his decades of reporting on the continent. His powerful guide to sub-Saharan Africa is a must-read for anyone who hopes to understand why Africa is the mess it is.

Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society and spent two decades as Africa editor of the Independent and the Economist. His book is filled with both studied thoughts on the forces that have shaped Africa's history and pertinent personal tales of his experiences there. His message is ultimately fairly simple: Africa's problems can only be solved by African people.

The depressing counterweight to that conclusion that I drew from Dowden's accounts is that corruption is so ingrained throughout the power structure of most nations in Africa that it is unlikely that solutions can ever be implemented.

Having set my latest novel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was particularly interested in his conclusions about that beleaguered nation:

"In December 2005 a new constitution was confirmed by a referendum and elections were held in July 2006. The assumption of outsiders was that, forced to govern together, the warlords would check each other's theft and violence. The opposite happened. They keep the country divided, cut deals with each other and filled their pockets."
Dowden makes another observation which mirrors my own experience:
"Despite the politics of theft, violence and patronage, Congo still inspires great patriotism among its long-suffering citizens. They may have little loyalty to institutions or a ruler, but Congolese believe desperately in the Congolese nation and a few are prepared to fight its looting bosses."
Africa - Altered States, Ordinary Miracles reveals Dowden's great love for the continent he has spent his life discovering. It is no dewy-eyed romance, however. He reveals all his lover's warts and blemishes, bad breath and occasional frequent bouts of ill-temper in a paean to her beautiful potential.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, May 17, 2009

China Gains, Congo Loses, In Mine Deal

The recently-announced copper/cobalt mining contract between the Democratic Republic of Congo and China--widely proclaimed as bringing $9 billion in development aid to the DRC--looks like another unfortunate deal for Congo. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, it is probably even more one-sided than American multinational Freeport McMoRan’s arrangement for Tenke Fugurume that I examined recently.

Last year, the Congolese Ministry of Mines announced that it had signed an agreement between China's Exim Bank, the Kinshasa government, Congolese state mining company Gecamines, China's Sinohydro Corp, and China Railway Engineering Corp forming a joint venture to develop the Mashamba West and Dikuluwe copper and cobalt deposits, concessions originally scheduled to be developed by Katanga Mining Ltd through a joint venture with Gecamines. The deposits are believed to hold ten million tons of copper and two million tons of cobalt.

While complete details of the contract are yet to be announced, what is known doesn’t look particularly profitable for the Congolese. On the surface, the deal sounds fine, with the Chinese agreeing to build $6 billion worth of roads and railroads and another $3 billion in mining infrastructure in return for rights to operate the mines. Gecamines is to own 32% of the venture, too, or nearly twice as large as the share it has in Tenke.

Using recent prices for copper ($4500/ton) and cobalt ($30,000/ton) and spreading production over the 25 year term of the deal, annual gross revenues of the mine will be $4.2 billion. Using the same operating cost assumptions as at Tenke, profits will be approximately $2.6 billion annually. Gecamines share could be $832 million.

The devil, though, is in the details. First, the $9 billion from the Chinese is not a gift—it’s a loan secured by the mines and to be repaid from the Congolese share of the operation’s profits. Generously assuming that the loan will be for the 25-year life of the project and carry an interest rate of only two percent (much less than I expect it will be), Gecamines will be on the hook for $540 million in annual debt service. That leaves only $292 million as the Congo’s share of the mine’s profits. By comparison, Gecamines’s deal with Freeport annually yields $100 million more.

Additionally, Gecamines has agreed to either give Katanga Mining deposits carrying nearly four million tons of copper and 200,000 tons of cobalt or pay the company $825 million as compensation for giving up the Mashamba West and Dikuluwe concessions. This additional cost, of course, further reduces the DRC’s take from the deal with China.

The IMF has objected to the deal on the basis that Congo is simply trading $11 billion in current debt (which the DRC hopes to have canceled) for $9 billion to the Chinese, and that the state guarantees of those loans are ill-advised at a time when the government can’t fund basic services, much less invest in the country’s growth. The IMF has said it might go along with the deal pending a study to make sure the mine’s reserves cover the cost of the infrastructure and if the terms are renegotiated.

The Chinese stand to gain in several ways from the deal as announced. In addition to their nearly $1.8 billion in annual profit from the mine, they’ll earn perhaps $4.5 billion in interest on the development loans—more if they carry an interest rate higher than two percent. There also looms the very large question of who will get the profits from the contracts to build the promised infrastructure. My assumption is that China's Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Engineering Corp will be awarded those contracts on a no-bid basis, which means they’ll take home another billion or so in profits on the project.

It would seem to me that a better deal for Congo would be a straight-forward mining concession with the Chinese along the lines of those typically negotiated by Zambia and South Africa, where the parastatal companies get 51% of the operation. The infrastructure could be financed from those revenues, open-bid contracts for the roads, railroads, and power facilities let to the lowest bidders (maybe even Congolese companies), and funds would still be left over for the state general revenue coffers.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rape Testimony Moves U.S. Senate

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu testified this week before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the new Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Womens Issues, moving the audience with her eloquent appeal for US help in stopping terror rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Senator Barbara Boxer said after Chouchou's testimony that "In the Senate today, the silence on this issue has ended."

The hearing was titled "Confronting Rape And Other Forms Of Violence Against Women In Conflict Zones Spotlight: DRC and Sudan". Also testifying were Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Esther Brimmer, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Phil Carter, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, Robert Warwick, Country Director of Southern Sudan International Rescue Committee, Neimat Ahmadi, Save Darfur Coalition, and John Prendergast, founder of The Enough Project.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, May 14, 2009

WBAI-FM Features Heart of Diamonds

Heart of Diamonds will be featured on AfroBeat Radio at 2:30 PM, Saturday, May 16. Listeners can hear it on WBAI FM 99.5 or streaming online.

AfroBeat Radio host Wuyi Jacobs has been examining many aspects of the Congo crisis for several weeks now, talking to activists and writers such as myself. During our interview, I'll talk about how the very real war over the Congo's mineral wealth shaped my novel Heart of Diamonds. We'll also discuss some of the DRC's unfortunate history and, on a more positive note, what I see needs to be done so the country can achieve its wonderful potential.

Listeners will also have an opportunity to get a copy of Heart of Diamonds as a premium during WBAI's fund-drive.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freeport Trucks Billions From Congo Mine

While the eyes of the world are drawn to the brutal war over an estimated $200 million in annual illegal mineral revenues in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, negotiators for American and Chinese corporations are angling to control ten times that amount in mining contracts in Katanga Province.

Two multi-billion-dollar copper and cobalt contracts are currently being negotiated by the DRC Ministry of Mines. One is for Tenke Fungurume, which is managed by American mining goliath Freeport MacMorAn. It’s one of six existing contracts the DRC wants to renegotiate. The other is with two Chinese firms, Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Engineering Corp, and deals with two under-developed mines being transferred from Katanga Mining Corp. Neither one is finalized as of this writing, but both are problematic from the standpoint of what they actually mean for the economic health of the DRC. I’ll cover the Chinese deal in a subsequent post.

Freeport began shipping copper from Tenke Fungurume this year. The company expects the mine to produce 250 million lbs. of copper and 18 million lbs. of cobalt annually during the initial phase, with more than 400,000 tons of copper per year within five to seven years. At recently posted prices for copper ($4500 per ton) and cobalt ($30,000 per ton), this will generate some $2.7 billion in annual gross revenue at full production. When prices for the commodities rise—-as they surely will from today’s depressed levels—-this operation could easily gross $5 billion per year.

That’s not all profit, of course, but the margin is very high since production costs in the DRC are extremely low. Freeport projects that the net revenue generated by cobalt—-even at prices substantially below those achieved in the current market—-will more than cover the cost of recovering and shipping copper from Tenke. In fact, at $10 per pound (two-thirds the current price level) for cobalt, a 2007 feasibility study published in the African Review of Business and Technology says Tenke operating costs are actually negative $380 per ton for copper. At current price levels, in other words, Tenke can generate a minimum annual profit of $2.2 billion once the project reaches full production.

It should be noted that not all of that will flow to Freeport’s bottom line. The company owns a 57.75% stake in Tenke it acquired in 2008 when it bought Phelps Dodge. Another 24.75% of the project is owned by Lundin Mining, which had the original concession. The remaining 17.5% is owned by Gecamines, the DRC’s state-owned mining company. Freeport and Lundin are responsible for the total $1.75 billion cost of developing the mine. Subtracting Gecamine’s share of the profits (a not-inconsiderable $400 million), however, still gives Freeport and Lundin a nifty 100% annual return on that investment.

It’s no wonder that the DRC Ministry of Mines is asking for the contract to be renegotiated. The DRC wants to increase its share of the project to 45%, the level at which the deal was struck with Lundin in 1996. It also seeks to increase the signing bonus from $100 million to $250 million. The original agreement with the DRC was amended in 2005 to the current terms. The official line is that the new terms were necessary to provide the company a return commensurate with the risk it was assuming at the time, even though the agreement ending the Second Congo War had been signed in 2003 and the country’s first national elections were scheduled for 2006. The transitional period still saw substantial unrest, however, which supposedly justified the greater return.

The Carter Center says, though, that there were other factors at work:

“There are several reports that the political officer and temporary ChargĂ© d’Affairs of the embassy was personally engaged in urging the President’s office to sign....The same official that is said to have actively lobbied for Phelps Dodge retired from the State Department in 2006. In September of that same year, she became Vice-President for Government Relations, Africa for Phelps Dodge, whose only major African interest is Tenke Fungurume. This official’s important role at the US embassy and the timing of the move have fueled suspicion on the part of DRC government officials and others regarding the interests of Western governments. At the very least it indicates obliviousness to the appearance of impropriety.”
As I mentioned earlier, Freeport acquired its stake in the project when it absorbed Phelps Dodge.

When the DRC requested a reversion to the old contract terms last year, Freeport responded with a simple “no.” In a 2008 SEC filing, it said
“The Restated Agreements were negotiated transparently and approved by the Government of the DRC following extended negotiations, and we believe they comply with Congolese law and are enforceable without modifications. We are currently working cooperatively with the Ministry of Mines to resolve these matters while continuing with our project development activities.”
The hypocrisy is glaringly obvious: a “contract is a contract” and can never be changed—-unless it is in the company’s interests to do so as it was in 2005. Subsequent statements have stuck to that position, although negotiations supposedly continue while Freeport ships copper and completes construction of the cobalt processing operation.

Also used to justify the one-sided contract are the expenditures made (mostly under terms of the 2002 Mining Code) for community support and infrastructure development in the region. There is no question that considerable economic benefit accrues to the DRC from Tenke, although nowhere near what the company claims. About 1,000 employees will be hired, with another 4,000 jobs indirectly created. Freeport is also spending on social programs for the local community as well as investing in the region's infrastructure by upgrading roads, railways and a hydropower facility—-all items needed to make the operation successful. The DRC collects royalties, taxes, and other fees, too. It should be kept in mind, though, that all these expenditures—as helpful as they may be—are required by law. They’re also considered part of the project expenses, so are already included in the calculations for net profit.

If past is prologue, the Tenke Fugurame contract will eventually be revised. The DRC will get a higher stake (although nowhere near the 45% it’s requesting, much less the 51% that is fairly standard for similar contracts in South Africa and Zambia) in the project. Don’t expect Freeport to give without receiving, however. Watch for the Ministry of Mines to grant rights to another deposit in the region, agree to reimburse the company for its capital investment, or make some other major concession to get the deal done.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, May 4, 2009

Heart of Diamonds At Chappaqua Library

Earlier this year, the Chappaqua (NY) Library kindly invited me to speak about current events in the Congo and read from Heart of Diamonds. You can see the entire program by visiting and choosing the program labeled "Congo" in the album strip at the bottom of the page.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Visit To Congo

This account of a recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo caught my eye in Malu Kayi, the newsletter of Leja Bulela, an organization supporting Kasai Province, where many scenes in Heart of Diamonds took place. The author is Ilunga Kalala, a member of Leja Bulela Youth.

When I returned to the United States from the Congo, I had a difficult time finding the words to describe my experience to friends. The sentiment the journey left me with was, in many ways, lost in translation. There exists in the language of our people, however, a proverb that epitomizes my trip better than any description I can conjure up in the English language. It is Kwenda kumona malu.

I heard this expression on one of my first days in Lubumbashi. Kwenda kumona malu was the vocal refrain of a traditional Luba song I heard playing on the radio. The buzzing resonator drum, the thumb pianos, and the xylophone reminded me of the music my father once played with regularity. Recognizing my affinity for the song, my uncle took me a level deeper by describing the meaning of the refrain. Loosely translated, it means, "When you travel you see things."

I spent almost two months in the Congo and nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and experienced. A typical day was as follows: Daybreak brought an otherwise quiet neighborhood to life. The faint alarm of a distant factory announcing the start of the workday was followed by the quiet shuffling of feet towards Avenue
Mobutu. Power outages were the norm, particularly at the most inopportune times of day. Most mornings, my aunt would boil water and prepare breakfast over the same outdoor charcoal grill. A half-bucket of warm water was sufficient for me to bathe and by 8:45am I had eaten a small breakfast and was ready to begin the workday.

On our way into the city center, we would traverse man-made bridges and deteriorated roads in an imported sedan that drove like a 4x4. My work at Action Contre l’ImpunitĂ© pour les Droits Humains (ACIDH), the human rights NGO where I interned, began at 9am. Like Leja Bulela, ACIDH came into existence after the forced exodus of Kasains from the Katanga province inspired several individuals to take action. The human rights violations and impunity ACIDH took on meant the work was precarious. The office was a sanctuary of optimism in spite of this and I felt at ease conducting my research on the street children phenomenon.

I cherished the time just before dinner for this was when I gained the most insight on various aspects of our culture. It was when, in the company of family, everything from genealogy to the custom of dowry was described to me in detail. The conversation would carry on to the dinner table where I ate the best nchima I have ever had in my life. After dinner, we would relax for an hour or so and by 10pm I was ready for bed.

My trip to the Congo was no romantic journey. In fact, many of my experiences were emotionally taxing and difficult; but for every downside there was an upside. My only regret was that I was not able to make it to Kasai.

That trip is one I look forward to making with the Leja Bulela youth. When that time comes, I am certain that the maxim kwenda kumona malu will take on new meaning for us as we chart our course and carry on the torch by beginning charity at home.
Many thanks to Tania Kasongo for permission to cite this piece.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Africom Commander In Congo

Africom commander General William E. "Kip" Ward said this week that the U.S. plans to provide training, advice, and capacity building to the Congolese army. He made the remarks during a visit to Kinshasa, the last leg of a three-nation tour that stopped in Kenya and Rwanda as well.

"To restore the peace and stability that the Congolese people deserve talks to the reason for my being here," Ward said at the press conference during his visit. "It is how we can conduct our military activities to support the training and to support the increased professionalization of the Congolese armed forces as best we can as they work to bring security and stability here in the Congo."
Ward met with Congolese Minister of Defense Charles Mwando Nsimba and Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Didier Etumba Longila. He also toured Centre Superieur Militaire, a military school. Under a U.S. State Department program, a seven-man Mobile Training Team instructs Congolese officers in military leadership, preparing plans and orders, military decision-making, and staff functions. The students range in rank from captain to colonel.

This isn't the first training program conducted for the Congolese army by U.S. personnel. In January, a team of military investigators and lawyers held a collaborative training project on the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes that take place under military jurisdiction. The four-day workshop was organized by MONUC in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Defense Institute of International Legal Studies in Newport, Rhode Island. Forty-two military investigators, prosecutors, and magistrates from the province of Orientale attended. The goal was to better enable the military to stop crimes of sexual violence--many of which are committed by soldiers in the FARDC, the Congolese army itself. Another series of workshops are scheduled for other provinces in May.

Plans are also being made for a major medical exercise, MEDFLAG, to be held with the DRC military next summer, according to Colonel (Doctor) Schuyler Geller, U.S. Africom's command surgeon who was on the trip with Ward. MEDFLAG will concentrate on medical training and skill-building for DRC military medical personnel.

Such capacity-building missions are a major acitivty of Africom, the U.S. military command established last fall to oversee American military relations with 53 nations in Africa. In recent testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Ward said the U.S. currently has partnerships with 35 of the 53 nations covered by the command on the continent. Among them are U.S. military/training/aid operations in Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Tunisia, and Uganda. It might be noted that these operations are only those publicly acknowledged by Africom—others are undoubtedly below the radar at the moment.

Africom has been particularly active in Rwanda and Uganda. The organization earned a large black eye earlier this year by providing advice and technical support for the Ugandan attack on Joseph Kony's Lords Resistance Army. That operation turned into a general debacle, resulting in the deaths of about 1000 Congolese civilians and displacement of tens of thousands more.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Earth Day Reason Why Congo Matters

While the eyes of most journalists and activists are focused on the mineral riches of the Democratic Republic of Congo, another of the country's assets is being exploited with consequences that will be felt far beyond the center of Africa. It's the forest that covers 45% of the nation--the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. Properly managed and developed, the Congo's timber could be a perpetually-renewable resource that provides jobs, fuel, and food for millions of Congolese while it continues to give the rest of the world cleaner air and combats the effects of global warming. At the rate it's being exploited today, though, the Congo's rainforest will shrink to nearly half its size in the next fifty years.

The forests in DRC are amazingly diverse. As one of the few forest areas on the continent to have survived the ice age, they provide refuge for several large mammal species driven to extinction in other countries. Congo is known to have more than 11,000 species of plants, 450 mammals, 1,150 birds, 300 reptiles, and 200 amphibians, most of them protected by the rainforest.

In 2002, the government imposed a ban on new logging concessions. That ban was widely ignored as local officials often turned their heads in exchange for a few dollars while the timber companies cut as they pleased. The growing network of logging roads also opened up access to previously-ignored sections of the forest to local woodcutters, charcoal producers, and hunters. Today, according to Greenpeace, an area the size of Spain is under control of logging companies, some 30% of which was grabbed after the 2002 moratorium.

Last year, the World Bank, which has encouraged development of timber operations in the DRC, finally woke up to the results of their efforts and funded a six-month review of existing concessions to see if they conformed to basic standards. Of 156 deals examined, only 65 made the grade. The review found that most of the concessions adhere to no basic environmental standards and pay little or no tax to the central government.

In January, DRC's Environment Minister Jose Endundo told Reuters that those who had failed to make the grade would have to stop logging within 48 hours. "Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber," he said. Considering the government's record in enforcing the original ban, I'm sure the chainsaws immediately fell silent.

Why should we care about a forest that's half a world away? Those forests are part of the cooling band of tropical forests around the equator that has been compared to a thermostat to moderate the earth's temperature. It's believed that deforestation is the second largest source of global emissions of CO2, the culprit behind global warming. Economist Sir Nicholas Stern says halting deforestation is the single most cost-effective way to fight climate change.

Halting deforestation doesn't mean letting people starve so trees can grow. Modern forest management techniques allow for harvesting of timber and use of the land for economically-advantageous activities while ensuring that the forest has a chance to rejuvenate itself. Millions of jobs can be created from not just logging operations but downstream processing and value-adding manufacturing of wood products. That approach to forestry management is possible only when timber companies are monitored and laws are enforced.

Any encouragement we can give Congo to protect and manage its tropical rainforest will pay off for the entire world.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Africa's World War" For Serious Congo Watchers

As a more-than-interested observer of events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War a worthwhile if dense expression of one man's opinions about an incredibly complex chapter in the continent's history. Is it rife with supposition, self-serving sources, and subjective interpretation of events? Certainly. But that's the nature of the conflict, so readers expecting a black-hat-white-hat cast of good guys and bad guys are going to be dismissive of the work if not outraged at the author's audacity to present it as history. I suspect this is as close to an actual history of this period as we're ever going to see.

What I found particularly useful was Prunier's run down of the multitude of nations involved in the two wars. The roles played by everyone from Libya to South Africa are examined in sometimes mind-numbing detail. The whys and wherefores of each player's participation are by necessity speculative; the Angolan military doesn't have much in the way of neat regimental histories posted on the Web to use as sources and neither Yoweri Museveni or Paul Kagame are known for giving lengthy confessional interviews. Still, if you approach the material with patience and several grains of salt, you can come away with a better understanding of how the conflict in Congo was shaped by numerous outside forces.

It should be noted that this isn't light, recreational reading. I studied the DRC for five years as I was researching my novel Heart of Diamonds and I still found it essential to refer to Prunier's list of abbreviations and glossary time and time again. The sheer number of acronyms is enough to slow comprehension to a crawl, but again, this is no more than an accurate portrait of a 15-year conflict where six men with an RPG can declare themselves a rebel militia, take over a village, and eventually sit down at the negotiating table with representatives from several sovereign countries and the United Nations before splitting up to join opposing armies where they start the process all over again. Any account of alliances in Congo reads like alphabet soup in a blender.

Prunier could have provided a little more specficity and clarity about two big topics. One was the role the United States played (and plays) in the Congo wars. With his somewhat fragmented organizational approach, it was difficult to piece together what we did to whom and who did what to us. America's hands have come away soiled every time we lay them on Congo (dating to our rush to be the first country in the world to endorse King Leopold's bold claim to own the nation), and I would have liked a more detailed account of what happened and when we did it during the period covered by the book.

The other is Rwanda's major involvement in the game. Prunier certainly provides an exhaustive account of the genocide's aftermath and how it played out in the eastern provinces of the DRC, but the big picture seemed to have been obscured by the details. Maybe my mind was dulled by slogging through account after account of what was happening to the refugees and which ones were the good Tutsis and which ones where the bad Tutsis, but I have to say I didn't come away from the book with a clear understanding of what Prunier thinks Kagame really hopes to accomplish.

Those looking for a simple definitive account of war in Congo had best look elsewhere, but readers who are sophisticated enough to take one man's observations and opinions and weigh them accordingly will find Africa's World War a useful addition to the shelf.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why Congo Matters

With the rising howl of protest over the conflicts causing the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's easy for us to forget that there are other, very important reasons we should all be concerned about what happens in Congo. I briefly spoke about "Why Congo Matters" at the 18th Annual Westchester Library System Book & Author Luncheon.

You can hear my remarks in an mp3 file at

As you can tell by the stillness of the room while I spoke and the applause following, the response was very gratifying. Many of the more than 200 audience members approached me afterward to express surprise, not just at the atrocities that have gone unchecked for fifteen years but at the potential impact the DRC could have on Africa and the world if it were a peaceful, stable nation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Dead Aid" Review Draws Comments

My review of Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo's provocative book about the failures of aid in Africa, has drawn comments from several places. One of the more interesting exchanges was with "An American in Kathmandu" that occurred on my blog on Daily Kos. The exchange began with a quote from my review:

I also fail to see how corrupt leaders and their minions will be any less likely to steal funds from private lenders than they are from the World Bank. Perhaps my most significant objection, though is when Moyo says the developing nations will be better served paying ten percent interest (the rate she quotes for emerging market debt in 2007) than the 0.75% they are charged by the World Bank. How does that work to anyone's advantage other than the investment bankers?
"American in Kathmandu" wrote:
Exactly. So what to do? Just walk away? That's hard to do in the face of the kinds of human suffering that you see. And there are some successes. Sometimes two steps forward and one back. Sometimes the other way around, depressingly. Sometimes it's in one sector, or one district, or simply for a few thousand people before the good policies are reversed.

I don't think there are easy solutions, but I do want to grapple for what the harder answers might be.
My response:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Africa's economic problems. As you know, every country is different, every situation unique. In general, though, I rather admire the Chinese approach similar to the deal being negotiated now in the DRC: we'll build you a railroad; you give us rights to develop these mines. Ignoring the way they treat their workers (for the sake of this argument), such a deal pretty much gives everybody what they want without a layer of ideology. Local companies and/or labor do much of the work on both the project and the mines, the government gets revenue from the mines in the form of royalties and taxes, and the Chinese get a source of minerals for their industries. Such deals don't have to be for extractive industries, either; they can cover manufacturing, agricultural, or even service industries where direct foreign investment (not government-to-government aid) makes sense. Of course, there are several miles of hurdles to be jumped to get to these deals and make them fair, etc., but they are doable. They are also only one of a number of ways to approach the development dilemma.

Which brought this reply from "American in Kathmandu"...
China's doing a lot of this in Africa now, the downside though, is that as you say, with the ideology removed, it really becomes about pure self-interest for China. Thus very little concern with environmental sustainability and social impact - e.g., the way everyone didn't like that institutions like the World Bank used to behave time 100. There's quite a lot of emphasis being put on public-private partnerships these days, including on models like what China is doing on such a massive scale now across Africa, but it also raises issues about who owns things - water resources, the best agricultural land, etc., being big concerns.

It's an approach that should be considered - but at the same time, fraught with difficulties about how you avoid the same "colonialistic" seizing of things of value in the global South by outsiders with very little concern for the sustainability and impact on the average citizen in those countries, with the deals being approved by an often corrupt and undemocratic ruling elite.
My response was:

What public-private partnerships need in Africa is the element that's sorely missing in opaque societies like the kleptocracies that are the norm: rule of law. If there is a fair commercial code and other body of law, an independent judiciary to enforce it, and a transparent process for awarding of contracts for development, the rights of the people of the nations involved can be protected along with their interests in the land and other resources being developed. Every party, be they the governments of China and the DRC, multinationals like Freeport McMoRan, or the World Bank, operates in its own self-interest; the rule of law makes sure the people don't get trampled in the process. Private developers aren't evil, they just need to be controlled for the interests of the nation, not the kleptocrats. A company that provides capital to develop a resource that builds jobs for the country and spawns ancillary supporting industries and infrastructure can also pay substantial taxes and royalties, which is a good thing as long as they go into the public coffers and not into Swiss bank accounts. The rule of law is necessary to make that happen.

"American in Kathmandu" replied "I agree the rule of law is critically important."

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the