DRC RE­MAINS FAIR GAME FOR PREDA­TORS

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - GLOBAL - VIC­TOR KGOMOESWANA @Vic­torAfrica

EVEN as the count­ing and an­nounce­ments of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s elec­tions re­sults were be­ing post­poned, who stands to ben­e­fit from the mess in the De­moratic Repuclic of the Congo? The lat­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries are… smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers.

For a long time, the DRC was

King Leopold II’s min­eral-en­dowed, per­sonal project. The Bel­gian monarch laid the foun­da­tion for its ex­ploita­tion, us­ing bru­tal­ity and cru­elty to en­force his will and greed. When the will of the Con­golese pre­vailed in 1960, his ghost con­tin­ued his reign of ter­ror.

First, the demo­crat­i­cally-elected prime min­is­ter Pa­trice Lu­mumba was de­posed, ar­rested and as­sas­si­nated. While Bel­gium con­tin­ued to med­dle, the US played a will­ing en­abler and the UN looked the other way. At that time, gold, di­a­monds, you name it, the DRC had in abun­dance. It still does. Among the African coun­tries plagued by the worst civil wars along­side the DRC were di­a­mon­drich, namely An­gola and Sierra Leone – all to serve for­eign multi­na­tional in­ter­ests. Such cor­po­ra­tions reap the re­wards of law­less­ness and ab­sence of in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture.

Sadly, min­er­als are be­ing looted at the ex­pense of law and or­der in the DRC; ex­cept new play­ers have emerged. Di­a­monds and gold are be­ing mined and ex­ported il­le­gally. Cobalt is the big­ger story that threat­ens to sus­tain the chaos and is pro­mot­ing child labour. Cobalt is used to make recharge­able bat­ter­ies for elec­tric cars and cell­phones.

The price of a pound of the metal tripled to $30 by the end of 2017, from just $10 in 2015. Trans­parency Mar­ket Re­search es­ti­mates the size of the lithium-ion bat­tery mar­ket at more than $30 bil­lion, set to in­crease to well over $75bn by 2024.

Who makes the three top sell­ing smart­phones in the world? Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tion Ap­ple at No 3, Chi­nese be­he­moth Huawei at No 2, with South Korean con­glom­er­ate Sam­sung top­ping the charts. All are glut­tonous users of recharge­able bat­ter­ies.

On top of this smart­phone puz­zle is the il­le­gal gold busi­ness tran­sit­ing through Uganda, across Lake Al­bert east of the DRC.

Ugan­dan news­pa­per The Mon­i­tor re­ported on Mon­day that a com­pany that owns a $23 mil­lion gold re­fin­ery in En­tebbe is pro­cess­ing the yel­low metal for ex­ports. Quot­ing num­bers from in­ter­na­tional min­er­als watch­dog, The Sen­try, it at­tributes gold ex­ports of at least $377m in 2017 to an af­fil­i­ate of the Bel­gian re­fin­ery Tony Goetz NV in Dubai.

The re­port said Goetz has

“re­fined il­le­gally-smug­gled con­flict gold from eastern Congo at AGR (African Gold Re­fin­ery) in Uganda and ex­ported it through a series of com­pa­nies to the US and Europe”. AGR is owned by Alain Goetz, the direc­tor of Tony Goetz – a met­al­pro­cess­ing com­pany in Bel­gium. See King Leopold’s ghost, yet again?

There­fore, the DRC’s prob­lem is not only about Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila step­ping down or who his suc­ces­sor will be. It is about a maze of com­pet­ing for­eign busi­ness in­ter­ests. A de­ci­sive and com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion by the AU with su­perla­tive diplo­macy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions is the only way. It is all busi­ness, not elec­tions.

We ei­ther learn to play the game or re­main some­body else’s game to hunt.

Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Busi­ness; is a me­dia com­men­ta­tor and pub­lic speaker on African busi­ness af­fairs.

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