Everyman’s Strategic Survey: Congo

Slide30Two “Everyman’s Strategic Surveys” today ~

Second: The Congo resonates with me … waaaay back, when the earth was still cooling and I was a young soldier, many of us served there in the old ONUC (Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo and, a bit later, Opération des Nations Unies au Congo mission which extended from1960 until 1964 and represented the UN first attempt (and the first of many, many massive failures) at doing peace-making. The failure began when UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld turned down a Canadian offer of as much as an infantry brigade on the grounds that he wanted to use non-African troops as a last resort. It went down hill from there.

And it never got much better.

The Democratic Republic of Congo* remains a place with HUGE potential and a miserable reality.

Now, in Foreign Affairs, of  John Pendergast, a human rights activist with well known and sometimes controversial views on Africa, and Sasha Lezhnev, also of The Enough Project, have explained why the Congo still matters.

For the last two decades,” they write, “fighting has plagued the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, resulting in 5.4 million deaths, rampant corruption, and one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world. The instability has already spread beyond the east as a constitutional and electoral crisis propels the fragile situation toward a larger conflict, and it is now threatening to destabilize a mineral-rich area known as Katanga … [which is] … home to 50 to 60 percent of the world’s reserves of cobalt, representing the largest global supply of the mineral, as well as significant quantities of copper, and a conflict there would seriously affect U.S., as well as European, national security. The Pentagon has identified cobalt and copper as “strategic and critical minerals” for the production of military planes, missile guidance systems, and other hardware. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, cobalt is a critical material because it used as a superalloy in military and commercial jet engines, and it is very difficult to substitute because of its very high heat resistance. As of 2014, 16 percent of the world’s cobalt was used in superalloys, five percent was used in magnets, and 42 percent was used in batteries, all of which are essential in military hardware as well as in hybrid and electric cars, commercial planes, and consumer electronics. The global commercial demand for cobalt is also increasing significantly, particularly for building batteries in hybrid and electric cars as well as an array of electronics products. Similarly, copper, which the National Mining Association says is the second most used mineral by the Department of Defense by weight, is also mined in Congo. It can be found in naval vessels, Coast Guard ships, and Air Force planes as well in military and commercial engines and motors of all sizes … [thus] … Should Katanga be destabilized, U.S. and European defense industries would be cut off from accessing these critical materials, the majority of which are trucked out of Katanga on one main road. That long road could quickly be disrupted by attacks on vehicles or even protests, cutting off major cobalt supplies for the U.S. and European militaries, auto manufacturers, and technology companies. As one official at a mining company operating in Congo told us, “The road from the mines in Kolwezi to Kasumbalesa [at the Zambian border] is the most vulnerable point. It’s too long to fully protect, so someone could ambush it at different places on different days, and the troops would be stretched too thin. That would really disrupt the trade because the mining companies would have to simply stop the trucks. And truck burning in Congo does happen frequently.”

The Financial Times notes, in a separate article, focused on the fast growing demand for lithium-ion batteries for which cobalt is a key component, that “Approximately two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are severe issues ranging from environmental damage to human rights abuses including child labour. Cobalt remains the most difficult battery raw material to source ethically.

The deadliest conflict in Congo at the moment, ” Pendergast and Lezhnev report (first link), is “in the central region of Kasai [and it] broke out overnight with little warning, displacing around 1.4 million people over the last year, and tensions and conflicts in other regions, such as Tanganyika, Fizi, and the Petit Nord of North Kivu, have escalated. Growing numbers of pro-democracy activists are resisting, and they are even willing to die to rid the country of its kleptocracy. A new conflict in another province of Katanga, Tanganyika, has already sent tens of thousands of refugees to Zambia in recent months. This is just the tip of the iceberg because if the government continues to prevent a credible democratic transition, instability is almost certain to spread … [and] … At the root of the problem is the fact that for decades, leaders in Congo have experienced hardly any consequences for robbing the country’s extraordinary natural resource wealth, committing heinous human rights abuses and wrecking government institutions in the process. It is estimated that President Joseph Kabila’s family owns 80 companies. In addition, up to $4 billion per year has gone missing or has been stolen from government coffers due to the manipulation of mining contracts, budgets, and state assets.” All of this, even the place names, are depressingly familiar to those who served there 50+ years ago.

Messers Pendergast and Lezhnev conclude that “Without the prospect of facing any consequences for their bad behavior, Kabila and his allies will continue to hold onto power and delay elections, furthering insecurity in the region. There is, however, a rather simple, direct way to attack Kabila and his associates’ vulnerabilities. Because they hide most of their ill-gotten wealth abroad and use U.S. dollars to launder money through the global banking system, the United States and Europe could use the relevant legal and policy tools at their disposal, which are currently used to battle terrorism, nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking, and other organized crime. These tools follow the money trail, shut offenders out of the international financial system, and expose them to criminal justice and asset seizure. However, Washington and its allies rarely use these tools to counter grand corruption, hijacked elections, and mass atrocities in places like Congo because they are perceived to be of little strategic significance … [and they recommend that] … The threats Congo’s leaders and their international collaborators pose can be countered if the United States and Europe utilize the strongest tools they have at hand: aggressively enforcing top-level, targeted sanctions on Kabila, his family’s business empire, and his commercial partners while ensuring that banks actively implement relevant anti-money laundering measures. The recent U.S. Treasury advisory to banks in South Sudan—which warned of potential money laundering—coupled with the limited but potent network sanctions are a good example of how these tools could be applied to Congo. The South Sudan case represents the first time the United States began using the full authority available to it with respect to tools involving financial pressure. By sanctioning individuals and their associated companies while notifying banks that suspicious financial activity is occurring, the United States put South Sudanese officials on more serious notice to signal that the days of total impunity for financial and human rights crimes are over … [further, they say] … Law enforcement and regulatory officials in the United States and around the world can go after Congo’s pillaged national fortune, which has been hidden in international banks, real estate, and shell companies. This proven combination of financial pressure—via targeted sanctions and anti-money laundering measures—can help shift the cost-benefit calculations of these leaders and their commercial collaborators away from mass violence and corruption and toward a stable, democratic transition. Such an approach would hold the promise of not only preventing greater suffering in Congo but also more robustly securing U.S. and European national interests. Rarely does such a diplomatic bank shot present itself at such a small cost.” I do not disagree with them … but did anyone else notice that they didn’t mention the United Nations?

The United Nations has a peacekeeping force (MONUSCO ~ United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that has almost 18,000 soldiers, police and “experts” in country, including  1 Canadian, but the big contributors are Bangladesh (1,600+), India (3,200+), Nepal (1,000+), Pakistan (3,400+), South Africa (1,300+), Tanzania (1,000-) and Uruguay (1,000+). Some of these countries, like Bangladesh, Nepal and Uruguay are famous “contributors” to UN missions because the UN pays contributing national $(US)1,000 per month per soldier or policeman or “expert” sent on a UN mission ~ which, if you send a few thousand soldiers to the UN is a few million dollars in a hard currency every month for soldiers who each earn far, far less than $(US)1,000 per month. That doesn’t mean that e.g. Nepali soldiers are bad … it just means that they are being used for what we used to call the UN’s “rent-a-crowd” programme. Soldiers from e.g. Tanzania and also Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic and so on, through to Zambia should have never been allowed to send troops for a Stabilization mission ~ not even one “expert” ~ because they share a border with Congo and have national interests in keeping Congo destabilized.

There is important, even vital work to be done in Congo and, indeed, in all of Africa but the United Nations is the worst possible agency to lead it. IF Canada could deploy and sustain a large battlegroup for a protracted period (à la Afghanistan in the first decade of this century) and IF we could persuade e.g. Australia and Britain and, say, Denmark, Fiji, the Netherlands, Singapore and a few others to join in then an Indian led non-UN force would, likely, be able to clean up Congo in relatively short order and those same nations could do some constructive nation building. Such actions would be consistent with our national values and with our long, proud history of being a leader amongst the middle powers and a pioneer at peacekeeping.



* Countries that call themselves, formally, “peace loving” or “, democratic” almost never are either.

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