When Laurent Kabila ran Mobutu out of Zaire I was as happy as the Congolese mailroom worker with whom I shared news with. Mobutu was a sellout par excellence. But this is not about Kabila or Mobutu. This is about the new so called freedom fighters in the Eastern Congo and was prompted by a recent article in the NY Times entitled The Spoils Congo’s Riches, Looted by Renegade Troops in which I found the following pretty disturbing:
The chokehold begins far from the mine. At the trailhead, a burly soldier demands 50 cents from each person entering the narrow trail to the mine. A clamoring crowd hands wrinkled bills to the soldier, who opens the wooden gate a crack to let in those with cash.
So an operation that brings in $80 million a year and they can't build a road? Oh well they COULD but there's a reason why it's not.
At the other end of the trail, at the base of the mountain, another crowd forms at the gate into Bisie. Porters exhausted from the two-day trek sprawl on felled trees, waiting for soldiers to inspect their loads and extract another tribute. The price is usually 10 percent of entering merchandise and cash.
The men at the checkpoints describe these payments as taxes. But the people of Bisie do not get much in return. The village is a filthy warren of mud huts. Hundreds of haphazard latrines flood narrow, trash-filled alleyways. Disease courses through the town, carried by water from a river that is used for everything from washing clothes to cleaning ore. Jawbones of slaughtered cows and goats stud the riverbed. When it rains, the river overflows, spreading cholera and dysentery.
In some ways, Bisie is a thriving commercial town. It has makeshift theaters showing bootleg kung fu movies on televisions powered by sputtering generators. Its bars are stocked with Johnnie Walker whiskey and Primus beer, each bottle carried through the jungle. There is no telephone service, but a ham radio system passes messages between the mine and the outside world. It has hotels that double as brothels. There is even a clapboard church.
$80 million a year and porters who had to walk and there's not even a bit of shelter? 10% of the value of whatever they have on their person and not a shelter? $80 million a year and no running water? No sanitation facilities? And this is supposedly a "commercial town"? What kind of joke of a revolution is this?
A bowl of rice and beans costs $3 here, six times the price along the main road. Mud huts rent for $50 a month or more, in part because opportunism is the town ethos.
Ahh free markets at work.
Tin has replaced lead content in the solder used to make many electronic devices. And as the price shot up in recent years, to a high of $25,000 a ton in May, Colonel Matumo and his men staked out a whole ridge of the mine complex as their personal property. Senior commanders of the brigade have built large houses and opened businesses, like hotels and bars, with the proceeds of the mine.
Ahh large houses for the "revolutionaries" and mud huts for the lowly mine worker. Sounds revolutionary to me.
Now back to that dirt path that in any other thinking place would be a road:
When the company started working on a road to link the mine to the main road, local officials blocked the route. When it began working on a campsite for its geologists to begin prospecting, soldiers opened fire on the workers, injuring several, company officials said.
“We have all our documents and permits in order,” said Brian Christophers, the weary managing director of the company. “We have written to the head of the military, the minister of mines and even the president. But there are no rules in Congo, just the rule of the gun.”
Mr. Christophers said that his company was prepared to help pay not just for a road to the mine but also for schools, clinics and a hydroelectric power station. It also promised to invite government agencies to enforce labor standards. But none of them have had the chance.
Indeed, some workers are suspicious of the company’s plans, fearing that a road would put thousands of porters out of work and that mechanized mining would drastically reduce employment here. The militia has tapped this unease to convince some workers and local officials that the company will simply abscond with the minerals and leave the local people empty-handed.
So because the "revolutionaries" are concerned about unemployment (read control over the population) they turned down a reliable power plant roads clinics and school buildings. OK then fine. Kick the company out. Why can't these so called revolutionaries build the schools themselves. Wouldn't that boost employment? What's wrong with a power station? Seriously though, what is so revolutionary about keeping people in poverty? Wouldn't the support of the people come voluntarily from the increased quality of life? And let me guess that the "convincing" involved large men and small boys with firearms and conversations that started with "How's the family?"
In the end these so called revolutionaries are simply free market capitalists with guns. They are small minded and are only out for themselves. It is not the minerals that are the curse of Africa but the small minded men and the gun sellers that are the curse of Africa.