, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Civil strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo has cost 4 million lives in 10 years, as militias and warlords fight over the country’s resources. The atrocities are funded, at least indirectly, by some of the biggest Western corporations. They see the country as a source of cheap coltan, vital to making semiconductors. Kathleen Kern connects Congolese suffering with the low prices Westerners pay for cell phones and laptops.

[Thanks to the kind courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, I am able to reproduce the entire fifth chapter of Steven Hiatt’s A Game as Old as Empire: The secret world of economic hitmen and the web of global corruption (2007). Any transcription errors are mine.]


Chapter 5. The Human Cost of Cheap Cell Phones

By Kathleen Kern 

Goma’s hospital has one tent for rape victims awaiting surgery and one for victims recovering from surgery.  In the pre-op area, I held a month-old girl who was entranced by the dim electric light hanging from the ridgepole.  She arched her back and waved her arms, straining to encounter this exciting new world and oblivious of the atrocity that had created her life.

The mother told me her baby’s name was Esther. Clasping her breasts, she said she had no milk.  She did not tell me what operation she was waiting for. Perhaps her rapist(s) had caused a fistula, penetrating the wall between her rectum and vagina with penises, guns, or machetes.  Hundreds of other injuries are possible. We had seen pictures of women who had been shot in the vagina, who had had salt rubbed in their eyes until they were blind (and thus could not identify their assailants), who had been burned or had limps amputated after being raped.

A week earlier we had been in Bukavu, where we had visited the office of a human rights organization and seen glory photos of a recent massacre in the nearby village of Kanyola. The assailants were members of the Interahamwe militia that had carried out the genocide in Rwanda. They had hacked their victims to death with machetes or burned them instead of using guns, so that UN peacekeepers at a nearby base would not hear the slaughter. The human rights worker showing us the pictures had recently replaced the previous director of the agency, Pascal Kabungulu Kimbembe.  After a local Congolese army officer had threatened him, Kimbembe had been assassinated in front of his home earlier in the year.1 

These low-tech acts of barbarism engulfing eastern Congo are outgrowths of a global demand for high-tech consumer goods such as cell phones, laptop computers, and PlayStations. Coltan (short for columbite-tantalite), an ore vital for manufacturing these devices, has been a particular concern for those investigating the involvement of multinational corporations in the violence: 80% of the known coltan reserves in the world are in Congo, making it potentially as strategically important to the U.S. military as the Persian Gulf.2 But demand for gold, diamonds, copper, zinc, uranium, cobalt, cadmium, timber, and other resources in which Congo is rich has also contributed to the holocaust that has overtaken the country during the past decade.

Holocaust on the Equator

Since 1996, about 4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) as a direct or indirect result of civil war.3 No other conflict since WW II has resulted in such carnage. After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu soldiers from the Rwandan army and the Hutu militia Interahamwe, who were responsible for the wholesale killings, fled into Congo along with more than a million Hutu noncombatants. Tutsi President Paul Kagame sent Rwandan troops into Congo in 1996, arguing that the Hutus across the border posed a threat to Rwandan security. The army massacred thousands of Hutu noncombatants who had taken refuge in Congo when Kagame came to power. Rwanda, Burundi (which also had a Tutsi government), and Uganda sent troops in 1997 to aid a Congolese rebel group under Laurent Kabila, who was attempting to overthrow Zaire’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko.4 The fighting forced civilians off their lands and into mining areas, where they dug for gold, diamonds, and coltan in order to survive.

In 1997, the rebels deposed Mobutu and instilled Kabila. Citing an assassination attempt against him and the Rwandan army’s slaughter of Hutu refugees, Kabila expelled Rwandan and Ugandan forces from Congoin 1998. Rwanda again invaded, claiming that it needed to pursue Hutus threatening its security. The Ugandans, in turn, attempted to combat Ugandan rebel groups based in Congo by creating a buffer zone like the one Israel had created when it bombed and subsequently occupied southern Lebanon in the 1980s.5 In planning their invasion, Rwandan President Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni agreed to install a new president in Congo while maintaining control over the eastern part of the country near the their borders. Kabila called on Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe for help, and by 1998 eastern Congo was left in a stalemate. Uganda held the northern territory, while Rwanda controlled the southeast. Rwandan, Burundian, and Ugandan soldiers pillaged banks, factories, farms, and storage facilities in the region, loading their contents onto vehicles and shipping them back to their home countries.

The Rwandan government shipped seven years’ worth of Congo’s coltan stockpiles – about 1500 tons – from warehouses to Kigali in 1998.6 At the time, coltan was fetching about $18 a pound ($40 a kilo). Over the next few years, often using Rwandan prisoners as indentured laborers, the Rwandan military systematically stripped coltan from mines in eastern Congo and sent it back to Rwanda. The international price of coltan climbed to $30 a pound in January 2000 and then spiked to $380 the following December. (A shortage of coltan resulted in a shortage of the Sony PlayStation 2 during the 2000 Christmas season.) Since the ore requires only a pick and shovel to mine, military, political, and corporate elites could make huge profits from the labor of Rwandan prisoners or impoverished Congolese.

The brother of Ugandan President Museveni, Salim Salech, controlled three airlines, which he leased to the Ugandan military to fly troops and supplies into Congo. With the cooperation of Ugandan army officers, Congolese rebel groups, and private entrepreneurs, Saleh ensured that the planes returned to Ugandaloaded with gold, timber, and coffee.  He also cashed in on the lucrative coltan mines and worked with Lebanese businessman Khalil Nazeem Ibrahim to smuggle diamonds out thru the company known as the Victoria Group – free of tax, thus depriving Congo of revenue it desperately needed.

Uganda’s and Rwanda’s export histories reveal the extent of the looting. Between 1996 and 1997, Rwanda’s coltan production doubled, giving Rwanda and its Congolese rebel allies up to $20 million a month in revenue.7 The Rwandan government claimed that the country was producing all of the coltan it was exporting – 1440 metric tons a year.8 However, the 2001 report by a UN Panel of Experts (discussed later) cites official government statistics that put the production at 83 metric tons a year.

Rwanda has no diamond mines, but its diamond exports increased from 166 carats in 1998 to 30,500 in 2000. In 1999, Uganda produced no coltan but exported 69.5 tons. In 2000 Uganda received more than $1.25 million from exporting diamonds, despite having no diamond mines. It produced 0.0044 tons of gold, but exported 10.83 tons.9

A “peace” deal signed in 2002 left President Joseph Kabila, who had replaced his assassinated father, in power. His vice presidents were four of the warlords whose militias had wreaked havoc in Congo. Over the next several years, Rwanda and Uganda continued to make incursions into the country. Rwanda sent 6,000 troops into eastern Congo in December 2004, again claiming it was dealing with Hutu rebels who posed a threat to its security.10 Rwandan troops committed massacres in North Kivu province, burning and looting everything in their path. Our delegation saw the result of this pillaging when we visited a students’ association in the university town of Bukavu almost a year later. A young man took us thru bare rooms and showed us that everything – furniture, computers, phones, and fax machines – had been stolen by Rwandan troops. Because students had spoken out against the human rights abuses of the Rwandan military, the young man told us, the Rwandan military and the Congolese militia it backs had targeted their student center.

Rape as a Weapon of War

I first came to eastern Congo in October 2005 as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation, to explore the possibility of setting up a violence-deterring project similar to the ones CPT has had in theMiddle East and the Americas. The delegation quickly realized that the situation in Congo presented challenges our organization had not faced before. We also noted that the widespread practice of rape by all armed groups was something that most of the world, including our church constituency, was not aware of. With an eye toward publicizing these rapes, we began to focus on this issue as we met with pastors and civic leaders trying to nurture a fragile social order in their devastated country.

For many Congolese women, rape is only the beginning of their trauma. Their assailants infect from one-fourth to one-third of the women with HIV, and often rape the women in front of their husbands and children. The husbands or husbands’ families then view the women as ‘contaminated,’ even when they do not contract a disease, and drive them and their children out of the village. Sometimes they tell us the women that may stay if they kill children born of the rape. Those not killed often become street children, an unknown phenomenon in this area before 1996, several Congolese told us.

Deprived of their social supports, many women become burden-bearers in order to feed themselves and their children. We saw them in every community we visited: bent double, carrying loads of produce or building materials supported by straps that cut deep grooves into their foreheads.

Congolese churches and civic groups have attempted to provide medical care, counseling, and job training for the rape survivors and to challenge social practices that marginalize them. But the staggering numbers of raped and displaced women overwhelm these efforts. The UN Fund for Women and human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since 1998, altho the vast majority of rapes have gone unreported because of the social stigma. The head of a women’s organization in Bukavu told us that in 2004 a small grant from the Danish Lutheran church had enabled her to help 1200 women in the area who had been raped. She had to stop the program when funds ran out and now lacks the means even to document the rapes.

The use of rape as a weapon of war has had broader ramifications for the people of eastern Congo. Since armed groups often attack women when they are working in the fields, many women are afraid to leave their homes. Thus, in fertile lands with a year-round growing season, people are going hungry.

Violence perpetrated by armed groups has also led to an increase in violence among the civilian population. “Something in our society is unhinging,” reported Jeanne Muliri-Kabekatyo, the head of the Protestant Women’s Society of North Kivu. Her organization documents stories of rape and sexual assault unheard of before the wars. She told us of girls some as young as eighteen months – raped by neighbors, brothers, taxi drivers, and teachers. Her organization has responded by training 36,000 children to resist rapes and teaching parents never to let their daughters go anywhere alone or be along with a man, even a teacher.

Some stories seem especially to haunt her. One young woman delivered a stillborn baby the day after her 3-year-old child died. The cadaver of the newborn was still in the room when five armed men entered the house and her husband fled. She was too weak to move, let alone resist the men who gang raped her. She needed five operations and will never have more children. The husband married someone else.

Then there was the girl raped by two brothers and their father. When her mother saw she was pregnant, she sent her daughter to the men who had raped her, saying it was their job to take care of her. “She is mentally ill now and cannot stand to be touched,” Muliri-Kabekatyo told us. “We can’t bring a case against the rapists because she has stopped speaking. She is in a deplorable state.”

After relating these stories, she paused and said, “You can get sick yourself.”

With so many millions of people dead of starvation and disease, with massacres continuing despite the presence of 15,000 UN peacekeeping troops, with government employees having received no wages for ten years, these hundreds of thousands of rapes get lost in the chaos.

Western Complicity in Congo’s Wars 

Westerners telling stories like these need to be mindful that we have benefited from a colonialism that stereotyped Africans as savages. For too long, people in the First World have known about Africa chiefly through atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide or ‘famine pornography’ – fly-covered children with bloated bellies.

We asked the pastors, human rights workers, and women activists who were working with rape victims how they wanted these stories told. Most agreed that the situation was so dire that spreading the news was more important than other considerations. “Christ said to keep telling the truth even up to the death,” said the director of a women’s organization in Goma. However, she told us, if we wanted to provide balance, we ought to publicize how Western countries are facilitating and profiting from Congo’s misery. “We are treated like the wastebasket of the world,” she said, referring to the enormous numbers of weapons being dumped in the region. The Rwandan government uses the military aid it receives from the US to fund the Congolese Rally for Democracy army (RCD-Goma), which rampages thru the eastern Congo. The US also funds President Kabila and his Congolese army, which fights against the RCD. A representative of the human rights organization CODHO spoke to our delegation of an “Anglophone conspiracy” by the US, UK and South Africa to distribute arms to militias and armies. By doing so, he said, they keep the region destabilized and thus open to exploitation of its resources.

Nearly all the Congolese with whom we met cited these resources as the key to understanding Congo’s desperate situation and as the smoking gun in the hands of the West. Rwanda and Uganda might be the pirates, but multinational corporations based in the First World have equipped them to do their plundering.

An April 6, 2001 hearing held by us Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney exposed the involvement of Western nations, and the corporatocracy appears in almost every state of the conflict in the region. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was trained by the US military at Fort Leavenworth in 1990.11 The United States wielded its power to prevent UN peacekeeping troops from entering Rwanda to stop the genocide in 1994 but promptly provided the country with $75 million in military aid after Kagame took control.12 US Special Forces began training the Rwandan army in 1994, three months before the April 6, 1994 missile attack on the aircraft carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents – the event that precipitated the genocide inRwanda. The Special Forces training included counterinsurgency, combat, psychological operations, and instructions about how to fight in Zaire.13 In August, before ordering the 1996 invasion, Kagame visited the Pentagon to get US approval. Rwandan and Ugandan troops who were trained at Fort Bragg participated in the 1996-97 invasions to topple Mobutu.14 Military contractor Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, reportedly built a military base on the Congolese-Rwandan border, where the Rwandan army has trained.15 The Bechtel Corporation provided satellite maps and reconnaissance photos to Kabila so that he would monitor the movements of Mobutu’s troops.16 Bechtel is a particularly good example of collusion between corporate and political interests. Former Secretary George Schultz sits on Bechtel’s board and former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger served as legal counsel. Jack Sheehan, senior vice president, is a retired US Marine Corps general and a member of the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon.17

During 1996-97, many corporations began negotiating with Kabila for access to the minerals in easternCongo. He sent a representative to Toronto early in 19979 to speak to mining companies about ‘investment opportunities.’ The trip resulted in $30 million for Kabila, which he used to march on Kinshasa, capital ofCongo. In May 1997, American Mineral Fields (AMF) cut a $1 billion deal with Kabila immediately after his forces captured Goma (near the Rwandan-Congolese border). Kabila’s US-trained finance commissioner handled the negotiations, giving AMF exclusive exploration rights to zinc, copper, and cobalt mines in the area. Mike McMurrough, a friend of US President Bill Clinton, was the chair of AMF. Tenke Mining announced in the same month that it had signed a contract with Kabila that it had previously signed with Mobutu’s government in 1996. Planeloads of representatives from other corporations like Bechtel also began arriving to do business.

The Washington Post reported that US soldiers (probably Special Forces) were signed in the company of Rwandan troops in Congo on July 23 and 24, 1998 – about a week before the “official” Rwandan invasion of Congo. The Canadian mining firms Barrick Gold (whose board members include former US President George H.W. Bush, former Canadian prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former US Senator Howard Baker, and Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan) and Heritage Oil and Gas arrived with the Ugandan and Rwandan militaries when they invaded Congo in 1998 and secured lucrative oil contracts. In 1999, the financial arm of RCD-Goma (the Congolese militia allied with Rwanda) received $5 million in loans from Citibank NY. It also received financing from the Belgium company Cogecom.18 Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States have doubled their aid to Rwanda from $26.1 million in 1997 to $51.5 million in 199l, which helped Rwanda finance its intervention in Congo.19

As Rwanda and Uganda continued to enrich themselves with the plunder, they receive praise from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for increasing their gross domestic product. An unintentionally ironic IMF press release in 2002 noted that its representatives in Rwanda “urged the authorities to pursue peace relentlessly,” even though the rise in the GDP the IMF had applauded occurred precisely because the Rwandan government had exacerbated violence in eastern Congo and had used the instability to exploit the area economically. In 2006, the IMF offered this praise of Uganda: “Fiscal restraint, coupled with prudent monetary management, have supported Uganda’s robust growth and helped contain inflation to single digit levels over most of the past decade. In recent years, these policies have contributed to a very comfortable level of international reserves.” Again, it chose to ignore how Uganda had come to accumulate these reserves.20

In 2001, the World Bank committed itself to reforming Gécamines, the decrepit Congolese state-owned mining company. Workers laid off because of the privatization of Gécamines were supposed to receive training as a part of this reform. The Bank’s second important goal was drawing up a plan that would rebuild the mines to benefit the Congolese state. Instead, the transitional government sold off most of Gécamines and its plants to private interests, despite recommendations by the consultants the World Bank had hired.21 The World Bank, which was supposed to be scrutinizing the mining sector and rebuilding Gécamines, thus allowed foreign interests to strip Congo of what was once its most important source of revenue.22

The UN Panel of Experts and the OECD Guidelines

Altho the misery that engulfed Congo from 1996 to 2004 caused little outcry among Western nations, the UN Security Council, beginning in 2000, sought to address the underlying causes for the violence. It set up a Panel of Experts that issued a series of reports over the next three years describing how networks of high-level politicians, military officers, and businesspeople from Congo and surrounding countries collaborated with armed groups to gain control over Congo’s resources. The panel noted that the militias and warlord armies then used these resources to buy weapons that fueled the war.

As their reference point, the Panel of Experts used the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.” Established in 1976, these guidelines were intended to facilitate trade and define what constitutes responsible corporate behavior.>23 Governments adhering to the guidelines set up “National Contact Points” (NCPs) whom they charged with promoting the guidelines and solving problems that might arise when corporations did not adhere to them.

Based on the Panel of Experts’ October 2002 report, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) put out its own report in 2004, noting the violations of the OECD guidelines committed by corporations in Congo that are shown in Table 1. (Not reproduced herein, see Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), Unanswered Questions: Companies, Conflict and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Executive Summary, report, April 2004, p.2, www.raid-uk.org/docs/UN_Panel_DRC/Unanswered_Questions_Full.pdf

The Panel’s 2002 report listed 85 multinational companies that, it charged, had profited from the war inCongo, including six US companies. With the exception of the Belgian Senate, governments in the countries where these corporations were based made little attempt to hold the corporations accountable for the contributions they had allegedly made to the violence in Congo. Indeed, in most cases, it appears the reports caused he opposite to happen. Some of the companies lobbied their governments and the Security Council to have their names removed from the Panel’s list of culprits.24

The process thru which companies interacted with their governments to get their names off the Panel’s list lacked transparency. One member of the panel noted that he had no direct knowledge of which of the 85 companies listed had insisted that their governments intervene on their behalf. However, of five Canadian companies that appeared on the list and then were removed, he said, “It seem only to be expected that one or more of them contacted Foreign Affairs, Marc Brault in particular, who was Canada’s envoy to the Great Lakes Region at the time.25  First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian company, told various news outlets that it was pushing for a “full retraction.”26

Appendices to documents from the 2005 annual meeting of the National Contact Points provide an insight into the responses of two UK companies to the UN Panel of Experts’ report and the UK NCP’s intervention. The diamond company, DeBeers claimed that the Panel offered no details to back up its allegations, despite requests for this information from the company in 2002 and 2003.  The UK NCP wrote, “In the circumstances and on the basis of the information provided, the UK NCP concludes that the allegations made by the UN Expert Panel against De Beers are unsubstantiated.” The NCP also ended up sharing the view of the Avient Corporation that its aviation business operations in Congo had been legitimate.27

In the face of protests by the corporatocracy, the UN Security Council recommended a six-month renewal of the Panel’s mandate in its Resolution 1457 of January 23, 2003. The resolution stipulated that the extension was intended to “verify, reinforce and, where necessary, update the Panel’s finding and/or clear parties named in the Panel’s previous reports with a view to adjusting accordingly the lists attached to these reports.”28

The Panel of Experts’ fourth and final report in October 2003 concluded that no further investigation was required into the activities of most of the corporations it had cited in the previous reports. Many of the corporations that had protested their appearance on the list were moved into an ambiguous “resolved” category. According to the Panel, “resolved” indicated that the company had acknowledged inappropriate behavior and had proposed or taken remedial action; or had ceased trading with unethical Congolese partners; or had initially shown lack of transparency, which led the Panel to find its ethical conduct suspect, but had later shown that it had not participated in unethical ventures; or had been working in Congo many years before 1998; or had done nothing unethical even tho it had been working in conflict zones; or had only a tangential connection to the pillage.

The 2003 report did not explain precisely into which “resolved” category each company fell. Thus, theoretically, a company that had knowingly bought coltan mined from Rwandan military-controlled slave labor and then stopped had the same culpability as a company that had behaved more or less ethically but had not initially provided records to prove that its conduct was above-board… Altho the 2003 report clearly stated that resolution should not be interpreted as absolution, most corporations on the list and their governments claimed that it had absolved them.29

After the UN Panel of Experts charged in 2002 that Western corporations were complicit in pillaging Congo’s resources, US Ambassador Richard S. Williamson (Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs to the UN) told the UN Security Council that the “United States Government will look into the allegations against these [American] companies and take appropriate measurers.” However, Friends of the Earth (FoE), which had been following up on the Panel’s allegations against American companies, noted in October 2003 that “to date, the Bush administration has placed a greater emphasis on exonerating US companies than on undertaking a meaningful examination into how US companies might have contributed to the conflict in [Congo] via supply chains.30

Because the American government did not take appropriate action regarding the behavior of US corporations listed in the Panel of Experts’ report, Friends of the Earth and the UK-based group Rights and Accountability in Development filed a complaint with the State Department on August 4, 2004, against Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International (EWRI), and OM Group, Inc.

Boston-based Cabot allegedly purchased coltan mined in Congo during the war. Cabot denied these allegations, but a report by the Belgian Senate confirmed that EWRI (a subsidiary of Trinitech Holdings) had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan. The Panel asserted that EWRI received privileged access to coltan sites and captive labor because of its close ties to the Rwandan military. Ohio-based OM Group’s joint relationship with a Belgian national, George Forrest, made its activities suspect. The Panel had specifically designated Forrest in its 2001 report as having profited from the violence in eastern Congo. The Panel accused his company, Groupement pour le Traitement des Scories due Terril due Lubumbashi, Ltd. (GTL) of deliberately ignoring technical agreements that provided for the construction of two electric-powered refineries and a converter for germanium processing in Congo, to be built next to existing stockpiles of cobalt and copper. Instead, semi-processed ore from the mine was shipped to OM Group’s processing facility in Finland, thereby depriving the state mining company, Gécamines, of revenue.31

Wesley S. Scholz, the National Contact Point for the United States, declined to investigate the companies further, citing the Panel’s conclusion in its October 2003 report that the issues involving the US companies were resolved. However, in January 2005, he notified the three companies that FoE and RAID still had issues they wished to discuss, and he offered to facilitate an informal dialogue between the two organizations and the corporations. His official position, however, was that “the real focus of the Guidelines is not to focus on past behaviors, but to try and improve future behavior. We do not sit in judgment and conclude whether companies met their obligations under the Guidelines. Making judgments is about past behavior and saying you did something wrong.”  When RAID contacted Scholz in September 2005 to follow up, he said that the companies had confirmed they received his letter but had not responded.32

The US was not alone it its laissez-faire attitude to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Instead of addressing the substance of the Panel’s allegations, several governments questioned whether a UN-appointed panel could even allege violations of the OECD Guidelines and whether the guidelines applied to companies’ suppliers.

Changing the Guidelines

Given the ineffectual efforts of the NCPs in following up on the charges of corporate misconduct in Congo, RAID suggested revising the OECD Guidelines. Something extra was needed to compel First Worldgovernments to investigate abuses committed by the corporations based in their countries. The report also stressed that governments must find means to enforce corporate compliance with the guidelines. Their strictly voluntary nature meant that corporations faced no consequences for behaviors that cause staggering amounts of human suffering.33

These conclusions were also affirmed in a September 22, 2005 report by the organization OECD Watch, Five Years On: A Review of the OECD Guidelines and National Contact Points. The organization noted pessimistically, “There is no evidence to suggest that the Guidelines have helped reduce the number of conflicts between local communities, civil society groups and multinational companies.” Key to failure of the guidelines was the fact that NCPs had generally adopted a narrow interpretation of when the guidelines ought to apply to corporations’ activists. The NCPs argued that t relationships between multinational businesses and their suppliers were trade-related rather than investments – and thus not subject to the guidelines. The corporations cited by the UN Panel were therefore at fault for buying plundered resources only if they actually owned the companies doing the plundering. These proponents of a narrow interpretation argued further that multinational had little control over the other companies in their supply chains and so could not be blamed for the illegal and unethical behavior of companies more directly involved in extracting resources.

The NGOs argued that the text of the guidelines clearly showed that they must be applied to both investment and trade. They also argued that corporations must “readily accept responsibility for product quality in the supply chain and engineer their management practices to ensure product quality.” Companies hire subcontractors in other countries to produce goods of a specified design and quality and could easily choose to hire people who do not violate the guidelines.

The OECD Watch report suggested ways to make the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises stronger by enhancing the power of NCPs, governments, and NGOs to address corporate abuses. For example, it suggested appointed NCPs who were more independent of governments and of business interests and who had more power to investigate violations of the guidelines. These NCPs would present annual reports to parliaments and have their decisions scrutinized by parliamentary committees or ombudsmen. Governments could provide subsidies, export credits, and political-risk insurance for corporations only if corporations observed the OECD guidelines. NGOs could have the power to challenge NCPs who were interpreting the guidelines too narrowly. In countries that were not signatories to the OECD Guidelines, NGOs could present complaints directly to NCPs through the diplomatic staff from the corporations’ home countries.34

If national and international governing bodies do not mandate such reforms, the corporatocracy and its local suppliers will continue to shirk responsibility for funding wars and human rights abuses.


When I first came to Congo in October 2005, I tried to understand the situation there using other projects that my NGO, Christian Peacemaker Teams, has established over the years as frames of reference.  In both Haiti and Chiapas, we had lived among people targeted by paramilitary violence. We had accompanied rural and urban Palestinians facing violence by Israeli soldiers and settlers.

At the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we had set up camps near water-treatment plants and hospitals in order to protect the infrastructure when the US began bombing. (Destruction of these plants in the first Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions caused a grave humanitarian crisis in subsequent years.) After we began hearing stories of US Forces abusing Iraqi families during home raids and torturing Iraqi detainees (almost all of whom never had charges brought against them), our team began documenting these abuses. We sent reports to all relevant US military and civilian authorities three months before the story of Abu Ghraib broke.35

Of all the Christian Peacemaker Team Projects I have worked on, Colombia struck me as bearing the most resemblance to the situation in Congo. Colombia is also a resource-rich country. Its resources fuel military, paramilitary, and guerilla groups whose victims are mostly civilians. Acts of terror – kidnapping, torture, and mutilating bodies – enable armed groups to control the resources. Multinational corporations have a vested interest in preventing meaningful democratic change.

However, Colombia has a more or less functioning government, judicial system, and press – even tho government representatives, prosecutors, judges, and reporters are often murdered. (A Colombian church leader once told us, “In Colombia you are free to say whatever you want, and anyone else is free to kill you for saying it.”) Colombian church and civic groups, and small settlements of campesinos in the Magdalena Medio region we visited, immediately saw ways that a CPT presence might open some political space for them to work for social reforms. About a hundred families displaced by paramilitary groups moved back to their farms with the promise of CPT accompaniment.

In contrast, few Congolese saw any use for the work that CPT has done traditionally in the Americas and the Middle East. We asked about accompanying women when they cultivated the fields and were told that we would inevitably meet the same fate as the Congolese in an attack by armed groups. “Of course you would be raped,” said a woman who works with the Department of Women and Children in Bukavu. Indeed, we were told, the presence of white people might actually cause militias to target the Congolese communities hosting us (altho black internationals might be able to travel surreptitiously into the countryside and document atrocities there, several women told us.)

So we were left feeling helpless. We could refuse to use technology made cheap by the pillage in Congo. But the corporatocracy has millions of consumers lined up to take our places. Besides, cell phones, laptops, and digital cameras have dramatically enhanced the ability of human rights workers to document abuses by governments and individuals.

In the end, once they found out that we were not aid and development workers, most of the Congolese we met said they just wanted their story told. So I am telling you about fifty or sixty rape survivors who clapped and sang for us as we entered the Lutheran meeting hall in Bukavu. About the Lutheran laywoman who told us, “When they are singing they can forget what happened.” About the dejected pastor who brightened only when we talked about bringing delegations of women from North America to meet the 250 survivors under his care. About the university students who said of Western nations, “They denounce things and nothing happens, so the international community must want it to happen.”

And I will proclaim the tragedies of baby Esther and her mother. The first is the rape that forced them to the margins of a devastated society. The second is the reality that Congo has more than enough wealth for Esther and the millions of other Congolese children to have abundance of nutritious food, clean water, education, and decent medical care for the rest of their lives. But its resources go instead to adorn the wealthy with jewelry and to manufacture PlayStations, cell phones, and weapons systems for affluent First World societies.

John Perkins’ term economic hit man seems almost too tame for the behavior of the corporatocracy and its minions in Congo. An unflinching look at what they have done to the Congolese make economic war criminals seem more apt.

And like all unrepentant hit men and war criminals, they belong in prison for the protection of society.


  In this chapter, Congo refers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the nation once called Zaire, whose capital is Kinshasa – as opposed to the Republic of Congo which borders the DRC and whose capital is Brazzaville.

  Testimony in a congressional hearing conducted by Representative Cynthia McKinney, April 16, 2001,www.house.gov/mckinney/news/pr010416.htm

  The International Rescue Committee estimated in 2004 that approximately 3.9 million people have died since 1998 because of the instability: 38,000 deaths occur in Congo every month above what is considered a “normal level” for the country, translating into 1,250 excess deaths every day. Over 70% of these deaths, most due to easily preventable and treatable diseases, occur in the insecure eastern provinces. “Less than two percent of the deaths were directly due to violence,” Richard J. Brennan points out. “However, if the effects of violence – such as the insecurity that limits access to health care facilities – were removed, mortality rates would fall to almost normal levels.” The British medical journal Lancet confirms the IRC statistic of 3.9 million war-related deaths between 1998 and 2004. It also notes that every few months “the mortality equivalent of two southeast Asian tsunamis [referring to the December 2004 catastrophe] ploughs thru its territory.” Lancet declares that the high mortality rates are ongoing: “Preemptive War Epidemiology: Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo.” The primary article discussing the procedure by which the IRC and the Lancet came up with their statistics is Benjamin Coghlan, Richard J. Brennan, Pascal Ngoy, et al., “Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Nationwide Survey,” Lancet367 (January 7, 2006), www.thelancet.com

 In 1961, the US installed Mobutu, who had, with the support of the US and Belgium, assassinated Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo/Zaire after Belgium granted the country independence. Lumumba was a Pan-Africanist and populist, unwilling to ally with either the US or the Soviet Union. After he publicly advocated using Congo’s resources to benefit the Congolese, the diamond corporation DeBeers feared it would lose access to Congo’s diamonds; Lumumba’s stand no doubt hastened his demise. Once Lumumba  was out of the way, acting Prime Minister Adoula approved a deal with DeBeer’s negotiator Maurice Tempelsman and telegrammed the news to US President John F. Kennedy. A 1961 State Department memo headed “Congo Diamond Deal” concluded that the US ought to support the proposal: “How US Foreign Policy over Decades Was Influenced by the Diamond Cartel.  This website contains a partial transcript from an April 6, 2001 discussion held by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney at which Janine Farel Robersts testified. Roberts’ research appears in Blood-Stained Diamonds: A Worldwide Diamond Investigation(Bristol: Impact Media, 2001). Over the next decades, Mobutu pillaged the country, as the Belgians had before him, depositing billions of dollars in foreign banks. Tempelsman and his staff helped Mobutu run Congo/Zaire and secured funding for Mobutu from the Untied States. Mobutu, however, had begun to limit  Western access to Congo’s resources, and this may also have been a motive for the US to support Kabila,Rwanda, and Uganda in their quest to overthrow Mobutu. Tempelsman is a major donor to the Democratic Party. During the presidency of Bill Clinton, he stayed at the White House several times and went sailing with the Clintons when they vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard: Susan Schmidt, “Tempelsman Plan Got the Ear of US Aides,” Washington Post, August 2, 1997.

 Madeleine Drohan, Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business(GuilfordConn.Lyon’s Press, 2004), pp. 302-3.

 “Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” 2001, www.un.org/Docs/sc/letters/2001/3573.pdf; Asad Ismi, “Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, October 2001, posted on the Mines and Communities website, www.minesandcommunities.org/Country/congo1.htm

 Small coltan deposits have been mined from some time in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Zaire, where it is often found as a byproduct of cassiterite in industrial tin mining: Pole Institute, “The Coltan Phenomenon: How a Rare Mineral Has Changed the Life of the Population of War-Torn North Kivu Province in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” January 2002, www.pole-institute.org/documents/coltanglais02.pdf

 All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention, “Illegal Minerals and Conflict,” Parliamentary Briefing, March 2003, www.appggreatlakes.org/cgi-bin/site/index.cgi?back=&pid=27&keywords=&topic=Briefing_Papers. See also the official Rwandan response to the “Report of the Panel of Experts,” 2001, at www.gov.rw/government/04_22_01news_Response_To_UN_Report.htm

 “Report of the Panel of Experts,” 2001. See also Dena Montague and Frida Berrigan, “The Business of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Dollars and Sense, July-August 2001. The report covers plunder by Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military, and commercial interests, noting this network had transferred as much as US$5 billion of assets from the state mining sector to private companies. From 1998 to 2000, none of these transactions benefited Congo’s treasury. The report notes that the rates of malnutrition and mortality in the government-held areas were a result of diverting resources from state companies such as Gécamines to corrupt Zimbabwean and Congolese officials.

 “Report of the Panel of Experts,” 2001, on the plunder of Congo, casts doubt on Rwanda’s assertions that it was invading Congo for its own security. The Panel had a letter dated May 26, 2000, in which the Military High Command for RCD-Goma (a Rwandan-backed Congolese militia group) urged its units to maintain good relationships with their Interahamwe “brothers.” A 30-year-old Interahamwe combatant living in Bukavu told United Nations personnel in 2002, “We haven’t fought much with the RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] in the last two years. We think they are tired of this war, like we are. In any case, they aren’t here in the Congo to chase us, like they pretend. I have seen the gold and coltan mining they do here, we see how they rob the population.”

 In an April 16, 2001 hearing Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney investigated charges that Kagame had orchestrated the April 6, 1994 assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, shooting down their plane with surface-to-air missiles obtained from the US via Uganda. Cameroonian journalist Charles Onana made similar claims in his book, The Secrets of the Rwandan Genocide.  Kagame sued him for defamation, but a Paris court found in favor of Onana. Sympathy for Tutsis in the West after Rwandan genocide has given Kagame carte blanche to commit egregious human rights abuses in much the same way that the world does not hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses because of Germany’s attempt to slaughter all the Jews during WW II. The Congolese resent this indulgent attitude toward Rwanda. At a guest house in Goma where our delegation stayed, the manager, discovering our intent to understand the roots of violence in the region told us, “The Tutsis are a cruel people.” He then described abuses committed by Tutsis in Rwanda before the genocide.

 Montague and Berrigan, “The Business of War.”

 McKinney hearing, April 16, 2001.

 Ismi, “Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness.”

 McKinney hearing, April 16, 2001.

 Dena Montague, “Stolen Goods: Coltan and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” SAIS Review 22, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2002).

 Amy Goodman and David Goodman, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them (New York: Hyperion Press, 2004).

 Montague and Berrigan, “The Business of War;” Ismi, “Congo: The Western Heart of Darkness;” “Report of the Panel of Experts,” 2001; Five Years On: A Review of the OECD Guidelines and National Contact Points, September 22, 2005, www.oecdwatch.org/docs/OECD_Watch_5_Years_On.pdf; All Party Parliamentary Group, “Illegal Minerals and Conflict.”

 “Report of the Panel of Experts,” 2001.

 “IMF Concludes 2002 Article IV Consultation with Rwanda,” September 20, 2002,www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/2002/pn02104.htm; “Rwanda Laying Foundations for ‘Robust Growth,’” afrol News, www.afrol.com/html/News2002/rwa023_econ_growth.htm; “IMF Executive Board Completes Final Review of Uganda’s PRGF Arrangement and Approves 16-Month Policy Support Instrument,” Press Release No. 06/14, January 24, 2006. 

 One of these corporations was Kinross Forrest. Not surprisingly, it was headed by Belgian war profiteer George Forrest, whose past mineral piracy in the Congo had earned him censure by the UN: “Congo Asset Strip,” Mines and Communities website, February 27, 2006, www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press949.htm 

 Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) press releases, “Group Calls on World Bank to Investigate Mining Contracts; Bank’s Failed Reform Project in DR Congo,” February 27, 2006; Letter to Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank Group, February 27, 2006, www.raid-uk.org/news.htm; “Congo Asset Strip,” February 27, 2006. The World Bank also proved true to John Perkins’ assessment of its mortality in its dispersal of insurance money to corporations in Congo. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), the insurance arm of the World Bank, approved “political risk” insurance for Australian-owned Anvil Mining’s copper and silver mine in Dikulushi in September 2004. One month later, Anvil provided logistical support to the Congolese army during its violent suppression of a small-scale rebel uprising in the nearby town of Kilwa. The offensive killed as many as 1200 civilians. The World Bank investigated the matter, under the orders of Paul Wolfowitz, but delayed releasing the report until nongovernmental organizations protested. The Australian police are currently investigating Anvil, which has claimed that eh army commandeered its vehicles and food. “World Bank Buries Internal Report on Controversial Congo Mining Project,” January 31, 2006. http://www.choike.org/nuevo_eng/informes/3933.html.

 Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), Unanswered Questions: Companies, Conflict and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Executive Summary, report, April 2004, p.2, www.raid-uk.org/docs/UN_Panel_DRC/Unanswered_Questions_Full.pdf 

 Human Rights Watch, “The Curse of Gold: IX. International Initiatives to Address Resource Exploitation in the DRC,” http://hrw.org/reports/2005/drc0505/12.htm#_Toc102992181; RAID, Unanswered Questions; All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region, “The OECD Guidelines and the DRC,” February 7, 2005, www.appggreatlakes.org/cgi-bin/site/index.cgi?back=&pid=75&keywords=2005&topic=.

 E-mail to the author, April 7, 2006.

 “OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: 2005 Annual Meeting of the National Contract Points,”https://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/20/13/35387363.pdf 

 See www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/sc7642.doc.htm. The Panel of Experts member cited wrote in his email to the author, “It was clear that its purpose was not to do further research but rather to find some way to exonerate a large number of those companies who had been named.”

 Some corporations that had acquired cheap coltan from Rwanda during the coltan boom of 1999-2000 claimed that the fact that they had stopped buying it from Rwanda after 2001 meant that they were responsive to ethical considerations. For example, the US-based Kemet Corporation announced in 2003 that it would require its suppliers to “provide a Letter of Certification that they do not or will not, (a) illegally mine any tantalum material from the Congolese mines, (b) purchase any illegal material containing tantalum, including coltan, from the Congolese mines and (c) sell any illegal material to KEMET from such mines”: www.kemet.com/kemet/web/homepage/kechome.nsf/weben/KEMET%20Supports%20Avoiding%20Tantalum%20Mined%20in%20Restricted%20Areas%20of%20Congo. However, piracy might again serve as a useful analogy: pirates who had spent several years raping and pillaging their way up and down a seacoast would not be absolved by the argument that “We haven’t done that for at least two years.”

 See www.foe.org/camps/intl/unreportmemo.pdf. Copies of the UN reports and letters that FoE and the UK group RAID (Rights and Accountability in Development) have sent government officials regarding corporations’ lack of compliance are available at www.foe.org/new/releases/84drccomplaint.html.

 Friends of the Earth, “Groups File Complaint with State Department against Three American Companies Named in UN Report,” August 4, 2004, www.foe.org/new/releases/84drccomplaint.html.  See also paragraphs 22-64 of the UN Panel of Experts’ October 16, 2002 report which covers the Congolese and Zimbabwean government networks in the illegal resource exploitation from Congo. Interesting, the report from the 2005 Annual Meeting of National Contact Points noted, under a section entitled “Follow-up by NCPs,” that “Finnish and US NCPs have been exchanging views on a US-based company and its Finnish subsidiary with reference to the deletion of the companies from the Final Report of the UN Panel.” The fact that the report does not mention the OM Group by name contributes to the impression that the role of the NCPs involves protecting corporations. “OECD Guidelines of Multinational Enterprises: 2005 Annual Meeting of the National Contact Points,” www.oecd.org/dataoecd/20/13/35387363.pdf. FoE and RAID also brought up OM Group’s environmental records as cited in a World Bank report. The report questioned whether the measures in place at OM Group’s plant in Lubumbashi were sufficient to prevent radioactive contamination of the Congolese workforce and whether the local population was exposed to an unacceptably high level of pollution from operation of the plant. 

 Colleen Freeman, phone and email interviews, December 2005-Janury 2006. Freeman worked with Friends of the Earth prior to taking a job with RAID. See also the report Five Years On: A Review of the OECD Guidelines and National Contact Points, September 22, 2005, www.oecdwatch.org/docs/OECD_Watch_5_Years_On.pdf. I contacted the US companies mentioned in the third UN report. Two of them, Cabot and Kemet, supplied links to web pages responding to charges that they had profited form illegally obtain coltan. Cabot’s page ha a link to a PDF file stating, “Cabot will no purchase any tantalum supplies from any unlawful source in any part of the world.” However, the 2001 UN Panel of Experts reports noted, “In fact, no coltan exits from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo without benefiting either the rebel group[s] or foreign armies.” During the period covered by the report, 60-70% of the coltan in eastern Congo was mined under the surveillance of the Rwandan military, using the forced labor of prisoners. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Energy (appointed in 2005), Samuel Bodman, was CEO and chair of Cabot Corp. in 1997-2001, when large quantities of illicit coltan from Congo hit the market and Cabot allegedly acquired them.

 RAID, “Unanswered Questions” report, April 2004. Human Rights Watch echoes RAID’s final suggestion in the report, writing, “The international community may want to consider a permanent roster of experts who can investigate these issues throughout the world, rather than ad hoc panels.” Arvind Ganesan and Alex Vines, “Engine of War: Resources, Greed and the Predatory State,” www.hrw.org/wr2k4/14.htm.

 For more on this point, see www.raid-uk.org/news.htm

 Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib scandals in the American media, cited CPT as a source in his May 5, 2004, New Yorker article “Chain of Command.” After the kidnapping of four CPTers in Baghdad, Hersh told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that the work of CPT was “cutting edge.”www.DemocracyNow.org/article.pl?sid=05//11/30/153252.

* * * *

Kathleen Kern has worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams since 1993. CPT provides organizational support to persons committed to faith-based nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy (see www.cpt.org). However, teams in Haiti, Chiapas and other locations have found that once the risk of lethal physical violence ends, the economic violence cemented in place by the corporatocracy can cause as much, if not more, suffering. Kern has served on assignments in Haiti, Palestine, Chiapas, South Dakota, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was a member of a fact-finding delegation to the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo in autumn 2005, where she gathered information that appears in this article.

* * * *

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.  From A Game as Old as Empire: The secret world  of economic hit men and the web of global corruption, © 2007 by Steven Hiatt, ed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA.  All rights reserved. www.bkconnection.com