A friend here in Buja, a foreign national who I’ve come to consider the smartest person in Burundi, urged me to give a second look to the UN’s damning report on the illicit flow of weapons and minerals into and out of the Congo, which was published back in November. In case you missed it, this more or less amounted to the UN shaking its fist and saying, “Damn you! Damn you!” amid the general solemn nodding of the international community. A summary from the UN flak office noted that:
the mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) continue to exploit gold and cassiterite in North and South Kivu provinces with the help of trading networks in Uganda, Burundi and the United Arab Emirates, while irregular arms deliveries have come from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Sudan.
Though the international hack-factory was far more intrigued by the titillating reports of involvement by the Roman Catholic Church and the dirty-money Maytag that is Dubai, the accusations against the ruling party’s inner circle were big news indeed here in Burundi. One analyst, who was happy to speak on-the-record about just about everything else in the Great Lakes region, quietly asked to remain anonymous when the UN report came up: the government, he said quite bluntly, was seething over the report’s details, and was just dying to make an example of someone.
(On a completely unrelated note, BINUB’s Youssef Mahmoud – essentially the highest-ranking UN figure operating in Burundi, who had seen about all there was to see since arriving in Bujumbura in 2007 – was unceremoniously dismissed from his post in December, under the flimsiest of pretexts. He has since been replaced by a jar of pickles.)
Of particular note were some of the high-level figures in Burundi’s military and security apparatus who were linked to overseas arms deals.
The Group has hard evidence of an attempted purchase of a cargo of 40,000 Steyr AUG assault rifles and ammunition officially for the Burundian police and organized by a Burundian delegation which travelled to Malaysia. The Group estimates that such an arms consignment for the Burundian police is excessive, given that the Burundian police number no more than 20,000.
For those of you who consider Burundi’s problems to be newsworthy in their own right – and not simply footnotes to the African catastrophe du jour next door – these are worth considering. Many here in Burundi believe the final destination for those weapons was not, in fact, the FDLR fighters in eastern Congo, but the youth militias of Burundi’s own ruling party.
(Burundian officials, for their part, countered that the national police force was being trained by repeated viewings of Dolph Lundgren’s 1992 magnum opus, Universal Soldier, and that officers are consequently expected to carry and fire weapons with both hands.)
As opposition parties and international observers continue to accuse the ruling CNDD-FDD party of training and arming its youth groups ahead of this summer’s elections, the presence of large weapons caches in the countryside is…troubling. According to a very trusted source, a number of flights of dubious origin and repute – at least one of which had links to notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout – touched down here in Bujumbura last year, under cover of deepest, darkest night. I do not think they were here for the nightlife, however stellar.
The vast and insidious network of mineral smugglers, arms traffickers, and overall douchey profiteers implicated in the report, meanwhile, has, according to The New York Times, “tentacles touching Spanish charities, Ukrainian arms dealers, corrupt African officials and even secretive North Korean weapons shipments.” These tentacles, it goes without saying, are long and up to no good.
A more detailed account of the findings (of which there were so many, it’s taken me about 3 1/2 hours to download the full PDF), comes to us from Georgianne Nienaber at the Huffington Post, who detailed some of the allegations:
• Arms shipments or suspected shipments to the DRC from Spain, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Libya, China, Belgium, Tanzania, the British Virgin Islands [Ed.: WTF?] and others;
• Roman Catholic and Spanish networks of support to the FDLR and other rebel groups;
• Recruitment of soldiers from Rwandan refugee camps;
• Violations of international humanitarian law;
• Impediments in the disarmament process;
• Wanted war criminal General Bosco Ntaganda’s parallel military operations;
• Recruitment of child solders;
• Obstruction of humanitarian access in eastern DRC; and
• Linkage between the exploitation of natural resources and the financing of illegal armed groups which reach all the way to Dubai and North Korea and include the purchase of a Boeing 727 aircraft originating at the Opa-Locka Executive Airport in Florida.
By now, this probably isn’t news to the Afrophiles and assorted newshounds who no doubt follow this blog. The funny thing is: it wasn’t really news when the story “broke” in December. As Nienaber pointed out, the much-hyped “leaked” report had, in a very similar form, already gone public in May of last year.
But the really sobering part is that, in terms of the overall methods and conclusions, another, similar report already appeared, incredibly, in April 2001.
That’s right, more than eight years before a blockbuster report was leaked, detailing the widespread funneling of Congolese resources through complicit neighboring countries to a vast and nefarious network of overseas ne’er-do-wells, the UN published a damning report, detailing the widespread funneling of Congolese resources through complicit neighboring countries to a vast and nefarious network of overseas ne’er-do-wells.
Really, Congo, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
The differences, of course, are not just cosmetic. While the 2009 report largely places the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR in its crosshairs, before proceeding to untangle its very tangled web of associates, the 2001 report leveled most of its more damning accusations at the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, including their respective leaders-cum-war-profiteers, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni. These included, e.g., some knee-slapping graphics detailing the dramatic increase in gold and diamond exports by both countries since their invasion of Congo in 1997, despite the fact that the two countries’ combined domestic mining interests could barely scrape together enough gold and diamonds for even a D-list rapper’s Jesus piece. You can almost picture the customs officials in Kampala and Kigali, diligently slapping little “MADE IN UGANDA” and “MADE IN RWANDA” stickers onto each hefty sack of gold and diamonds, before sending them on their way to Abu Dhabi, Antwerp and beyond.
The 2009 report, also, to give it full credit, does a remarkable job in naming names and, um, facing faces. If Colonel David Ruyagi, Ignace Murwanashyaka, Neo Bisimwa, or any of their co-conspirators thought they would be getting off easy in this latest UN exposé, they were sorely mistaken. Likewise, if you were a shady middleman for cutthroat Rwandan rebels looking to export Congo’s exploited mineral resources to reputable and un- businesses abroad, you wouldn’t want to wake up one morning, rub the sleep from your eyes, pick up your favorite news daily, and see this picture staring back from the front page.
Similarly, it is sort of implicit in the hopes of an arms trafficker that a picture like this one never makes it into the hands of UN researchers for their soon-to-be-well-circulated memoranda:
I would like to say there are some important and practical conclusions drawn from one or both of these reports, but really, for any cynical observer of this region, they only seem to further illustrate why Africa’s most intractable conflict is so intractable. Cui bono? Why, we all do!