The final 2019 UN Group of Experts Report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo confirms that Congo’s eastern neighbor Rwanda remains a haven for smuggling Congolese minerals.
“Earlier UN reports said that during the Second Congo War of 1998 to 2003, President Paul Kagame’s government created a ‘Congo Desk’ to organize the illegal exploitation of Congo’s natural resources. “
The mining industry is particularly difficult to regulate because both raw ore and refined products can cross borders almost as easily as cash. How much ore is delivered to a refinery, where’s it from, how was it mined, and where does it go, for what price, once refined? Who lays claim to the wealth generated along the way?
Congolese minerals have long been smuggled into Congo’s eastern neighbors Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. The 2019 UN Group of Exports Report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted that the weak and corrupt Congolese state still barely regulates artisenal and small-scale gold mining . The exploitation of miners, damage to the environment, and plunder of the nation’s gold resources continues. The 2019 UN Group of Experts Report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo confirmed that gold smuggling routes still extend from Bukavu and Butembo, cities on the eastern borders of Congo’s North and South Kivu Provinces, to Kigali, Kampala and Bujumbura, and then on to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
“The exploitation of miners, damage to the environment, and plunder of the nation’s gold resources continues.”
Earlier UN reports said that during the Second Congo War of 1998 to 2003, President Paul Kagame’s government created a “Congo Desk” to organize the illegal exploitation of Congo’s natural resources. They also reported clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan militias vying for gold and diamonds in the country’s northeast.
Congo is a vast country the size of Western Europe, with unparalleled natural resources. Rwanda is a tiny country the size of Vermont with relatively few. Its per capita income is $773, its economy half the size of war ravaged Afghanistan’s, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s wealth and lavish lifestyle surpass those of most African presidents. He travels in a $65 million Gulfstream 650 jet , also the favorite of Jeff Bezos, and makes over 50 overseas trips a year. It’s hard not to wonder whether these trips are all for sport, pleasure, and traditional diplomacy, and the Gulfstream 650 is just one of his several private jets.
“President Kagame travels in a $65 million Gulfstream 650 jet, also the favorite of Jeff Bezos.”
The latest UN report points out, for one, that Rwanda’s gold export numbers don’t add up. In 2018, Rwanda declared gold exports of 2,163 kg, while the United Arab Emirates officially imported 12,539 kg from Rwanda during the first nine months of 2018. The report also says that, “In February 2019, during a meeting in Kigali, officials of the Government of Rwanda informed the Group that a new gold refinery (Aldango Ltd.) would officially launch its activities later in 2019.” Despite all their evidence of ongoing gold smuggling from Congo to Rwanda, the experts wrote that “the relevant government authorities and supply chain actors should monitor the activities of this company in order to ensure that due diligence standards are implemented.”
That’s comic optimism. Or, more likely, a stuffy template that UN investigators are expected to paste into official reports on natural resource transfers.
After reading the UN report, Rwandan American economist David Himbara wrote that “Aldango, whose refinery cost $5 million dollars to build, sounds fishy. Who will guard this facade?”
Indeed, who will know from whom and where the raw ore and gold ingots go, at what price? And at what cost to Congolese, Rwandans, and their environment?
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com