How DR Congo rebels make their money
- 29 June 2012
- From the section Africa
A controversial UN report on the Democratic Republic of Congo has focussed attention on Rwanda's alleged role in the current army mutiny, but the document also reveals intriguing details about how rebels in the area make their money.
It lists bank robberies and extortion rackets taxing charcoal and cows as some of the activities of the insurgents in east of the country.
The recent increase in violence was partly caused by government attempts to end racketeering by parts of the army, including the mining of precious minerals such as tin and gold.
Cynics might say the government army wanted to reassert its own control over these rackets. But in any case it is clear recent events were part of a long-standing struggle by Kinshasa to establish control over the east.
The legal and illegal export of precious minerals from the fabulously rich soils of eastern DR Congo is a multi-million dollar business in itself.
But in the run-up to breaking away from the national army in April, rebels also resorted to blatant criminality and robbed the International Bank for Africa (BIAC) in the main eastern city of Goma - twice.
On the first occasion, the UN study says, soldiers snatched $1m (£640,000), the currency of choice for well-off Congolese.
The second BIAC raid netted only $50,000.
But there were other heists too - at a well-known Goma hotel, the Stella Matutina, a customs office and several money transfer branches.
More mundane extortion also affects ordinary people every day.
Trucks carrying charcoal for cooking, for example, are "taxed" $50 at illegal roadblocks and even motorcyclists have to pay a sort of licence fee of $2 a week, the report by the UN group of experts published within the last week says.
This racketeering was making some officers rich, so strengthening their political and ethnic power bases.
The Congolese government was most concerned by soldiers led by General Bosco Ntaganda aka "The Terminator" and Colonel Sultani Makenga - who were both in theory inside the national army - because it believed they were backed by Rwanda and so threatened Kinshasa's sovereignty over the area.
The army high command signalled that these officers and their allies were to be transferred to other parts of the country.
The idea was to assert central control and break up criminal networks within the army, the UN report says.
But in April of this year, the report says, troops under the shared command of Gen Ntaganda and Col Makenga began deserting and setting up their own fiefdoms north of the volcano range that lies just outside Goma.
The planned redeployment - which threatened the officers' money-making capacity - was one apparent reason for the mutiny.
But the indictment on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court in The Hague of Gen Ntaganda was another.
He reportedly feared any moves against him would increase the possibility of him being arrested and sent to The Hague.
Col Makenga himself told the New Yorker magazine that he was not backed by Rwanda and he blamed the recent fighting on the government army.
He also denied he was allied to Gen Ntaganda.
The UN has accused Rwanda, in some detail, of backing Col Makenga's group.
Its evidence - contained in an annex to the UN group of experts report - has not yet been made public, but was leaked on Wednesday.
Rwanda denies the allegation.
The report reveals that the result of the mutiny was that as government army units redeployed to fight the new rebellion, other armed groups moved in to fill the vacuum created by their departure.
'All hell has broken loose'
There are at least eight main Congolese armed groups operating in eastern DR Congo, in addition to the groups that mutinied this year, and three other armed groups led mainly by foreign forces.
Some of these groups have fancy acronyms indicating that they are "national" or "defence" forces.
But many are in reality closer to being mere brigands and criminals.
As these men with guns move around and establish new fiefdoms or rackets in the wake of the mutiny - in what the UN report calls a "fluid security landscape" - ordinary people suffer.
The US campaign group Enough said "all hell has broken loose" in eastern DR Congo since government forces moved there to try to retake control after a mutiny.
The number of people made homeless by the wars in eastern DR Congo has passed two million for the first time since 2009, the report says.
Those affected are mainly in South Kivu province bordering Burundi and North Kivu province bordering Rwanda.
"The UN experts report should ring alarm bells in Washington, London and other capitals," Enough said.
"The war in eastern [DR] Congo has escalated to where it was four years ago, with spikes in attacks, sexual violence and displacement."