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  • Writer's pictureWhat is Happening in Congo?

The United States of America and the Congolese Blood They've Helped Spill

The United States of America, the land of opportunity, the home of the brave, the land of the free, and the leader of the free world. This nation has positioned itself as the liberator of all and the self-appointed beacon of democracy. At the center of most technological advancements, you’ll always find America. They are THE superpower of the world and have designated themselves as judge, jury, and executioner in matters concerning the humanity of mankind. Such is the beautifully curated mirage the U.S. has marketed to the global community. The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful hope of humanity. However, when you remove the rose-coloured glasses and look past the bright Times Square lights and truly take a look underneath it all, you’ll see that America is nothing but a boogeyman to the rest of the world. Forget the American dream, they are what nightmares are made of and what goes spook in the night. If we were to honestly describe this nation, we would call them the pioneers of modern-day imperialism, and an instrumental force behind the murders of millions globally. They have managed to wage wars against nations for the advancement of the wealthy in the U.S. All of this is done under the guise of protecting the rights of the locals while blowing up those very same lives and abandoning them after extracting their precious minerals. In Vietnam, the United States claimed they wanted to prevent the rise of communism, the antithesis of the democracy that existed in the USA. In actuality, they wanted to maintain control over their oil, coal, and natural gas reserves. When they invaded Iraq in 2003, they convinced the world that it was only to free the Iraqi people of the tyrant, Saddam Hussein and to fight against global terrorism. Yet again that was another ruse; they waged a devastating war against the people they were allegedly protecting to get access to their oil reserves. The primary motive for the US has always been financial, under the guise of liberation. The same thing can be said about their pursuits in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Being the visionaries they were and always being one step ahead of the rest, America was involved in Congolese affairs from the start of colonial exploitation in the region. In the late 1800’s King Leopold II of Belgium claimed Congo for himself and shortly after the United States of America supported the claim and its claim of being an independent state. Leopold was to “introduce civilization and trade into the center of Africa.” With that King Leopold began to source rubber and ivory from Congo. He enslaved and tortured Congolese people so they could meet his rubber quotas and he could amass massive amounts of wealth. If the locals did not meet their quotas, they were beaten or had their limbs chopped off. By the end of his tenure as the head of the Congo Free State, as many as 10 million Congolese had been killed. In 1906, the Americans were ready for their slice of the cake, and J.P. Morgan met with Leopold to talk business in Dover. Shortly after, Leopold met with Fortune Ryan and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in Brussels. By November 1906, the Belgian king and the American businessmen were in bed together. The American Congo Company had a contract that would allow them to collect rubber from Congo for 99 years over 10359.95 sq. km, they had a ten-year option to buy 5179.98 sq. km of territory. When market demands began to shift, the American Congo Company adjusted to the times.

In 1921, they traded their forest monopoly rights for rights over 999.74 sq. km and 100 years’ exclusive rights to mines that would be discovered in the region which turned out to be diamond mines. Therefore some of the biggest benefactors of the outrageous human rights violations the Congolese people experienced at the hands of King Leopold were some of America’s richest men, a huge win for capitalism. To leave no stone unturned, American financiers organized Forminiere and they managed to obtain a 99-year monopoly on all the mines that were discovered within six years in a landmass that covered half of the then Congo Free State. They allowed King Leopold and his Belgian collaborators to cut themselves huge pieces in all the concessions and options. There were multiple businessmen and family members of members of the senate such as Edward B. Aldrich, the son of Nelson W. Aldrich who was the Republican leader in the Senate. The Guggenheim brothers were also cited to be involved along with JP Morgan and John Rockefeller Jr. 

The United States also found itself meddling in the affairs of the DRC in the 1960’s. As Congo was freeing itself from the palms of Belgians, the U.S. felt that it was its turn to get its hands on the nation. On June 30, 1960, Congo officially gained its independence from Belgium. This was after the efforts of brave young men like Patrice Lumumba, who at the time did not know he would become the object of the ire of the CIA. The U.S. government launched a secret political program that lasted approximately seven years. The program was initially launched to eliminate Patrice Lumumba who had been elected as the Prime Minister. They contested Lumumba’s leadership as they believed that he would be a vessel for communism in the country as well as on the continent. The program had the objective to remove and replace Lumumba with a pro-western leader and they provided the funds to ensure this. On August 18, 1960, after a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, a plan began to be formulated to assassinate Lumumba. The CIA chose to use Joseph Mobutu, who was at the time the Congolese Army Chief of Staff to rid the DRC of Patrice Lumumba. The program organized mass demonstrations spread anti-Communist pamphlets, and provided propaganda materials. 

The Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles on a call emphasized that Lumumba’s removal was of utmost importance. The Station, the operation run by the Americans, continued to provide support for his assassination. After his capture by Mobutu’s people, Patrice Emery Lumumba was assassinated on January 17, 1961, by a Belgian officer and Katangan soldiers. Even after the brutal capture, humiliation, and murder of Patrice Lumumba and his supporters, they continued to support political instability in Congo in order to assure their investment in the new face of Congo and future Zaire, Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko. The Special Group (303 Committee) approved a budget for covert action in Congo for the years 1960-1968 that totaled approximately $11,702,000, which would be 121,633,987.91 in the modern day. This meddling in Congolese affairs subjected the Congolese people who had yet to recover from colonialism to decades of dictatorship under Mobutu, who remained as the head of state until 1997. With Lumumba assassinated and their personal lackey Mobutu in power, one might assume that the US was done with the DRC. However, they were only getting started. In the 1980s America found continued interest in the country due to the money they could make off of the natural resources. The USA and many other countries had their eyes set on the mining sector. They were aiming to get control over mining companies like Gecamines (copper and cobalt), Okima (gold), MIBA (diamonds), & Sominki (gold and cassiterite).

Due to their determination to hinder the spread of communism, Western powers needed a strong figure to maintain their influence on the continent and ensure they would continue to be the puppet masters of all the inner workings of newly independent African States. They found that figure in Mobutu. His loyalty came at a price. They kept him in power through military and financial support and Mobutu continued to manage their interests in Africa. It was with their assistance that Mobutu managed to remain a dictator in then-Zaire for 30 years. After Belgium and France, the US was the largest donor of aid to Zaire. Multiple presidents praised him and were a friend to Mobutu, like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush. His regime was provided with over $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. When Jimmy Carter’s administration was in charge they attempted to put distance between themselves and Mobutu’s regime as it grew increasingly violent. Of course, this was just for public perception as Zaire remained a recipient of nearly half of the foreign aid Jimmy Carter’s administration allocated to Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1980 the House of Representatives voted to terminate military aid to Zaire but the funds were reinstated because they received pressure from Jimmy Carter to protect American business interests. Even as reports of human rights violations came out about Mobutu and his regime, Ronald Reagan would describe him as “a voice of good sense and goodwill”. We've seen similar dynamics with Paul Kagame and his regime and Bill Clinton.

When Mobutu resisted having a democratic election, his relationship with the US soured, however, this didn’t end the US’s interference with Zaire. As rebel forces led by Laurent Desire Kabila worked to overthrow Mobutu the US found a new fighter. Mining companies, communication companies, and bankers alike courted Kabila as he moved to ensure victory over Mobutu. American Mineral Fields Inc. signed a $1 billion contract with Kabila’s rebel alliance. This would have allowed the American company to take advantage of the chaos and explore Congo’s southern copper and cobalt deposits, they would then also be able to create the world’s largest zinc smelter and build an acid refining plant. Gecamine, Congo’s state-owned mining company would also be exploited by the aforementioned American company and they would go on to own 51% of Gecamines, and Kabila’s ADFL would own 49%.  American Diamond Buyers were also allowed to maintain a monopoly over the diamond reserves in Kisangani. These were all deals signed and discussed before Kabila’s success in overthrowing Mobutu. However, when Laurent Kabila became president he reneged on his deals after receiving military and financial support. He was willing to pay the price the Americans demanded of him.

Distraught by this turn of events, a plan was concocted to oust Kabila as president. In August of 1998, the Clinton administration sent special forces into the East of the DRC and supported Uganda and Rwanda’s war efforts. They believed this was the best way to replace Kabila with a more compliant head of state. During the First Congo War, The United States provided Uganda with approximately $1.5 million in weapons. Rwanda was importing U.S. weapons to assist them in their efforts against the DRC. Some of the Rwandan soldiers had received special forces training from the U.S. under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program. During Rwanda’s invasion of Zaire in 1996, it was revealed that Rwandan troops had been receiving special training and U.S. officials claimed it was for human rights objectives. Washington Post soon after exposed that they had been trained in combat as well. It proved that the U.S. efforts in the African Great Lakes region were aiding insurgency and war. Had Zimbabwean and Angolan troops not aligned themselves with Kabila and his forces, Uganda and Rwanda’s mission would have succeeded. That did not stop their efforts in trying to invade Congo. The US continued to help build the arsenal of eight out of the nine governments that were directly involved, even as the Second Congo War commenced. The effects of said war continued to ravage the DRC since Kabila’s coup d’etat. The U.S. military transfers in the form of direct government-to-government weapons deliveries, commercial sales, and international military education and training (IMETS) to states directly involved totaled more than $125 million since the end of the Cold War.

This trend continued into the 2000’s even as administrations changed. Especially as The Clintons built stronger ties with Paul Kagame. Paul Kagame would come under scrutiny over his human rights abuses as well as his autocratic leadership in addition to his involvement in the mass killings of Congolese nationals. Did this dissuade Bill Clinton from singing praises for the Rwandan president? Of course not. As the war raged on in the east, Kagame and his regime funded armed groups to massacre Congolese civilians. Bill Clinton went on to sing his praises. The former American president went as far as calling the warmonger “one of the greatest leaders of our time”. In the 2016 leaking of presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s emails, it was revealed that in 2012 Bill Clinton was offered $650, 000 to pose for a picture with Joseph Kabila, the DRC’s former corrupt president who needed a Western seal of approval. The bribe was to come with a speech about Kabila and hopefully, that would help curb any foreign investigations into him at the time. This begets questions about the Clintons' politics and why corrupt leaders would feel comfortable enough to bribe a former American president.

As highlighted before, American companies have had their vested interests in the DRC. As the aforementioned American Mineral Fields had done, the engineering firm Bechtel Inc. established strong ties in the war-torn rebel zones. With the instability in the region caused by American-backed Rwanda, backing armed militia groups, Bechtel would be able to profit from the conflict minerals found in the region. Bechtel drew up an inventory of Congo’s mineral resources free of charge. Instead of paying for the minerals they siphoned, they paid for NASA satellite studies of the DRC for infrared maps of the country’s minerals. A year after Bechtel expressed interest in mapping the minerals in the DRC, coltan was discovered in the eastern region of Congo. Since the discovery of coltan, armed groups have made hundreds of millions of dollars on the illicit sale of coltan to the US, Europe, and Asia. Interestingly, Rwanda, a country with negligible amounts of coltan reserves has become one of the highest importers of the mineral. 

A company that is often overlooked in the conversation but has completely enmeshed itself in the DRC is the Forrest Group, which includes the Ohio-based OM Group. They own multiple mining concessions in the formerly known provinces of Shaba, and Gecamines. Gecamines, when the DRC was still Zaire and led by Mobutu, was owned by the state. However, as the years went on it was gradually privatized, specifically when it was under George Forrest, owner of the Forrest Group leadership. By 2006, Forrest owned the main mining contracts in the province of Katanga. Tricia Feeney from the NGO Raid stated that due to his stronghold on the mining industry, Forrest has had no clear rules to adhere to. As many of the mining companies, they too have participated in the illegal act of child mining, loose mining regulations, and extreme abuse of labour laws without any consequences for more than four decades. 

There was a report from the mid-2000s that detailed how the gold mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, part of the conglomerate AngloAmerican has had links to a dangerous armed group in Congo, the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), who were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Ituri. They would help the company access the gold-rich mining site around the town of Mongbwalu in the Ituri district. AngloGold Ashanti was found to have provided meaningful financial and logistical support which translated to political support. Floribert Njabu, the self-appointed president of the FNI claimed that the AngloGold Ashanti Company was present in the region because he permitted them. They continued their exploitation of the lands through the conflicts. A lot of the profits came from artisanal mining in the region, with millions of dollars worth of gold being smuggled from the region. The AngloGold Ashanti Company was involved with an armed group that would call Hema women witches and burn them alive in their homes. The FNI went door to door in the villages and forced young people into artisanal mining so they would be able to provide gold for companies like the AngloGold Ashanti Company.

Multiple American-based globally beloved companies cannot be left out when addressing Americans and the impact their greedy hands have had on Congo. Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, and Google were recently named in a lawsuit that sought damages over the mistreatment of child miners in the DRC. Children have been injured and killed to provide them with the minerals the companies need to produce their products. In 2019, an American-based NGO, IRAdcocates filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Tesla, Microsoft, and Google. This lawsuit by Terry Collingsworth and his team was filed on behalf of 14 plaintiffs, these plaintiffs were either children or guardians of children who had been injured or killed after a tunnel collapse in cobalt mines where the kids had been working in Haut Katanga. They specifically named the aforementioned companies for the simple fact that they make up a large portion of buyers in the cobalt market.  The children and their guardians represent the wider group of children who remain unnamed but who have faced the same fate from mining for cobalt. IRAdvocates claimed forced child labour, unjust enrichment, negligent supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They requested the courts to force the companies to create a fund that would contribute to the children receiving adequate medical treatment after being injured while mining cobalt.

Unsurprisingly, the companies denied the claims and felt no responsibility towards the Congolese children providing them with the minerals that the likes of Bill Gates need to maintain his status as one of the richest men on earth. The lives of these children are not a concern of theirs. Who cares if they are left with life-altering injuries or even lose their lives as long as Larry Page and Sergey Brin can provide legacies for their children? Congolese children’s lives were once again proven to be dispensable for the comforts of the West. In their motion to have the case dismissed, the defendants claimed that the dead and injured child miners were not forced into labour and their labour was compelled by economic pressures. They also claimed to not have any necessary information on the abuses that were occurring at the mining sites that were cited in the lawsuit and were thus denying any culpability. Siddharth Kara, the British author of “Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers our Lives” wrote an article in 2018 where he spoke to Congolese children about the conditions in which they work. That’s where he met Elodie, who at the time was a 15-year-old mother of a two-month-old boy. She and her son were forced to inhale lethal mineral dust. Elodie herself, a child, was orphaned by the cobalt mines she was subjected to work in. Whilst working in those mines, to be paid around $0.65 at the end of the day, Elodie and many other children are forced to fill a sack of heterogenite stone to be sold to Chinese traders who will funnel it into the cobalt bought by companies like Tesla. 

Past and present, then and now, America has been instrumental in the systematic disenfranchisement of Congolese people. Congolese lands and people have been a means to an end to line the pockets of businessmen in the western hemisphere. American presidents and governments have preached a doctrine of peace and democracy whilst being the main obstructors of human rights. With an unmitigated belief that they are the Justice League of the galaxy, they have shamed and named oppressive regimes that they covertly supported and funded. It is with great precision and intricacy that America as a state has weaved a fabric of deception, theft, and human rights abuses to benefit off the suffering of others. Congolese men, Congolese women, and Congolese children have been deemed as necessary sacrifices to fuel the embers of capitalism and fan the fires of technological advancements. As we move into the age of ethical consumption and saving the earth from our carbon footprint, unbeknownst to us the price to pay for change is Congolese blood. And the United States of America is the main suspect at the scene of the crime.

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