Cobweb of Greed: The Plunder Report

04/25/2001
In a welcome display of straight talk, a report by a Panel on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo was transmitted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council. It displayed the cobweb of greed that drains the natural wealth of several African countries. Those who invested in tension and conflict were basically exploiting their paramilitary prowess to make profit at the expense of hundreds of thousands of displaced innocent people. Key players in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Angola, as well as accommodating or hidden partners, were specifically named. An excellent part reviews the structure of the illegal exploitation from the administrative set-up of accommodating governors to the financial network to other private companies and individual actors, with a focus on full exploitation under cover of conflict at three private airline companies busily involved on the Ugandan side, mostly using planes provided by a well-known outsider. There were six such companies on the Rwandan side. Also, the Panel indicated, based on reliable sources, that Sabena cargo is said to carry material extracted from the Congo from Kigali airport in Rwanda to European destinations. The management of Sabena in Kampala and Brussels refused to make anyone available to speak to the Panel. Several small banks also played a key role. These included Union des Banques congolaises, whose ongoing operations are in areas controlled by Rwanda; Banque commerciale du Congo, whose Director was transferred to Kigali, is linked to Belgian consortium Belgolaise; Banque commerciale du Rwanda operating in Kisingani, Bukavu and Goma; Banque de la Confiance d'Or, a family-owned business; and Banque du commerce, du developpement et d'industrie, an active newcomer in Kigali whose shareholders, the Panel was told, included an element of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, influential individuals and some Angolans.

From diamonds to coffee to forest wood, timber and gold, let alone dumping counterfeit money, an assortment of seemingly deadly enemies but actual partners plunder the region. In one example, the Panel has chosen to focus on three key actors. First and second are Ugandan Major-General (retired) Salim Saleh, alias Khaleb Akandwanaho, and his wife, Jovia Akandwanaho. "He is the younger brother of President Museveni (very popular in the army) and pulls the strings of illegal activities in areas controlled by Uganda and its allies. James Kegini is his right-hand man." His wife seems particularly interested in diamonds. "According to very reliable sources, she is at the root of the Kisangani wars. She wanted control of the Kisangani diamond market after having confirmation from Mr. Khalil of the Victoria Group" that it was a good and feasible idea. General Kegini is former commander of military operations in the Congo and is "the master in the field; the orchestrator, organizer and manager of the most illegal activities related to Ugandan troop preserves in north and northeastern Congo".

Actors in that field cannot be separated from the structure they serve. Yet, some names keep coming up on several occasions. They include Ali Hussein, who plays a major role in gold and diamond deals, always having a Rwandan citizen in attendance. Another is a Colonel Kabarebe, who is a "facilitator". A third is Tibere Rujigiro, one of the main financiers during the 1990-1994 war. A unique case seems to be that of Aziza Kulsum Gulamali, whose vague status is compounded by her access to various passports. She lives in Nairobi, Bukavu or Brussels, "depending on her schedule". Her newly built alliance with Rwanda is at odds with her previous involvement in arms trafficking in support of its deadly adversaries, the Burundian Hutu. In an attempt to explain her partnership role, Goma province officials said she was so useful that she would bring in $1 million monthly. She and her daughter Djamila may be involved in counterfeiting currency, but she is certainly "famous for forging customs declarations".

The Panel, composed of three Africans, an American and Swiss, stated that it was "alerted" to the extent of prevalent fraud when Ms. Gulamali responded that "in this business everybody does that". Clearly, there are several powerful unmentioned players. Yet, the clarity of the Panel's report and its obvious focus is a valuable firm first step.