by Ann Garrison
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 for what price? Where is 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 report 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, the capitals of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, and then on to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Earlier UN reports said that during the Second Congo War of 1998 to 2003, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his generals created a “Congo Desk” to organize the illegal exploitation of Congo’s natural resources. Earlier UN investigators also reported clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan militias vying for gold and diamonds in northeastern DRC.
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 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 three private jets.
The latest UN report points out 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, “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 perhaps 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: “Aldango, whose refinery cost $5 million to build, sounds fishy. Who will guard this facade?”
Indeed, who will know from whom and where the raw ore came, and where the gold ingots go, at what prices? And at what cost to Congolese, Rwandese 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. Please support her work on Patreon. She can be reached at email@example.com.