The Democratic Republic of Congo would be like a bad itch that has refused to go, but the analogy is a hard sell given the country’s enormity – it has land area the size of western Europe.
Last week the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts said in a confidential report that both Uganda and Rwanda were supporting the M23 rebels, who are expanding their control of parts of Congo’s mineral-rich North Kivu province.
This latest report comes when the Ugandan led International Conference of the Great Lake Region is making headway in setting up the necessary infrastructure to bring peace to the trouble eastern Congo.
"The leak also came days before Rwanda’s bid for a seat for the Security Council was coming up to vote in the UN general assembly. Rwanda, the continent’s unanimous choice, won the seat regardless of the new allegations.
There are no such things as coincidence in the affairs of states...
Uganda and Rwanda’s interest in the DRC is not a secret. In the mid-nineties the two nations’ armies rolled into the Congo in aid of a rebel force led by Laurent Kabila. They overthrew the army of cold war relic Mobutu Sese Seko. They fell out with Kabila ganged up again to try and depose him at the beginning of the century.
A series of fights between Rwanda and Uganda led to their evacuation in 2002.
But their interest in the volatile and lawless eastern Congo has remained.
Kigali is wary of the remnants of the Hutu dominated army it ejected in 1994 who they fear have never given up on returning. While Kampala claims that anti-government rebels are finding refuge in the unpoliced jungles of eastern Congo. In fact Uganda troops remain in northern Congo in hot pursuit of rebel leader Joseph Kony and the remainder of his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
But Congo’s real prize is the estimated $24 trillion worth mineral resources buried in its soils. To put the extent of this bounty in perspective this is the equivalent to the combined GDP of the US and western Europe.
These minerals range from old school copper, gold and diamonds, to new age minerals like coltan and silicon, critical in the multi-billion dollar high tech industry. There also suggestions of commercially viable quantities of oil and gas, given the neighbouring finds in Uganda and Rwanda respectively.
With poverty and ignorance endemic and Kinshasa’s influence largely absent in most of the vast central African nation, it is has become a haven for the unsavory types – free lance or state backed to take advantage of the system to extract as much wealth as they can at least cost.
In March 2004 Equatorial Guinea was the target of a coup organized by a motley crew of British, South African and Zimbabwean investors and mercenaries, with some tacit approval from some key nations.
Equatorial Guinea president Teodore Obiang may not be a likable character given his human rights record and his stewardship of a kleptocracy that has doomed the majority of his people to a sub-human existence. But the small nation of 500,000 people on the west coast of Africa has huge accessible oil deposits. Enough oil to make an investment in a coup a worthwhile endevour, by some small time, albeit politically connected, businessmen. Equatorial Guinea has a paltry 1.1 billion barrels of proven oil reserves about $110b at today’s prices.
"It is not by accident that the Congo continues to be an insecure, unstable and poor country. Keeping it that way serves the purpose of certain interests who for instance would not entertain a country seating on such wealth with a leader that is politically conscience and determined to exploit this wealth for the benefit of the Congolese people....
One may query Uganda and Rwanda’s own interests in the Congo.
The rumours that the two nations through official and unofficial channels have been involved in the exploitation of minerals have been around, even before the 1960s incursion by units of Uganda Army into in aid of gold and ivory smugglers.
But the two countries may also probably be suffering a kind of guilt by association.
Uganda leading a process, which given a chance may see eastern Congo settle down unlocking a10million strong market, and Rwanda emboldened by its seat at the high table of global security, even if for only two years may not bode well in certain circles.
The Congo is murky business and this may be as good a conspiracy theory as any around.