Due to their relative isolation and their poor integration into Belgian-Congolese colonial structures as well as their resistance to mass recruitment into the colonial industrial or military-security projects, the Nande had retained a degree of social and economic independence.22 They excelled early on as traders of salt and as diligent cultivators – even after the colonial authorities intruded with new cash crops, such as coffee and tea, and non-indigenous variations of grains and vegetables. Frequently dodging and eluding state-imposed restrictions on trade and exports, Nande traders ventured beyond their traditional territory as early as in the 1920s to connect with markets in Goma, Kisangani and Kinshasa as well as eastwards into Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.
Their illegal trading and smuggling began with coffee, which was long the region’s most profitable agricultural product. Coffee planters from the Lubero and Beni area produced about 31 tons per season and the Nande traders’ share was at least 22 tons. Following the Nande, even some Belgian coffee planters began to illegally sell their harvests across the nearby borders to Indian traders from Uganda and Rwanda.
Mobutu’s System D forced many wage-earners to adopt new ways of protecting their income from tax-collectors who were acting increasingly like a criminal racket. Increasingly, the Nande sought protection by turning eastwards to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and their trading networks in Kampala, Kigali, Butare, Nairobi. Mombasa and Dar-es-Salam. By 1979, they had built a “near monopoly”24 in the shipping of produce from Kivu to Kisangani and onwards to Kinshasa. They traded any Congolese product fit for export and any foreign product wanted by the Congolese.
Fuelling the growing Nande trade was gold25– illegal in the eyes of the agents of both the Belgian colonial and Mobutu governments – but extraordinarily enriching for those who did not get caught. Small groups of local artisanal miners had started to dig illegally for gold as early as in the 1930s. Unlike any other group in eastern Congo, the Nande knew how to connect with these gold producers and the many who followed them to the gold fields of Manguredjipa and Lubero, the semi-depleted OKIMO concessions in Ituri and Uélé, and more recently discovered deposits at Tshopo. Gold could be hidden easily, was a welcome form of payment everywhere, and enabled the purchase of consumer goods that were otherwise not available to the Congolese. Barter trade linked to gold was soon so formalised that standardised equivalences were widely embraced (seeTable 2).
|1 Yamaha motorcycle||10 kg ivory||1 ton coffee||20 kg gold|
|1 pick -up tr uck||100 kg ivory||10 tons coffee||200 kg gold|
|1 Mercedes truck||1. ton ivory||40 tons coffee||800 kg gold|
|1 bicycle||0.5 kg ivory||150–200 kg coffee||1 kg gold|
Equivalency of vehicles with ivory, coffee and gold
Source: The Real Economy of Zaire, the contribution of smuggling and
other unofficial activities to national wealth, Janet MacGaffey with
Vwakyanakazi Mukohya, Rukarangira wa Nkera, Brooke Grundfes
Schoepf, Makwala ma Mavambu ye Beda, and Walu Engundu,
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1991, page 53
In the post-independence period, all gold mining turned into what Congo researchers started to call the ‘Second Economy’26. The characteristics of this economy include many daily transactions of varying degrees of illegality, ranging from bartering goods and services against gold, exploiting gold deposits that are legally licensed to another party, and smuggling. Before the first and second Congo Wars in 1996-1997 and 1998-2003, researchers attempted to understand how this clandestine economy compared to the legitimate one. While confirming the significance in broad terms,27 researchers were only able to estimate that these alternative economic activities might represent anywhere from 30 to more than 50 percent of GDP. Their problem was that the underlying GDP statistics were notoriously unreliable – as were estimates of the true national gold production, including illegal and unrecorded exports.
Mobutu’s Generals and Gold Pillage
In Congo’s rich history of kleptocrats, Mobutu’s former Army General Chief of Staff and Commander of the Civil Guard, General Philemon Baramoto Kpama Kata enjoys a special place. As the head of the Civil Guard, Baramoto was supposed to organize the border control. Instead, he created a secretive military police, rumored to comprise around 10,000 specially trained and equipped Ngbandi – Mobutu’s ethnic group. Thanks to his military might, he ruled for a significant period of time over all the gold and diamond mines in Orientale Province, particularly the richest gold mines in Ituri and Uélé.
A month before Mobutu’s exit from the Congo in 1996, Baramoto entered into a joint venture with Barrick Gold Corporation. As part of the deal, the company agreed to modernise Bunia airport, where Baramoto’s base was located. For the company, an improved airport facilitated rotations of its staff and equipment to and from the mining sites at Mongbwalu and Watsa.
However, for Baramoto upgrading Bunia airport to allow international air traffic meant that it was easier for him to import weapons from international suppliers or intervene on behalf of clandestine Angolan and Sudanese allies. The improved facilities also offered the general a direct link abroad for his illegal gold and diamond exports, and any other items he wanted to take with him into exile.
Baramoto’s looting sprees are legendary, particular during the last months of the Mobutu presidency. He is reported to have stolen his own soldiers’ pay, and to have rented his soldiers as private security guards in Kinshasa. He even sold his force’s last remaining fighter jets to arms dealers. In May 1997, when the fall of Mobutu’s regime was sealed, Baromoto left the Congo on his private jet to seek refuge in South Africa – from where, in the comfort of his villa in Sandton, he continued to organise rebellions against new Kabila regime. The precise quantity of gold and other assets that Baramoto stole was never established by any authority.
Contemporaneous news reports
estimated that his personal wealth, when he arrived in South Africa, amounted to over US$100 million. But he was far from the only Mobutuist to flee with the country’s treasures. According to Kabila’s foreign minister, Bizimi Karaha, Mobutu’s gang of generals had actually stolen as much as US$10 billion – some of which was in South Africa and being used to foment rebellion.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila and the Gold Trade
Laurent-Désiré Kabila was one of the few surviving leaders of the Mulele revolt (or Simba rebellion) of 1964, who managed to sneak back into the Congo.32 In 1967, he crossed Lake Tanganyika and installed himself in Kibamba with just three collaborators and 16 combatants, who shared a total of three small firearms. There he founded the Parti de la Révolution Populaire, and created his first underground camps, where he recruited and trained locals for his rebel force. Initially, Kabila succeeded beyond expectations.
Already familiar with the land and its people from his prior revolutionary activities, his mixture of authoritarian militarism and Maoist-inspired idealism greatly appealed to the predominantly Bembe population. At the peak of his popularity and success, Kabila controlled an area that stretched from Lake Tanganyika into today’s north-eastern Katanga and eastern Maniema, including most of Fizi as well as parts of Mwenga, Shabunda, Kbambare, Nyunzu, Kalemie and Kasongo.
Initially, Kabila also switched successfully between his role as a rebel leader in the bush, a hard-drinking charmer who was at ease in the hotel bars of African and European capitals, and a brash negotiator with Chinese and African leaders, Mobutu’s intermediaries and the American government.
However, over time, the idealism waned and the socialist ideologue, who had provided well for his troops and the locals, increasingly turned into a self-centered and despotic chieftain. Internal dissent with his autocratic leadership escalated and Kabila responded with callous and random violence against the local population and even his own combatants. Many researchers claim that by the late 1970s he was no longer interested in maintaining his rebel holdout for the sake of revolution but for mere personal economic gain. And indeed, Kabila did control a large swathe of fertile agricultural land dotted with some of the richest gold
deposits in South Kivu.
Surrounded by a tight family and loyal comrades in arms, Kabila managed to remain an enigma for most of his time in the underground. Rumours circulated that he had died when, in fact, he was running a thriving business in Dar-es-Salaam, where he was known as Francois Mutware.34 Under this alias he operated a business trading in food, consumer goods, ivory, minerals and, in particular, gold. Kabila paid for Tanzania’s hospitality in two ways: for President Julius Nyerere, who despised Mobutu, Kabila was a potential tool of revenge against the Congolese dictator; and for the Tanzanian Intelligence services, he was a reliable informer and operative.
ADFL and the gold trade
History washed Kabila to the surface in 1996 when the postgenocide government of Rwanda interpreted Mobutu’s refugee policy in relation to the Hutu genocidaires in eastern Congo and their attacks on Rwanda and Tutsi communities in Congo as too great a threat. But to wage war inside Congo, Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s de-facto president and commander-in-chief,36 required Congolese partners. Of the four potential leaders invited to Kigali, Kabila was not necessarily the most likely candidate to emerge as chief of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL). However, his network of highlevel political supporters paid off. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Nyerere both pushed for Kabila’s to be put in charge. Even so, his position as undisputed leader was not finally confirmed until the war in Congo was well underway.
Meanwhile, economic experts organised the ADFL’s institutional structure. Professor Mawampanga Mwana Nanga37 was put in charge of its finances, while Kambale Mututule38 assumed responsibility for mining and Baby Mbayi organised its economic policies.
The ADFL leaders were keen on fostering economic activities in ‘liberated’ territories. In the mining sector, gold and diamonds promised quick revenues if only trading companies would contribute the necessary capital. Happily for them, the enterprising Belgian gold dealer, Alain Goetz, was already buying large quantities of gold through his network of Congolese gold buyers, who purchased gold from hundreds of artisanal gold mining communities around eastern Congo. Presumably, many of the suppliers smuggled their gold to his Affimet buying office in Bujumbura, depriving Mobutu’s state of the 3-5 percent export duties.
The ADFL gave Goetz the right to export all the gold that his suppliers brought to him for a 1.5 percent export duty. The impact that Goetz and others who exported Congo’s gold had on the official Congolese gold industry was very significant. Ten years before the AFDL revolt – just as Goetz was starting his business – the US Congressional Research Service reported that Congo’s two gold mining parastatals, OKOMO and SOMINKI, accounted for about 900 kilograms out of a total of more than 2,000 kilograms of official exports in 1988. By 1997, after the AFDL rebellion had succeeded and after Goetz had developed a fully-functional gold buying operation in eastern Congo, official receipts for gold exports had dropped to less than 100 kilogram per month.39 The true size of Congo’s gold exports was now concealed by Goetz’s remarkable success, for which no accounting – official or unofficial – exists.