FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Profiting From Congo’s Plunder

by DAVID CRONIN

Having lived in Belgium for 18 years, I figured it was time to start learning about the country’s colonial past. Or should I say present?

My research is at an early stage but it has lead to an unavoidable conclusion: the Belgian elite still behaves as if it calls the shots in Congo.

The French-language magazine Marianne recently published the names of 10 men implicated in the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese prime minister after its independence.  The list — compiled by Lumumba’s family for a legal investigation opened in Brussels two years ago — include Etienne Davignon, a former member of the European Commission and chairman of that “gentlemen’s club” for global capitalism, the Bilderberg Group.  Davignon worked for the Belgian foreign ministry at the time of Lumumba’s murder and reportedly drew up a telegram recommending the prime minister’s “removal”.

Now in his 80s, Davignon remains a high-flying corporate lobbyist. His appearance on the Lumumba list prompted me to check if his commercial activities are in any way connected with Congo. The short answer is “yes, they are”.

Davignon’s profile on BusinessWeek states that he has held the posts of director and vice-president with Umicore. This mining company was previously known as Union Minière du Haut Katanga and began extracting Congo’s rich mineral resources in the early twentieth century.  It has good political connections. Jean-Luc Dehaene, a long-serving Belgian prime minister, has served on Umicore’s board too.

Patrice Lumumba had the audacity to advocate that “the soil of our country should really benefit its children”. That was in June 1960.  Fifty-three years after he made that pledge, the soil of Katanga province is being used for the benefit of Umicore.

There is a strong likelihood that my smartphone – or yours, if you have one – contains material from Congo.  Umicore regularly buys cobalt from mines and suppliers in Katanga for batteries, computers, chemicals and cars.  Umicore brags that it shares 50% of the global market in materials for lithium-ion batteries (a key power source for electronic equipment) with just one other firm.

Corporate Knights – an insert with The Washington Post that promotes “clean capitalism” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) – has put Umicore in its “100 most sustainable companies” table for 2013.

Only someone with a warped sense of humour could praise firms active in Congo’s mines for being “sustainable”. The International Monetary Fund – not a friend of the downtrodden – has calculated that the value of Congo’s mineral and oil exports come to $4.2 billion in 2009. Yet the Kinshasa government collected just $155 million in tax that year – 4% of the value of those sales.

This is in a country where – as the “Africa progress report” published by Kofi Annan recently notes – some of the world’s worst malnutrition can be found and seven million children are out of school. Congo is at the bottom of the United Nations “human development index”; it has also been plagued by a war, in which the question of who should control Katanga’s mines has played a significant part.

Far from having its reputation damaged by its involvement in Congo, Umicore’s advice is much in demand. The European Commission has appointed Umicore representative Christian Hagelüken to an “expert group” on ensuring access to raw materials for entrepreneurs. A 2010 paper drawn up by that group identified cobalt and tantalum from Congo as being among 14 “critical” minerals, underscoring their importance for the electronic industry. The paper urged that action be taken against “trade distortions” – code for measures designed to use resources for the benefit of a nation’s children (as Lumumba envisaged), rather than for MP3 players.

Needless to say, the “experts” have made all the right noises about “sustainability” and protecting the environment. If we ignore this spin, however, we will see that the determination of Europeans to control Congo has not changed.

When Belgium conceded in the 1950s that it would have to grant independence to Congo, it resolved to retain a grip on Katanga’s mines. It did so by supporting Lumumba’s rival, Moise Tshombe, as the province’s chief. Belgium tried to encourage Katanga’s secession from the rest of Congo.

Davignon’s reported call for the removal of Lumumba bears a chilling similarity to a message conveyed by Dwight D Eisenhower, the American president, to Allen Dulles, head of the CIA.  In it, Eisenhower pleaded for Lumumba to be “eliminated”.

In 1884, America was the first country to recognise Belgium’s claim to the Congo. This set in train a process which wiped out at least half of the Congolese population by 1920, according to Jan Vansina, an anthropologist who specialises in Central Africa. This could mean that 10 million lives were destroyed during the reign of Leopold II – the Belgian king who colonised the Congo – and the 10 years after his death.

David Van Reybrouck’s recently published history of Congo traces how the agri-food giant Unilever had its origins in the exploitation of  Congolese palm oil. Vast fortunes have been amassed for wily businessmen at the expense of the Congolese people.  Despite apologising for its role in Lumumba’s murder a decade ago, Belgium has never atoned for the suffering it inflicted on the Congolese. One explanation for why it has never atoned is that some affluent Belgians are doing nicely from the ongoing pillage of Congo’s resources.

David Cronin’s book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War will be published in August. It is available for pre-ordering from Pluto Press (www.plutobooks.com).

A version of this article was first published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu).    

 

 

More articles by:

A version of this article  was first published by EUobserver.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail