How the Quest for Africa's Resources Feeds Insecurity

By Kabukuru, Wanjohi | New African, June 2015 | Go to article overview

How the Quest for Africa's Resources Feeds Insecurity


Kabukuru, Wanjohi, New African


Acts of terror and militant extremism in Africa have peaked in the last decade, prompting many questions and theories, including why this heightening insecurity is happening at a time when rich new mineral reserves are being discovered in most of the affected countries, and global demand for natural resources is higher than ever. In this lead article of our cover story, Wanjohi Kabukuru examines the link between terror and the insatiable global quest for Africa's natural resources.

On 16 April 1997, Laurent Kabila (later to become President of DRCongo) signed mining concessions with several international mining firms to secure funds for his fight to oust President Mobutu Sese Seko from power. At the time Kabila (father of the current president, Joseph Kabila) was the leader of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL). The infamous deal signed on this day was a $2 billion contract with a Toronto-listed firm--American Mineral Fields International (AMF). Under this deal AMF would provide AFDL with funds and weapons in return for future mining rights.

The AMF spokesman at the time, Earl Young, captured the scenario pretty well in an opinion piece published in the Tribune Review: "The situation was [that] we were dealing with the Mobutu government for some time. It was not producing results as rapidly as we liked. Also, if in fact we were on the wrong side, we wanted to switch sides ... We are business people, not politicians. We just need to know what the rules are and it looks like President Kabila is going to make them."

Kabila's act propelled Africa's natural resources wealth into the matrix of power struggles and set a precedent for other militia groups in DRCongo and numerous other African nations to follow. Sadly, this trend has not stopped to this day.

A 2011 UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) study estimated that DRCongo's untapped mineral reserves were worth $24 trillion. This wealth, comprising diamonds, gold, coltan, tin, tantalum, tungsten and timber among other resources, is one of the major impediments holding back DRCongo.

The country is also home to the UN's largest peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, which has an annual budget of $1.4 billion and comprises 19,000 troops. While minerals have been the source of conflict for more than a century in DRCongo, a spillover effect has also been felt regionally.

To date, DRCongo has hosted dozens of armed militias, both local and external, who thrive on the looting of the country's mineral wealth. They include the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the Popular Front for Justice in Congo, Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADFNALU), Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the various offshoots of the Mai-Mai militias. And the presence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in DRC territory has been a source of friction between Rwanda and DRCongo.

Not to mention that Orientale, North Kivu, Katanga and South Kivu have remained unstable thanks to rich mineral deposits in these regions.

So far al-Shabaab's highly publicised July 2010 Kyadongo attacks in Uganda, which claimed 74 people, the Westgate Mall attack, which resulted in 67 deaths, the Mandera bus attack, where 28 non-Muslim passengers and 36 manual labourers were killed, together with the recent Garissa University attack and its 148 deaths, remain the key events informing the fast-paced emergence of terror in the Eastern African region. It is significant to note, however, that the Garissa and Mandera attacks, which saw scores of non-Muslims leaving the region, occurred just after Africa Oil announced that it had discovered some 1.8 trillion cubic metres of gas in Wajir, which is in the middle of Garissa and Mandera.

The direct link between natural resources and conflict cannot be gainsaid. …

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