1990s >> 1996 >> no-1108-december-1996

Whiff of Gold

We publish below, without comment, a translation of an article that appeared in the Belgian paper “Le Soir“on 14 November under the heading “THE GREAT LAKES WAR HAS A WHIFF OF GOLD ABOUT IT”.

One would have to be naive to believe that the motivation behind the interest currently being shown by the major powers in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is purely humanitarian. In reality, Rwanda and Burundi are two countries which, although tiny, are of strategic geopolitical importance, located as they are on the borders of the immense state of Zaire, whose eastern provinces constitute an almost uncapped store of strategic mineral wealth.

Rwanda and Burundi are two pivotal states on the fringes of the French-speaking zone of influence which stretches from Western to Central Africa, incorporating the Zaire of President Mobutu, who, since the end of the Cold War, has skilfully exploited the French language link. Although in cultural and linguistic terms Rwanda and Burundi may be classed among the French-speaking countries, economically speaking they belong to Eastern Africa,all their exports and imports passing through the Indian Ocean ports of Tanzania and Kenya.

For several years, the centre of gravity of Kivu province has also been shifting. Most of the local companies have post office boxes in Kigali and Bujumbura, and their business operations are conducted via Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean ports. If Kivu could elude Kinshasa’s control, other eastern provinces might follow suit. In Shaba too, rebel movements are preparing to go into action.

At a recent press conference, the Zairean Minister of the Interior, Kamanda wa Kamanda, relayed soon afterwards by his colleague responsible for the Mines, stressed that “the war In Kivu has a whiff of gold about it”.

And it is not just gold, although the gold mines of Southern Kivu have given the rebel movements quasi-autarky up to now. Several opposition movements had bases in the Fizi Baraka region and even signed “non-aggression pacts” with the military, each of them exploiting the region’s gold for their own account, and exporting it via trading posts in Burundi.

Apart from gold, Kivu has other mineral riches. Particularly substantial methane gas deposits lie beneath the bed of Lake Kivu, and American companies might be interested in working them. Even back in colonial times, strategic minerals were discovered in the region. Southern Kivu is rich in silver, beryl, bismuth, iron, cassiterite, tantalum and tungsten. Northern Kivu, in addition to gold, cassiterite, iron, diamonds, platinum and tantalum, also has large deposits of niobium, already worked by a German company.

Kivu’s resources are particularly important, since niobium and columbotantalite are materials used in the high-tech aeronautical and computer industries, and will be ever more highly prized in the future. Certain sources even maintain that oil has been discovered under Lake Kivu, but because of the distances involved, it is apparently unprofitable to exploit it at the present time. It must in any event be assumed that such riches, which will one day be of strategic importance, cannot be a matter of complete indifference to the industrialised countries (Canada included) currently waiting in the wings to bring humanitarian aid to this disaster zone.

(Translated by MD).