Monday, May 25, 2015

Sgt. Madot Dagbinza of the Congolese Army was killed in an ambush in 2014///19. American Companies Exploit the Congo

Sgt. Madot Dagbinza of the Congolese Army was killed in an ambush in 2014. She left behind this remarkable photo album.

By the time Sgt. Madot Dagbinza showed the photographer Michael Christopher Brown a handful of snapshots, she’d been fighting with the 42nd Commando Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo for four years. A member of an elite unit, the baby-faced soldier in her mid-20s rarely left the front lines where the Congolese military (known as F.A.R.D.C.) was battling the Rwanda-backed rebel group M23.
Dagbinza was stationed along with more than 1,000 other soldiers at Hotel Invest, an abandoned resort overrun with bougainvillea at the edge of Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest and most diverse preserve. Among the postcolonial ruins, a swimming pool half-filled with rainwater glowed a virulent green with algae near the makeshift officers’ quarters. Brown and his friend Daniel McCabe, an independent filmmaker, were staying there on a embed with the Congolese military, which typically doesn’t welcome journalists or anyone with a camera.
Dagbinza knew McCabe well. She met the filmmaker three months earlier when her unit arrested him because he was driving his Toyota Land Cruiser at night on a nearby road. That arrest turned out to be his lucky break, giving him rare access to this rapid response unit.
On the December day in 2012 when Dagbinza met Brown, he’d tagged along on one of McCabe’s embeds. Intrigued by the photos she showed him, Brown asked to see more and discovered that Dagbinza kept a personal photo album. For $100 and copies of each image, she sold Brown the pink album that appears in these pages. In it, she strikes various poses, from classic military mugging with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher slung over her shoulders to vamping, Congo-style, in a denim minidress and a pair of skintight silver jeggings.

Only one in 50 of F.A.R.D.C.’s 150,000 soldiers is a woman, and these photos provide an unusual glimpse into that world. Even among her fellow female commandos, however, Sergeant Dagbinza cut a striking figure. “I know that I am beautiful, and many men love me, I can see it wherever we move,” she told Brown. “But for my first marriage, I choose my country.”

The Congolese military is a chameleon-like entity, with recruits frequently integrated from other armed groups. Some of its soldiers are known to have committed crimes like looting and rape. Yet Dagbinza belonged to a relatively new unit — a product of reform engineered by the nascent democratic Congolese government — of which she was fiercely proud. “Men fight,” she told Brown. “Why not us women? I love our country. You have to love your country to sleep outside, live under the sun and rains, cross rivers and forests when you know that many people don’t care — they’re enjoying their lives while you’re on the front lines.”

Dagbinza was 16 when military recruiters arrived in her hometown, Gbadolite, in Congo’s northwestern province of Équateur and offered anyone 18 and older the chance to board a plane and become a soldier. Claiming to be 18, Dagbinza immediately volunteered and hopped a free flight. She hoped it would take her to Kinshasa, where she could look for her father, a soldier who abandoned the family when she was a child. Instead, the military transport landed in the middle of a war zone in eastern Congo. And Dagbinza ended up as a fighter.

From a distance, the Democratic Republic of Congo doesn’t appear to be a state, and yet, largely because of the ingenuity of its people, it functions as one. In 1965, after its infamous leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, seized power (he renamed the country Zaire in 1971), he told his citizens, “Fend for yourselves.” The idea, commonly referred to as “Article 15” of the Congolese Constitution, though no such article exists, boils down to this: When the state doesn’t pay its soldiers, or any of its employees, they are to take from fellow citizens. Much of the state, from the post office to the barracks, still runs on this kind of informal graft.
In the eastern part of the country, the most recent war began more than 18 years ago, when the Rwandan genocide destabilized the region and drove victims and their persecutors over the Rwandan border into eastern Congo. It is now riven by as many as 60 armed groups represented by a stew of acronyms. At its height, the conflict drew in nine countries and claimed millions of lives, most because of illness and disease, in a scramble for political power, land, resources and minerals, including coltan for cellphones and hearing aids and tungsten for golf-club heads.

Over the past five years, however, there have been encouraging signs that there may soon be an end to this seemingly intractable struggle. For the first time in decades, following a peace process that led to elections in 2006, Congo has a functioning, if deeply flawed, democratic government. The International Criminal Court is preparing to try one of the region’s worst actors, the rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda.
Sergeant Dagbinza came of age as a soldier at this hopeful moment in Congo’s fraught history. The outlines of her story were patchy. She ­talked­ little of her life before the military and barely spoke of the young son she left with relatives in her village. Instead, she told a tale of the luck and tenacity by which she rose quickly through military ranks. According to Dagbinza, the South African and Chinese military trainers who taught her unit of the 42nd battalion noticed her skill and dedication. Her commanders also took notice. Several years ago, when she was about 20, she caught the eye of Col. Mamadou Mustapha Ndala, who, despite a past marked by suspected poaching and involvement with other rebel groups, became a widely admired figure in the fight against M23, then wreaking havoc in the east.
Dagbinza became his personal bodyguard, and in turn, Mamadou became a father of sorts for the young woman. Mamadou, one of Congo’s few Muslims, was known for his personal discipline, and he discouraged his soldiers from drinking and smoking. Dagbinza, who favored high heels and hair extensions during her time off, followed his rules.
For decades, the people of eastern Congo watched in frustration and rage as blue-helmeted international peacekeepers stood by and did nothing while rebel groups laid waste to towns and villages. Then, in 2013, the United Nations agreed to have Mamadou work with its new Force Intervention Brigade, which gave peacekeepers the authority to carry out offensive operations — in other words, to fight back.
With Dagbinza alongside him, Colonel Mamadou became the face of this new effort: a defender of Congo and a much longed-for symbol of national pride. After battles, when Mamadou appeared on the rust-red laterite roads of eastern Congo, people turned out in droves to sing his praises: “Ma-ma-madou,” they chanted.
On Jan. 2, 2014, Sergeant Dagbinza was riding in a military jeep with Colonel Mamadou when his convoy was ambushed. It’s still unclear who was behind the attack. Mamadou was killed, and Dagbinza died alongside him. As she told Brown, “Wherever Colonel Mamadou Mustapha Ndala is — that’s where you’ll find me.” Eliza Griswold

19. American Companies Exploit the Congo

Dollars and Sense
July/August 2001
Title: The Business of War in the Democratic Republic Of Congo: Who benefits?
Authors: Dena Montague, Frieda Berrigan
Voice (Pioneer Valley, MA)

March/April, 2001
Title: Depopulation and Perception Management (Part 2: Central Africa)
Author: keith harmon snow
Honorable Mention: From Previous Censored Yearbook 2001
Title: U. S. Military and Corporate Recolonization of the Congo
Source: CovertAction Quarterly
Date: Summer 2000
Title: U. S. Military and Corporate Recolonization of the Congo
Author: Ellen Ray
Faculty evaluator: Philip Beard,

Student researchers: Arinze Anoruo, Chris Salvano

Western multinational corporations’ attempts to cash in on the wealth of Congo’s resources have resulted in what many have called “Africa’s first world war,” claiming the lives of over 3 million people. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been labeled “the richest patch of earth on the planet.” The valuable abundance of minerals and resources in the DRC has made it the target of attacks from U.S.-supported neighboring African countries Uganda and Rwanda.

The DRC is minerial rich with millions of tons of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, niobium, and tantalum also known as coltan. Coltan has become an increasingly valuable resource to American corporations. Coltan is used to make mobile phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and capacitators used to maintain the electrical charge in computer chips. In December of 2000 the shortage of coltan was the main reason that the popular sale of the Sony Play Station 2 video game came to an abrupt halt.

The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt and is the world’s largest supplier of high-grade copper. With these minerals playing a major part in maintaining US military dominance and economic growth, minerals in the Congo are deemed vital US interests.

Historically, the U.S. government identified sources of materials in Third World countries, and then encouraged U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate their production. Dating back to the mid-1960s, the U.S. government literally installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which gave U.S. corporations access to the Congo’s minerals for more than 30 years. However, over the years Mobutu began to limit access by Western corporations, and to control the distribution of resources. In 1998, U.S. military-trained leaders of Rwanda and Uganda invaded the mineral-rich areas of the Congo. The invaders installed illegal colonial-style governments which continue to receive millions of dollars in arms and military training from the United States. Our government and a $5 million Citibank loan maintains the rebel presence in the Congo. Their control of mineral rich areas allows western corporations, such as American Mineral Fields, to illegally mine. Rwandan and Ugandan control over this area is beneficial for both governments and for the corporations that continue to exploit the Congo’s natural wealth.

American Mineral Fields (AMF) landed exclusive exploration rights to an estimated 1.4 million tons of copper and 270,000 tons of cobalt. San Francisco based engineering firm Bechtel Inc. established strong ties in the rebel zones as well. Bechtel drew up an inventory of the Congo’s mineral resources free of charge, and also paid for NASA satellite studies of the country for infared maps of its minerals. Bechtel estimates that the DRC’s mineral ores alone are worth $157 billion dollars. Through coltan production, the Rwandans and their allies are bringing in $20 million revenue a month. Rwanda’s diamond exports went from 166 carats in 1998 to 30,500 in 2000. Uganda’s diamond exports jumped from approximately 1,500 carats to about 11,300. The final destination for many of these minerals is the U.S.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR DENA MONTAGUE: Nearly four million people dead in four years of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the world remains silent in the face of an abominable atrocity. The war in the DRC is not only significant because of its infamous status as the world’s deadliest war; but also because of the active participation of an international contingent of multinational corporations, terrorist networks, arms brokers, and governments all clamoring for the legendary wealth of the Congo while exacerbating the war.

Ugandan and Rwandan backed rebels and the Congolese central government met for nine weeks beginning in March 2002 in Sun City, South Africa to negotiate aspects of the Inter-Congolese dialogue as a part of the Lusaka Peace Accords. In a significant development emerging from the Dialogue – Jean Pierre Bemba, a known Mobutuist and leader of Uganda sponsored rebel party, Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), has been appointed Prime Minister of the DRC in a power sharing agreement strongly encouraged by western governments. Rather than being held accountable by the international community for war crimes committed against Congolese civilians and the massive exploitation of Congolese natural resources detailed by the UN during the four-year war, Bemba, a multimillionaire will be leading the country he helped decimate.

In response to its isolation from the power sharing agreement, Rwandan backed RCD has formed an alliance with veteran Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Rwanda has not ceased discussions of an enduring armed partition of the DRC, of which it remains in control of approximately one third of the country. The power sharing agreement emerging from Sun City has effectively marginalized civil society groups who have been organizing peacefully for democracy, and instead rewards armed struggle in the country. Meanwhile, Rwanda and Uganda continue to attract international investors as well as military assistance from the U.S. and others. Thousands of Rwandan troops are currently engaged fighting in the eastern region of the country at the continued expense of civilian lives.

The war in the DRC is layered in such a way that it appears as a wartime telenovella. Its complexity tends to distract the layman observer from the fundamental facts. This war is yet another stage in international efforts to control the wealth of the Congo-a story that dates back to the 19th century.

The only major U.S. media response to the war in the DRC has been a weeklong Nightline report, “The Heart of Darkness” that was originally scheduled to air the week of September 11th and was postponed until February. Although the Nightline special was significant in drawing attention to the neglected story and the unbearable suffering of the Congolese people, it did little to explain the root causes of the war. Other than the Nightline report, only an occasional story on the fledgling peace process appears in major newspapers.

There are few outlets that give a comprehensive account of the war. International Crisis Group has published a series of in-depth reports about the conflict.

Occasionally the Washington Post covers the DRC. Reporter Karl Vick was one of the first to uncover the story of coltan mining. compiles daily reports on the DRC. Other magazines that are less accessible frequently cover the war – New African Magazine and Africa Confidential.

For an historical perspective on conflict in the Congo- Books: King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, and The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Ludo De Witte.

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