China and the Congo – a price to be paid
The Congo is often referred to by African correspondents as the forgotten war. The magnitude of the problem should not make this so. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died as a result of violence in the Congo. This is more deaths than from any other conflict other than World War II. A report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said “Congo’s loss is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark or the state of Colorado perishing within a decade.” The Congo serves as an example of how the trade of arms for resources is fueling Africa’s self-destructive spiral. In the same period of time, China’s trade with Africa has grown into a staggering US $50 Billion per annum business. Congo, China trade deals, small arms, and how Africa pays the price…
Congo is a country riddled with tribal quarrels, a long history of violence, and with little to no reliable infrastructure. It has a turbulent colonial and independent history. There are no arms or munitions factories in the Congo, but the country is awash with arms. On the other side of the ledger, the Congo is rich in natural resources that some countries are eager to develop no matter the cost in human lives. The Congo, or as it has been known in the past the Belgian Congo or in another iteration of its existence, Zaire, is an example of the tragedy of the tribal struggles of Africa.There is a saying common among old Africa hands, AWA, Africa Wins Again. It implies despite the best efforts of man that Africa always asserts her own distinctive destiny, and as a result, life for the inhabitants is often both bloody, brutal and short.
The weapon of the African insurgency is the classic Soviet bloc AK-47. Invented in 1947, hence its name, the weapon is cheap to produce, has ammunition that is in plentiful supply and is relatively easy to use, albeit frequently with little accuracy, by an untrained operative. AK-47′s can be bought in the Congo for less than US $100 per unit at a retail level – of course, large orders garner a discount. The “56″ suffix stamped on the weapons’ serial number is the telling identifier- it means ‘Made in China’. Most of the AK-47′s in the Congo are stamped ’56″. Chinese weapons are cheaper than Russia, Ukraine or other Eastern European manufactured weapons. China does not directly infringe the UN sanctions that prohibit arms sales to the Congo. Weapons come into Congo via proxy importers but the ”56″ tells one where they came from, despite any efforts to mask the route.
In Africa, the provisioning of arms is often a precursor to reciprocal trade agreements. The Congo is rich in gold and iron deposits. In fact, the largest iron mine in the Congo is now owned and operated by a major Chinese company whose other main lime of business at home is weapons manufacturer. It may be coincidental, but if history is a teacher, probably not. It may also be coincidental that the Chinese premier also late last year made a ‘goodwill’ visit to 7 African nations where both conflict and Chinese trade deals are flourishing. China is now one of the few nations in the world that is carrying a trade surplus – it may be an economy where growth has slowed, but it still has an appetite for resources. China sees no need to let that capacity for economic growth slide. The exploitation of Africa is a common reprise – and it would appear, ‘…the song remains the same’ in the Congo while the world watches and waits for someone else to take action.