The carpet-bag generals.

Author:Misser, Francois

Strange new actors are emerging on the troubled Congolese mining stage. In a stunning move, the Zimbabwe Defence Minister Moven Mahachi announced on the 23 September, that Zimbabwe and Congolese defence forces had set up a joint diamond and gold marketing venture to help finance President Kabila's war in the Congo. The operation would need an initial capital injection of $52m said the Minister.

The venture would allegedly associate a company called Osleg, ostensibly owned by the Zimbabwean army, with a Congolese company called Comiex which is said to represent the interests of the Congolese army.

The reason for the venture said Mahachi, is that both Zimbabwe and the Congo were finding it difficult to sustain the cost of the presence of about 13,000 Zimbabwean troops.

A noble option?

"We saw this as a noble option. Instead of our army in the DRC burdening the treasury for more resources, which are not available, it embarks on viable projects for the sake of generating the necessary revenue," explained Mahachi who argues that Zimbabwean troops must become "self-financing".

The cost of the war is considerable. A confidential Finance Ministry memorandum leaked to the Financial Times on 4 October showed that Zimbabwe's expenditures in the Congo amounted to $166m in the first half of 1999, about ten times the official figure given to the IMF.

Obviously, the appointment of a Zimbabwean CEO, Billy Rautenbach as the head of the Gecamines copper and cobalt parastatal last January didn't bear much fruit. Neither did Zimbabwe benefit from the contract between Rautenbach's Ridgepoint and Gecamines to get an 80% interest in Gecamines' Central Group operations.

Gecamines has not been by any means the 'cash cow' that some Harare officials expected. The company is going through the worst crisis of its history. Company engineers estimate that this year's cobalt output will only reach 2,500t, 40% below last year's figure. They don't expect any significant rise in the copper output (34,500t in 1998) either. In the mid-1980s the company produced 500,000t per annum.

These moves have antagonised many Congolese businessmen. While these deals go ahead, the country is short of foreign exchange and earlier this year Kabila outlawed the dollar economy which kept much of the nation ticking over. The grumbles whisper that the only reason the dollar black market was stamped on was to allow government officials to stuff their own pockets with whatever foreign currency was...

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