The murky world of Rwanda’s Congo pillage and US complicity

The US State Department’s FOIA reading room has recently posted a series of diplomatic cables, ranging from 1999 to 2003, concerning Rwanda’s illegal exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mineral wealth. A concise backgrounder for the historical context can be found in Howard W. French’s article in the NY Review of Books (Sep 29, 2009). Following the 1994 Hutu-led genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda, the US-backed Tutsi-lead Rwandan Patriotic Front gained control of the entirety of the country. The US Army Fort Leavenworth-trained Paul Kagame has been considered the de facto leader of Rwanda since 1994 and its official president since 2000. In 1996, the now Tutsi-dominated government of Rwanda sent its troops into the North and South Kivu regions of the Congo to chase down Hutus they accused of being complicit in the genocide and to overthrow longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. They succeeded in overthrowing Mobutu installing Laurent Kabila as the new leader in the capital city of Kinshasa. In 1998, Kabila attempted to expel Rwanda’s soldiers from the country but was met with a “new and even larger invasion of the country.”

While failing to overthrow Kabila entirely, Rwanda succeeded in obtaining control of mineral-rich regions of the Congo through its military occupation and its proxy militias. During this time, the UN and other organizations issued multiple reports documenting the systematic pillage of the country’s resources by Rwanda’s ruling class.

As just one example:

According to a 2005 report on the Rwandan economy by the South African Institute for Security Studies, Rwanda’s officially recorded coltan production soared nearly tenfold between 1999 and 2001, from 147 tons to 1,300 tons, surpassing revenues from the country’s main traditional exports, tea and coffee, for the first time. “Part of the increase in production is due to the opening of new mines in Rwanda,” the report said. “However, the increase is primarily due to the fraudulent re-export of coltan of Congolese origin.”

From an August 2000 cable from the US Embassy in Kigali and titled “Rwanda: Organized crime involvement in the diamond industry“:

RCD-Goma [a Rwanda-backed militia] officials and Rwandan and Congolese businessmen explained to us the basic diamond exportation process. In Kigali, businessmen go first to “the Congo Desk” which they say is operated by the Rwandan External Security Services Operated by the Rwandan External Security Services. The men mentioned most frequently as the Congo Desk representatives are Chief of External Services Colonel Patrick Karegeya, Major Dan Munyuza, and Gatete (fnu [first name unknown]) (also sometimes referred to as “Dan” Gatete). (Gatete is believed to be an RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] major who works directly for RPA Chief of Staff Bg Kayumba Myamwasa.) many sources claim that their main contact is “Dan,” referring sometimes to Gatete, other times meaning Munyuza (Refs B and C).

Sources told us that typically, a five percent “tax” must be paid to the Congo Desk in Rwanda for permission to export diamonds located in the RPA/RCD-Goma sector of the DROC. We have also heard that a flat fee, ranging from USD 20,000 to USD 100,000 must be paid (Refs B and D). It is unclear how long the export rights “last” once the tax or flat fee has been paid and whether the fees are different depending on the commodity (Ref D). RCD-Goma’s [redacted] said that the RPA uses this money for the war effort in Congo. He had no doubt that the RPA uses the money to purchase weapons, food, clothing, and medicine for the RPA (Ref B provides similar commentary).

Many of the details surrounding the “Congo Desk” are further expanded upon by UN reports I previously linked. From UN document S/2002/1146, pp. 14-15 (bolding mine):

The elite network’s operations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are managed centrally from the RPA Congo Desk, which serves to link the commercial and military activities of RPA The Panel has described this function in some detail in previous reports. The Panel continues to receive documentation on ways in which the proceeds of the RPA commercial wing finance an armed presence. As an illustration, the Panel has recently acquired documents showing coltan sales being negotiated by ranking Congo Desk officials. The Panel has copies of faxes sent from the office of RPA Major Dan Munyuza on behalf of Maniema Mining Company and another fax sent from the office of RPA Chief of Staff General James Kaberebe.

While revenues and expenditure in the Congo Desk are considerable, they are kept strictly separate from Rwanda’s national budget. A reliable source associated with the Congo Desk has calculated that income to the Desk provided 80 per cent of all RPA expenditure in 1999. The official Rwandan budget for 1999 allocated $80 million to the military. If this official budget allocation of $80 million represents the 20 per cent referred to by the Panel’s source as the portion of military expenditure not covered by the Congo Desk, then the total military budget from all sources would approximate $400 million. This comes to 20 per cent of GNP for 1999 and approximately 150 per cent of recurring budget expenditure for that year. The Congo Desk’s contribution to Rwanda’s military expenses would therefore have been in the order of $320 million. The activities funded by revenues generated by the Congo Desk strongly shape Rwanda’s foreign policy and directly influence national decision- making in a number of domains. These transactions are, however, hidden from the scrutiny of international organizations.

A couple of things are worth noting about names mentioned in both the US diplomatic cable and the UN report quoted above. Patrick Karegeya fell out with the Kagame regime and fled to South Africa in 2008. He was murdered, likely by agents of of the Rwandan government, on December 31, 2013. Kayumba Myamwasa fled to South Africa in 2010 where he survived an assassination attempt later that year. Dan Munyuza has been directly implicated in ordering assassinations on behalf of Kagame’s ruling circle in a 2011 phone recording. As of February 2016, Munyunza was reported to be “Inspector General of Police in charge of operations,” and is probably still in good terms with the leadership of Rwanda.

Perhaps the most intriguing character in all of this is one Major Gatete Edward Karuranga. He is only fleetingly identified as “Gatete” in the US Embassy in Kigali cable and UN document S/2002/1146 names him “Edward Gatete” and recommends he be punished with a “travel ban and financial restrictions” for his role in the Congo Desk. A July 2007 article from the Lawrence Journal-World of Kansas names “Maj. Karuranga Gatete of Rwanda” as a student at the US Army Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC). Sure enough, a PDF for the college’s Class of 2007 graduation program names “Karuranga, Gatete Edward,” a major from Rwanda, as a graduate. For further corroboration, “Lt. Col Gatete E. Karuranga of Rwanda, a 2007 CGSC graduate” is named in a 2011 issue of a CGSC Foundation newsletter. A 2010 newsletter from the UNFPA in Rwanda claims that “Maj. Gatete Karuranga was promoted to Lt. Col. and appointed Director General External Intelligence.”

Put together, this means that the US trained a military officer from Rwanda after US diplomats and a UN Panel of Experts had named him as complicit in the theft of the DRC’s mineral resources. It’s the type of thing you would typically expect from US imperialism. At the same time, it is worth wondering if this was a violation of the Leahy Law (not that it would ever be enforced anyway).

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