Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Congo, The War in Africa, the Criminality of Corporations


With this post we are beginning a new feature on Global Wahrman, a multi-topic reading list of books that represent some deep background for my readers in areas that I think are at the very least interesting, and in a few cases maybe even important as a modern citizen of our crumbling civilization to know.

We start with the great title of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason Stearns

If you are like me, you are dimly aware that there is a country called the Congo in Africa and that bad things have happened there in the past as well as the present. But if you are like me, you know very little about what the current situation is and whether it is better, worse, indifferent, what the prospects for them are, how we can help, whether or not we should help and a host of other issues.

Jason Stearns lived in Congo for many years and interviewed many of the protagonists or antagonists of his book and so describes the history of from about 1996 on in a very engaging way. I simply was not aware of this war and its relationship to the genocide in Rwanda, not to mention the role of other countries in Africa, humanitarian organizations, rebel groups, ethnic groups, and history of all sorts.

It also brings up a very interesting problem which I was aware existed but not to the extent. Contrary to what many people believe, the problems in Congo do not come from Western lust for their great mineral wealth, says Stearns. But what is true is that the various wars are financed in large part by various countries and groups occupying a part of former Congo-infrastructure and making deals with Western companies to get the minerals out to the market. Thus Rwanda occupied a part of Congo with certain types of mines and made deals for the minerals there. In the process of occupying that part of Congo and arranging this financial deal, the Rwanda Army was guilty of various massacres in retribution for resistance activity in the area. We are talking about a thousand people murdered in cold blood and other incidents.

The point of mentioning this tiny detail on a much larger tragedy is that in general we have no sanctions against companies that make deals of this type and thus end up financing groups that are committing atrocities or grossly violated the human rights of their workers, e.g. when that labor is nothing more than abused slave labor. The point is that it is up to us to change the law so that companies are held liable in both criminal and civil courts for their support of groups that commit these crimes. I think it is OK for us to spend a little extra for our copper or our capacitors in return for not using slave labor.

Have I over simplified the situation? Yes, no doubt I have. So I encourage you to read this book which goes into the context of a small number of these situations and then go on from there to study the issue in more detail than Stearns can go into.

One thing I am sure of, none of these companies are innocent. They are very aware the circumstances under which these minerals are produced and, like so many other companies of our modern Globalized society, are perfectly happy to see people be slaughtered in cold blood and killed in labor gangs if it makes them a fast buck.

By failing to criminalize this behavior we tacitly support it and thus are also, in part, responsible.

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