Published in Aktuelt (Denmark)

January 18, 2001

Posted at




Struggle for the Treasures Below




The diamond trade in Congo goes on undisturbed by the war. It is a profitably business, which furthermore helps financing the war

By Bjørn Willum




KISANGANI - 'You want to make sure that the diamond you are putting on your loved one's finger did not help cut off the finger or hand of a child in Sierra Leone or Angola or Congo,' British Foreign Office Minister for Africa Peter Hain has said.

But Congo's diamonds were not content with a finger from the priest Aktuelt visits in a suburb of Kisangani, a formerly well off harbour city at the Congo-river in the middle of the jungle.

Next to the primitive grey-brown mud hut with tin roof there are two small oblong piles of earth. Below, two of the priests small kids are buried. They were killed by grenades in their own home.

During June last year Ugandan and Rwandan troops were more busy fighting each other for the control of the city, which is the center for the local diamond trade, than combating their common enemy, the government of Laurent Desiré Kabila.

A third child disappeared during the six days of fighting.

The priest has become a man of few words, while his wife sits passively on a stool outside the house, rarely eating and talking even less. During the night she rests sleepless, because the couple was so unfortunate to live in the city's Tschopo-district, where Rwandan soldiers dug trenches right in front of the residential homes.

According to several inhabitants Aktuelt meets, the soldiers held the residents hostage, apparently hoping this would make the Ugandan soldiers refrain from returning fire.

But the former allies from Uganda did not restrain themselves, and more than 700 people, primarily civilians, lost their lives. All over the neighbourhood schools, offices and residential homes can be seen marked by gunshot holes the size of apples.

Everything is in a state of decay. There are hardly any cars in the streets and luggage carriers mounted on massive colourful Chinese-made bicycles provide for most transport.

Even the Rwandan controlled rebel movement, which ended up sending the former Ugandan brothers in arms packing, stay in tarnished houses with broken windows.


But the diamond trade in Kisangani continues undaunted, surrealist white shops with gigantic diamonds painted on them leaving their stamps on the city's streets.

The diamond traders say the turnover has fallen since June to 3 million US dollars a month.

'Mammadou' reads the colourful sign on the front of a large colonial style house. He is a good-sized Senegalese, who used to cooperate with the Ugandan troops at the time the city was divided between the two foreign armies.

'When the Rwandans took over the city, I feared for my life,' he says and explains that for a while he sought refuge in Uganda. But now he is back in business and 'in partnership' with the new rulers from Rwanda, though he declines to reveal how much he pays for the license to buy and export the precious stones.

Smuggling via Rwanda and Uganda has gradually become such a lucrative business that gold and diamonds make out large sums in the export statistics of Rwanda and Uganda, despite the fact that natural occurrences are very modest in both countries.

'I think the UN and the West ought to put pressure on these foreign powers to stop the war,' the tired priest says.

Instead the World Bank has included Uganda in a large-scale debt reduction program, which was only temporarily stopped due to the battle over Kisangani. But now the fighting takes place in a mining area some 100 kilometers north of Kisangani, and this appears to have satisfied the World Bank, which shortly before New Year recommended that donors relieve Rwanda of debt worth 810 million US dollars. In other words freeing up funds that can be spend on the war effort.



Is Congo Without Kabila?