Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Another Ongoing Crime

Posted by Gerald on July 17, 2007

The Swiss government is going to return $6.6 million in frozen assets to The Democratic Republic of Congo.  This is money from accounts held by the late Joseph Mobutu (or Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga.)

This number might be impressive if most estimates didn’t place Mobutu’s assets at over $1 billion or more (perhaps considerably more.)  Mobutu has become the poster-boy of corrupt authoritarian leaders in Africa.  Some critics maintain that he was stealing more from Zaire on an annual basis than the west was supplying in aid.  Unofficial numbers have placed his wealth at $5 billion.  In 1997, the Kabila government claimed he had $7.7 billion dollars in Swiss banks.  After his death that year, Swiss banking authorities claimed he only had $3.4 million in the country.  Today’s story doesn’t explain where they found the other $3.2 million – maybe in the back of Eichmann’s old safety deposit box.  Even at the time, Socialist politicians in Switzerland accused the banks and government regulators of hiding funds for their old client.

Whatever the true figure of the money Mobutu stole from his country, this whole thing demonstrates a wider problem.  If the Swiss were complicit in Mobutu’s crimes, well, so was everyone else.  The western democracies and media will shake their heads and piously condemn the “tragedy” in Africa – but will never own up to their own complicity in that tragedy.  Mobutu got support from the U.S. because of the Cold War, he got support from European governments because of regional power maneuvers.  All of the above were willing to turn a blind eye toward his government’s action if it meant their nation’s corporations would get access to Congolese natural resources.  Even while complaining of the instability of leaders like Mobutu, western business has been ready to work with them as long as there was a good chance of extracting wealth and as long as the African government was willing to help out with access to labor and to keep that labor in line.

Even with the increasing gap between the rich and everyone else here in the US, every American except the poorest of the poor is substantially benefiting from living in a society that consumes the majority of the world’s raw resources in a given year.  Many of those resources – especially minerals that help make the computer I’m writing this on right now – come from places not that much different from Mobutu’s Congo.  Not all of the blame for Africa’s problems can be laid at the feet of the west, but we certainly have our fair share to own, and we have certainly allowed economic and political expediency to stand in the way of doing what is right in many cases.

What I’m saying here is not new.  Others have said it before, in more detail, and more capably.  Still, so long as it remains true, it needs to be said again, and again, and again…

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