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The U.N.’s Complicity in the Murder of the experts in DRC

By RouTe, Yesterday, 20:25 (0 comment)
The U.N.’s Complicity in a Congo Murder

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, has endured a remarkably cruel history, with successive presidents, rebels and foreign powers endlessly pillaging its rich resources and leaving behind a trail of massacres, rapes and devastation. The military has contributed its share of atrocities, and the current president, Joseph Kabila, has compounded the chaos by refusing to step down or hold elections since his term ended last December.

The U.N.’s Complicity in the Murder of the experts in DRCSo when a pair of United Nations contract investigators were kidnapped and murdered in March, it was fair to ask how they came to ride into a remote and violence-torn area on motorbike taxis with only an interpreter at their side and without much training, safety equipment or even health insurance. An article by Times reporters Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Somini Sengupta on Saturday details an astoundingly irresponsible approach by the United Nations to an obviously dangerous and hugely important task.

Zaida Catalán, a 36-year-old Swedish-Chilean, and Michael Sharp, a 34-year-old American, are only two of millions of people who have lost their lives to Congo’s endemic strife, all victims of senseless greed in a rich and fertile land that could be among the most prosperous on the African continent. The tragedy is that Ms. Catalán and Mr. Sharp represented the organization that is meant to combat lawlessness and thus give the Congolese hope for the future. Their deaths did the opposite.

Neither of the investigators appears to have been prepared for the dangerous world they were assigned to investigate. Ms. Catalán had worked for the Swedish Green Party and as an expert on sexual violence for a European Union mission in Congo. Mr. Sharp had come to Congo in 2012 on a Mennonite humanitarian mission, and signed on with the United Nations in 2015. They were assigned to investigate a massacre in the remote Kasai region of central Congo, where the government has been trying to put down yet another tribal uprising. They had neither adequate training, nor safety equipment, nor even health insurance. Their bodies were discovered in a shallow grave, Ms. Catalán’s decapitated.

Whether the United Nations really has the tools to intervene usefully in a country as chaotic as Congo is debatable. A peacekeeping force has been in Congo since 1999, but it has little to show for the billions it has cost. What is not debatable is that when the United Nations sends people into harm’s way, it must ensure that they are properly trained and equipped.

The Times’s article said almost two months passed before the world organization assembled a panel to look into what went wrong, and the Security Council, which could order a more formal investigation, has done nothing. The United Nations must take far greater responsibility for the security and preparation of the people it sends to the hellholes of the world. Their lives depend on it, as does their mission as symbols of justice and hope.

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The U.N.’s Complicity in the Murder of the experts in DRC
Peacekeepers in a United Nations truck in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November.
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE — GETTY IMAGES


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
MAY 23, 2017 nytimes.com


Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese government

By Adereti, 13 May 2017, 11:54 (0 comment)
Bob Dole, Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese government. Troubled Democratic Republic of Congo launching influence blitz in Washington.

Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese governmentPresident Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr. (left), watches Republican National Convention proceedings with former Sen. Bob Dole (center) on July 18, 2017, in Cleveland. Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX via AP

The troubled government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is pouring millions of dollars into a new Washington lobbying campaign featuring prominent Republicans.

Among those working on the Congolese effort: former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and Adnan Jalil, who worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign helping it communicate with Congress.

Also involved is Jason Epstein, a longtime lobbyist who has represented the Turkish embassy and other foreign clients. Epstein is former director of legislative affairs at B’nai B’rith International, according to his online biography.

In an unusual arrangement, the lobbying campaign on behalf of the Congolese government is being coordinated by an Israeli security company, Mer Security and Communications, whose chief executive says it was chosen for its “personal relationship” with the country’s current leadership.

The African nation is paying Mer Security roughly $5.6 million this year in connection with the lobbying effort, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of disclosures filed with the Department of Justice. Already, the Congolese government has paid $4.5 million of that sum, a chunk of which Mer Security is using to hire Washington, D.C.-based lobbyists for the effort.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Joe Sandler, a lawyer and an expert in foreign lobbying.

Lobbying firms routinely receive seven-figure sums when advocating for foreign governments, particularly ones with bad reputations.

A prime example: South Sudan, which spent $2.1 million on K Street public relations and lobbying firms during 2014 and 2015, including the outfit led Democratic super-fundraiser Tony Podesta.

But rarely do foreign lobbying contracts command more than $5 million.

Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese government
The bodies of people killed during election protests lie in the street, as Congolese troops stand near by in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Sept. 19, 2016. Witnesses say at least four people died. The protests were organized by activists who are opposed to longtime President Joseph Kabila. John Bompengo/AP

The Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing political upheaval and civil unrest. The current leader, Joseph Kabila, has promised to hold elections before the end of the year, though opponents have questioned whether he’ll uphold the agreement.

The embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo did not respond to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity.

Lobbying firm Alston & Bird, which employs Dole, received $500,000 from Mer Security on April 27.

Mer Security’s filings with the Justice Department describe the money as a “payment to engage in political activities.”

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Alston & Bird is required to publicly disclose it is representing a foreign government within 10 days of agreeing to represent a foreign government.

It did not.

After several inquiries from the Center for Public Integrity, Alston & Bird filed its disclosure report, which included a signed April 19 engagement letter with Mer Security, on May 10.

The firm’s letter of engagement said Dole would be lead attorney on the matter.

The $500,000 covers three months of Alston & Bird’s work.

Alston & Bird, Mer Security’s subcontractor, said its engagement terms said the firm would be offering advice on “strategic communications, policy issues and compliance with” lobbying disclosure laws.

The agreement terms “do not include or anticipate our representation of, or advocacy for, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo before the United States government.”

Dennis Garris, the managing partner of Alston & Bird’s Washington office, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Dole, whose role only became public once the firm filed its disclosure.

Dole, the only former Republican presidential nominee who endorsed Trump before the GOP convention last summer, is a savvy Washington insider who most recently attracted notice for his lobbying on behalf of Taiwan. Dole’s efforts led to a stunning call between Trump and Taiwan’s president, angering China.

Dole’s retainer for the Taiwan work, which includes direct lobbying, is $25,000 a month, per federal disclosures.

Both Epstein and Jalil said in emails that the point of their work is to promote an “open, productive” discussion with a goal of improving the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Epstein’s disclosures show he is receiving $138,000 for three months of work.

“The Congolese people, their safety and human rights can only improve if the United States takes an active and engaging role in the largest country in Africa,” said Jalil, who has so far received $45,000, according to filings.

Jalil, who’s only current lobbying client is Mer Security, said he joined Trump’s campaign as a liaison to the House of Representatives in early spring of 2016 “and was part of a very small, loyal, and dedicated team in Washington.” Trump has been critical of Washington’s lobbying and influence industry, and in January, he issued an executive order banning administration officials from ever lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.


Nonetheless, some Trump alumni have pursued lobbying work — former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, most notably.

Seeking access to U.S. politicians

Mer Security said in its disclosure filings that it had agreed to advise Congolese officials on U.S. policy and political concerns regarding African security issues.

It will also advise the country’s government on the appointment of a special envoy to the United States and “strategic planning to the envoy’s engagement in bilateral diplomacy with the United States.”

A special Democratic Republic of Congo envoy is expected to visit Washington in June, according to the filings.

In describing its work on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mer Security’s tells the Department of Justice that it has “agreed to generate interest in and participation at meetings of senior U.S. administration officials and key policy makers in various congressional committees.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced significant political turmoil in recent months.

Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese government
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, center, waves as he visits the city of Kindu on June 30, 2016. John Bompengo/AP

The current leader, Joseph Kabila, was supposed to step down late last year. But he negotiated a deal to stay in power in exchange for a promise to hold elections by the end of 2017.

This week, Kabila named a new transitional government, something opponents said is a violation of the agreement allowing him to stay in power. Kabila has said election delays are due to logistical and budgetary challenges, which could prompt questions about his government’s decision to spend millions of dollars on a Washington lobbying campaign.

The U.S. State Department has warned Americans to avoid unnecessary travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo, citing security concerns.

The Obama administration sanctioned high officials in Kabila’s government. And earlier this month, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, described the government as “corrupt” and said it “preys on its citizens.”

An unusual middleman

A review of federal disclosures shows no previous instance of Mer Security lobbying in the United States.

In public filings, the company said its main business activities are “manufacturing, supplying and installing telecommunications and electricity systems, developing command and control software, constructing command and control centers and integrating and implementing physical security systems.”

Omer Laviv, Mer Security’s CEO, said in an e-mail to the Center for Public Integrity that the company was hired “to explore opportunities through which the U.S. government can support the DRC government in its efforts to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Congolese people.”

The company has “extensive experience” in advising and consulting with governments on national security, he said, and has operated for many years in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Trump campaign aide to lobby for Congolese government


“Personal relationship[s] that are characterized by a high level of trust have been established between MER and the leadership of the country,” Laviv wrote.

“This level of trust led the Congolese government to appoint MER to this assignment.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo had previously been represented in Washington by BGR Government Affairs, a prominent Republican firm.

Disclosures show BGR Government Affairs’ representation ended Jan. 31.

By Carrie Levineemail 6:16 pm, May 11, 2017 publicintegrity.org
This article was co-published by TIME.


DRC - Electric car boom spurs investor scramble for cobalt

By RouTe, 18 February 2017, 16:49 (0 comment)
Investors are buying up physical cobalt anticipating that shortages of the metal, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in electrical cars, will spur prices to their highest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.

DRC - Electric car boom spurs investor scramble for cobalt
Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit at Tenke Fungurume, a copper and cobalt mine northwest of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Jonny Hogg/File Photo

Prices for cobalt metal have climbed nearly 50 percent since September to five-year peaks around $19 a lb as stricter emissions controls boost demand for electric vehicles, especially in China, struggling with ruinous pollution levels in some cities. (For a graphic on how Lithium-ion battery works click tmsnrt.rs/2kOUBNQ)

Consultants CRU Group say electric car and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales could hit 4.4 million in 2021 and more than six million by 2025, from 1.1 million last year.

By 2020, 75 percent of lithium-ion batteries will contain cobalt, whose properties allow electric cars to extend their range between charges, according to eCobalt Solutions, which produces battery grade cobalt salts.

Some 98 percent of cobalt is produced as a by-product of copper and nickel output, so for investors pure equity exposure to cobalt is tricky.

"Cobalt isn't going to massively impact share prices. The funds looked at LME (London Metal Exchange) cobalt contracts, but they aren't liquid enough for the millions they want to invest," a Europe-based cobalt trader said.

"So they are buying cobalt with the intention of sitting on it until prices rise, looking for $25 (a lb) or more."

Swiss-based Pala Investments, a fund focused on the mining sector, and Shanghai Chaos Investment, one of China's largest commodities funds, bought cobalt last year, industry sources familiar with the matter said, declining to specify amounts.

Pala Investments declined to comment, while calls to Shanghai Chaos went unanswered.

"Future demand for cobalt from the EV (electric vehicle) sector is looking tangible and is more positive than originally expected," one commodity-focused fund manager said. "China has some aggressive plans in terms of electric vehicles...It will be a major driver behind cobalt consumption growth." (For a graphic on cobalt prices vs light vehicle sales click bit.ly/2lfrkMW)

China's State Reserves Bureau, in charge of building the country's stocks of commodities from oil to rare earth minerals, bought 5,000 tonnes of cobalt metal last year and in 2015, traders said. It is expected to buy more this year.

Highlighting the metal's importance, the U.S.'s Defense Logistics Agency deemed lithium cobalt oxide and lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide compounds as strategic and has been stockpiling since 2014. Cobalt is also widely used for superalloys in turbines, space vehicles, rocket engines and power plants.

HOARDING

After seven years of surplus and overcapacity the market will move into a deficit this year, exacerbated by an insecure supply chain. Almost 60 percent of the world's cobalt lies in politically risky Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the same time, many traders are hoarding cobalt, most of it bought when the price was around $10 a lb in Dec. 2015 due to a market surplus of more than 2,000 tonnes. They are waiting for higher prices.

On Monday, trader and miner Glencore tightened its grip on Congo's copper and cobalt resources by buying the remaining stake in one mine and upping its share in another for $960 million. It said the complex had the potential to become the world's largest cobalt producer.

Other copper and cobalt producers include privately owned Eurasian Resources Group, Canada's Sherritt International and China Molybdenum.

Canadian small-cap LiCo Energy Metals, which is exploring for materials used in lithium-ion batteries, could appeal to investors looking for exposure to reliable sources of cobalt from a politically stable country.

Global total demand for cobalt last year was around 100,000 tonnes, of which around half was used in batteries to power electric cars, as well as mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and cordless drills.

"In terms of overall demand, EVs (electric vehicles) only consumed around 6.5 percent of refined cobalt in 2016. This will increase to 16.9 percent in 2021 helping lift demand to nearly 130,000 tonnes," CRU senior consultant Edward Spencer said.

"We expect a deficit in the region of 900 tonnes this year. However, a far larger deficit could open quickly if mine and refinery capacity growth fails to keep pace."

Analysts at Macquarie Research expect deficits of 885 tonnes next year, 3,205 in 2019 and 5,340 in 2020.

"Cobalt has limited new supply projects coming through. Meanwhile refined output in key supply countries such as Australia, Russia and Zambia are well down on levels seen a decade ago," Macquarie analyst Colin Hamilton said.

"The global cobalt market is becoming ever more dependent on supply from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where geopolitical risk is again rising...with a transfer of presidential power due next year, a process which has not gone smoothly over history."



By Pratima Desai | LONDON Tue Feb 14, 2017 | 9:33am EST reuters.com
(Additional reporting by Vijaykumar Vedala and Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Editing by Veronica Brown and Susan Thomas)


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