How Mugabe double-crossed Joseph Kabila & the DRC

Way before Marange, Mugabe and his military men had already started rampant racketeering, illegal mafia-style smuggling, double-crossing, double dealing, as well as illegal arms peddling with Congolese rebels. In fact, Mugabe double-crossed Kabila by selling arms to the rebels in exchange for diamonds used to enrich, not Zimbabwe, but Mugabe and his security men."

Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila

On a trip to Harare six years ago, I asked a fixer to drive me around for sight-seeing (kankou in Japanese) in Harare. To impress, he drove me to the north side – a place with big mansions. The good news is that that helped me understand an important but unproductive culture of Zimbabwean people – the extensive splashing of money in needless real estate rather than the building of factories that produce goods and services. The bad news is – it sparked my interest in a dangerous but intriguing story that has not been fully explored – that kind of story that makes you want to dig more and more, and triangulate while connecting the dots! Intriguing because it makes you question Mugabe’s pan-Africanist rhetoric, double-dealing, diamond smuggling and wanton (mis)appropriation of the spoils of war.

In an elite neighborhood where okanemochi (rich people in Japanese) live, the fixer pointed at a mansion conspicuous across the valley. “That house there belongs to the army general (Constantine Chiwenga). This area is called the Brook,” he said. This was interesting because, like Myanmar, Zimbabwe is a country where military officials uncharacteristically seem to live Hollywood lifestyles.

Nobody denies that the entire mining of diamonds in Zimbabwe was and is still connected with the military. Every company used in mining and looting Chiadzwa diamonds had everything to do with former and serving security and military men – Robert Mhlanga, Charles Tarumbwa (who directly represented the Zimbabwean military in Anjin diamonds, the largest miner in the Chiadzwa area until recently), Nonkosi Ncube, Martin Rushwaya, Oliver Chibage, Munyaradzi Machacha, Romeo Daniel Mutsvunguma and many others.

Global Witness and others have done studies on this. Yet the story of looting of diamonds for the benefit of Mugabe and his security and military elite in Zimbabwe did not start with Marange diamonds and the missing $15 billion. Way before Marange, Mugabe and his military men had already started rampant racketeering, illegal mafia-style smuggling, double-crossing, double dealing, as well as illegal arms peddling with Congolese rebels. In fact, Mugabe double-crossed Kabila by selling arms to the rebels in exchange for diamonds used to enrich, not Zimbabwe, but Mugabe and his security men.

The Congolese War

In 1998, without approval from Zimbabwe’s parliament, Robert Mugabe made a sole decision to send Zimbabwe’s military to prop up Laurent Kabila’s struggling government under siege from various Tutsi erstwhile-friends-turned-rebel groups supported by Rwanda and Uganda (on the eastern side of the DRC border). It is not clear what motivated Mugabe’s DRC expedition, but it helps to theorise that he wanted to assert his pan-Africanist credentials. It is this dimension that makes this story interesting. So read on!

Generally, people have short memories. This serves Mugabe well as he can now claim that Zimbabwe cannot get funding from the IMF and World Bank because of sanctions. I have covered why the IMF stopped funding Zimbabwe here In short, Mugabe single-handedly took Zimbabwe into the DRC war in 1998, which cost Zimbabwean taxpayers $27 million a month and shortly afterwards failed to pay back IMF loans. The IMF reacted in 1999 by freezing a $193 million funding package and Mugabe’s response was: “The IMF should shut up its mouth. Yes, we have spent money in DRC, but we have not died because of that. We continue to be productive.” The IMF shut its mouth by stopping loans to Zimbabwe from then on.

The nuts and bolts of the war were worked on by Mugabe and his close lieutenants, while on the DRC side, Laurent Kabila worked with loyalists like Mwenze Kongolo and then DRC Minister of Finance Mwampanga Mwana Nanga (who became DRC Ambassador in Zimbabwe). The war, which went on for several years was arguably the most prolonged war in modern African history involving scores of different armed groups and as many as nine African countries. Millions of people died in its aftermath and millions more displaced, making it the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

Most of the countries involved advanced the protection of their own borders as a reason for getting involved except Libya, Namibia and Zimbabwe. This was especially true of Rwanda, which had a few months earlier sponsored Laurent Kabila by supporting the Banyamulenge rebels leading to the ousting of Mobutu Sese Seko. Trouble had started when Kabila, smarting from accusations that he was a poodle for neighboring countries owing to the presence of many Rwandans at the top, sacked his Rwandan chief of staff, James Kabarebe.

The unrelenting pan-Africanist?

Robert Mugabe desires to be known as a Pan-Africanist. But is he deserving of being one? It’s an interesting question because he flies to the Middle and Far East for medical attention as medical facilities crumble in his country. Materials used to build his mansion were imported, including the entire roof and soft furnishings. His children attend school in foreign countries and pretty much have second homes outside Zimbabwe. But all this is besides the point. It just gives us pointers to understand someone’s record, digging into how his actual persona adds up to the persona he wants to portray.

The UN Security Council Investigation

In 2001, under a UN Security Council mandate, the Secretary General set up a Panel of Experts to   investigate the illegal exploitation of natural resources and wealth of the DRC. The investigating panel team divided the DRC into three areas: the Government-controlled (Kabila’s government) area, the Rwanda-controlled area and the Uganda-controlled area, based on principal actors in the exploitation. The experts panel assessed that,

“…conflicts are fought over minerals, farm produce, land and even tax revenues. Criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have
benefited from the micro-conflicts. Those groups will not disband voluntarily even as the foreign military forces continue their withdrawals. They have built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation.” They further assessed that even though the Pretoria and Luanda Agreements had prompted troop withdrawals from eastern DRC, the withdrawals were unlikely to alter the determination of Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and Ugandan individuals, to exercise economic control over portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They further asserted that troop withdrawals were doing little to reduce economic control, or the means of achieving it, since the use of national armies is only one among many means for exercising it.

“The Governments of Rwanda and Zimbabwe, as well as powerful individuals in Uganda, have adopted other strategies for maintaining the mechanisms for revenue generation, many of which involve criminal activities, once their troops have departed… The elite networks derive financial benefit through a variety of criminal activities including theft, embezzlement and diversion of “public” funds, undervaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non-payment of taxes, kickbacks to public officials and bribery.”

Who was determined to keep looting?

On the part of Zimbabwe, the question is – who were these individuals determined to keep looting? The panel concluded that although troops of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces had been a major guarantor of the security of the DRC government against regional rivals, its senior officers were enriching themselves from DRC mineral assets under the pretext of arrangements set up to repay Zimbabwe for military services. At that time, according to the panel’s report, Zimbabwe’s military was,

“establishing new companies and contractual arrangements to defend its economic interests in the longer term should there be a complete withdrawal of troops. New trade and service agreements were signed between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe just prior to the announced withdrawal of ZDF troops from the diamond centre of Mbuji Mayi late in August 2002. Towards the end of its mandate, the Panel received a copy of a memorandum dated August 2002 from the Defence Minister, Sidney Sekeramayi, to President Robert Mugabe, proposing that a joint Zimbabwe-Democratic Republic of the Congo company be set up in Mauritius to disguise the continuing economic interests of ZDF in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The memorandum states: “Your Excellency would be aware of the wave of negative publicity and criticism that the DRC Zimbabwe joint ventures have attracted, which tends to inform the current United Nations Panel investigations into our commercial activities.”

Following this UN scrutiny, the strategy gravitated towards moving the looting towards some form of private commercial operation involving Zimbabwean military elites and DRC elites through a joint venture vehicle called COSLEG (aka OLSEG) and several other companies. The companies “…which are controlled through secret contracts and off-shore private companies, amount to a multi-billion-dollar corporate theft of the country’s mineral assets. Some 30 businessmen, politicians and military officers are the main beneficiaries of the arrangements. The elite network has been trying to legitimize such corporate theft and market these assets to legitimate international mining companies,” said the UN panel.

It further names Emerson Mnangagwa as the key strategist on this move who at that point had “won strong support from senior military and intelligence officers for an aggressive policy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” He was supported by then General Vitalis Musungwa Gava Zvinavashe (now late), Perence Shiri, Constantine Chiwenga, then Brigadier General Sibusiso Moyo, (Director General of COSLEG), Air Commodore Mike Karakadzai (Deputy Secretary of COSLEG – who went on to preside over the decay of Zimbabwe’s railway company and now late), Colonel Simpson Sikhulile Nyathi, and Charles Dauramanzi (now late).

In stripping DRC resources, these military and security men were aided by shady but sleek and controversial business associates of all types: Thamer Bin Said Ahmed Alshanfari (an Omani national who fronted Oryx Natural Resources, the ZDF’s front for a 49% share in a diamond operation called Senga Mines, which attempted to list on the London Stock Exchange); Billy Rautenbach (who ran Gecamines, taking out copper and cobalt before being kicked out), John Arnold Bredenkamp (who at one point ran Gecamines after Rautenbach), Nico Sheffer (a convicted criminal based in South Africa whose company Tandan Holdings had a diamond joint venture with Zimbabwe Defence Forces – he arranged for Zimbabwean officers to be trained in diamond valuation in Johannesburg). Niko Shefer was in the spotlight in Zimbabwe recently for receiving nearly half a million dollars every month for facilitating a Development Bank of Southern Africa $206million to refurbish a highway connecting the towns of Plumtree and Mutare – connect the dots on how he got the deal!

Several companies were either created or roped in, in the looting spree. These include Oryx Natural Resources (fronted by Al Shanfari), First Banking Corporation (now FBC Bank), Dube Associates (run by Colonel Tshinga Dube then of the Zimbabwe Defence Industries and linked to the Ukrainian prolific diamond and arms trafficker Leonid Minim, based in Kasai Occidental), Ridgepointe International (fronted by Rautenbach).

Members of the elite network running joint ventures were linked to the smuggling of precious metals and gems, arms trafficking, illegal foreign exchange trading and money-laundering. Months after this report, and after several peace accords, Zimbabwe scaled down its troops in 2002. At the same time, following the assassination of Laurent Kabila, Joseph Kabila replaced most of the leadership of state-owned mines, which scaled back significantly the looting activities of the security elites and their joint ventures.

It was after that point that Zimbabwe’s security men, unsatisfied with their looting spree between 1998 and 2002, decided to trade the same goods with not just the same government, but also the rebels. It was a typical case of double-crossing Joseph Kabila, their man in Kinshasa.

But this doesn’t quite give you a picture of what or how this happened. So read on!

Arms racketeering for diamonds

Zimbabwe’s military men continued to fuel the conflict in the DRC way after the withdrawal of its army from the Congo war, based on triangulated accounts of several men involved in some of the operations. This effectively meant double-crossing Joseph Kabila in support of DRC rebels. It also means that, way after the DRC war, Zimbabwe’s military men continued to illegally smuggle precious minerals from the Congo.

In one account in 2005, at Defence House in Harare, shady military men huddled in a meeting poring over details of one such smuggling expedition. These were Constantine Chiwenga (ZDF commander), Phillip Chitiyo Sibanda (CIO counter intelligence), Maynard Muzariri (CIO deputy director general – now late), Mike Karakadzai (former Air Commodore, now late), Colonel Tshinga Dube (now minister in charge war veterans) and Emmerson Mnangagwa (now Vice President). They were briefing a team of intelligence agents who were to fly in and out of the DRC to fish out smuggled cargo before the break of dawn. The agents were to depart Manyame Airbase at 2200hrs for Kinshasa, where a private jet would await them at a base and in DRC where one Bosco was to hand over three brief cases in exchange for trunks full of ammunition samples. Prior to departure, they were dispatched to SIRDC to receive a geology brief and fake passports from one Robson Mafoti Manyuwa (now CEO of SIRDC) and Asher Walter Tapfumanei (a former CIO assistant director – now a permanent secretary for the War Veterans ministry).

On landing in the DRC, Bosco rocked up in a topless Jeep and without a word handed over diamond-laden briefcases in exchange for the trunks. Prior to departure, a call was made via a satellite phone, with the security men in Zimbabwe eager to confirm that the cargo had been safely delivered and the price collected. No one stamped their passports on entry and exit.

More of these trips were to occur, carrying varied military hardware, sometimes via Angola where an Angolan Defence helicopter marked with Red Cross badges would be used. The arms were delivered to the rebels fighting the DRC government. It does seem strange, but, after the cessation of hostilities in 2002, most rebels who had been persuaded to join the Congolese national army withdrew from the main towns into the bushes. They had hitherto joined the army on a ceasefire but disliked the strict discipline that comes with such a force, and had gone unpaid for months on end. Rebel life was more rewarding as they could raid villagers and trade minerals such as cobalt, diamonds and coltan – what with their Zimbabwean military mafia willing to launder the diamonds.

More than just illegal smuggling

Not only did the Zimbabwean government supply arms to rebels – close to twenty military advisors were sent in to train them in guerilla warfare too, under the cover of COSLEG. The logic was: with the rebels armed and well-trained, they would have the stomach for a long-haul fight, which would force the Kinshasa government to contract Zimbabwean private military outfits comprising ZDF soldiers granted six-month leave each time from Zimbabwe for private deployment in the DRC at the instruction of the Joint Operations Command – with an incentive to earn United States dollars. This way, many commando and parachute regiments were in combat in the
DRC way after Zimbabwe officially withdrew from the DRC war. To make the most profit, the rebels also received cigarettes (John Bredenkemp had formed Cut Rag Processors making tobacco sticks with this in mind in 2000), tinned food, camouflages and military shoes paid for using diamonds. This way, Mugabe and his military men played Joseph Kabila, benefiting from both sides supplying rebels, training, sending troops privately and getting paid by both the DRC government and the rebels. Call it double dipping if you like.

Bosco Ntaganda and Protais Mpiranya -  birds of a feather

I have noted above that Zimbabwean intelligence officers were sent to smuggle ammunition in the Congo and receive diamonds from one Bosco. Prominent rebel names have emerged out of the DRC’s mess. Names such as Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, Laurent Nkunda and Jean-Pierre Bemba come to mind. One of them Bosco Ntaganda otherwise nicknamed “Terminator”, was to deal extensively with the Zimbabwean government under Mugabe’s watch, buying weapons from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) and paying using diamonds. A former soldier in Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Army, Bosco is currently on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

I will come back to Bosco Ntaganda shortly after this short digression. Recently, I recounted how two foreigners helped in planning Operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe – a brutal military-driven operation condemned by the UN (see here – ). One of them, Protais Mpiranya, harboured by Mugabe’s government, is a wanted in Rwanda for leading the Rwandan genocide. After escaping into the DRC, Mpiranya helped the Zimbabwean army with intelligence during the DRC war, becoming a trusted advisor. He also became a useful cog in the trafficking of weapons to rebels by the ZDF.

Back to Bosco Ntaganda! In January 2005, Kabila’s government tried to
appease Ntaganda to end the war in Ituri by appointing him a general in the newly established Congolese army – a post which he turned down (he rejoined the Congolese army a few years later as a general, but mutinied in 2012 with a rebel outfit known as M23 Movement). In the trip to the DRC recounted above, Ntaganda received his cargo in Kinshasa, during this period of rapprochement. But at this point, Bosco continued buying weapons, many of them from Zimbabwe. In November 2005, he was placed on the UN sanctions list for breaching a UN arms embargo. Eventually, he moved back to Ituri, and later to Goma in North Kivu where he became chief of staff for Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebel outfit – a group that went on to commit numerous human rights abuses such as conscripting child soldiers, rape, sexual violence and civilian massacres.

After moving to North Kivu to work with Laurent Nkunda, here is how Mugabe’s government continued to traffic arms to Bosco for diamonds. A team of agents were to deliver a variety of arms to Bosco. The arms were to be picked up in Kenya, arranged by a Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) and a COSLEG agent. [Formed in the 80s under Colonel Ian Stansfield – a then Quartermaster-General responsible for ZNA’s procurement, ZDI was run down progressively under the leadership of Tshinga Dube, a retired army colonel – now a cabinet minister. It reportedly failed to pay employees over several months in recent years].  The cargo comprised guns, hand grenades, bullets, bullet proof vests, communications radios, combat uniforms, tinned foods, military shoes, rain coats and other weapons. At Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, the team met its team leader – Protais Mpiranya.

Departing Kenya in a Beechcraft King Air, they landed in Goma, north east of the DRC – a haven for rebel activity – just about the same time as a cargo plane carrying the ammunition. A few hours later, military all-terrain trucks showed up at the run-down airport in Goma. They were taken to the plane which was full of unmarked trunks, where Mpiranya opened the trunks up, picking one sample from each – a grenade, military shoes, AK 47 rifle, tear gas canister, pistol, a belt of AK47 bullets, and tinned food. Mpiranya, who could speak both French and English was to close the deal. Moving to a hotel some minutes away from the airport, the team received weapons from a local contact as they could not leave anything to chance in this rebel-infested town.

Later that night, in military fatigues with red insignia, the Terminator showed up with his men, one of them carrying a briefcase. An experienced Mpiranya took out his magnifying glass, examining the briefcase contents for a long while. After he was satisfied, he conversed with Bosco in French and sealed the deal with a hug. Bosco had just paid for the weapons in the plane with a briefcase full of diamonds. With the precious contraband, the team flew early the following day back to Kenya. Bosco Ntaganda kept his cargo and continued to fight Joseph Kabila’s government, including UN forces for a few more years.

In Kenya, the team was directed through the VIP lounge with military protection – under the instructions of then General Jeremiah Mutinda Kianga. (Kianga was Kenya’s military general until 2011). In South Africa, the team also went through the VIP lounge, with protection allegedly from Minetech International (a demining company connected to Zimbabwe’s military previously led by retired Colonel Lionel Dyck – now part of Dynasafe Area Clearance Group), as well as South Africa’s Secret Service. Back in Zimbabwe, the team went straight to Zimbabwe Defence House where Maynard Muzariri was waiting to debrief them.

Nothing to show for the millions

All of Mugabe’s men have nothing to show which is useful for public good that they built with the proceeds of illegal arms trafficking and diamond smuggling. This is with the distinct exception of Zvinavashe, who poured some of his proceeds into building infrastructure of use to Zimbabweans. Zvinavashe built an elementary school and a high school in Harare. The rest of them have nothing to show except plush mansions (in which they barely spend a third of each day) as well as secret deposits offshore.

Zimbabwe’s former colonists may have been vile, but they invested in infrastructure – building highways, water purification plants, bridges, dams, power plants and railways infrastructure. Large iconic bridges in Zimbabwe such as Victoria Falls Bridge, Beitbridge, Birchenough Bridge (third longest single-arch suspension bridge in the world in 1935) and the first Chirundu Bridge – formerly Otto Beit Bridge (the first modern suspension bridge outside the United States built in 1939), were build using money from fortune seekers like Alfred Beit (The second Chirundu Bridge – a few meters from the first, was built by Kajima Corporation in 2002 using funds from Japan International Corporation Agency).

The paradox of men at the ICC and UN

In spite of all the millions made in arms trafficking and racketeering, Zimbabwe’s roads, water systems, schools, railways and even hospitals are dilapidated, and Mugabe and his top teams have to fly to Asia each time they fall sick – something that happens with great frequency of late.

Recently two men were in international news. One of them was Bosco Ntaganda who was on a hunger strike at the ICC to forestall his trial. He is on trial and faces eighteen charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities allegedly committed by his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The other was Robert Mugabe who was on the floor of the UN. The one attending the UN General Assembly representing Zimbabwe aided and sustained the activities of the one in prison at the ICC. It’s a weird world, isn’t it? Very bizarre. Criminals may be many but not all of them land in prison. Others will pass off as unflinching pan-Africanists, and win – almost!

Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Yuki Nakata contributed in this article. Some of the content in this article shall be published in a future book. Email your views to

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