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Adam Hochschild´s article in the New York Review of Books

July 26, 2009

“There are even dilapidated court buildings in towns large and small, but, a lawyer tells us over dinner, with great feeling, “I’ve never, ever, seen a judge who wasn’t corrupt.” This is so routine, he and a colleague explain, that in civil disputes, the judge gets a percentage of the property value that the bribe-payer gains. People in such positions are then expected to send some of the take back up the line to those who appointed them; this is called “renvoyer l’ascenseur”—sending back the elevator. Being a judge in an area full of mining rights disputes is particularly lucrative. Other civil servants also earn extra: Goma is on the border with Rwanda, and one of the lawyers explains that the very hotel where we’re having dinner was built by a customs official. They point along the street to two more hotels owned by customs men.


A curious, very limited kind of pressure is being applied. Underlying the army’s long-standing practice of looting civilian goods and food is that soldiers often don’t get paid. “The money comes from Kinshasa,” a UN official explains, “then goes to Kisangani”—a city three quarters of the way to the eastern border—”and by the time it gets down to company level there’s not much left.” To deal with this problem, the European Union has sent a fifty-five-man military mission here.

One member is Bob Arnst, a short, wiry man with a crew cut, who is a sergeant major in the Dutch army. He is stationed in Bunia, and talks about his work one evening in the UN’s café and recreation center, where a security guard at the gate has the job of keeping out local prostitutes.

“Everything is in cash. They bring the money in big packages, 120 by 80 by 20 centimeters. In great bricks. We’re expecting a convoy now. When the money arrives, they count it again, bill by bill.” Arnst and two French soldiers watch the count at the local army headquarters, after which paymasters from half a dozen battalions arrive in SUVs to collect the funds for their units. “Most of them [the paymasters] have very nice clothing. Once a colonel showed up with his bodyguard and I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘I’ve come to see where my money is.’ And I said, ‘It’s not your money.'”

In the days following, Arnst and his French colleagues visit Congolese battalions in the field, usually dropping in by surprise in a UN helicopter. “We ask soldiers, ‘Did you get your payment?'”

And if they didn’t? On three occasions in the last few months, entire units were not paid. Arnst reported each case to his EU superiors in Kinshasa, and a Dutch colonel applied pressure at the Ministry of Defense. Each time, the commander was forced to turn over the money to his troops—but was not arrested or disciplined.


Read the full article here.

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