Press Release / Feb. 21, 2002

Test Case for Blair’s African peace Initiatives

In a report released today, Branching Out – Zimbabwe’s Resource Colonialism in DRC, UK pressure group Global Witness exposes the links between logging operations connected to the Zimbabwean military, and a London-based company owned by the former son-in-law of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, Elkin Pianim.

Following its military intervention in the DRC Zimbabwe has been crippled by its expensive involvement in what has been dubbed ‘Africa’s first world war’. “Zimbabwe entered DRC to exploit what resources it could get – modern day carpet-baggers” said Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness. “But what started out as opportunism has become necessity as the war has financially broken Zimbabwe, and DRC’s resources are probably the only thing keeping the government afloat”.

A Kinshasha based logging company, the Société Congolaise d’exploitation du bois (SOCEBO), has been established to allow the Zimbabwean military to log in DRC’s rich forests. This company is a joint venture between a Congolese company with close links to the presidency, Comiex Congo, and OSLEG – the commercial arm of the Zimbabwean army. The timber company is part of a complex corporate web created over the past few years by Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe’s embattled ruling party. The ironically named Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (OSLEG) boasts among its directors the Commander of the Zimbabwean army Vitalis Zvinavashe, who recently stated that the army would only support a Zanu-PF victory in Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections. “One can only speculate on who is buying this loyalty”, said Alley.

Yet another offshoot of this corporate structure is a company called SAB-Congo, the export sales arm of which is African Hardwood Marketing Ltd, owned by and based out of the London home of Elkin Pianim, who has provided the necessary investment for the logging operations. This company is currently logging in DRC’s Katanga Province with the Zimbabwean army. “Given the UK government’s attempts to bring an end to African conflicts, the fact that ‘conflict’ timber is being marketed by a UK based company must be very embarrassing to the government. However, it does give the government the opportunity to prove it really does want to make concrete efforts to help end African conflicts, and to demonstrate this by closing this company down”, said Alley.

Global Witness Ltd, PO Box 6042, London N19 5WP
Tel: +44 20 7272 6731; Fax: +44 20 7272 9425; [email protected]

Notes to editors:
Global Witness is a British based non-governmental organisation, which focuses on the links between environmental and human rights abuses, especially the impacts of natural resource exploitation upon countries and their people. Using pioneering investigative techniques Global Witness compiles information and evidence to be used in lobbying and to raise awareness. Global Witness’ information is used to brief governments, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs and the media. Global Witness has no political affiliation.

In the past seven years Global Witness has highlighted the use of resources, including timber, oil and diamonds, to fund conflicts and corrupt regimes across the world, including Angola, Cambodia, Liberia and Zimbabwe.