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Stealth Chinese Resource Deals Link UN's Obasanjo to Congo and Kabila, Conflict of Interest Alleged

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, November 24 -- The UN's envoy to the Congo, former Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo, appears to have a conflict of interest. One of rebel general Laurent Nkunda's main critiques of the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila is the $9 billion resource deal Kabila signed recently with China. On Monday at the UN, Inner City Press asked Mr. Obasanjo about Nkunda's claim.

   Obasanjo said that when Nkunda spoke of economics, the Chinese contract was one of the particular issues he raised. Obasanjo added that "I raised it to Joseph Kabila, who said 'all that passed through the National Assembly.'" Video here, from Minute 18:15.

  But, Inner City Press asked "with all due respect," isn't that controversy similar to the one embroiling Obasanjo in Nigeria, about his $8 billion railroad contract with China? Couldn't that be a conflict of interest?  Obasanjo said no, it has no bearing, "the railroad was fully disclosed and approved." He said that the "present administration is not saying it is not going with the railroad," only that it is looking for additional funds.

  Nigerian sources tell Inner City Press that this is not the case, the allegation in Lagos is that, like Kabila, Obasanjo did not tell his legislature about his Chinese deal.

UN envoy Obasanjo in the Congo, Chinese resource deals not shown

Directly contrary to Obasanjo's statement Monday at the UN, a recent Nigerian headline has it that the Federal Government "may revoke $8bn rail contract." The article states that

"The Chief Economic Adviser to President Umaru Yar’Adua, Mr. Tanimu Yakubu, who gave the hint during the Abuja Business and Investment Roundtable on Thursday, described the contract as illegal. Yakubu claimed that since Obasanjo did not present the project and its budget to the National Assembly, the current administration would not condone it because of its stand on rule of law. 'For an administration that prides itself in the rule of law, I don’t see how an illegality will be strictly adhered to in the name of continuity,' he said. The $8bn contract was awarded to Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company in 2006 as a turnkey package entailing the design, construction and maintenance of about 1,315 kilometres of standard gauge double track railway line from Lagos to Kano."

  The similarity to the critique, including by Nkunda, of Kabila's Congo contract is striking. How can Obasanjo, given the allegations against him, be seen as non-conflicted on the similar issue in Congo? Why didn't the Ban Ki-moon administration vet this obvious potential conflict before deploying Obansanjo to the Congo?

  Separately, Inner City Press on Monday asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas about reports that UN Peacekeepers in Goma allowed Kabila's army to seize rebels from UN custody.  Ms. Montas replied that one peacekeeper was injured, but that it was "settled without further injury or complication," that the rebels continued with the convoy. Video here, from Minute 13:47. But the UN's own Congo spokesman Lt.-Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich has been quoted that

"there were 10 surrendered rebels among the 23 and that they were to have been turned over to the military Monday. 'But because of this incident, it was agreed on the spot to hand them over.' On Monday, Dietrich said he did not know where those detained had been taken."

   This is at odd with that the UN in New York said on Monday, that the rebels were not handed over, but rather continued on with the UN peacekeepers. Which is it?

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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