Plague Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo

At least 61 people died in February during an outbreak of the pneumonic plauge in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About 350 people who worked in a mine in the northern Oriental province were infected with the disesae earlier this year, with at least 61 of them ultimately succumbing to the disease.

The pneumonic plague is the rarest and most deadly of the three types of plague. Unlike bubonic and septicimic plague, the pneumonic form of the disease can be passed from person to person through infected droplets transmitted by coughing or sneezing.

According to the World Health Organization, it is almost always fatal if not treated, but responds well to antibiotics. Unfortunately, the Democratic Republic of Congo is still a relatively chaotic place after the end of its four-year civil war in 2002, and more than 2,000 people who worked at the mine quickly left and dispersed after the outbreak of the disease became widely known.

Plague, of course, used to be a major worldwide killer, famously wiping out a significant proportion of the European population in the late medieval period. The World Health Organization reports that in 2003 there were only about 2,000 cases of the disease worldwide, but almost all of those occurred in Africa.


Plague outbreak kills 60 in Congo. The BBC, February 18, 2005.

DR Congo plague outbreak spreads. The BBC, February 23, 2005.

Plague Outbreak in Eastern Congo. Cynthia Kirk, Voice of America, March 2, 2005.

Deadly Plague Outbreak Feared in Congo . Craig Timberg, Washington Post, February 18, 2005.

Locust invasions on West Africa. IRIN News, December 2004.

African Nations Squeezing Congo

The United Nations didn’t make any friends in releasing a report accusing highly placed political and military officials in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of setting up criminal cartels to exploit mineral and gem resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe withdrew their armed forces from the DR Congo as part of an agreement to bring a halt to that country’s civil war. But the United Nations report maintains that the military officials who were using their armies to strip DR Congo of precious minerals and gems have simply set up deeply entrenched criminal organizations to accomplish the same thing in their absence.

According to the report,

Three distinct criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe and the Government of the DRC have benefited from overlapping micro-conflicts [and] will not disband voluntarily even as the foreign military forces continue their withdrawals.

. . .

The looting that was previously conducted by the armies themselves has been replaced with organised systems of embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, the use of stock options as kickbacks and diversion of state funds conducted by groups that closely resemble criminal organizations.

The report cites 54 specific individuals and recommends a variety of actions be taken against them, such as freezing their assets and barring them for travel, if they do not cease such activities within a few months.

Of course the real problem is less that these individuals are willing to pay large bribes and use other means to gain access to the DR Congo’s wealth, but rather that the DR Congo government is so weak and corrupt that this appears to be the normal, accepted way of doing business in that country.

The reaction of the African nations was predictable — the report was all lies. After all, who ever heard of official corruption on the African continent?


Focus on UN Panel report on the plunder of the Congo. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, October 21, 2002.

Africa fury at U.N. looting report. Reuters, October 22, 2002.

States set up cartels to plunder Congo UN. Jonathan Katzenellenbogen, Business Day (Johannesburg), October 22, 2002.

First Quantum denies U.N. accusations on Congo. Reuters, October 22, 2002.