ATbar Hezbollah's Fundraising Activity in Africa: Focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo

Hezbollah's Fundraising Activity in Africa: Focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo

20/03/2013 | by Levy, Dan  

Since the attacks of 9/11, counter-terror efforts have been considerably enhanced, targeting diverse sources of terrorism, including the previously overlooked issue of financing. 

Prior to 9/11, Reuven Paz stands out as one of the only scholars to have published a report exclusively on terror fundraising and the role of charities in the west. However, after the September 2001 attacks and the passing of the US PATRIOT Act, scholarly attention has focused extensively on the subject. For instance, Jean-Charles Brisard concentrated on the Saudi roots of Al Qaeda's financing in a report for the UN Security Council, and various "task forces" were established in order to monitor and improve international cooperation against terror financing.

Relatively quickly, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement has been characterized by scholars as one with the most sophisticated and lucrative tactics. By using the international financial system to move bulk cash and launder money, Mathew Levitt reports how this organization has raised millions of dollars to finance itself. 

Hezbollah's presence in Latin America (which is not limited to fundraising) has in this respect received the most attention. Due to the organization's cooperation with Venezuela and the Columbian FARC, the group has managed to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of drugs to the US (generally through Mexico) and Europe (most often through West Africa). These drug routes hence represent a valuable asset for Hezbollah, as the group raises money at diverse stages of the route.

This big picture which has emerged in recent years deserves two important reservations. Firstly, Hezbollah also raises money through activities which are not necessarily linked to this precise type of criminal enterprise. For instance, Lebanese individuals working for the group have been raising funds through criminal activity involving blood diamonds or fake money. But fundraising through non-criminal activity has also been an important source of revenue for the group, in particular thanks to private donations from a numerous Shi'a Lebanese diaspora. Secondly, the extensive focus on Latin America occurred somewhat at the expense of Hezbollah's West African activities. This became apparent in particular when targeted Hezbollah-affiliated individuals in Latin America actually moved to West Africa in order to resume their operations. 

While networks of Hezbollah supporters in Africa have been designated by the United States of America as terror-supporters (or by the UN as "illegal exploiters"), another important hub for Hezbollah in Africa has appeared in the center of the continent, most crucially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (hereafter "DRC"). 

Because no article has focused exclusively on Hezbollah's African fundraising, the aim of this paper will be to investigate the diversity of the group's fundraising activities on the continent and explore if this activity in the DRC is any different from that in other West African countries. The essay's assumption is that due to the unique situation of the country, the DRC represents a major fundraising and money-laundering hub for Hezbollah.

This article will start by a background focusing on the geopolitical penetration of Iran on the African continent, the reasons for this outreach and Hezbollah's role in it. Consecutively, this section will give an overview of the group's history, not forgetting to mention the purpose of its fundraising. It will then scrutinize how and why Hezbollah has been involved in Africa.

Part two of this paper will shed light on Hezbollah's fundraising in West Africa.  The approach adopted will be based on the different techniques employed by Hezbollah-affiliated individuals and their businesses in order to make money. 

In order to compare Hezbollah's fundraising in West Africa with that in the DRC, part three will adopt the exact same methodology as the previous one, focusing exclusively on this country. 

A central weakness of these two parts will be their tendency to isolate actors, rather than revealing their inter-connectedness in a transnational network. That is why prior to concluding, an additional section will attempt to remedy this by describing how Hezbollah-affiliated families are active in Africa.

While Congolese nationals residing in Kinshasa were interviewed during the author's research phase, this essay is entirely based on 'open' information such as academic or press articles. Non-traditional sources have also proven their usefulness: for instance, a political pamphlet published in the DRC is cited, where a Hezbollah front company is praised for its support of the local dictatorship. Likewise, online social media have proven useful in order to verify the pro-Hezbollah affiliation of ostentatious Lebanese businesses in the DRC.

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