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New Report Exposes Investors Bankrolling Land Theft and Human Rights Violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo

March 16, 2021
Recently planted oil palm plantation near Lokumete in February 2020
Recently planted oil palm plantation near Lokumete in February 2020 © Oskar Epelde

---FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---

March 16, 2021

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal, [email protected]; +1 510-530-5126

  • Forcibly displaced by Belgian colonial authorities in 1911 to establish oil palm plantations, the Lokutu, Yaligimba, and Boteka communities in the DRC remain afflicted with widespread hunger and poverty, amidst rampant human rights and environmental abuses on the plantations.

  • Community efforts to negotiate the return of their land have been met with violent repression by plantation security forces, unlawful detentions, beatings, torture, and even murder.

  • Funds affiliated with investment management firm Kuramo Capital now retain majority ownership over the disputed concessions through Straight KKM, a Mauritius-based private equity fund.

  • High profile investors bankrolling the plantations include: the University of Michigan Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, the South African Government Employees Pension Fund and Public Investment Corporation, and the Royal County of Berkshire Pension Scheme, among others.

Oakland, CA — As community efforts to reclaim 100,000 hectares of their ancestral land, initially seized over a century ago for oil palm plantations, are met with violent repression, unlawful arrests, and murder, a new report from the Oakland Institute — In King Leopold’s Steps: The Investors Bankrolling the PHC Oil Palm Plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo — unveils the names of the investors financing the plantations in the DRC.

Communities in Lokutu, Yaligimba, and Boteka in the DRC were forcibly displaced in 1911 by the Belgian colonial authorities to establish oil palm plantations. Livelihoods have been severely impacted as a result — hunger and poverty are widespread while the dumping of untreated industrial waste has polluted a major source of drinking water. Community members, working as laborers on the plantations, have been subjected to unpaid wages and unsafe working conditions.

In February 2021, as communities gathered to voice their concerns to a delegation from Straight KKM — the new owners of the concessions — security forces cracked down, arresting a group of peaceful protestors. While in custody, community members were reportedly subjected to inhumane conditions and torture. In another incident, Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year-old villager, was falsely accused of stealing palm fruit from the plantation and beaten by PHC security guards on February 15th. He died of his injuries a few days later.

In King Leopold’s Steps unravels the opaque nature of private equity to unmask the current investors bankrolling the PHC plantations. Straight KKM is owned by various funds affiliated with Kuramo Capital Management — which claims to be Africa’s “leading independent investment management firm.” Several high-profile investors include: The University of Michigan Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, the South African Government Employees Pension Fund and Public Investment Corporation, and the Royal County of Berkshire Pension Scheme, among others.

“While several of the investors claim to promote socially conscious and environmentally sustainable investments, they have turned a blind eye to the legacy of abuses in the PHC concessions,” said report author Andy Currier. “Through limited partnerships and layers of ownership, these pension funds, foundation trusts, and university endowments maintain distance from the extensive history of documented abuses against the local communities, while seeking a profitable return on their investment.”

Oakland Institute’s Policy Director, Frédéric Mousseau, concluded, “These investors are directly responsible for the ongoing land theft and human rights violations perpetrated against the local communities and must immediately review their financial commitments to Kuramo Capital Management. They must be held accountable for perpetrating these abuses and take immediate action to return the land to the communities.”

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