WikiLeaks cables detail US motivations in Africa's Great Lakes region

Although much of the information released by WikiLeaks on Africa's Great Lakes region is not news, it does tell us what the US considers its national interests in the region.

There were, of course, many cables relating to the Great Lakes among the 250,000 State Department cables released last week. Very few, however, have been released. This is what I can glean so far:

• A cable signed by Hillary Clinton (put up by Jeune Afrique but the link no longer works) directing US officials to gather all relevant information on "people linked the Great Lakes." Most of the information is pretty standard for intelligence gathering: phone, credit card and frequent flyer card numbers; email and phone address books; other biographical information. However, for political leaders, the directive also asks for DNA samples, fingerprints and iris scans. All of this tracks very closely a similar directive asking for information about diplomats at the UN.

• In the same cable, the stated national interests of the US in the region are: natural resources and "the consequences of the genocide." Good to know.

• But the US also appears critical of Rwanda, asking for information about internal rifts within the RPF, political assassinations, paramilitary groups and ethnic politics.

• Catering to domestic pressures, the State Department is also interested in the country's view of genetically modified crops and food.

• In another cable leaked regarding sites around the world important to national interests, a cobalt mine in the Congo (Tenke Fungurume?) tops the list.

Is any of this really surprising? Much of it isn't – the directives to gather information about political leaders is diplomatically not very charming, but falls within standard State Department (and probably international) practice. What is interesting, however, is to get an intimate view of how national interests in the Great Lakes are defined: natural resources and the aftershocks of genocide. Oh yes, and biotechnology.

(By the way, for US government purposes: I have not actually read any WikiLeaks documents for the purpose of this posting, just press reports. So the State Department memos warning that any reading of unclassified documents will jeopardize a career in the foreign service does not apply to me. I can still be Secretary of State.)

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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