Ending illegal exploitation of Democratic Republic of Congo minerals and other resources

In August this year, the East African Business Week magazine reported that the US companies including IBM, Intel, Motorola, Apple and HP have to disclose whether they use minerals from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or neighboring countries within nine months. This news came along many others which previously highlighted the fact that DRC’s minerals and other resources were being illegally exploited and channeled through particularly Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to supply multinationals in their need of raw materials.

Considered the scale of atrocities committed so far, 1) banning exploitation and exportations of minerals and other resources not controlled by a responsible and strong Congolese government, and 2) a world wide campaign to boycott end products (laptops, cell phones, jewels, etc) made from these minerals, can significantly reduce ongoing conflicts in the Great Lakes region, and particularly in Eastern Congo. There is plenty of evidence that at the very beginning, DRC wealth in raw material for strategic and technologic Western industries was the major target for all political/ judicial intricacies that the region has experienced in the last two decades.

For example, if hypothetically DRC with its enormous reserves of so many minerals, didn’t have existed, the extent of ongoing human and economic tragedies in that country and those that occurred in Rwanda would’ve been less dramatic, and their consequences less critical. But like at the time of slavery, pursuit of high-tech minerals has encouraged external forces to fight their proxy wars or search for human capital on African soil, without caring about casualties and suffering of the victims.

Amengeo Amengeo of The African Executive explains what is happening to the African continent, particularly in the Great Lakes region, ‘before our eyes in the 21st century, Africa is being re-colonised, subtly, but surely. (The process is ongoing). Only Africans can stop this and if the leaders will not, then the people must rise up and protect their very existence, because, in the final analysis, the African people, the world over stand alone.’

Prevailing situation – Since the end of Mobutu era in 1997, DRC has been the theatre of organised looting of a sovereign country not seen in any part of the world in recent times. Every type of wealth has been impacted upon by structures set up and imposed by the new masters of the land. Stockpile of extracted minerals were seized and taken away to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Coltan, cassiterite, gold, diamond, etc were some of the minerals subject to looting. Timber, money from banks’ coffers, machinery spare parts from dismantled factories, livestock, ivory, coffee beans, featured as well on the list.

Events which occurred in DRC were a culmination of a situation which had started much earlier with the invasion of Rwanda from Uganda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in October 1990. The cumulative death toll was still increasing at the time. Four presidents have been killed in the process, with no serious public investigations into their death, and ordinary citizens lost their lives in the millions both in Rwanda and DRC. Survivors live under persistent abuse of their basic human rights. Repressive regimes have strengthened their powers in all structures of governance. An institutionalised oppression through all institutions exists. Permanent uncertainty and insecurity for the many not in position of leadership or who are from the wrong tribe are the rule.

For nearly two decades UN institutions and international justice system are being used or manipulated by Western powers, probably because of their financial leverage in paying the bill, to pursue their national and sometime selfish policies. Deep down this has been the case for MINUAR, the UN peacekeeping mission for Rwanda from 1993 to 1994, MONUC created in 1999 then transformed into MONUSCO in May 2010 and supposedly is peacekeeping in DRC, ICTR, the tribunal for Rwanda from 1994 until now established to prosecute perpetrators of genocide, and ICC, the International Criminal Court located in The Hague. All these structures have adopted biased attitudes in their dealing with the conflicts of the Great Lakes region in such away that instead of helping to solve them, they have become part of the problem.

It is surprising to find that perpetrators have been for many years well documented and should be prosecuted, but no action is taken against them. Several UN reports and other reliable sources, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have provided in their annual and periodical reports, evidence about who is who behind economic crimes and massive human rights violations in Rwanda and DRC. Only lack of willingness to prosecute perpetrators and master minders of past and current tragedies in the region on the part of the international community is the major obstacle to changing the ongoing situation.

One example out of many of documented evidence on perpetrators is reported in the UN report on ‘Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,’ which was published in 2001. It describes the structures used in looting DRC resources. ‘In the case of Uganda, individuals, mainly top army commanders, using their hold over their collaborators and some officials in rebel movements, are exploiting the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, this is known by the political establishment in Kampala. In the case of Rwanda, things are more systemic. There are linkages and bridges between some key companies, as in the case of Tristar and BCDI and, above all, the relationship between RPA, RPF, BCDI, Rwanda Metals, Grands Lacs Metals and Tristar. The senior management of these companies seems to report separately to the same people at the top of the pyramid. On the other hand, all key managers have personal relationships with different army commanders who themselves report to the leadership. This pyramidal and integrated structure coupled with the strict discipline of the group has made the exploitation of the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo more systematic, efficient and organized.’

There is a multitude of actors involved in the ongoing DRC conflict. But those whose actions have prevailed all along the years are either able to influence towards their own national interests the work of UN structures operating in the region, or are implicated on the ground operations as proxies of the former, or they are only after their own specific and very localised interests. On a non exhaustive list of enablers one finds MINUAR, ICTR, MONUC, MONUSCO, AFRICOM, US, Britain, China, Holland, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Chad, South Africa. Individual involvement of these different actors evolves with time following changing factors.

Current mechanisms to discourage beneficiaries of ongoing minerals’ conflicts in the region appear not to be working. American Legislation (Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill) on mineral products from the region, requires all manufacturing companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to trace and audit their supply chains for tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold sourced from Congo and its adjoining countries to ensure that the minerals did not come from mines or trading routes controlled by armed groups. But Rwanda, one of the main culprits in the supply chain, is already looking for buyers of its stolen minerals other than Western companies. On the other hand, the fact that The Netherlands and Norwegian governments reduced financial support to Rwanda after the publication of the UN report on DRC in 2008 which highlighted its direct involvement didn’t deter looters from pursuing their stealing. ICC sentencing Uganda government to pay compensation to DRC or prosecuting FDLR leaders didn’t either achieve expected results. Towards the end of October 2010, David Barouski reported that ‘Sources in Goma claim that, despite the smuggling, coltan stocks bought illegally before the mining ban are being smuggled to Rwanda without much problem, as the border guards and customs officials are still easily paid off.  Charcoal, ivory, wildlife, and cash crops are still smuggled as well.

A combination of additional and drastic measures is necessary to stop the looting of DRC resources. Among them could be:

  • Freezing bank accounts and banning from travelling abroad officials whose names are documented in UN reports with criminal responsibility in the human tragedies of the region and looting
  • Boycotting internationally products (laptops, cell phones, jewelry, etc.) and services of companies named in UN reports where they are accused of fuelling the conflicts
  • Starting the judiciary/ technical process that the UN Mapping Report on crimes committed in DRC between 1993 and 2003 demands
  • Supporting democratisation of prevailing dictatorships (Rwanda and Uganda), or DRC failed democracy, by starting and imposing political solutions to ongoing instability in the region; outsiders who support military options are as part of the problem as political leaders in named countries who oppose democracy because it would expose their crimes
  • Banning temporarily exploitation of minerals in Eastern Congo as long as there are no Congolese structures responsible to manage the area in the interests of Congolese people

Early this month, Apple, the American multinational behind trendy PCs and iPhones put out a new advertisement stating that the company had raised up its stakes in terms of social responsibility. It announces that, ‘The new iPhoneCF guarantees to all its customers the same high quality phone as the original iPhone 4 with the added bonus of taking you one step closer to a world without conflict.’ But can multinationals really contribute to a solution of the crisis in the Great Lakes region, unless compelled or financially forced into doing so? The example of the end of apartheid should come to mind. South African conglomerates which suffered from international boycotts of their products because of the system were among the initiators who brokered negotiations between ANC and the Pieter Botha government. They had interest that the discriminative policy ends because it was affecting their profits. A similar boycott of products made against companies sourcing their raw material in DRC could add to the pressure to end politically conflicts in that country and the whole region.

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One response to “Ending illegal exploitation of Democratic Republic of Congo minerals and other resources

  1. Pingback: iPhone 5 and Congolese raped women | The Rising Continent

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