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Congo to Resume Mineral Exports While NGOs Stand Guard Against Abuse


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is preparing to export at least 400 tons of minerals stockpiled since 2010, thanks to a $1 billion investment by the World Bank in infrastructural, agricultural and institutional improvements in the Great Lakes Region, and to the "Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework" (PSCF), which goes into effect later this month.    


Although the DRC is rich in underground minerals used in electronics such as gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, tungsten, tin ore, and most recently coltan, much of the DRC's mineral wealth had been labeled "conflict minerals," because more than 40 percent of their trade remains unregulated by the DRC government, and therefore is used to fuel local violence.  The government had banned mining operations since 2010 in the unstable eastern Kivu regions, home to rebel militias and a conflict transposed from Rwanda.    Thanks to the PSCF,  signed by 11 nations in the region, the United Nations, African Union, Southern African Development Community at International Conference on the Great Lakes in February of this year, there is hope for an end to the cycle of violence and displacement in the DRC and for cooperation among leaders across the region.  


The agreement calls for the appointment of a special U.N. envoy to the region and the continued involvement of MONUSCO, the U.N. stabilization armed forces, in the DRC.  An armed "Intervention Brigade" of nearly 3,000 will enforce the peace process by boosting the 17,000 U.N. troops already stationed there and engage in offensive action to disarm rebel groups.


On a joint visit to the DRC at the end of May,  U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recognized a need for a multi-pronged approach to ending the cycle of violence and displacement in the DRC and for cooperation among leaders across the region.   Kim  dubbed the planned $1 billion investment a "peace dividend," intended to tackle the violence and suffering of people in the DRC through development projects that would benefit the whole region by providing hydroelectricity, increased and improved trade routes, agricultural development for people displaced by conflict, jobs, education and health.


NGOs React

NGOs working in the conflict-ridden regions of Central Africa have long reported on the negative impact of the mineral trade on the region, and have expressed concerns with the impact of its expansion. 


Citing some improvements in oversight, including the  adoption of Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act, requiring U.S. companies to certify minerals sourced from the eastern DRC under OECD due diligence guidelines, and South Kivu's Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, which requires identification of all companies involved in the supply chain, a recent Global Witness investigation confirmed that the mineral trade benefits armed groups, including Congolese officials and army members, with Burundi and Dubai acting as major conduits for smuggled eastern DRC gold.


According to a Voice of America report, the minerals about to be exported through two Chinese trading houses in the region have come under local scrutiny: Some fear that 5,000 tons will be exported in total under the guise of the smaller 400 ton shipment. The author of the Global Witness report says it is unclear whether these minerals have supported conflict in the region and that companies have no way of knowing.


Armed groups also control rural communities. According to Refugees International, as of November 2012, more than 2.4 million Congolese were internally displaced, and 460,000 had become external refugees because the Tutsi-controlled M23 group, a faction that broke off from the national army (FARDC), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and other rebel groups control the countryside, displacing people and recruiting them to join their ranks through violence.


The Enough Project is running several online actions on demanding the approval of bills in Congress for the increased U.S. involvement in the peace process in the DRC, with a special emphasis on the east.

Following the establishment of the "Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework and its call for an Intervention Brigade,  several NGOs operating in the region expressed concern over the deployment because they fear disruption to their activities and being associated with military action in the region. They have called for suspending the Brigade if it does not perform well or the DRC government fails to implement PSCF commitments. They have also called for the Brigade to "prioritize mitigation of harm to civilians" and for MONUSCO to coordinate its military planning with Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) options for combatants.  



The NGO Fieldview Solutions released a report titled "Non-military strategies for civilian protection in the DRC," arguing that the investment of resources on the part of humanitarian organizations in the region does not take a sufficient long-term view to local problem-solving. It recommends that international organizations " maximize their field presence, visibility and contact with armed actors "to decrease the incidence of isolated vulnerable communities, support local Congolese leadership and confront ethnic hostilities honestly through frank diplomacy and mediation, speak out against national agents that support armed rebels, and pressure MONUSCO to take a more active role in controlling illegal trade in the region. The report states that between 10 and 30 percent of the Rwandan mineral sector's growth in the past two years is attributable to smuggled Congolese resources.