Greed is the reason for the violence in the Congo. The violence is funded by the mining companies and all those, in many countries, who benefit from minerals and resource wealth extracted from the Congo. As a result of this violence, 1500 people die per day, 45000 die per month, 5.4 million have died in the last 10 years.
From the documentary Culture of Resistance two people who know the Congo tell us:
Maurice Carney –
The Congo is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. Congo is a geological scandal because of the mineral wealth within its soil. The conflict is based on who is going to control the resources of the Congo.
Kambale Musavuli –
If one person is brutalized in front of everyone, by the time that ends, everyone in the area are going to take their baggage and leave the community.
They have been displaced.
That is the cheapest way to move the people. So there are two rapes taking place, the rape of the land and the rape of the people. And these two rapes are inextricably linked.
[The above added February 22, 2012]
The [Democratic Republic of the Congo’s] significant mineral reserves coupled with corrupt management of the mining sector helped fuel the 1998-2003 civil war leading to the death of some 4 million people. Conflict and massive displacement continues in the eastern part of the country. (UN 2007)
Columbite-tantalite, coltan for short, is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronics. The profits from mining have fueled a brutal civil war and severely damaged the forest and wildlife.
For over a century, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by regional conflict and a deadly scramble for its vast natural resources. The greed for Congo’s wealth has been a principal driver of atrocities and conflict throughout Congo’s tortured history. In eastern Congo today, resources are financing multiple armed groups,many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and drive the local population away from mines and other areas that they wish to control.
Specifically, the conflict in eastern Congo – the deadliest since World War II – is fueled in significant part by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals. Armed groups generate an estimated $180 million each year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the armed groups to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas. These materials eventually wind up in electronic devices, such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers, including those sold here in the United States. Given the lack of a transparent minerals supply chain, American consumers continue to indirectly finance armed groups that regularly commit arocities and mass rape.
(Crisis in Congo PDF)
You can see the geographical relationship between the mining, the mineral deposits, and the armed groups in these maps.
The majority of the violence in the eastern Congo has been carried out in mineral-rich areas, by armed groups and military units on all sides of the conflict. This includes units of the Congolese armed forces, as well as the Rwandan rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, of FDLR, as well as an array of other militias.
(Crisis in Congo PDF)
These armed groups profit from the trade in two primary ways:
- Controlling the mines, forcing miners to work in deadly conditions and paying them a pittance, an average of $1 to $5 per day.
- Exacting bribes from transporters, local and international buyers, and border controls.
The armed groups trade in the 3T minerals – tin, tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold:
Tin is used inside your cellphone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards. Fifty-three percent of tin worldwide is used as a solder, the vast majority of which goes into electronics. Armed groups earn approximately $115 million per year from trading in tin.
Tantalum (often called “coltan”) is used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cll phones. A majority of the world’s tantalum – 65 to 80 percent – is used in elecronic products. Armed groups earn an estimated $12million per year from trading in tantalum.
Tungsten is used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate. Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $7 million annually.
Gold is used mainly in jewelry but is also a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, armed groups are earning approximately $50 million per year from gold.
Ethnic rivalries are often blamed for the violence in eastern Congo, but they are a tool rather than a cause. The main reason for the violence is:
… greed, the primary cause of the so-called “second war,” which began in 1998. A number of “elite networks,” as defined by a hard-hitting U.N. report, comprising military commanders, political leaders, and unscrupulous entrepreneurs in Kigali, Kampala, and beyond, backed up by international mafias, plundered the resources of eastern Congo (coltan ore, diamonds, gold, hardwoods) and turned the region’s economy to their personal profit. To accomplish their aims, they had to resort continuously to force, but without betraying their true objectives. In the “second war,” Rwanda and Uganda masked their predatory intentions by clandestinely maintaining regular or irregular troops, and above all by fostering armed bands, organized along ethnic lines, forming and reforming according to the current needs of their masters. The battles among these bands have rarely led to major victories or defeats; the whole idea is to maintain insecurity and justify the militarization that enables the massive plundering. Amid all this, the local people have paid a terrible price.
According to the U.N. report, which was published nearly a year ago, the number of “excess deaths” in Congo directly attributable to the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation can be estimated at between 3 million and 3.5 million. This conflict has been the deadliest since World War II. … Finally, acts of sexual violence accompanying the carnage have been without precedent in their frequency, their systematic nature, their brutality, and the perversity of the way they’re planned and staged.
… In this hospital, the sexually assaulted victims are two or three times as numerous as civilians treated for gunshot wounds, and four or five times as numerous as wounded soldiers. These are very significant ratios concerning the victims of eastern Congo’s interrelated conflicts.
… in eastern Congo, rape—extremely violent rape—“is soldiers’ work,” one of the rapists told one of his victims.
from Congo: A Hell on Earth for Women
Out of this violence, looted minerals are transported both by land, air, and water.
From the eastern Congo the minerals are:
(Crisis in Congo PDF)
- Transported through neighboring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.
- Mainly shipped to East Asia, particularly to multinational smelting companies in Malaysia, Thailand, China, and India.
- Once processed, bought by electronics manufacturing companies, turned into usable components such as capacitors, and added into the electronic devices.
The highest-selling devices with the 3T minerals are:
Cell phones and Blackberries * MP3 players * Digital cameras (also, TVs, computers, monitors)
Crisis in Congo PDF cites the average annual wage of a civilian worker in the Congo as about $184 per year. It estimates the profits of the armed groups that trade in the Congo’s contraband minerals at $180,000,000 per year.
Rwanda and Uganda benefit most directly from the trade in contraband minerals from Congo. I have written about this previously in posts listed below. According to Crisis in Congo PDF, since January 2009 more that 900,000 people have had to flee their homes because of the violence. 7000 rapes have been reported, most rapes are not reported. Armed groups try to drive out local citizens and other armed groups. There are only 2 hospitals in all of eastern Congo that are able to perform surgury on fistula, a common result of the rapes. These rapes seem to fit the definition of genocidal rape, including:
… in genocide, rape is under control. It has become a tool, not an accident. In genocide, men rape in groups because they are ordered to or because they are systematically permitted to do so. It is calculated. The men rape not as individual men, but as members of their race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. They sexually assault women (and sometimes other men) of a particular group.
The goal in genocidal rape is not merely to hurt people. Much less is the goal simply to have sex. Group destruction is the goal. Sexual violence is not simply some ancillary tool to this goal. Indeed, because of the peculiar nature of rape and sexual torture, it is particularly suited to genocide. In war, the destructive effects of rape are largely beside the point. In genocide, the destruction is the point.
I am wary of the word genocide. I think in recent times it has been appropriated for political reasons, and thereby robbed of some meaning. What is happening to ordinary people living in the Eastern Congo is devastatingly painful to read about or contemplate, and I find it difficult to research or write about. Too much of it is happening because you and I enjoy our cellphones and other electronics.
For more detail on the violence against women there are quite a number of links on this page: women in conflict. It includes a video, and this article, Silence=Rape, which is hard to read but describes the problem. US demand for electronics helps fuel the problem. And the US isn’t helping, for example:
Congo’s Rape Epidemic Worsens During U.S.-Backed Military Operation
U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement: Lessons from the Operational Level in Africa
The training and weapons support the US provides to both Rwanda and Uganda, both active partners of the US Africa Command, is just more fuel for the violence in the Congo. This is even more questionable policy due to the profits and benefits US companies and consumers derive from the contraband minerals of the Congo.
L’économie minière au Kivu et ses implications régionales, PDF [Maps 1,6]
*Etude sur le rôle de l’exploitation des ressources naturelles dans l’alimentation et la perpétuation des crises de l’est de la RDC, PDF [Maps 2,3,4,5,7,8] see the Abstract
Both documents contain a great deal more information and more maps.
Check out a great powerpoint overview of coltan and the coltan trade with maps and photos PowerPoint by Dr. John Katunga of the Wilson Center.
Previous posts with related information and more links:
Paul Kagame, Warlord of Congo’s Wealth
DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence – part 2
DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence
Women in Rwanda and DRC – development vs military assistance
If Uganda Has Oil It Must Need The Pentagon’s Democracy
Canada funding and profiting from Congo’s wars
And more in this category: