DRC: The innocent blood and the international battle over resources

Published on by KANYARWANDA

An International Battle Over Resources


Due to the immense natural resources in this nation, various foreign powers, as well as internal, have sought to gain an advantage.

Laurent Kabila had accused some of his former allies, such as Rwanda and Uganda as having ulterior motives, especially in terms of resources, such as water, diamonds, and other vast, rich resources and minerals. In fact, all sides have been accused of having commercial interests in this war due to the vast resources involved.

The DRC’s rich resources provide easy ways to finance the conflict and the rebels had long been successful in setting up financial administrative bodies in their controlled areas, especially with regards to trading with Rwanda and Uganda, while Kabila had also been able to finance his side of the conflict.

There are many resources and minerals etc being exploited, including (but not limited to):

  • Water
  • Diamonds
  • Coltan
  • Cassiterite
  • Tin
  • Copper
  • Timber

A number of major human rights groups have charged that some multinational corporations from rich nations have been profiting from the war and have developed “elite networks” of key political, military, and business elites to plunder the Congo’s natural resources.

Yet, a number of companies and western governments pressured a United Nations panel to omit details of shady business dealings in a report out in October 2003. As reported by the British newspaper, The Independent:

Last October [2002], the panel accused 85 companies of breaching OECD standards through their business activities. Rape, murder, torture and other human rights abuses followed the scramble to exploit Congo’s wealth after war exploded in 1998.

For example the trade in coltan, a rare mineral used in computers and mobile phones, had social effects “akin to slavery”, the panel said. But no Western government had investigated the companies alleged to have links with such abuses. Some, including ones from the UK, US, Belgium and Germany, had lobbied to have their companies’ names cleared from the “list of shame”.

“Many governments overtly or covertly exerted pressure on the panel and the Security Council to exonerate their companies,” Ms Feeney said. Some companies gave legitimate explanations for their business in Congo, or pulled out. But lawyers for others challenge the panel’s findings, often capitalising on errors in earlier reports as proof of unreliability.

In the report this week, the cases against 48 companies are “resolved” and requiring “no further action”.

Declan Walsh, UN cuts details of Western profiteers from Congo report, The Independent, October 27, 2003

When the UN finally released the report at the end of October 2003, they listed approximately 125 companies and individuals listed that had been named in a previous report by the panel for having contributed directly or indirectly to the conflict in the DRC.

Other companies, the report noted, may not have been directly linked to conflict, but had more indirect ties to the main protagonists. Such companies benefited from the chaotic environment in the DRC. For example, they would obtain concessions or contracts from the DRC on terms that were more favorable than they might receive in countries where there was peace and stability. (See for example, page 6, par 12 of the report.)

The above-mentioned coltan has been the source of much controversy lately:

Hidden cost of mobile phones, computers, stereos and VCRs?

The ore, Columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short, isn’t perhaps as well known as some of the other resources and minerals. However, the demand for the highly prized tantalum that comes from the refined coltan has enormous impacts, as highlighted by a recent U.N. Security Council report where an expert panel was established on the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Given the substantial increase in the price of coltan between late 1999 and late 2000, a period during which the world supply was decreasing while the demand was increasing, a kilo of coltan of average grade was estimated at $200. According to the estimates of professionals, the Rwandan army through Rwanda Metals was exporting at least 100 tons per month. The Panel estimates that the Rwandan army could have made $20 million per month, simply by selling the coltan that, on average, intermediaries buy from the small dealers at about $10 per kg. According to experts and dealers, at the highest estimates of all related costs (purchase and transport of the minerals), RPA must have made at least $250 million over a period of 18 months. This is substantial enough to finance the war. Here lies the vicious circle of the war. Coltan has permitted the Rwandan army to sustain its presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The army has provided protection and security to the individuals and companies extracting the mineral. These have made money which is shared with the army, which in turn continues to provide the enabling environment to continue the exploitation.

Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations Security Council, April 12, 2001.

The report also mentions Ugandan and Burundian rebels being involved in looting and smuggling of coltan, using illegal monopolies, forced labor, prisoners and even murder. According to the Industry Standard, “[t]hese accusations have not been taken lightly; several members of the U.N. panel that prepared the report have since received death threats. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have issued protests to the United Nations over the report, claiming it to be inaccurate and unfounded.”

A follow up report in October 2003 also noted that:

In 1999 and 2000 a sharp increase in the world prices of tantalum occurred, leading to a large increase in coltan production in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Part of that new production involved rebel groups and unscrupulous business people forcing farmers and their families to leave their land, or chasing people off land where coltan was found and forcing them to work in artisanal mines. As a result, the widespread destruction of agriculture and devastating social effects occurred, which in a number of instances where akin to slavery.

Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations Security Council, S/2003/1027, October 28, 2003

What drives the demand for this mineral? Most of modern computer-based technology:

It [Tantalum, which is refined coltan] sells for $100 a pound, and it’s becoming increasingly vital to modern life. For the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust, a key component in everything from mobile phones made by Nokia and Ericsson and computer chips from Intel to Sony stereos and VCRs.

Kristi Essick, Guns, Money and Cell Phones, The Industry Standard, Jun 11 2001

For more information on the resources and minerals and other backgrounders, you can start off at the following links:

Amnesty International details that there have been many human rights violations reported due to the economic exploitation. For example:

  • Thousands of Congolese civilians have been tortured and killed during military operations to secure mineral-rich lands.
  • Foreign forces from Rwanda and Uganda have promoted interethnic conflicts and mass killings as a means to secure mining zones.
  • Combatants of the various forces in the region have killed or tortured independent miners and traders for their minerals or money.
  • Many of the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, driven from their homes into neighboring countries or other parts of the DRC, have died from malnutrition and lack of access to humanitarian assistance.
  • Children as young as 12 have been among those forced into hard labor in the mines.
  • Human rights defenders who have reported or criticized such abuses have been beaten, detained, forced to flee, or killed.

Back to top

Death Toll and the Effect on Civilians

As with most conflicts, civilians have suffered immensely.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has attempted a few surveys during the conflict. As of writing, their latest survey was up to April 2007, released in early 2008.

The IRC found that since the war started in 1998,

  • Some 5.4 million people have died in this conflict
  • It has been the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II
  • The vast majority have actually died from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition—all typically preventable in normal circumstances, but have come about because of the conflict
  • Although 19% of the population, children account for 47% of the deaths
  • Some 45,000 continue to die each month

Although many have returned home as violence has slightly decreased, Refugees International says there are still some 1.5 million internally displaced or refugees

Unfortunately, the scale of death and destruction revealed is not new. While mainstream media reporting has been sparse and many are unaware of the sheer enormity of this conflict various organizations have been reporting about this problem since the very beginnings of the conflict.

Human Rights Watch raised concerns in a report in May 2000.

In December 2000, Oxfam highlighted that over a million people have been killed due to the conflict in the initial two years.

By mid-2001, one of IRC’s earlier surveys estimated that there had already been around 2.5 million deaths since the outbreak of the fighting in August 1998, with the majority dying of malnutrition and disease that has resulted from the war.

By mid-2003, Amnesty International was reporting on the humantarian disaster of millions displaced and killed.

Back to top

Effects on the Environment and Wildlife

The coltan trade and battle over the other minerals and resources has also affected DRC’s wildlife and environment. National Parks that house endangered gorillas and other animals are often overrun to exploit minerals and resources. Increasing poverty and hunger from the war, as well as more people moving into these areas to exploit the minerals results in hunting more wildlife, such as apes, for bush meat. Gorillas, for example are already endangered species. Wars over resources like this makes the situation even worse.

Back to top

Does the World Care?

I am convinced now … that the lives of Congolese people no longer mean anything to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, our brothers who help kill us or those you call the international community.… Even God does not listen to our prayers any more and abandons us.

Salvatore Bulamuzi, a member of the Lendu community whose parents, two wives and five children were all killed in recent attacks on the town of Bunia, north-eastern DRC. (Quoted from “Our brothers who help kill us”—economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east, a report from Amnesty International, AFR 62/010/2003, April 1, 2003.)

Oxfam, mentioned above, criticized the international community in their 2000 report for still ignoring the DRC. When comparing with the response in Kosovo, they pointed out that “[i]n 1999, donor governments gave just $8 per person in the DRC, while providing $207 per person in response to the UN appeal for the former Yugoslavia. While it is clear that both regions have significant needs, there is little commitment to universal entitlement to humanitarian assistance.” (Emphasis added)

Oxfam also noted that “[t]he international community is essentially ignoring what has been deemed ‘Africa’s first world war.’ The DRC remains a forgotten emergency. Falling outside of the media spotlight, and experiencing persistent shortfalls in pledged humanitarian aid, the population of the DRC has been largely abandoned to struggle for their own survival.”

Slowly though, in some mainstream media, there have been questions of why international efforts are not seen here, especially when compared to that given to Kosovo.

An updated Oxfam report, while written back in 2001, also noted the following facts (some numbers may be out of date and have gotten worse, but the sheer scale of these numbers alone are shocking):

  • More than two million people are internally displaced; of these, over 50 per cent are in eastern DRC. More than one million of the displaced have received absolutely no outside assistance.
  • It is estimated that up to 2.5 million people in DRC have died since the outbreak of the war, many from preventable diseases.
  • At least 37 per cent of the population, approximately 18.5 million people, have no access to any kind of formal health care.
  • 16 million people have critical food needs.
  • There are 2,056 doctors for a population of 50 million; of these, 930 are in Kinshasa.
  • Infant mortality rates in the east of the country have in places reached 41 per cent per year.
  • Severe malnutrition rates among children under five have reached 30 per cent in some areas.
  • National maternal mortality is 1837 per 100,000 live births, one of the worst in the world. Rates as high as 3,000/100,000 live births have been recorded in eastern DRC.
  • DRC is ranked 152nd on the UNDP Human Development index of 174 countries: a fall of 12 places since 1992.
  • 2.5 million people in Kinshasa live on less than US$1 per day. In some parts of eastern DRC, people are living on US$0.18 per day.
  • 80 per cent of families in rural areas of the two Kivu Provinces have been displaced at least once in the past five years.
  • There are more than 10,000 child soldiers. Over 15 per cent of newly recruited combatants are children under the age of 18. A substantial number are under the age of 12.
  • Officially, between 800,000 and 900,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS.
  • 40 per cent of health infrastructure has been destroyed in Masisi, North Kivu.
  • Only 45 per cent of people have access to safe drinking water. In some rural areas, this is as low as three per cent.
  • Four out of ten children are not in school. 400,000 displaced children have no access to education.
  • Of 145,000 km of roads, no more than 2,500km are asphalt.

Back to top

More Information

For more on the conflict in this “Great Lakes” region, visit the following:

Published on politics

Comment on this post