Conflict minerals in the Congo: a look at the new GoE report

Conflict minerals in the Congo: a look at the new GoE report

The United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is maybe the authority on anything conflict related in the central African country. Tasked with briefing the Security Council twice a year on all developments related to the extensive sanctions against various actors in the DRC, their reports offer a wealth of information on everything from conflict financing to outside intervention. The upcoming report has now been leaked to African Arguments. This blog post explores the information it offers regarding the use of resources in the context of conflict in eastern DRC and elsewhere in the country.

Conflict minerals are important aspects of every GoE report, the current one being no exception. In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the GoE states that

Many armed groups in eastern DRC have derived funding from the production and trade of natural resources. […] The Group estimates that 98 percent of the gold produced in DRC is smuggled out of the country, and that nearly all of the gold traded in Uganda – the main transit country for Congolese gold – is illegally exported from DRC. […] While initiatives by OECD and ICGLR have advanced the validation of mining sites and improved adherence to conflict – free and child labor – free international standards, armed groups and the FARDC [Congolese army] continue to control many mining sites and to profit from mining and the minerals trade.

The limits of the concept of “Conflict Minerals”

It should be noted that the GoE never speaks of “Conflict Minerals” itself. The term is the invention of advocacy groups* and its implication that the occurence of minerals can prolong or even cause conflict and violence is contested.

A critical perspective on the concept of conflict minerals is supported in some parts of the GoE report. For example the group notes that the M23 – the most prolific armed group in eastern Congo during the year of 2013 – didn’t derive any income from direct involvement in the minerals trade (§32). Rather, the M23 concentrated on levying taxes on property and transport (which of course may have included mineral transports). The territory controlled by the M23 had no major mineral deposits, despite being the site of major violence and fighting during the eventual defeat of the M23 at the hands of the FARDC and U.N. troops.

This is not to say that resources, including minerals, are unimportant factors in the development of conflicts and violence. But their relevance clearly depends on the local context and this should be reflected in advocacy work and policy.

Dirty Gold

Coltan may be the best known conflict mineral from eastern Congo, but presently gold may be more important when it comes to the financing of armed groups. The GoE puts the sum lost in taxes due to smuggling of the precious metal and the corresponding profits for armed groups in the millions of Dollars – of the estimated 10,000 kg of gold mined in the DRC per year, only 180,76 kg is declared to government authorities (§170). Some of the most violent attacks by armed groups described in the report were targeting gold mining sites (for example §65).

For some armed groups, like the Rwandan FDLR and Raia Mutomboki, their involvement in gold mining and trade is their main mode of financing (§95, 168). The  limited traceability and high mobility of the mineral has resulted in an extended trade networks that reaches from small scale mining operations in eastern Congo to the Ugandan capital Kampala and onwards to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (§198).

Gold mining is of course also an important source of income for many artisan miners who have little choice in who is benefiting from the downstream trade. With regard to this group, the myriad ways the GoE lists that are employed by gold traders to fraud their way to a larger share of the profits are highly interesting ($177ff).

That armed groups and criminal actors are able to profit from the gold trade is attributed by the GoE mainly to the reluctance of the Ugandan and Congolese governments to engage in a effective regulation of the sector. Existing laws are not enforced and known actors are allowed to act openly in eastern Congo and Uganda alike.

The three Ts

Tin, tungsten and tantalum (which can be found in the mineral coltan) are the best known conflict resources produced in the Congo. They occur mainly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and northern Katanga. Their production and trade is one of the most profitable sectors of the economy in eastern Congo and a large part of the production is smuggled out of the country via Rwanda (§200).

At several points in the report the GoE indicates the involvement of Rwandan authorities in the smuggling activities (for example §204). Smuggled ore from the DRC is tagged in comptoires in Rwanda, which hides it true origin and dramatically increases its selling price (§200). This should make clear that any certification mechanism based on “tagging and bagging” can not rely on measures solely controlled by the Rwandan government.

The lure of ivory

Showing that the use of resources to finance conflict is highly opportunistic, at least one armed group switched from poaching for ivory to attacks on gold mines, according to the GoE (§65).

Nonetheless, at least 310 elephants (and likely many more, §225) were poached in 2012 and 2013. Poaching is often done by locals in close cooperation with corrupt members of the security forces (§229). South Sudanese nationals are also heavily involved in poaching activities in Congo’s Garamba national park.

The main transit country for ivory from Congo is Uganda, its destination are usually markets in eastern Asia.

Oil: the new kid on Congo’s conflict block

Like many other countries straggling Africa’s enormous rift valley, the DRC is hoping that this geological formation may feature crude oil deposits. Uganda is already preparing to start production, while the DRC is still in the early stages of exploration. These activities are controversial mainly because of the environmental threat they pose, but the GoE also mentions some connections between the exploration activities and armed groups in eastern Congo.

Parts of exploration Block III, owned by French company Total, are for example in the area of operation of the FRPI, an armed group responsible for considerable displacement among the local population. The report (§59) mentions that Total has demanded from the government to resolve the security issues posed by the presence of the armed group, but the company declined to discuss how the situation has been reflected its social and environmental assessment of its exploration activities.

Recommendations

The GoE recommends that companies

Conduct due diligence in minerals purchase in the Great Lakes region, in addition to investing in traceability schemes.

This is mainly in accordance to the demands of many advocacy organisations. In addition, the various governments are asked by the GoE to strengthen their laws, the application of these laws and their cooperation to limit the smuggling of natural resources from the DR Congo.

My take on the information on resources in the context of conflict provided by the report is that activities of policy makers and advocacy organisations should focus on realising the potential associated with natural resources in the Congo. While minerals and other resources can be used to finance conflict and in some cases their presence contribute to specific acts of violence, they also provide much needed economic opportunities for many people in the DRC.

To achieve this goal, governments in the region as well as in Europe and America need to enforce stronger regulations regarding the circumstances under which these resources are produced and traded. Transparency is key here and companies should be forced to provide information about the conditions under which their raw materials were produced to consumers.

What are your thoughts on the report?

*According to google, “conflict minerals” were first mentioned online in 2009