Mineral Wealth: The Cry from the DRC

Article excerpt

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the site of the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, with over three million dead since fighting began in 1998. Though substantial progress has been made in the past few years, large regions of the country remain outside government control. The violence is ostensibly political in nature, but the true conflict is over the DRC's substantial mineral resources. The fight for lucrative minerals, found in abundance in the DRC, will continue to plague the country until the international community steps in and imposes stricter international transfer protocols.

The DRC adopted a new constitution in May 2005, marking the end of the transitional period between former President Joseph Kabila's rule and the 2002 Global and All-Inclusive Agreement that gave former rebel groups a stake in government in exchange for their promise to disarm. However, violence continues to destroy the country. Local government and UN forces have come under constant attack from the various Congolese militias collectively known as the Mai-Mai. Loosely affiliated with the major rebel groups during the war, the militias were largely excluded from the power-sharing agreement that terminated hostilities between die main warring factions.

The Mai-Mai consist of splinter factions of the main rebel groups, remnants of the Interahamwe militia driven out of Rwanda after participation in the 1994 genocide, and more recently, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a millenarian cult-army bent on creating its own dominion that terrorizes the Great Lakes region and southern Sudan. Since the 2002 agreement, these groups have engaged in violence against the central government, UN forces, and civilians.

The greatest motive for violence is not the thirst for political power so much as the thirst for the immense potential profit from the DRC's ample mineral wealth. One of the most important minerals, columbite-tantalite, or coltan, is a tar-like substance instrumental in producing capacitors, a key component of virtually all modern electronic equipment.

The DRC is home to 80 percent of the world's coltan, and illegal sales of this important mineral are funding the continuing conflict in the country. The United Nations estimates that before 2002, rebels and the armies of Rwanda and Uganda occupying the eastern DRC were making over US$150 million per year from coltan sales. These groups laundered coltan through other Great Lakes countries, including Burundi, which have small reserves of their own. …