A strong legislative campaign for buyers and electronic companies to comply with conflict-free mineral trade is well underway. In 2009, Representative Jim McDermott and Senator Samuel Brownback introduced, respectively, The Conflict Mineral Act H.R. 4128, a bill “to improve transparency and reduce trade in conflict minerals” and The Congo Conflict Mineral Act, S.891, a bill “to require annual disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission of activities involving columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, and wolframite from the Democratic Republic of Congo.” These are bills designed to promote transparency and accountability in mineral supply chains, which often include armed groups who profit off illegal or stolen minerals, and thus they aim to help break the line between minerals and violence in Congo.
To push forward his concern about the illegal and conflict mineral from the DRC, Senator Brownback successfully incorporated the language of the Conflict Mineral Act into the Restoring American financial stability Act of 2010, S.3217 via Amendment 3997. The financial reform bill passed the Senate in May with this amendment included. After this bill is reconciled with the House version of financial reform, we hope these new requirements will remain and therefore become law.
There are more initiatives needed to control the conflict mineral trade from DRC. For example, the second meeting of the Steering Committee of the Regional Initiative against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources (RINR) held in Bujumbura this April recommended: 1) to set up a regional data base to track trade flows, 2) to review member states’ legislations in order to harmonize regional laws to prevent mineral flows based on differences in mineral taxation, 3) the formalization of artisanal mining, 4) and finally to introduce a regional certification mechanism which will provide systematic data collection for raw material flows and the traceability of origin.
In the meantime, the illegal trade by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of Coltan (columbite-tantalite), gold, cassiterite and wolframite, continues. This trade is one of the factors that have delayed and undermined efforts to end the conflict and install state’s authority in the conflict- and mineral-rich areas. Among the outcomes of the legislative effort is to reduce if not to stop the cash flow going to armed groups from mineral sales. However, the drop in revenues alone will not lead all stakeholders to seek a common solution to the conflict. What is lacking is a strategy to end the conflict. For a successful end of conflict minerals we must overcome simultaneously the lack of political will from the international community, particularly the US and the UK, both close partners of the Rwandan government, and address the weakness of the Congolese government. To achieve a conflict-free mineral trade from the DRC we must first address the root causes of the conflict. The Congolese civil society and other advocacy groups, Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) among them, underscore this point as a priority among priorities.
Conflict Minerals, but what is the conflict about?
This case at hand concerns first the resources that Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi plundered from Congo when they occupied Congolese territories from 1996 to 2003. In fact, the Congolese government won a legal case against the Ugandan government for the invasion of its territory and the plundering of its resources, but the reparations have yet to be paid. From 2003 onward Rwanda has used the rebel group called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) to continue a proxy war against the DRC.
Despite the fact that CNDP is registered as political party, it still possesses an armed wing. For fear of triggering more violence, the DRC government has let the CNDP’s armed wing collect taxes and sell minerals from the territories it controls. CNDP is also the face of land dispute in the Masisi territory.
In addition to the CNDP, there are many other armed groups that control mines in eastern DRC. Among them is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDRL), a Rwandan rebel groups opposed to the current Rwandan regime. It uses the Congolese territory to organize itself with the aim of returning to Rwanda to take back the power lost in 1994 against the current Tutsi regime. The rest of the armed groups were born during the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian invasion in 1996. Although most armed groups, except CNDP and the FDLR, justify their existence as a resistance to Rwandan occupation of the DRC, they are also seeking power within the government and the army.
Regional dynamics of the Conflict: DRC’s neighboring nations’ involvement
Rwanda’s ongoing destabilization of the DRC using CNDP has made it difficult for the Congolese government to make significant progress in defeating CNDP’s armed wing. Rwanda has an ambitious political and economic agenda in DRC and the Great Lakes region in general. A 2009 UN report identified the presence of Rwandans soldiers in the DRC army. They infiltrated the DRC army during the integration of CNDP forces into the Congolese army in 2008. Also, CNDP military power comes from the Rwandan government support. CNDP is one of the channels through which DRC minerals get into Rwanda. Also, CNDP’s commitment to Rwanda consists of making sure that FDLR is dismantled and prevented from destabilizing Rwanda.
Also, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda equally benefit from the conflict mineral trade from the DRC and have shown no commitment to give up the revenues that this trade brings into their treasuries. Timothy B Reid in his paper “Killing them softly: has foreign aid to Rwanda and Uganda contributed to the humanitarian tragedy in the DRC?” writes that Ugandan coltan exports rose from 2.6 tons before the conflict in 1997 to 69.5 tons in 1999 and that other reports estimate Uganda’s production of coltan in 1999 at 256.3 tons and rose to 2,712 tons in 2000 before they dropped to almost zero in 2001 due to either bad publicity about crimes associated with coltan from Congo or did not report its trading. The more the DRC is unstable, the more its neighbors benefit.
Not all minerals from Congo are conflict minerals
Cross-border trade with DRC’s neighboring nations in the east has existed for a long time. Natural resources have been part of this trade, but even if it was mostly illegal, it never was called conflict mineral trade. The illegality of such trade was due to the failure of the Congolese government to organize and reform its mining industry to make it regionally competitive and attractive to foreign and Congolese businesses. Thus, illegally moving the minerals to foreign markets has long been more lucrative. The old illegal network still exists and it is now mixed or operates alongside the mineral trade done by armed groups (conflict mineral trade). It is important to mention that the DRC has other conflict-free minerals mines in other provinces. As a footnote to this, there have been communities pushed out of their lands by the government to make mining concessions. Thus, minerals from such mines can technically be identified as conflict minerals as long as the disputes are not settled. For Congo to be capable of resolving these broader economic and mineral trade issues, however, the violence and conflict must cease.
Recommendations for DRC conflict free mineral trade
While there is dysfunction in the way minerals are traded in the DRC, the most important step is ending the conflict, which will mean the dawn of Congo conflict-free mineral trade. The way forward to conflict-free mineral is to invite all stakeholders to genuinely commit to peace. The international community must facilitate the dialogue between the DRC and Rwanda with the focus on stopping Rwanda from continuing to destabilize the DRC. There is already a political pressure mechanism in place in U.S. Public Law 109-456 section 105, which stipulates that “the Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, … other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” However, this law has yet to be applied in the case of the ongoing Rwandan involvement in the DRC.
On the home front, the Congolese government must find a solution to all the grievances of armed groups. To establish order and security, the Congolese government must commit to democracy in order to build strong institutions capable of governing and thus bringing the DRC to recovery and prosperity. The DRC needs an efficient army freed of corruption to maintain peace, enforce states laws where it is deployed and protect the people and their property. Once security is established it is up to the DRC government to regulate, reform, and put more incentives on the table to attract investors and gain the trust of local Congolese businesses. But first, the conflict must end.
This article was originally published in the May-June 2010 edition of Around Africa. Two minor corrections were made in the first and third paragraphs
Read more on Mining in the RDC
By Bahati Ntama Jacques, Policy Analyst