What's the problem?
Ongoing armed conflict, political instability, the lack of state infrastructure, tension over land rights, questions about national identity and the selective enforcement of the rule of law continues to hamper the ability of the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to reach their full potential. After decades of brutal colonial rule under the Belgians and a host of corrupt national leaders, conflict consumed the eastern region of the country in two civil wars late in the 20th
century, from 1996-1997 and 1998-2003. While a January 2009 agreement between the national army and one of the main rebel groups may be a step in the right direction, lasting peace in DRC will require ongoing diplomatic engagement from the international community and a more aggressive effort to address the major drivers of the war, including the mining of ‘conflict minerals’.
In 1994, after the slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s
in neighboring Rwanda, the extremist Hutu militias who committed the genocide fled to eastern Congo for safety and to re-launch attacks against the now Tutsi-controlled government in Kigali. These fighters, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and the subsequent rebel armies equipped to combat them and opportunistic militias that have taken advantage of the instability, are the primary forces of destabilization in eastern Congo.
Fighting during the two civil wars involved the FDLR, the national army, various internal rebel movements and five neighboring countries. Today, the conflict in the DRC is known as the deadliest since World War II. The International Rescue Committee estimates that more than 5.4 million people have died in eastern Congo as a result of the conflict and subsequent humanitarian crisis since 1998. More than one million people are displaced from their homes, largely dependent on international aid for food and clean water. Women and girls are especially vulnerable in eastern DRC, as rape and sexual violence are routinely used as primary weapons of war against them by all of the armed actors.
Today, more than a decade after FDLR first entered Congo, the role of the natural mineral wealth of the region has been well documented as a driving factor of the conflict. In 2007 the US Government Accountability Office released a report that describes how the illegal trade in cassiterite (tin ore), columbite-tantalite (tantalum ore), wolframite (tungsten ore) and diamonds benefit the armed actors and support the ongoing conflict. The United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC has also documented, since 2002, the extent to which mineral extraction in eastern DRC, which is largely controlled by armed actors, contributes to the ongoing conflict.
When the mineral ore of cassiterite, columbite-tantalite and wolframite are smelted, or processed, the metals tin, tantalum and tungsten are created. These three metals are widely used by electronic companies in the production of cell phones, i-pods, laptop computers and digital video recorders. Those who purchase these devices are unknowingly supporting the continuation of one of the deadliest conflicts in the world today. What’s the solution?
The international community must work to achieve a sustainable political resolution to the presence of FDLR members in eastern DRC while also addressing key drivers of the conflict, especially the illegal extraction and trade of minerals from the region.
Governments must continue diplomatic engagement with the DRC and neighboring countries while working together to shine the light on the extraction and subsequent supply chain for conflict minerals.
Consumers around the world must demand that the electronic companies they purchase items from do not use tin, tantalum and tungsten from conflict zones in DRC.
Hutu and Tutsi are the main ethnic groups in Rwanda. Hutus comprise more than 80 percent of the population and Tutsis account for about 15 percent.
What You Can Do!
- Learn more from the ENOUGH Project (www.enoughproject.org) where you can sign the Conflict Minerals Petition and Pledge and read in-depth reports.
- Learn about the work of Jackie Griffin, an ELCA pastor and nurse who recently returned from more than a year of service in eastern Congo, by visiting her blog at www.gomanews.blogspot.com