A War with 6 million victims has been going on in the central African country of DR Congo since 1996.
It began as a big war which turned into a small one when nobody could win. It is now confined to the far eastern region of the long suffering state.
Peace could have been found a long time ago, but the rulers of DR Congo and the surrounding countries don’t want a cease-fire. The chaos of war provides corrupt leaders with an opportunity to get rich by siphoning money from the trade in rare minerals.
To siphon that wealth, dictators, high ranking military officers, businessmen close to regimes back warlords and armed groups to keep a state of war going and to look after business interests.
Trillions of Dollars worth of minerals is in Eastern DR Congo, trillions. coltan, cobalt, gold, diamonds, copper, tin, tungsten – geologists go crazy it when they do surveys.
Mining gets the stuff out of the ground. Most of them are holes in the ground where local people earn a living by pulling metal ore out of mud to sell to traders. A posh foreign affairs magazine would call it ‘artisan mining’.
An easy way for dodgy army general to make some money is take over one of these DIY excavations then charge a tariff to local miners. Sometimes local miners are paid directly to mine. The nuggets are sold on to middlemen, and then freight companies take the rocks to Rwanda or Uganda where another merchant sells the metals on into the world economy.
Another earner is when Government officials sell mining rights in areas under enemy control. A price is agreed and a government backed militia group takes over the area in question, money is paid and the mining company moves in. It has been called: ‘Booty Futures’ A bit like the futures market in London but instead of wheat and grain– blood, dirt and diamonds are traded.
An easy way for dodgy army general to make some money is take over one of these DIY excavations then charge a tariff to local miners.
Put it this way: if an adventurous boss of a mining company finds an area dripping with gold and the warlord in charge of the land won’t take his calls, he can pay an armed group to use some serious firepower to take over the area. The fighters conquer and secure the area - then a few million dollars is paid and the firm can get down to extracting metal.
The UN has its largest force deployed in DR Congo. The international presence is not there to stop the war but to try and fix a deal, to start the process of fixing that agreement the people making war must want it to stop. The different sides fighting must want to negotiate. However, a battle hardened Congolese army major raking in 20K USD a month from a mining racket isn’t going to make an effort for peace when the lady from the UN makes another call for talks. Peace is bad for business.
As well as providing mine take-over services, the warlords make sure the cycle of war carries on. The nefarious commanders have names like comic book characters, names like the Terminator, the Chairman, Kung Fu, and the Dragon. Each brutal general rules a certain area. Some wage war on behalf of a country, some don’t but claim they do. They may be fighting to for control of DR Congo or to protect ethnic groups from being killed. They are always looking to gain extra territory. The money they make is used to buy more arms to take more territory and gain more control and power.
Providing extra chaos potential are smaller amateur militia groups who pop-up whenever someone fancies having a go at being a warlord. An ambitious man who wants glory or power can buy some guns, grab some lads and get involved. They are not backed by anyone and untrained. Sometimes they may be looking to protect a village from other rampant killers - or seeking revenge if there village has been attacked. In a way they are additional victims of the whole conflict, pawns in a game.
The money they make is used to buy more arms to take more territory and gain more control and power.
All militia groups are well supplied with weaponry from arms dealers. If you are a commander in need of firepower you borrow the local satellite phone and talk to a Russian. 3 days later a communist relic lands on the local airstrip stacked full of AK47’s, made-in-china Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers and you get down to the business of raising hell.
On the receiving end of this hell are the people who live on the land who cause no harm to anybody. Women and children are subject to extreme medieval brutality at the hands of rampant thugs who swarm into villagers and literally rape, kill and plunder. The people are helpless in the face of savage attacks. The destruction of lives and villages is also a weapon of war.
The DR Congo is complex and explaining it from a money making perspective is just one way of looking at it. Major Powers could fix things in the country if they felt the need - but big politics are involved. For example: Rwanda makes a fortune out of the War but is a US ally and the area is not worth taking over. Whatever happens the west still gets minerals. It’s an injustice that the people of DR Congo live in area of such immense wealth, but live in total despair, misery and poverty; they could schools, sanitation if they war stopped. The situation in DR Congo is not unique, similar conflicts happen all over African countries with huge mineral wealth and weak governments.
The minerals extracted in DR Congo – however they come from the ground are used to make a massive range of equipment and consumer goods. Coltan is used in Mobile Phones. Colbalt is used in Jet Engines; Copper is used in circuit boards. There is quite a high chance that you own something with minerals in it that came from this conflict. Possibly something to think about next time you play with your new App on your Iphone.
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