Armed groups, from government forces to rebel militia, continue to benefit from illicit trade in gold.
Congolese army commander, Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, is running a gold mining operation and owns dredges through a local company that is extracting gold from the Awimi River in the country's northeastern Tshopo province. The UN report also found that management of the company, which is owned by Amisi, were being protected by Congolese army forces. In 2002Human Rights Watchimplicated Amisi in massacres in Kisangani, the capital of Tshopo province. He was suspended from the army in 2012 after a previous UN report accused him of overseeing a network distributing weapons to poachers and armed groups. (He was reinstated in 2014 after Congolese authorities cleared him of charges).
In late 2016, both the European Union and the United States imposed a travel ban on Amisi and the freezing of his foreign assets.
The findings came as no surprise to Claude Kabemba, director of Southern Africa Resource Watch, which monitors the extractive industries in southern Africa. "In Congo, everyone is in the gold business: generals, ministers, even simple soldiers," Kabemba told DW. "It's no secret." Decades of corruption and 20 years of conflict have left the country devoid of a functional government and institutions. With extractives the only sector in the country turning a good profit, said Kabemba, "every one wants to be involved."
DRC expert Ben Radley, the UN report is the latest in a long line of publications highlighting the involvement of armed groups in Congo's gold operations. "These problems have been known for years, even the Congolese army has held internal investigations. "You would have to smuggle a ton of minerals such as tin or cobalt, [which are also mined in DRC], to turn a profit," Radley explained. "But you can just put a kilo of gold worth several thousand euros in your pockets and smuggle it across the border."
The main buyers of this illegally exported gold are the United Arab Emirates, India and Lebanon, says Claude Kabemeba, where no one is interested in where the gold comes from. Although it's difficult to know how much artisanal gold is smuggled out of the country each year, estimates range from $300 million (252 million euro) to $600 million. The illegal exports not only deprive the government of vital tax income, they also feed corruption and line the pockets of armed groups.