Thursday, January 21, 2016

The DRC - Who benefits from the chaos

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the least developed countries in the world. Yet it is also home to $24 trillion worth of untapped mineral reserves. In the eastern hills of the country, the "three Ts" - tantalum, tungsten and tin - are mined by hand, eventually making their way into electronic devices across the world.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) more than 5.4 million have killed since 1998, so coffins, are the one thing which people will spend their limited money. For the funeral undertakers, business is good. Prostitution is also a prosperous industry thanks to the war. With more than 30 armed groups in the region, there is a growing market of men seeking sex. But with little money, plenty of weapons and ample alcohol, the soldiers often rape and threaten the women.

War is another profitable activity, with many investors - both internally and externally. The United Nations, for example, sent 19,815 blue helmets to the country through its United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO), the second-largest mission in the world. For the home countries of those troops - Pakistan, India, Uruguay, Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi - the mission can be extremely profitable: the UN pays them four times the cost of the deployment.

Then there are the NGOs. More than 80 humanitarian organisations ply their trade in the DRC, as part of an arguably self-sustaining business. One NGO mission chief confessed: "I don't know what we're doing here. Our presence raises the price of food and rent, we stop people from moving on, from taking their own decisions and demanding their government take responsibility. We should have left Congo years ago."

Another booming the trafficking in blood minerals, for nothing serves this illicit trade better than a failed and unstable state that is incapable of collecting taxes and stopping neighbouring countries from looting its riches through strongman proxies.

 Rubaya in the province of Masisi is three hours' drive from Goma and the epicentre of the blood minerals war. Some tech lobbies, perhaps wishing to wash their hands of any responsibility for the exploitation of blood minerals, recently insisted that coltan is no longer used in the making of mobile phones, tablets, consoles or cameras, and that the mines were closing. But in truth, demand for the mineral is still much greater than its supply. Around 80 percent of the world's supply resides under Congolese soil. 5,000 miners, many of them children and teenagers, continue to toil in a state of quasi slavery in DRC, at first under the open sky and then, when there is no more of the mineral left on the surface, in deep tunnels where they eat, sleep and work from dawn until dusk, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Many work nearly nude, without helmets or protective gear, and some are even barefoot. Others wear fake Real Madrid or Barcelona shirts. The luckiest have wellington boots. The mines are particularly dangerous during the rainy season, when the damp earth can crumble, leaving miners at the mercy of carbonic gas or crushed inside underground caverns.

In North Kivu there are between 5,000 and 6,000 Congolese rebels spread among 30 armed groups. In addition to racial hatred, they are motivated by a desire to control the mineral resources - and will massacre entire villages in an effort to do so.

A dark web of large multinational companies, corrupt officials and unscrupulous states concealed by anonymous tax haven bank accounts participate in the ancient game of looting the DRC. The UN has denounced neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda for selling  minerals that are not theirs and for feeding armed groups in order to keep the trade alive. Meanwhile, the developed world receives its sacks of cassiterite, coltan, gold, diamonds, uranium, tungsten and manganese cheaply and promptly.

 Who then, other than the Congolese themselves, could want a conflict that sustains such a business to end?

From here

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