Conflict Minerals and DRC Militant Violence
There are several actors driving insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For instance, the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) has an obvious religious orientation and seeks to expand the Caliphate in Central Africa, while M23, which has recently resumed activities in the field after a hiatus, is effectively an ethnic militia. CODECO, another militant group that has been accused of carrying out attacks in the DRC, started as a regional farmer’s group during the reign of President Mobutu.
Much of the DRC’s current militant activity takes place in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri. One factor known to be fueling conflict in the Eastern Congo is the demand for the region’s abundant natural resources. The historical trend of armed competition for control over precious metals and rare earth minerals has inspired the term “conflict minerals”.
A ‘conflict mineral’ is defined as “a mineral mined in an area of armed conflict and traded illicitly to fund the fighting.” It will come as no surprise to learn that the fighting in the Eastern Congo has resulted in its own specific definition. This includes a finding by the U.S. Secretary of State that conflict minerals are funding conflict in either the Democratic Republic of the Congo or an adjoining country. According to the State Department, “adjoining country” could mean Rwanda and/or Uganda.
As far back as 2009 NGOs were warning of the role conflict minerals play in fueling violence in the DRC. This negative trend persists unabated as exemplified by August 2022 reports of attacks by militant groups against the mining sector. Foreign ownership of mines does not prevent them from being attacked by militants either, specifically targeted by M23. Some of the attacks against mines have been carried out by CODECO as well.
As recently as 2020 the US State Department documented that some of the incidents involving the mining sector were carried out by the Congolese military as well. The recent decline in regional security could perhaps explain US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s August 10-12 visits to both Kinshasa and Kigali.
Blaming the neighboring states for these attacks can only go so far, and authorities in Kinshasa should realize the role they are playing by outsourcing their security in the east. An effort at reform has had an unintended consequence that could explain how things have exploded once again over the past year.
In 2018, the Congolese government revised its mining law. One of the provisions calls for increased local ownership of artisanal mines—or small-scale subsistence mines. Furthermore, the new legal framework mandates a 10% royalty be paid to the government on any mined minerals it deems strategic. Resource deprivation and fears of lost revenue are likely motivating the increased attacks.
Recent data paints a grim and complex picture in the Eastern Congo, and there are no easy solutions. The number of actors in the area, both Congolese and regional, presents a difficult challenge both to peace and stability, as does the DRC’s strategic importance to powers outside of Africa.