American and British lobby groups The Enough Project and Global Witness have built high-profile advocacy campaigns portraying minerals as the source of conflict and sexual violence in Eastern DRC. For example, Enough co-founder John Prendergast suggested in an April 2009 op-ed, “The time has come to expose a sinister reality: our insatiable demand for electronics products such as cell phones and laptops is helping fuel waves of sexual violence in a place that most of us will never go, affecting people most of us will never meet”.
Such lobby groups present a narrative that the complex series of challenges in eastern DRC can be solved primarily through mineral trade control measures such as technical mineral traceability and certification schemes, and due diligence measures, and only secondly through wider state reforms.
While technical trade control measures have a role to play in mineral trade reform, professionalisation and formalisation, they are neither conflict resolution nor rape prevention strategies. This misunderstands both the nature of violence in the Kivus and the logic that motivates armed actors, and can only lead to weak prognoses and flawed treatments. A more solid analysis would acknowledge the complexity of eastern DRC’s war economy, including the following issues:
• Insecurity in eastern DRC cannot be interpreted as resulting solely from borderland marginalisation, but is symptomatic of broader governance failures in DRC, including the inability of the Congolese state to maintain security. The DRC’s national army, the FARDC, is a source of instability in eastern DRC, where its members are responsible for significant human rights violations.
Without a functioning army under state civilian control, armed groups will continue to proliferate in the region and be able to operate at will.
• Mining activity around high-value commodities, including diamonds and gold, exists throughout many regions of DRC, but violence does not develop around every mine or in every mining region. But the state is weak in all regions, suggesting that specific, local dynamics drive conflict.
• War economies include all economic activities that are carried out during a conflict and attention must be given to shadow economies and coping or survival economies, which are causally interlinked. In addition, economic activityin times of conflict is linked to the political, cultural and emotional economies of the conflict. At play is not simply control over resources and territory, but also deep underlying tensions stemming from ethnicity and past grievances.
• Economic activities during conflict do not necessarily differ from economic activities developed in peacetime. Likewise, conflict economies have the potential to persist in post-conflict contexts and in some cases are hardly affected by peace processes. In peacetime, competition over control of natural resources is a common facet of larger political unstable one. strategies – to escape control by the political centre, for example, or to support local power complexes. Moreover, the political economies that surround the extraction and trade in natural resources can produce powerful centrifugal political forces that not only further fragment the state, but also create what Garrett, Sergiou and Vlassenroot describe as “multiple unstable, ungovernable spaces”.
• While some violence is certainly funded by the mineral trade, not all armed groups in eastern DRC get all – or even most – of their financing from minerals. Trade in other commodities including charcoal and timber, diaspora remittances, taxation of local populations, and toll collection on major roads, all constitute valuable sources of revenue for the various armed groups. If armed groups lose access to mineral revenues while the state continues to fail to adequately maintain security, it is likely that armed groups will prey on the population even more than they already do.
• Rwanda has aligned its development strategy for the domestic minerals sector with wider diversification of its economy. It has focused on service provision in regional economies, its domestic mining sector and the mining sector of eastern DRC, as well as value-addition to its domestic production and exports from eastern DRC. Rwanda’s Vision 2020 document presents both a vision for the nation to strive for, and a clear framework designed to advance development programmes for the country’s social and economic progress. In the medium-term Rwanda aims to achieve significant third sector growth and become a service-based economy. Understanding this goal helps to contextualise recent actions by the Rwandan government, such as the mobilisation of the domestic mining sector and moves to improve relationships with neighbouring countries. In other words, Rwanda has more to gain from a stable eastern DRC than from an unstable one.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The key point is that the mineral trade is not the only source of revenue for armed actors in the Kivus. The Kimia II joint military offensive, launched in early 2009, against armed groups in eastern DRC by the FARDC, which was supported by UN peacekeepers serving with the MONUC mission, was a human rights disaster. Begun as an effort to address the regional security threat posed by the FDLR as part of a broader diplomatic initiative to mend relations with Rwanda, the operation became illustrative of the depth of armed groups’ reliance on the mineral trade for revenue. Kimia II had some success pushing the FDLR out of some key mining areas in South Kivu, often replacing FDLR units with FARDC units. But far from being brought close to collapse, the FDLR continues to operate today, strengthening the argument that it has access to a diverse portfolio of revenue sources.
The majority of FDLR revenue used to be derived from the gold trade, which is largely unregulated and currently untraceable. Recent conflict minerals legislation introduced in the US, widely propagated as a means to stop conflict and rape in the DRC, will not significantly cut funding for the most significant rebel groups in eastern DRC. It will not be able to stem the largely unregulated flow of gold to countries with underdeveloped oversight structures and even less public scrutiny.
As highlighted in several UN Group of Experts investigative reports, armed actors in the Kivus derive revenue from a plethora of sources, including commodity trade taxation (ie relating to charcoal, drugs, minerals, timber and cattle), and remittances and donations from sympathetic parties such as traders. These alternative revenue sources will continue to fund armed activity, unless credible security is established in key economic zones and along key transport routes, coupled with the build up of public security institutions in support of a better functioning governance regime.