It’s the economy, stupid, or at least it’s the money when it comes to the question of war and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s the conclusion drawn by Global Witness, who says attempts to keep the fragile peace program alive are being fractured by armed groups’ involvement in tin and gold mining. Just as I wrote in Heart of Diamonds, greed drives war in the Congo.
Global Witness research this summer uncovered substantial evidence of exploitation and trade of minerals in North and South Kivu, scenes of renewed fighting in recent weeks. Armed militias and rebel groups are involved, as are units and commanders of the FARDC, the Congolese national army, according to the human rights group.
The FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu force under the command of leaders who allegedly participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, is scrabbling for control of mines in the region as well. The FDLR controls swathes of territory where gold and cassiterite (tin ore) mines are located in the territories of Shabunda, Mwenga, Walungu, Uvira and Fizi.
According to Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, “Our researchers saw FDLR members openly selling cassiterite in South Kivu. The FDLR then use the profits to obtain other supplies and keep their movement alive. They have set up such efficient and lucrative business networks that they have little incentive to leave.”
Even though Congolese army brigades (FARDC) have been sent to the region to counter the FDLR, they are apparently just participating in the systematic pillage.
“Local residents told us that the FARDC are doing exactly the same thing as the FDLR: taking over the mines, forcing civilians to work for them or to hand over their mineral production and extorting taxes,” says Alley.
There have also been frequent reports that members of the FARDC supply the FDLR with arms, ammunition, and even uniforms.
FARDC units control the largeset cassiterite mine in North Kivu at Bisie, as well as gold and cassiterite mines in Mushinga and Tubimbi. Some of these army units were formerly rebels who were supposedly trained and integrated into the official Congolese army through the brassage program designed to give them an incentive to protect and participate in civil society. Apparently, they prefer the money.