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Armed Groups and Mineral Extraction in the DRC

By Washikala Malango 

As armed groups are the main perpetrators of the ongoing violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, many actors working in the country have started critically looking into the factors that have contributed to these groups’ ability to continue operating regardless of concerted local, regional, and international efforts to defeat them. A study done with the DRC Entrepreneurship and Development Initiative demonstrated that there is not enough evidence to prove that armed groups operating in the eastern DRC rely solely on illegal exploitation of minerals to carry out their operations. Therefore, more research should be done to assess the factors that have helped these armed groups stay afloat for decades. This would lead to the development of a comprehensive anti-armed groups strategy in the region. This study was conducted in the Kivu provinces between September and December 2015, and data was collected in the territories of Fizi, Mwenga, and Shabunda in South Kivu and Masisi, Lubero, and Beni in North Kivu.  

Over the last decade or so, “conflict minerals” have been widely used to explain why these armed groups have been so resilient, as they are assumed to use proceeds accrued from artisanal mining activities to finance their war endeavors. This has led to the adoption and implementation in eastern DRC of a number of mining sector governance strategies by industry and non-industry actors, the idea being that once armed groups are prevented from benefiting financially from artisanal mining activities, they will be weakened and eventually defeated.

These strategies have included sanctions, embargos, due diligence, traceability, certification, and formalization. However, in spite of their adoption and implementation, these strategies have not deterred armed groups from committing serious violations of human rights and disrupting state authority across large territories. This failure has led to questions regarding the extent to which armed groups in eastern DRC actually rely on artisanal mining activities to finance their criminal activities and whether there are other factors that have been helping them stay afloat.

Our study demonstrated that the involvement of armed groups and the national army in the mining sector can be divided into two distinct forms: presence and interference.

Regarding involvement through presence, armed groups were present in 48 mines, or only 16 percent of the 300 visited. The Congolese army was present in 108, or 36 percent, of the mines. Raia Mutomboki was the most visible armed group, as it was found at 46 percent of the 48 mines with armed group presence. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda was present in only four mines (9 percent), while the Allied Democratic Forces-National Liberation of Uganda was totally absent.

In the 234 gold mines visited, armed groups were present in 42 mines and the Congolese army in 97. Out of the 66 3T (tin, tungsten, and tantalum) mines visited, armed groups were present in six mines and the national army in 11. Research soon showed that presence itself needed to be more clearly defined, and two categories were established: permanent and non-permanent.

Permanent presence means that a small number (3 to 5) of armed groups’ fighters or of elements of the Congolese army had a permanent base in the mine, while non-permanent presence consists of armed groups’ fighters and/or members of the national army visiting the mine once or twice weekly or monthly. It was determined that armed groups and the national army had a non-permanent presence at 143 of the 156 mines to which they maintained connections. Even more significantly, armed groups were shown to be more non-permanently present than the Congolese army was. Armed groups exhibited a non-permanent presence in 96 percent of their mines, compared to 90 percent for the army.

Armed groups and the national army were also involved in artisanal mining activities more directly through interference, engaging in illegal taxation, buying minerals, digging for minerals, and forced labor. Illegal taxation was undertaken in a number of ways, including obliging everyone (miners, pit owners, miner managers, mineral buyers, visitors, etc.) entering or leaving the mine to pay up to $1 per day, charging $1 per bag of minerals taken out of the mine, charging $50 per mine every month, and receiving up to one bag of minerals from site managers or pit owners monthly.

Miners were also voluntarily selling minerals to elements of armed groups and the Congolese army who had transformed themselves into mineral traders.  Likewise, members of armed groups and the national army collaborated with miners, either by working part-time in the mines themselves or by hiring miners to work for them after being allotted their own mining pits. Often armed groups forced miners to work for up to 12 hours with no or little pay in pits allotted to them by pit owners.  

Both the Congolese army and armed groups interfered in 131 mines (84 percent) of the 156 they were present in either permanently or non-permanently. Armed groups interfered in artisanal mining activities through illegal taxation in 35 mines, forced labor in four mines, buying minerals in two mines, and digging for minerals in one mine, while the Congolese army interfered through illegal taxation in 61 mines, digging for minerals in 12 mines, forced labor in nine mines, and buying minerals in seven mines.

It is difficult to link armed groups’ continued ability to perpetrate extreme violence and disrupt state authority in eastern DRC with mineral activities, as the Congolese army was more involved in the mines than these groups, both as a permanent presence and as an interfering actor. More research needs to be done into other potential factors, including a constant perceived security threat from Rwanda and Uganda, weaknesses of the Congolese army, interethnic and intercommunal mistrust and animosity, and the lack of a comprehensive Rwandan Hutu refugee policy.

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Washikala Malango is a Congolese researcher, development specialist, and social entrepreneur with over seven years of experience working in central and east Africa in such fields as mining, clean and renewable energy, and youth entrepreneurial leadership development. He has a master’s degree in development studies from the University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and a business and entrepreneurship certificate from Dartmouth College.

Research for this article was funded by the African Peacebuilding Network.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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