Tag Archives: Blood Diamonds

Conflict Minerals Primer: The Reality of the Northeastern DR Congo

23 Sep

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a vast resource of minerals under its mountainous terrain that presently brings in large sums of money in the millions of dollars so much so that individuals, companies, and countries have risked everything to enter the DR Congo legally and illegally in order to mine out these materials and sell them on the world market.Vastfortunes can be made in a very short time if the labor is cheap, the mine is accessible, and the travel routes in and out have been secured. Precious materials such as Cassiterite, Wolframite, Coltan, and Gold, are all found within the ground in the northeastern section of the country. They are used in the manufacture of a variety of popular electronic devices that are highly sort after in the world markets such as I-Phones and Androids, laptops, and MP3 players

Kivu District of northeast DR Congo is also the region where open warfare between several factions is currently taking place leaving this region highly unstable and its residents tremendously vulnerable. The most brutal exploiter of the local population is the entire Congolese National Army from Generals to foot soldiers who operate hundreds of mines unchallenged in Kivu District alone and man them by forcing the local residents to work for them. They make up the largest number of illegal groups currently operating in the area and are known for their open exploitation of workers through their use of rape, torture, and murder to subdue their mine laborers. A recent study by IPIS indicates that armed groups are present at more than 50% of mining sites. At many sites, armed groups of soldiers illegally tax, extort, and coerce civilians to work for them. Miners, including children, work 48-hour shifts in dangerous conditions such as mudslides and tunnel collapses and thousands of workers have already died from what is referred to by the Congolese soldiers as “ mine incidents.”

Then there are the rebel groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These are the Hutu extremists who led the Rwandan Genocide in 1984. They are still entrenched in the mountains of Kivu District and have even established a stronghold in The Virunga National Forest which they have occupied for some time now. It is time that they were hunted down and eradiated by the Congolese Government but they have managed to survive quite well and also use forced local labor to maintain their own mines and sell their ore through middle men located in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Although the government likes to claim that they have seriously curtailed the FDLR’s mining operations, they still remain a formidable force in the area. Koni and his Liberation Army spend time in the region of the DRCongo too and while camped out there operate mines through enforced local labor and manage quite well on their profits. All of the rebel groups use their proceeds to replenish their weaponry and ammunition through black market arms dealers.

Rumors abound that both the countries of Rwanda and Uganda still operate private mines located throughout the foot hills of the Ruwenzoru Mountains, far away from prying eyes. The idea of stealing the DR Congo’s natural resources by other countries originated during the First and Second Wars in the Congo. The countries of  Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi invaded the DR Congo and while they were at it opened mining operations as well in remote areas on the eastern regions of the Congo that bordered their specific countries. The Congolese government had not the forces, the resources, or the time to stop them. They were finally embarrassed by the United Nations into claiming that they had stopped but local residents of Kivu district will swear to you that these mines still exist today and that their mining operations were never shut down. At one point near the end of the Second War in the Congo it was documented by MONUSCO, the UN mission in eastern DR Congo, that agents from Rwanda went as far as to sell mineral rights located in the DR Congo to private companies located in Europe. It is common knowledge throughout Kivu District that these three governments continue to smuggle resources out of the DR Congo to this day.

Before the reason for this crisis can be properly understood it is imperative that the reader have some idea of the vast size and geographic diversity within this country in order to understand the reasons for its almost non-existent infrastructure.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo covers roughly 905,063 square miles. That makes it about the same size in area as the United States of America from the Mississippi River to the East Coast and according to BBC News is the 12th largest country in the world. It contains many distinct regions, each with its own climate and geological formations. The central area if covered by tropical rain forests and rivers, surrounded by mountains in the west, that merge into savannahs and plains in the south and southwest , and grasslands in the north. On its northeastern and eastern border the Ruwenzoru Mountain Range stands majestic and tall. It contains the Albertine Rift Mountain Forest which is home to the last of the Mountain Gorilla and which still contains active volcanoes. It is the northeastern area where the majority of the mineral resources have been found.

The Equator plays a major role in its climate and dry versus wet months are all determined by a district’s position from this line. In regions that lie South of the Equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May but in places north of the Equator, from April to November, the exact opposite. On the Equator, rainfall occurs quite regularly throughout the 12 month year. It rains   a great deal in the central basin especially and  average rainfall for the entire country is about 42 inches per year.

Moving around from one place to another by land in the DR Congo has always been precarious at best. The mountains of the north and west as well as the dangerous terrain and wet climate found in Central Congo Basin has impeded the buildings of cross –country highways and railroad tracks. This country has yet to be unified through roadways in any way and to do so would take many years and billions of dollars to cover the existing area. For years the citizens of the Congo used their rivers to move from place to place and continue to use them to this day. Traditionally water transport is the dominant means of travel in the Congo for two-thirds of its population.  Due to the poor road conditions use of small transport planes referred to as “Bush Planes” fly men of means and status where they need to go in Central and East Africa. Travel by car and bus is discouraged by foreigners in the DR Congo and for good reason. Roads are not paved or only small sections of each road has been paved and are not subject to regular maintenance. Even then hundreds of large, deep holes which can ruin an automobile tire, cover individual roads making all cars travel at a snail’s pace. During the rainy season even adequate roads will deteriorate and sections crack open especially the pavement on bridges built over the rivers. The National Highway II which connects the city of Brazzaville to Pointe Noire is one of the country’s best functioning highways but still remains largely unpaved and sections of it are often impassable during the rainy season.

Unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel are frequently unavailable in the major cities and may be non-existent in the more rural regions of the country. There may be no predetermined price for gasoline with foreigners paying double, even triple the cost for which it’s sold to the residents of the area. There are few road signs directing the traveler in what direction to continue and either police or Congolese soldiers will conduct routine check-points along the way which they will extort money from both residents and non-residents alike before cars are allowed to pass by their gates.  Only four- wheel vehicles and trucks are recommended for use on these roads especially during the rainy season.

The Congolese government even if it was willing to regulate the mines in northeastern districts cannot supervisee what it cannot get to and so thousands of small mines dot the mountainous landscape from the northeast corner all the way down the eastern border of the DR Congo. But it is common knowledge that many members of the Congolese National Army instead of doing their assigned jobs help themselves to the mineral wealth found in the northeastern districts instead. And that this practice is so pervasive that no one in the Kabila government is aware of it or is disturbed by their actions in the slightest? If this is true, all of the forced regulations from the rest of the world will not change the present conditions until Kabila’s government in Kinshasa has effectively found a way to oversee the movements of his troops in the east.

The primitive conditions of Congolese roads keeps the rural towns and even the more populated cities isolated from one another and the feeling of being connected to the DR Congo as a citizen has not yet occurred. People tend to stay in the villages in which they were born or settle close to this area unless fate intervenes and forces them to move somewhere else. When asked who they are, villagers will begin by telling you the name of the tribe to which they belong, then the town or city in which they reside. They will not refer to themselves as Congolese citizens unless prompted by questions to respond and even then, many of them have no idea how to define themselves in a broader way.

In April 2009, Sam Brownback, a Republican Senator from Kansas introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 819). This act would require all electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of Cassiterite, Wolframite, and Tantalum. His legislation died in committee but Brownback did not quit and added similar language as Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which eventually passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010.

“On August 22, 2012 The Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which will require companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an neighboring country.

The regulatory reform law has directed the Commission to issue rules requiring certain companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals that include tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product” manufactured by those companies. Companies are required to provide this disclosure on a new form to be filed with the SEC called Form SD.”

California is the first state in the United States to pass its own Conflict Minerals legislation. Their legislation follows Section 1502 of the national legislation, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and aims at regulating the problem of conflict minerals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and purchased by California- based companies especially those located in Silicon Valley.

The Dodd- Frank Act is not the first legislation to try and supervise the mining and export of conflict minerals in the northeastern DR Congo.  The government of the DR Congo has released its own mining regulations which are suppose to guard against illegal exploitation of all mineral resources and establish a certification program that would be regulated by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  There are also OECD, (European Union) and the UN sanctions in place against private and public companies that purchase conflict minerals or operate illegal mines in the Congo. MONUSCO working out of the city of Goma has begun to establishing plan for the construction of checking stations within the eastern districts to supervise the trading of these minerals.

This may sound like there are effective plans in place to stem this crisis but none of them will work successfully unless the fighting stops and the rebel groups in this region are removed.  The Congolese government has to find a way to monitor the movement of its troops in these districts, curtail their illegal mines and the enslavement of the local villagers. There must be plan to gain access to these mines in order to ensure that the operations are legal so new roads and trails will have to be cut through the mountainous terrain in order to gain quick access to the sites. And all government, United Nation agencies, and NGO’s will have to work closely together to protect those local people whose livelihoods will be affected by the closing of these mines.

In my next blog post I will talk about the choices the Congolese government must make and M23’s position in all of this. Please view this film clip if you want to get an idea of the brutal conditions the villagers face each and every day. This is an older film but one that tells and shows waht the workers face like no other film I’ve ever seen about illegal mining and forced labor.


This film gives you a thorough idea of what is happening.


Kat Nickerson                    Kingston, RI           USA


There Are No Good Guys Here: Bosco Ntaganda

8 Apr

When I told you in my previous post that Kony’s tactics although vicious were not unusual I meant it. On March 14, 2012 Thomas Lubangu Dyilo, leader of rebel militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots ( UPC) during the Second War in the Congo, was convicted by a three- judge panel at the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands for war crimes against children during the years 2002-2003. The charges levied against him were: 1.) abducting children against their will. 2.) enlisting children to serve as soldiers in a rebel militia. and  3.) requiring children to fight in combat. Lubangu was arrested and sent to the Hague in 2005 and if given 30 years, the maximimu sentence, could spend the rest of  his life behind bars. This is the first trial ever conducted by the ICC although it has served as an established court for ten years.

Reaction to his sentence the next day was subdued around his District of Ituri, located in the northeast section of the DRC especially among his Hema supporters. Most consider him a hero, who saved them from the wrath of the Lendu. The villagers did not believe that there would be a conviction, so are still trying to make sense of the news after hearing it on a local radio broadcast yesterday. Many residents insist that he will not spend time in jail adding that if he were sentenced to prison then other  militia leaders known for their abuse of children should be arrested and made to stand trial too.  Still others think that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over events in the DR Congo and should leave them alone. A few feel betrayed even angry about the verdict claiming – “He didn’t do anything worse than other rebel commanders had done.”  No riots or violent outbreaks have erupted around the district as of yet, but a general sense of uneasiness and caution permeates the local  markets and cafes.

And Lubangu was not the only one who had war-related warrants issued against him by the ICC. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are Lendu commanders who have been charged with crimes against children, mass murder, rape, and sexual enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the Hema population, pillaging, and destruction of property in the village of Bogoro, Ituri district in the eastern DRC from January to March 2003.  Katanga is the proclaimed leader of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo is the leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) at the time of the charges although as part of the peace agreement at the end of the Second Congo War both were integrated into the National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (NADRC) and held the rank  of general in this army until the time of their arrest.

 Katanga was arrested by DCR troops, surrendered to United Nations officials, then sent to the ICC in October of 2007. Ngudjolo was also surrendered by DRC officials and sent to the Hague a year later. In March 2008 the court decided to join the Katanga and the Ngudjolo Chui cases together because the two defendants would be prosecuted for the same crimes.

In 2008 the court accepted all but three of the charges against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui both Generals in the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC). They listed seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity. They found that there was insufficient evidence to try Katanga and Ngudjolo for inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and inhumane acts.

On March 25, 2012 Jerome Kakwavu, another militia leader was indicted by the DRC military court accused of raping two women, the youngest of whom was thirteen years old at the time.. From 1998 until 2006 during the Second Congo War Kakwavu led the rebel militia group known as the UDC/FAPC.  He was also absorbed into the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC)  at the end of this conflict and was serving as a general in this army at the time of his arrest. 

And now that leaves Bosco Ntaganda, an infamous figure in Central African politics who by all accounts is one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and as far as my sources can tell is undoubtedly the wealthiest. General Ntaganda was also indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for enlistment and use of child soldiers in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in north-eastern DR Congo but has not, as of yet, been arrested and turned over to the United Nations Authorities in Kinshasa like his former compatriots. President Kabila has made no move to arrest Ntaganda and although he has cooperated with ICC in the past by arresting and packing off Generals Lubanga, Ngudjolo, and Katanga everyone on the ground in the DRC  understands that Ntaganda may be too closely connected to the Rwandan government for President Kabila to detain him without jeopardizing his presidency or possibly causing a military coup in which Ntaganda will surely challenge him for the leadership of the DRC.

 In a most tactful response President Joseph Kabila alluded to this possibility during a news conference in October of 2011 when under criticism from several International Human Rights groups for not going after Ntaganda, he answerd, “peace outweighs all other considerations.”

In a state visit to the DRC last week, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didieu Reyenders warned President Kabila that his creditability was being called into question by members of the international community because of his failure to arrest General Ntaganda. This warning was particularly insensitive and outrageously hypocritical considering it came from a country that refused to censure its own king, Leopold for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Congolese people of the DRC when he personally owned this country in the late 1900’s.  

Bosco Ntaganda is a 39 year old Rwandan, who has alligned himself with the Hema in the East Congo conflicts.  He ia a Rwandan Tutsi, and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army who fought for the overthrow of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. He is something of a flamboyant character, always impeccably dressed, and known to enjoy the finer things in life such as haute cuisine eaten in the finest hotels. It is commonly known that he was first invited into the DR Congo to hunt down and kill the remaining Hutu who had fled into the DRC and taken refuge there after the Rwandan War ended. Eventually he joined the Union of Congolese patriots (UPC) –  Lubangu’s boys, and became its chief of military operations. It is common knowledge in Ituri that he distinguished himself by engaging in several massacres of Lendu civilians and by developing training programs for child recruits

He has very close ties to officials in the present Rwandan government and has continued to reside in Goma, near enough to the Rwandan border to cross whenever he chooses. He visits Rwanda  frequently and has been allowed to pass back and forth even though the United Nations Security Council declared him “a sanctioned individual” subject to a travel ban and to having all of his  assets frozen. Obviously this international censure has not affected his movements nor his wallet. 

By 2005 he had left the UPC and joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP)  where he served as its chief of staff. He  fought throughout the Second Congo War in this position. When the war ended in 2006 he was inducted into the DR Congolese army as a  general even though he was already wanted by the ICC. And now my story will morph into something more like a cheap “B” movie rather than a serious post about human rights violations

 About a year ago Ntaganda’s story became outrageously fantastical and would not have been believable except that the entire account was officially recorded in a report issued by a United Nations investigation team. A retired NBA basketball player, born in the DR Congo, persuaded an American oil executive and a few other investors to hand over 10 million dollars to gold traders in Kenya and DR Congo in order to purchase 4.5 tons of pure gold ingots that would be worth 30 million US dollars if sold on the world market. Several Americans representing the oil executive’s interests would eventually hand over 5 million dollars to two bogus gold traders in Nairobi who would then con them into leasing a jet in order to fly to Kinshasa where they would be forced to hand over another 3 million dollars US  to – wait for it- none other than General Bosco Ntaganda.

 And the story gets even better. As soon as the plane landed it was met by soldiers in the Congoloese Army who took the Americans’ passports and confiscated the plane. The Americans were brought to a hotel to meet Ntaganda where he told one of them to return to the plane and bring 3 million US dollars back with him. Once the money’s had been brought back and handed to Ntaganda it suddenly disappeared. Everyone in the airport was in on this scam except for one lowly customs agent who demanded that the passengers who had just disembarked from the plane  open up their luggage for inspection. Imagine his dismay when he caught sight of the remaining two million dollars in cash that had been left on the plane. For a man who will probably earn less than $300 US dollars for the entire year it must have been a incomprehensible sight.

The next day the Congolese government seized the plane, arrested all passengers and crew, and removed the two million dollars US.  Then in a dramatic about-face the Congolese government dropped all criminal charges against the Americans. When the United Nations team interviewed Ntaganda he informed them that he had been working with Kabila’s government all along to bring these criminals to justice and that he was the one who had uncovered this gold smuggling operation. He reminded them that he was only doing his civic duty to his country. When asked to produce the 3 million dollars US that he had requested be brought to him he handed over a large satchel with 3 million dollars of poorly counterfeited bills  inside.

Word on the streets of Kinshasa confirmed that Ntaganda was now the proud owner of 3 million dollars US and that he had masterminded the entire deal.  It was also common knowledge that he had been given the lion’s share of the other five million US dollars turned over to the bogus gold traders in Nairobi. Everyone was aware that Ntaganda was several million dollars richer in a country where anyone can have another person murdered for a five dollar bill. So now Ntaganda had a lot more money to add to his war funds. Everyone knows that no deals take place in the eastern Congo unless Ntaganda is given his fair share.

Will Ntaganda finance his own rebellion now or has he already made a deal with the Kabila government by funneling the two million US dollars their way to overlook the arrest warrants issued on him by the ICC? If you’re looking for good guys in this story, there aren’t any -accept for the customs agent- maybe. The opportunity to amass personal fortunes worth millions of dollars seems too overpowering a motive  for men to continue to act morally or decently especially in a country where the average person make less than $2.00 US a day.

I had started this post on Ntaganda on Monday of last week but by Thursday, April 6th there was more interesting news. For some reason Ntaganda left Kinshasa and headed back to Goma where he barricaded himself away in the ex-CNDP Head Quarters in Runyoni and Mushaki taking one month’s worth of pay destined for the FARDC regiment in Lubero with him.  

Then several commanders in the Congolese army (FRDC) defected and around 300 of his most loyal troops about 35% of the troops formerly militia under his CNDP command went with him taking their guns and ammunition with them.. They have regrouped in  Mushaki,  Runyoni, in the Virunga National Park, Bunagana/Rutshuru  near the Ugandan border; and Katale. They have set up roadblocks where they continue to extort money from vehicles using the local roads. Ntaganda has reason to be nervous especially after he heard that his former boss Thomas Lubanga had been convicted by the ICC on March 14.  It has been estimated that about 2,000 soldiers currently serving in the DAR Congo Army (FRDC) could follow him having already served under him in the powerful Rwandan –supported rebel militia named the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) during the Second War in the Congo. According to current reports, more CNDP rebels have left their current FRDC units.

More Congolese troops situated in the northeast might join him just because they have gone for months now without being paid fair wages by the Kabila government or because have been reassigned to new regiments without confirmation of their previous ranks. They know from word on the street that Ntaganda has a lot of money and they know from experience that he has the organizational skills to effectively lead them. Kabila’s government in a move to stop the rebel skirmishes in the northeast and end the conflict for good in 2009 integrated the former rebels into the main Congolese army including Ntaganda. Some say that this was a very foolish move on Kabila’s part that will eventually lead to Ntaganda taking control of the entire army then the government much like the dictator Idi Amin did in Uganda.

This situation will get very interesting in the next few weeks and may ultimately decide the fate of the Congolese people. Ntaganda must have heard something  that troubled him or he wouldn’t have left his current location in such a hurry and if he’s moving to an old militia headquarters he may be looking for a fight. Will Rwanda continue to stand by Ntaganda or will they silence him in order to avoid being exposed for their dealings in “conflict minerals”? If the International Criminal Court tries him, he might just tell all that he knows about the intrusive and corrupt business practices conducted by the other countries that border the Congo. I can see this ending one of four  ways: 1.) Ntaganda will make his move ( with the support of Rwanda) and stage a military coup in which Ituri and the rest of the Northeast region will secede from the DRC. 2.) Ntaganda will suddenly disappear because Rwanda will see to it that Ntaganda never makes it to The Hague to stand trial.  3.) Kabila will give in to the commanders’ demands and continue to protect Ntaganda from the ICC and the United Nations.  or 4.) The ICC will get its way because Kabila will follow through and Ntaganda will be removed from the Democractic Republic of the Congo once and for all. Whatever happens I have a feeling it will all end in one very dramatic conclusion!

A dear friend once compared the current situation in the northeast Congo, one of the most violent places on Earth right now, to the famous “bar” scene in the movie “Stars Wars™”.  He cautioned, “”You know that someone is about to  make a move  but you’re just not sure which killer will strike first.”       Heads-up Ntaganda!

Kat Nickerson   Kingston        RI     USA

 For those of you who want to read the entire story about the NBA basketball player and Congolese gold I have included the link.