Ladies and Gentleman,
Thank you all for coming here tonight. I am deeply honored to be here with you for the beginning of Congo Week. I would especially like to thank Mr. Kambale Musavuli, an inspiring young man, whose initiative, creative vision, compassion, and love for his country made this event and others like it around the world possible. I would like to recognize the main sponsors of Congo Week, the Friends of the Congo (who generously supplied us with the video), the African Faith and Justice Network, Global Congo Action, the Hip Hop Caucus, Global Ministries, the Institute for Policy Studies, Jubilee USA Network, Resist AFRICOM, People to People Liaison, and the Women for the Development of the DRC. I am grateful to all the talented and generous artists and designers who contributed to the Congo Week fundraising CD. I must also personally thank Mrs. Janet Bean for organizing this event, for inviting me to be here, and for offering me her hospitality and generosity. I would like to thank Mr. Kisuule Magala for sharing his thoughtful and unique insights on the Congo and finally, I must thank the staff and management of the Hideout for allowing us to have this venue here tonight and for their kind hospitality.
Members of the Diaspora,
I am especially pleased and humbled to share in this special event with all of you. I would also like to welcome everyone in the Diaspora community here tonight that does not agree with and/or appreciate my views. The truth is, as a muzungu, I always feel a bit uneasy talking to Africans about your home countries. Therefore, please understand that I am not here to lecture you about Africa. Rather, I am here only to share what I have learned, and I hope that, in turn, you will afford me the honor of learning from you.
I want to sincerely thank all of you for taking time out of your busy weekend to attend this important event. About two and a half years ago, I attended an event very similar to this one. I was at Smith College in Massachusetts listening to a panel of speakers talk about the situation in Chad and Darfur. I have seen first-hand the care and compassion that students have towards the suffering of Africans, and I respectfully hope that you will not limit your interest in the Congo to this singular event. Collectively and individually, all of you can make a difference to help bring lasting peace to the Congo, and the Great Lakes Region as a whole.
I am here tonight to share with you what I have learned about the cassiterite ore trade in the Congo, particularly in the North Kivu Province. Essentially, I am going to expand on what we have just seen in the video, which gave us a harrowing look at the human costs of the current practices and conditions involved in the trade. Seeing the reality visually on film is much more effective than any verbal description I can generate. Given this fact, my presentation tonight will focus instead on the specifics of the trade. I will discuss the various actors involved in the trade, and how their roles have changed over time. I will show how the cassiterite trade is directly linked to warring factions in the Congo and how it financially sustains their activities.
Before I begin though, I must state that this presentation was created with the presumption of speaking to an audience that possesses some background knowledge of the ongoing crisis, and a working geographic knowledge of the Congo. Therefore, I must apologize in advance to all of you who are relatively new to this subject matter. What this means in practice is that I will not spend much time providing background details on the larger armed groups and most individual actors. For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know what to expect from this presentation. For the rest of you, I apologize in advance if my approach is not to your liking, and I sincerely hope that I do not lose anyone in the details and acronyms along the way. I also apologize for any mispronunciations I may commit henceforth.
Let us begin with two obvious but important questions: What is cassiterite ore and why is it desirable? Its value comes from the fact that it yields tin after smelting. In 2004, new environmental laws were enacted in Japan and the European Union (E.U.) that forced all lead-based solder to be replaced with tin as soon as possible, raising its market demand considerably. Solder is used extensively in the electronics industry to connect wiring components to circuit boards. According to a December 2007 report by Finnwatch, the global solder market accounts for nearly half for the world’s tin consumption, and 70% of the world’s solder is sold to the electronics industry. I will expand on this point later. Cassiterite also has applications in the automotive industry and can be used as a coating on metal to prevent corrosion.
Exponential growth in China’s booming industrial sector also contributed to a greater market demand for tin. This demand was further augmented by other Asian countries with fast-growing industrial sectors like Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. Japan also significantly contributed to world demand for cassiterite. As mentioned earlier, Japan enacted environmental laws that increased their demand for tin as a replacement for lead solder. This demand was in addition to the growing needs of their massive electronics industry and automotive production sector.
The Congo is important to the world market because it contains roughly a third of the world’s cassiterite ore reserves and produces about 4% of the world’s tin supply. Cassiterite was first discovered in the Kivus back in 1910, and by the 1940s, Congo was the world’s 2nd largest producer. However, infrastructure, including the state-owned mining entities, progressively decayed during the Mobutu era, and cassiterite production dropped off sharply as a result. This coincided with a drop in global demand for tin. The tin tr