The Vile Scramble For Loot


The Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering what is almost certainly the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. In their 2007 study of mortality rates in the DRC the International Rescue Committee estimated that, as a result of the war, "5.4 million excess deaths have occurred between August 1998 and April 2007." The IRC report also estimated that the "DR Congo’s national crude mortality rate (CMR) of 2.2 deaths per 1,000 per month is 57 percent higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa", and in eastern provinces, which are the most violent, the CMR is "2.6 deaths per 1,000 per month, a rate that is 85 percent higher than the sub-Saharan average." [1 The charity "Raise Hope for Congo" reports that "45,000 people die each month [in Eastern Congo], mostly from hunger and disease resulting from the ongoing conflict, and over 1 million people have been displaced." [2 That is approximately 1,500 deaths a day, 62 deaths an hour and a death every minute. If you take the figure of 45,000 deaths a month as constant then at the time of writing (November 2009), 1,350,000 people have died as a result of the war in Eastern Congo since the IRC published its study. That would put the total amount of excess deaths at 6,750,000 (6.75 million).

According to the British charity Save the Congo, "You could take all lives lost in Bosnia, Rwanda 1994 [sic] and Darfur then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, then add a 9-11 every single day for 356 days and then go through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, multiply by 2 and you still don’t reach the number of lives that has been lost in the Congo since the war started." They also say that "[hundreds of thousands] of women and young girls have been brutally gang raped and around 40% of all adult women have been made widows."[3]

All over Eastern Congo there are wards "full of women who have been gang-raped and then shot in the vagina." According to Dr Denis Mukwege, "Around ten percent of the gang-rape victims have had this happen to them".[4] This means that tens of thousands of women have been raped and shot in the vagina. And this affects of women of all ages, from 3 year olds to old ladies.

The Congolese people live in abject poverty. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest proportion of starving people in the world, according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, which ranked the Congo as a 42.7. That is an increase from 25.5 (which is still ranked as "alarming") in 1990. [5 Women often have to carry "more than their own body-weight in wood or coal or sand, all day, every day" just to make enough money to survive.[6]

According to the IRC report on mortality rates in the Congo:

The majority of deaths have been due to infectious diseases, malnutrition and neonatal- and pregnancy-related conditions. Increased rates of disease are likely related to the social and economic disturbances caused by conflict, including disruption of health services, poor food security, deterioration of infrastructure and population displacement. Children, who are particularly susceptible to these easily preventable and treatable conditions, accounted for 47 percent of deaths, even though they constituted only 19 percent of the total population.[7]

Men and women in the DRC have life expectancies of 42 and 47 years, respectively, making an average life expectancy of 44 years. The under-5 mortality rate is 205 per 1,000 live births. That means that 1 in 5 Congolese children die before they reach the age of 5. Only 29% of rural Congolese have access to clean water sources and only 23% have access to decent sanitation. 31% of children under 5 are underweight, 452 people in every 100,000 have malaria and 551 in every 100,000 have tuberculosis. The maternal mortality rate is 990 per 100,000 live births.[8]

Compare this to Britain, where the life expectancy at birth is 78, the under-5 mortality rate is 6 per 1,000 live births (more than 34 times less than in the DRC), nearly 100% of the population has access to improved water sources and improved sanitation, the proportion of malnourished children is close to 0%[9] and the maternal mortality rate is 261 per 100,000 live births[10] (almost 4 times lower than in the DRC). 

In the Congo, "since 1998, as many as 85 percent of those living near the front lines [of the war] have been affected by violence" and in Eastern DRC, which is the main area of fighting, mortality rates are "one third higher than the rest of the DRC",[11] where mortality rates are already terrible. But how did all of this happen?

The (second) Congo war began in 1998 when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Congo, launching "a bloody military offensive to overthrow [Congolese president] Laurent Kabila". The offensive failed but Rwanda and Uganda stayed in the Congo to take advantage of the rich resources of the country. They were soon joined by "Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as dozens of home grown militia groups and private armies" who wanted a piece of the spoils. "In 2002 and 2003 … Rwanda and Uganda, after intense international pressure, decided to withdraw from Congo but each, however, leaving behind dozens of armed groups they had created and trained while occupying the Congo".[12] There are now armed groups all over the DRC, many with different loyalties, all fighting mercilessly to get access to the riches under the ground.

Global Witness has said that "The minerals scattered all over North and South Kivu have acted as a magnet for rebel groups and military factions throughout the last 12 years."[13] The Panel of Experts at the UN reported in 2001 that "the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold."[14] The same report stated that "the role of the private sector in the exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the war has been vital. A number of companies have been involved and have fuelled the war directly, trading arms for natural resources. Others have facilitated access to financial resources, which are used to purchase weapons. Companies trading minerals, which the Panel considered to be ‘the engine of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ have prepared the field for illegal mining activities in the country."[15]

These military factions and rebel groups are among the most brutal in the world. These groups include the Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) from Rwanda, the Congrés National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) from Rwanda, the Patriotes Résistants Congolaise (PARECO), various Mai-Mai groups who fight alongside the Congolese army, the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes (FRF) and the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC). These groups have atrocious human rights records, and murder and rape are common. There are huge numbers of child soldiers in the DRC: Control Arms reports that "about 30,000 to 35,000 children have been recruited" by armed groups since the start of the war.[16]

The only reason these groups are able to survive is because they control the mines. "The Congo possesses over 80 per cent of the world’s reserve of coltan.[17] and has vast amounts of casserite (tin ore), gold, wolframite, pyrochlore, diamonds, clays, copper, cobalt, gas, nickel, oil, tungstone, zinc, iron, kaolin, niobium, ochre, bauxite, marble, phosphates, saline, granite, emerald, monazite, silver, uranium, platinum and lead. The DRC is "the only country on earth that houses all elements found on the periodic table".[18] The Congo is probably the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources.

The rebel groups use their control over the natural resources to gain profit and power. Global Witness believes that "the profits they make through this plunder enable some of the most violent armed groups to stay alive."[19] Without this money they would not be able to recruit soldiers. "UNICEF says the militias can are [sic] offering … $60-a-month to carry on seizing and raping and killing" and when people are starving they will accept anything in order to keep their families alive.[20] The war is mainly fought to keep control over the mines and is mainly funded through profits made by that mining. Without those profits, it is unlikely that the war would continue.  

Corporations all around the world, including those in Britain, are trading for these minerals and are making a huge profit off the warring factions. If it wasn’t for this trade then it is extremely unlikely that the war would be able to continue. But the profits made off these minerals – especially colton which is needed for electronics such as mobile phones, computers and televisions – are too great for the corporations to ignore.

In trading for these minerals, a whole host of foreign corporations fund the worst holocaust since World War II. This report focuses on corporations in Britain and how they are fuelling the war and human rights abuses in the Congo. 

The Trail:

There is a long and complicated money trail that goes from the Congo to the UK and back again. Minerals start off with the warring factions that control the mines. From there they go to comptoirs, – trading houses – and on to foreign corporations, where they get made into products, such as laptops or rings, which we buy. Then the warring factions use the money that they have made from the mines to buy weapons from foreign corporations or the governments of countries neighbouring the Congo. So our money goes from us to the corporations, to the comptoirs, to the warlords and back to the corporations, through the comptoirs. Everyone gains, except the Congolese people.

The whole process begins with the rebel groups who control the mines. Global Witness reports that "In many parts of the provinces of North and South Kivu [the main zones of conflict], armed groups and the Congolese national army control the trade in cassiterite (tin ore), gold, columbite-tantalite (coltan), wolframite (a source of tungsten) and other minerals."[21] A report by the UN Security Council, produced by the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, concludes that "more than 90 per cent of minerals arriving at the Lulingu airstrip come from FDLR-controlled areas" and that "FDLR controls the majority of the principal artisanal mining sites in South Kivu, which are mostly cassiterite, gold and coltan mines".[22] This control over the mines is the main source of revenue for the warlords and the only thing keeping the groups going. The Group of Experts estimates that "FDLR is reaping profits worth millions of dollars a year from the trade in minerals from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular cassiterite, gold, coltan and wolframite."[23] As noted earlier in this report, it is unlikely that the rebel groups would be able to survive without the income from controlling the mines. Their ability to recruit soldiers would diminish and they would not have the funds to continue their activities. The Group of Experts at the UN has reported that "the principal method used by FDLR to raise funds is through illegal trade of mineral resources.[24] And "a Congolese government official told Global Witness that at least 90% of gold exports were undeclared."[25] Undeclared goods are almost certainly under the control of armed groups and statistics are probably similar for other minerals. The Group Of Experts "believes that it is not in the interest of certain FARDC commanders to end the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as long as their units are able to deploy to, and profit from, mining areas."[26] The same surely applies for the other armed groups, including the government. In 2002, the Group of Experts at the UN wrote that "no coltan exits from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo without benefiting either the rebel groups or foreign armies."[27] These rebel groups all have atrocious human rights records, which have been well documented by the sources given in this report.  

Conditions for mining in the DRC are horrendous. Global Witness reports that "in the course of plundering these minerals, rebel groups and the Congolese army have used forced labour (often in extremely harsh and dangerous conditions), carried out systematic extortion and imposed illegal "taxes" on the civilian population. They have also used violence and intimidation against civilians who attempt to resist working for them or handing over the minerals they produce." On top of all of this "the minerals are dug by hand, or with very basic tools, by civilians known as artisanal miners. These miners work in extremely harsh conditions, without training, equipment or protection; fatal accidents and serious injuries occur regularly." The report also states that the artisanal miners "are the first to suffer exploitation and human rights abuses at the hands of warring parties and derive few, if any, benefits from working in these conditions" since most of the work is slave labour, or if it is paid then it is paid very poorly.[28] In a 2005 report, entitled "The Curse of Gold", Human Rights Watch documented many horrible human rights abuses that gold mining had wrought on the Congolese people including "widespread ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest … organized forced community labour … beatings, and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment" among many others.

The report states that "soldiers and armed group leaders, seeing control of the gold mines as a way to money, guns, and power, have fought each other ruthlessly, often targeting civilians in the process". The report opens by quoting a Congolese gold miner as saying "We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us."[29]

Once mined, the minerals go from the warlords to the comptoirs. These are trading houses, mainly based in Goma and Bukavu, the capitals of North and South Kivu respectively. The comptoirs buy minerals from all over North and South Kivu, then sell the minerals onto (mostly) foreign companies. Global Witness reports that "officially register comptoirs are required to obtain a licence [sic] from the Ministry of Mines. Thereafter, they are operating ‘legally’, at least from a technical point of view … The comptoirs’ official status has allowed them to claim a certain legitimacy. This in turn has enabled foreign purchasers who buy minerals from them to claim that they buy only from ‘legal’ sources."[30] So, in effect, the comptoirs act as middlemen between the foreign corporations and the armed groups, allowing the foreign corporations to claim that they are only buying from legitimate, legal sources, when they are actually -albeit indirectly – buying from the warlords. A representative of a comptoir told Global Witness that "we all end up buying minerals which, in some way, have been produced illegally."[31] The Group of Experts at the UN "has identified several comptoirs in Bukavu as directly complicit in pre-financing negociants, who in turn work closely with FDLR. These companies are Group Olive, Etablissement Muyeye, MDM, World Mining Company (WMC) and Panju. These companies are the top five exporters of cassiterite, coltan and wolframite from South Kivu, according to 2007 Government statistics, and are explicitly licensed to export minerals by the Government."[32] In short, the mineral trail from Eastern Congo is a complicated web, in which it is almost impossible to avoid buying from – and funding – armed groups, even if you are buying from "legal" comptoirs.

From the comptoirs, the minerals then go to foreign corporations and they are traded through ahost of different corporations until a product is complete. The trail gets convoluted and hard to follow here but attempts have been made. The UN Group of Experts has obtained "official documents that show that in 2007, the only importers of cassiterite and coltan from Olive, Muyeye, WMC and MDM [some of the comptoirs found to be directly complicit in financing FDLR] were the Belgian company Taxys, and the United Kingdom-based company Afrimex."[33] But this is only from 4 out of the approximately 40 licensed comptoirs in North and South Kivu, most of whom are probably involved with one or another armed group, and covers only 2 out of the Congo’s many resources. Other corporations mentioned in the UN report as having helped finance rebel groups include Gold Link Burundi, Farrel trade and Investment Corporation and Emirates Gold. The report states that "cassiterite, coltan and wolframite are officially exported through companies based in Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Hong Kong (China), India, Malaysia, Thailand, Rwanda, South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland … Gold is smuggled out mainly through neighbouring countries and principally into the United Arab Emirates and Europe."[34]

In 2001 the Group of Experts at the UN made their original report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In this report they gave a list of "companies importing minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo via Rwanda" with data collected from the Rwanda Revenue authority.[35] This list is reprinted here: 

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Banro-Resources Corp.


cassiterites, coltan