By Innocent Kazembe
When it comes to the DR Congo, people easily think of vast mineral reserves, ongoing conflicts and a kind of perpetual misery. For Global South Development Magazine’s DR Congo special edition, I interviewed a few people in the eastern part of DR Congo where a number of violent conflicts are going on for years.
People I interviewed said that the eastern part of the Congo has a lot of gold and other minerals, not as much as in Katanga, but enough to attract greedy foreign eyes.
According to the locals, the trend is that militia groups from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi come in and kill innocent, unarmed people in order to claim small parts of land which has gold and other valuable minerals. Reportedly, the militia groups claim that the minerals belong to them as well.
People I interviewed said that the mineral greed is not restricted only among the neighboring countries, even the UN peacekeepers who were sent there to bring order and peace seem to be eying the country’s precious minerals.
One person I talked to said that the people couldn’t understand why the Congolese government cannot move in and stabilize the eastern part because the rest of the country is relatively calm.
People of the DRCongo do mine the minerals but very little ends in their own pockets, be it money or the minerals. The instability in the nearby countries seems to have directly affected the eastern DRC.
According to the locals, the rebels from neighboring countries enter the DR Congo, confiscate food and grains, rape their women and kill children, and as there is no meaningful presence of the government, people have nobody to turn to, they are helpless.
The ongoing conflict in DR Congo has greatly affected the progress in human development in the region. There are no proper schools and health centres, and because the region has been unstable for such a long time, there is no aspiration for development left. People say that wars are like seasons, they come and go within short period of time, within months.
One of the people I talked to told me that especially around 1995-96, as it was the time Laurent Kabila was overthrowing the dictator Mobutu, the soldiers from Rwanda and Uganda were helping Kabila. They entered the country in the name of help and peace, but upto now they claim their ownership. The other woman told me that life is so uncertain in their area because you are not sure if tomorrow there will be peace or then you might be attacked and instantly dead. In addition, she said that she hasn’t enrolled her 2 children into school simply because she is not sure if they will even last a week in that school, so the children are involed in mining already at the age of 9 and 13.
Who are the mineral buyers?
I asked the people that who were buying minerals from the area and how did the pricing mechanism worked. They said that there are ‘big bosses’ who get the biggest share, come and live nearby the mining areas. These guys take the minerals into Uganda where you find the ‘unnamed’ people with much money to buy from them, and the locals say, ‘from there who knows what happens next.’
So this is what happens in eastern DRC everyday. The locals are forced to mine for petty sums, even very young children, some of them ex-child soldiers, have to mine constantly in the militias’ presence. The mined minerals are transported into Uganda where big mineral transactions take place under the roofs of big Western companies and their influence. Ultimately, the Congolese gold, cobalt and diamond hit the American and European markets, whereas, the ordinary people in eastern Congo are living in misery, terror, destitution and powerlessness.
(This article previously appeared in GSDM’s DRCongo special edition War & Peace in DR Congo. Original title of the article was Blood Minerals in Eastern DRC)