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“Blood minerals: the paradox of the Congo”
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“Blood minerals: the paradox of the Congo”

Aisha Anne Habiba, 28, a Correspondent from Mombasa in Kenya, uses the DRC as an example of the convincing evidence that conflict is a cause of poverty: a global situation that has become commonplace in contemporary society. 

In his book, The Bottom Billion, Oxford professor Paul Collier provides a detailed description of people living in deplorable conditions in contrast to those who were getting richer at “unprecedented levels”.

The Bottom Billion theory presents overarching findings to ongoing discourse on the causes and effects of conflict. If not intercepted, these culminate as, inter alia, civil wars, coup d’états, and genocides. Conflict and fragility persistently breed poverty, undermining economic growth as well as security in most developing  countries. The trajectory of violent conflict reinforces economic instability. This can be highlighted by profiling the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A well-known maxim for the DRC is “it is neither democratic nor a republic, but it certainly is the Congo”. The DRC sits on mineral ores worth 24 trillion dollars. Against this backdrop, however, the vast majority of its citizens live in poverty: in 2005 poverty was estimated at 71.3 per cent. Moreover, approximately 5.5 million fatalities have been reported since 1998 either as a direct result or as a consequence of the war. Why is there so much poverty where there is so much potential for wealth? And what is the reason behind Congo’s perpetual civil war? The country’s paradox not only lies in its name, but also in its socioeconomic and political situation.

The DRC has never truly attained full sovereignty as an independent state. It has a legacy of dictators, from Belgium’s King Leopold 2 who was responsible for the world’s “second holocaust “ in DRC, to Mobutu’s totalitarian regime to Kabila’s arbitrary power. They set precedence for a series of civil wars that have immensely affected the country in terms of a protracted economic slump through expropriation of natural resources.

Revolutionary theses on war argue that new wars are a product of globalisation and “assymetricalization” involving “blurred boundaries” between, inter alia, civilians and non-civilians and military and non-military factions. Indeed, today’s conflicts have become multiplex and asymmetrical in the sense that leaders deliberately choose violence as a means of attaining their objectives, with civilians as their targets.

Empirical evidence supports the theory that abundant natural resources are the “tip of the scale” motivators of violent behaviour among rebel insurgencies. The “resource curse” causes declining income growth engendered by poor governance. DRC is of key interest to multinational corporations and superpowers within Africa because of its expansive mineral resources. Conflicting mining interests through superpower contests have led to the creation of oligopolistic structures that further benefit a select few: “networks of elites”. Western companies play a pivotal role in the plunder. They are the ultimate recipients in the trade of “conflict minerals” such as coltan, gold and Tantalite among others.

Through  capitalising on DRC’S  state failure, a number of international corporations and countries have  played a major role in the conflict by sponsoring specific rebel factions through convergence of home grown and foreign mining interests. According to the UN Security Council, resources were not being used for the benefit of the Congolese. Their exploitation was a consequence rather than an objective of the conflict. The never-ending war is clearly a consequence of superpower alliances between foreign corporations and local militia or rebel insurgencies.

Apart from economic ramifications, illegal trade has led to environmental degradation, along with immobilisation of entire education systems, creating vicious circles of poverty traps.

The proposition that conflict causes poverty has therefore gained traction. Transparent and accountable governance should be the first step towards ending illegal owning and trading of natural resources as well as funding of the army. Patronage systems should be dismantled and democracy should prevail. “Neo-colonialism” through expropriation of DRCs natural resources should be thwarted; control of resources should be utilised in such a way that promotes economic development and benefits the citizens. Through historical grievances, diaspora may be influencing the political economy; their role in financing conflict should be thoroughly researched.

MNCs and private individuals claiming ownership of “resource mines” should relinquish ownership, and trade sanctions should be implemented to prevent them from trading. A strong security and humanitarian architecture is needed. Synergy between the African Union and the United Nations needs to hold accountable and prosecute the people behind several gross violations against human rights.

Finally, legislation such as the Dodd-Franklin Section 1502 needs to be revised to not only demand the disclosure of the source of MNC minerals, but also to place embargoes on minerals from the DRC to encourage companies to bolster their supply chain and prevent  them from engaging in trade that aids regional conflicts.

Photo credit: Julien Harneis Mining in Kailo via photopin (license)

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About me: Working as a Gender, Communications and Research Assistant at an NGO, my passion is to inspire positive and sustainable breakthrough in the livelihoods of vulnerable women and children dealing with diminished status. I am ardent about the eradication of poverty caused by gender inequality because I believe that poverty is sexist. My ultimate goal is to be the next Wangari Maathai, an activist-writer who would pioneer a women’s movement aimed at lobbying for improved socioeconomic rights for women.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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