Monday, 14 August 2017

UN Experts Accuse Congo Army General of Mining Gold Illegally

UN Experts Accuse Congo Army General of Mining Gold Illegally


Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba (Tango Four)

  • General alleged to own company dredging gold in eastern river
  • Group says $409 million of gold smuggled out of Congo in 2013
A group of United Nations experts said it’s gathered evidence that a sanctioned Congolese military officer owns gold mining operations in the northeast of the country, contravening the country’s mining code.
Tax officials, mine workers and dredge owners told the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo that Major-General Gabriel Amisi Kumba owns dredges that are mining gold on the Awimi River in Tshopo province, the group said in a report published on the UN’s website Sunday. The group also collected testimony that the management of La Conquete, a company allegedly owned by Amisi, is protected by Congo’s military.
Amisi is currently the Congolese armed forces’ commander of the First Defence Zone, an area that includes the capital, Kinshasa. Last year, the U.S. and the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes, on Amisi, citing the role of units under his control in lethal crackdowns on demonstrations by Congolese opposition supporters in January 2015 and September 2016.
In November 2012, Amisi was suspended as commander of Congo’s land forces after a previous report by the group of experts accused him of distributing weapons to armed groups and poachers operating in the conflict-ridden east of the country. General Amisi was cleared by the military authorities in July 2014 and appointed to his current position in September the same year.
The group was unable to reach Amisi and Bloomberg wasn’t able to find contact details for him to request comment. General Leon-Richard Kasonga, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he hadn’t seen the report and couldn’t comment.
The group’s report also said that it “confirmed almost all artisanally sourced gold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was exported illegally and underestimated in both value and volume.” The group has made similar claims in previous reports, estimating that during 2013, 98 percent of artisanally produced gold, valued at as much as $409 million, was smuggled out of Congo.
Established in 2004, the group of experts’ members are appointed by the UN secretary-general to gather information about conflict, abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Congo.
By William Clowes

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Child miners aged four living a hell on Earth so YOU can drive an electric car: Awful human cost in squalid Congo cobalt mine that Michael Gove didn’t consider in his ‘clean’ energy crusade

Child miners aged four living a hell on Earth so YOU can drive an electric car: Awful human cost in squalid Congo cobalt mine that Michael Gove didn’t consider in his ‘clean’ energy crusade 


  • Sky News investigated the Katanga mines and found Dorsen, 8, and Monica, 4.

  • The pair were working in the vast mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • They are two of the 40,000 children working daily in the mines, checking rocks for cobalt.

Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.

His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 and switch to electric vehicles.

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the 
raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill
 a rock


It heralds a future of clean energy, free from pollution but – though there can be no doubting the good intentions behind Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement last month – such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve his target.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that 
he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain

Goldman Sachs, the merchant bank, calls cobalt ‘the new gasoline’ but there are no signs of new wealth in the DRC, where the children haul the rocks brought up from tunnels dug by hand.

Adult miners dig up to 600ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery. Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse.

Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it – cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death.

Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his 
mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush 
and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine 
to earn money for food.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen’s friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day ‘everything hurts’.

In a country devastated by civil wars in which millions have died, there is no other way for families to survive. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is donating £10.5million between June 2007 and June 2018 towards strengthening revenue transparency and encouraging responsible activity in large and small scale artisanal mining, ‘to benefit the poor of DRC’.

There is little to show for these efforts so far. There is a DRC law forbidding the enslavement of under-age children, but nobody enforces it.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as ‘one of the worst forms of child labour’ due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

The worldwide rush to bring millions of electric vehicles on to our roads has handed a big advantage to those giant car-makers which saw this bonanza coming and invested in developing battery-powered vehicles, among them General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Tesla, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler.

Chinese middle-men working for the Congo Dongfang Mining Company have the stranglehold in DRC, buying the raw cobalt brought to them in sacks carried on bicycles and dilapidated old cars daily from the Katanga mines. They sit in shacks on a dusty road near the Zambian border, offering measly sums scrawled on blackboards outside – £40 for a ton of cobalt-rich rocks – that will be sent by cargo ship to minerals giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt in China and sold on to a complex supply chain feeding giant multinationals.

Challenged by the Washington Post about the appalling conditions in the mines, Huayou Cobalt said ‘it would be irresponsible’ to stop using child labour, claiming: ‘It could aggravate poverty in the cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local miners.’

Human rights charity Amnesty International also investigated cobalt mining in the DRC and says that none of the 16 electric vehicle manufacturers they identified have conducted due diligence to the standard defined by the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

Monica, just four-years-old, works in the mine alongside 
Dorsen and Richard

Encouragingly, Apple, which uses the mineral in its devices, has committed itself to treat cobalt like conflict minerals – those which have in the past funded child soldiers in the country’s civil war – and the company claims it is going to require all refiners to have supply chain audits and risk assessments. But Amnesty International is not satisfied. ‘This promise is not worth the paper it is written on when the companies are not investigating their suppliers,’ said Amnesty’s Mark Dummett. ‘Big brands have the power to change this.’

After DRC, Australia is the next biggest source of cobalt, with reserves of 1million tons, followed by Cuba, China, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Car maker Tesla – the market leader in electric vehicles – plans to produce 500,000 cars per year starting in 2018, and will need 7,800 tons of cobalt to achieve this. Sales are expected to hit 4.4 million by 2021. It means the price of cobalt will soar as the world gears itself up for the electric car revolution, and there is evidence some corporations are cancelling their contracts with regulated mines using industrial technology, and turning increasingly to the cheaper mines using human labour.

After the terrible plight of Dorsen and Richard was broadcast in a report on Sky News, an emotive response from viewers funded a rescue by children’s charity Kimbilio. They are now living in a church-supported children’s home, sleeping on mattresses for the first time in their lives and going to school.

But there is no such happy ending for the tens of thousands of children left in the hell on earth that is the cobalt mines of the Congo.

By Barbara Jones for The Mail on Sunday

Friday, 28 July 2017

Is Norwegian money funding Congo deforestation?

Is Norwegian money funding Congo deforestation?


Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are endangered and found only 
in the DRC. 

  • A recent report by conservation NGO Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is decrying what they say is Norwegian government complicity in funding a project they allege could result in the clearance of vast tracts of Congo rainforest and the release of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • RFUK's report spotlights a project funded through Norway's Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) that would increase the area comprised by logging concessions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by 20 million hectares. Its analysis found the concessions stand to include 10,000 square kilometers of peat swamp, and if actively logged, could release as much as 3.8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment says the report is overblown and the situation more complicated than RFUK contends.
  • Per F. I. Pharo, director of the Government of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, said an amended project proposal is under review and will not be accepted unless various conditions are met: "Among the key recommendations Norway has made to the program document is the importance that the program document should not conclude on important policy choices that should be the product of a thorough and inclusive process at country level."
A recent report by conservation NGO Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is decrying what they say is Norwegian government complicity in funding a project they allege could result in the clearance of vast tracts of Congo rainforest and the release of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment says the report is overblown and the situation more complicated than RFUK contends.
RFUK’s report spotlights a project funded through Norway’s Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) that it says could increase the area comprised by logging concessions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by 20 million hectares. The project is part the French Development Agency (AFD)’s Sustainable Forest Management Programme.
According to the report, the concessions stand to include more than 10,000 square kilometers of peat swamp. Peat is a kind of swampy soil made up of partially decayed organic matter that accumulates over hundreds, even thousands, of years. Often reaching more than four meters (13 feet) deep, areas of peat have been found as deep as 20 meters (65 feet).
Naturally waterlogged, peat becomes highly combustible if it is drained and dries out. And if fire ignites on dried peatland, it can be extremely difficult to stop. Such was the case in Indonesia at the end of 2015 when the country and others nearby were racked with a haze crisis so severe that scientists estimate it contributed to the premature deaths of at least 100,000 people and released more CO2 than Germany does in a year. The haze was caused by smoke from out-of-control wildfires, primarily on peatlands that had been drained for agriculture, which burned an area the size of the U.S. state of Vermont. In response, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo banned clearing and conversion of the country’s remaining peatlands.
Areas allotted for timber concessions in the DRC overlie parts of world’s largest known tropical peatland. Mapped for the first time earlier this year, this massive peat swamp comprises approximately 145,500 square kilometers (56,200 square miles) – an area equivalent to England in size. Researchers estimate it stores some 30 billion metric tons of carbon.
Logging on swamplands is prohibited in the DRC. But in its report, RFUK contends the legislation does not actually define what constitutes a swamp, thus potentially creating a loophole for exploitation.
RFUK estimates about 2.8 billion metric tons of peatland carbon may be released if forest is destroyed in new concession areas. In total, the organization says 3.4 billion metric tons of carbon could be emitted if concessions become active.
“Analysis carried out by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) indicates that, as well as releasing ~0.6 billion tonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide from the direct impact of logging activities, the likely new logging areas would substantially overlap areas of high carbon peatlands, placing an additional 2.8 Gt of carbon – or roughly 10.4 Gt of carbon dioxide – at increased risk of release to the atmosphere if these critical ecosystems are degraded and destroyed,” RFUK writes in their report. “This is equivalent to nearly 200 years of Norway’s current national annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
Further analysis by RFUK indicates illegal concessions currently comprise around five million hectares. The organization urges Norway to aim its attention at canceling and dismantling these concessions rather than funding the establishment of more.
“By refusing to insist that Congo’s illegal concessions are shut down, it is encouraging impunity for law-breaking and bad forest governance,” RFUK director Simon Counsell said in a statement. “Norway should now state that its funding for DRC’s forestry projects will be halted until all illegal logging concessions have been cancelled.”

A mysterious contract

Independent researcher Arnaud Labrousse commended the RFUK report as “excellent.” Labrousse specializes in Central Africa forestry issues, and brought up additional concerns about an alleged award of a 10 million euro ($11.7 million) REDD+ contract by DRC’s Kabila administration to French firm CERENE Services to map 1.5 million hectares of DRC forest.
In brief, REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and is a program administered under the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) that aims to mitigate carbon emissions through improved forest management in tropical countries. Under REDD+, developed countries provide financial incentives to developing countries to help them pay for forest management enhancement projects.
Norway’s CAFI is one of these projects – the largest-ever in Africa when it signed a letter of intent (LoI) for $200 million with DRC’s Minister of Finance in April 2016.
CERENE was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2011, according to French investigative and opinion journal Mediapart. CERENE’s “innovation director” Gérard Royal is the brother of Ségolène Royal, who was France’s environment minister at the time the contract was awarded, leading Labrousse to question if the company benefited from a political “boost” during negotiations. The funding source of the contract has not been made publicly available, but Labrousse refers to it as an “enormous elephant in the room” for CAFI, which he says is “desperately trying to convince NGOs that the present government is a credible interlocutor.”
Association between CAFI and CERENE was refuted by Per F. I. Pharo, director of the Government of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.
“CAFI is not, and do not plan to be, involved in CERENE generally and this contract more specifically,” Pharo told Mongabay. “We are not familiar with the details of this contract, including how it will be financed.”
Pharo said he and his colleagues are working to collect more information about the CERENE contract and allegations involving the company and “whether it will be appropriate for CAFI to take any action.”
Mongabay reached out to CERENE and the DRC’s Ministry of Finance, but no responses were forthcoming.

Norway reacts

Norway did not respond lightly to RFUK’s report. In a statement released earlier this month, the Ministry of Climate and Environment took exception to the report’s claim that the country’s approach to protecting DRC forest is to “hand it over to the logging companies.”
“These allegations have no basis in reality,” the statement reads.
The statement goes on to explain that effective management of DRC forests is a “challenging task” due to weak governing capacity, structural deficiencies and continued instability from long periods of conflict.
The statement points to CAFI successes such as the revocation of illegal logging concessions, as well as the rejection of an initial proposal.
“Reform of DRC’s commercial logging sector is one component of this program (though receiving less than 2% of the overall CAFI funding to DRC). RFUK is well aware that their allegations towards Norway and CAFI all relate to a project proposal that has been rejected by the technical committee of DRC’s national REDD+ fund, in large measure due to concerns raised by Norway.”
In emails to Mongabay, Pharo said a revised version of the proposal has been submitted by the AFD and will be reviewed again by a technical committee in the coming weeks.
“Among the key recommendations Norway has made to the program document is the importance that the program document should not conclude on important policy choices that should be the product of a thorough and inclusive process at country level,” Pharo said. “Furthermore, we have insisted on the sequencing and quality of the activities related to the industrial sector, and made it clear that the logging moratorium can only be considered lifted, if and when the conditions set out in the LoI and the Congolese law have been met.”
Okapis (Okapia johnstoni) were discovered by scientists in 
the early 19002 and are found only in the DRC.

A governmental moratorium on new logging concessions has been in place in the DRC since 2002. According to the LoI, the conditions required for lifting it include the integration of REDD+ and sustainable development projects.
“We also believe the program needs to strengthen the focus on the social aspects of the forest sector, strengthen the budgets to the independent forest monitoring and combatting illegal logging, build upon the lessons learned and already existing processes related to community forests,” Pharo said.
He continued, explaining that risk management is key to the program’s success: “We know that the risks are high in the forest sector. Since the first proposal was drafted, the national REDD fund in DRC has organized a five days multi stakeholder risk management work shop in Kinshasa that has identified risk elements for the forest sector and possible mitigation actions. AFD has thus been asked to incorporate this work in the revised proposal.”
Pharo said RFUK’s analysis wrongly assumed that old concessions phased out prior to 2005 will be reestablished in the future. This is not likely to happen, he said, because many overlie swamp areas where logging is prohibited, logging areas can only be extended once the LoI’s conditions have been met and, in the event these conditions are met, potential new logging areas will be defined via a “thorough consultative and targeted land use planning process.”
“Provided that our comments are taken into account, we see this program as an opportunity to improve the forest management and governance in DRC,” Pharo said. “Unlike the picture RFUK is drawing in its communication, this is a broad program that will, among other things, support DRC to establish, through an inclusive process, a new forest policy, an action plan to combat illegal logging, strengthen the independent monitoring of the forest sector, strengthen the authorities’ capacity to enforce their laws, testing different forest management models and supporting more sustainable forest management.
“In sum, the ambition is that the program will contribute to reduced emissions, not increased, as indicated by RFUK.”

A challenging task

Despite differences of opinion on how to best protect and manage the DRC’s forests, one commonality emerges: a hard road lies ahead. Both RFUK’s report and Norway’s statement highlight governance issues as major roadblocks to affecting successful conservation programs in the country, a sentiment shared by other institutions such as UK-based independent policy institute Chatham House.
“The RF-UK briefing highlights some of the major challenges that are facing DRC’s forest sector – namely, the very weak governance in the country which means there is limited ability for the government to control its forest resources and to implement effective planning and management,” said Chatham House’s Alison Hoare. Hoare is a senior research fellow whose expertise includes forest governance, natural resource use and community forestry.
To illustrate the scale of the challenge in the DRC, Hoare points to Chatham House research estimating that 90 percent of logging in the country was done illegally as of 2013. The study attributes most of this logging to small, informal operations that supply domestic and regional markets, and found the volume of harvesting had doubled over the previous six years as population and income levels increased.
Satellite data from the University of Maryland show tree cover loss rates growing steadily over the past decade in the DRC, peaking at more than 1.3 million hectares (13,000 square kilometers) in 2014 before dipping back down to 928,000 hectares in 2015. Most of this loss occurred in and around primary forests.
Hoare underlined the need for a sustainable forest sector in the DRC, one that will help alleviate poverty while meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. But she said that for this to be possible, the country’s governance must significantly improve. She lauded Norway and CAFI’s acknowledgment of this issue.
“This has been clearly recognized by Norway, and the other CAFI partners, as reflected by the milestones set out in the LOI,” Hoare said via email. “It is also very positive that Norway has highlighted the importance of the sequencing and the quality of the activities that it supports.”
But, Hoare cautioned, much work remains to be done if the DRC is going to meet the LoI’s milestones set for the end of 2018.
“These include: adoption of a forest policy, based on a participatory process with all relevant stakeholders; implementation of local & community forest management models; application of the Forest Code to all existing Concessions; and elaboration of an ambitious plan to fight illegal logging,” she said. “Further, the milestones note the need to meet the legal conditions before the logging moratorium is lifted, and also to implement land-use planning.”
Hoare said that succeeding in these milestones would be a “remarkable achievement” for the DRC and urged CAFI to target its support at activities that will help make such an achievement a reality.
“Most importantly, this means establishing an effective legal and institutional framework for the sector, and ensuring much greater transparency and accountability,” Hoare said.

By Morgan Erickson-Davis

Children bear brunt of militia violence in central Congo

Children bear brunt of militia violence in central Congo


Children in central Democratic Republic of Congo are bearing the brunt of violence between the army and a local militia which has uprooted at least 1.4 million people over the past year, the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Six in 10 of those forced to flee their homes in the conflict-ravaged Kasai region - about 850,000 - are children, leaving them prey to attack, detention, sexual violence, and recruitment by militia fighters, according to the U.N. agency.

More than 3,300 people have been killed in Kasai since the start of an insurrection in August by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which wants the withdrawal of military forces from the area.

Kasai is the scene of a growing humanitarian disaster in a nation where violence has spiraled since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate ended in December.

"The crisis is having a devastating impact on children," UNICEF representative Tajudeen Oyewale said in a statement.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of children and their families in Kasai have been turned upside down by this brutal violence."

Oyewale added that the violence had disrupted access to healthcare and education in Kasai, which UNICEF described as one of the world's worst displacement crises for children.

More than 5,000 children in the region have been separated from their families, and at least 100 were killed in the first three months of the year, according to UNICEF's latest figures.

About half of militia members are estimated to be children - many younger than 15 - and more than 500 have been deployed as fighters or used as human shields, the agency said.

"The future of an entire generation of children is at risk in the Kasai region," added Oyewale.

The violence in Kasai has stoked fears of a wider conflict in the central African giant, a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources. Wars at the turn of the century killed millions and sucked in neighboring countries.

Some 3.8 million Congolese are uprooted within the country, more than in any other African country, and about 7.3 million need aid urgently, according to U.N. data.

The United Nations this week named three experts to lead an international investigation into killings and other crimes in Kasai, having accused "elements" of Congo's army of digging most of dozens of mass graves discovered there in recent months.

The government has repeatedly denied its troops were responsible for the graves.

Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Emma Batha

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

U.N. identifies 38 more mass graves in Congo's Kasai region

U.N. identifies 38 more mass graves in Congo's Kasai region


The United Nations has identified an additional 38 probable mass graves in Democratic Republic of Congo's central Kasai region, it said on Wednesday, bringing the total to at least 80 since the outbreak of an insurrection last August.

More than 3,300 people have been killed and 1.4 million forced to flee their homes in Kasai since the start of the insurrection by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which wants the withdrawal of military forces from the area.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo told reporters in the capital Kinshasa that the graves were identified across six different sites during a joint mission to western Kasai last week with Congolese military investigators.

The government has blamed the militia for mass graves discovered in neighbouring Kasai-Central province and also claims that some of the alleged mass graves identified by U.N. investigators have not turned out to contain bodies.

But witnesses in Kasai-Central interviewed in March by Reuters said they had seen army trucks dumping bodies and the United Nations has repeatedly accused Congolese troops of using excessive force.

The government denies that its troops have systematically used excessive force, although a court convicted seven soldiers last week for murdering suspected militia members in a massacre that was caught on video.

Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Tim Cocks from Reuters

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Congo, My Precious. The Curse of the 'conflict minerals' in Congo

Congo, My Precious. The Curse of the 'conflict minerals' in Congo


The Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa is one of the world’s most resource-rich countries. A wide range of rare minerals can be found here in abundance, all commanding high prices in world commodity markets. Diamonds for jewellery, tantalum, tungsten and gold for electronics; uranium used in power generation and weaponry and many others. Congo has copious deposits of raw materials that are in high demand internationally but remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

From colonisation, with the horrors of slavery and other atrocities, to a turbulent and equally brutal present in which militant groups control the mines, Congo’s richness in natural resources has brought nothing but misery. Referred to as “conflict minerals”, these riches leave only a trail of death, destruction and poverty.

Under Belgian rule, Congolese labourers were often required to meet quotas when mining different minerals. Failure could mean punishment by having a hand cut off with a machete. The country gained independence in 1960, but that didn’t put a stop to slave and child labour or to crimes being committed to extract and exploit the minerals. Warring militant fractions from inside the country and beyond seized control of mines for their own benefit while terrorising local populations.

For our translator, Bernard Kalume Buleri, his country’s history of turmoil is very personal; like most Congolese people, he and his family fell victim to the unending mineral based power struggle. Born in the year of his country’s independence, he has lived through war and seen his homeland torn apart by violent looting and greed. His story is a damning testament, illustrating how nature’s bounty, instead of being a blessing, becomes a deadly curse.
RT Documentary

Monday, 26 June 2017



The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?


Published in as "The violence of coltan: purchase of a global silence "and this is the magazine version

Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila (above) operates less
 like a stereotypical dictator and more like a ruthless 
CEO with a military wing.

In February 2017, a video filmed in the village of Mwanza Lomba went viral.

It showed unarmed civilians – women and children – being massacred by soldiers of the state army, and quickly moved from the social networks onto television news channels around the world. But then it vanished again without any further debate about what it meant and what it revealed.

In April, more than 40 mass graves were discovered in the same region, Kasai where, since the outbreak of the Kamwina Nsapu insurrection last August, millions of civilians have been displaced by armed forces and militias of the Kabila regime, but for some reason the story of their plight appears to go largely unchallenged.

According to the 2011-2015 forecast of the University of Sydney’s Atrocity Forecasting Project (AFP), DRC ranked second and Syria eleventh of the countries most at risk of the onset of genocide or politicide.

Yet in spite of the fact that mass atrocities are ongoing in DRC today, the same organisation’s 2016-2020 forecast omitted to include it in its ranking altogether, while Syria, now firmly in the international spotlight, has climbed to 6th position

Genocide, defined by human rights activist, John Prenderghast, as “eliminating a group of people based on their identity”, is a daily reality in DRC that directly implicates the president of the state.

Yet while in Syria, recent chemical attacks against civilians, captured on video too, have prompted a US military intervention and calls from around the world for the immediate departure of Bashar El-Assad from power, DRC’s Joseph Kabila seems to enjoy a license to carry on and with impunity.

Congo's mines rank among the largest in the world


DRC is known not only as a vast cemetery of forgotten holocausts and veiled genocides but also as a huge mass grave where millions of victims of Africa’s great wars have been buried in support of a global culture of consumerism.

This is a legacy that dates back to 1885, when the Belgian monarch Leopold II, claimed Congo for Belgium and sacrificed countless Congolese in a barbaric reign that took colonial brutality to new heights. Death and displacement were the price required to satisfy the insatiable need for rubber of an ascendant automobile industry.

During the Second World War, the USA used the Shinkolombwe’s uranium mine's highly toxic product to supply the secret Manhattan project for the manufacture of the world’s first atomic bomb including those dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Once again, it was Congolese blood that paid for the enrichment of the West.

And since 1996, in multiple and complex wars, millions of Congolese have paid in blood for the extraction of coltan, known also as ‘grey gold’.

A mineral of great value for the high-tech industry, coltan has transformed Eastern Congo into a the location of horrific violence (“the rape capital of the world”), since militias and the national army use rape as a means of displacing populations in order to gain control of mines.

The global demand for tantalum, columbium, tin, gold and tungsten, all commonly used in computer chips and electronic gadgets including smartphones (see "The blood metals in  your phones" below), and all in plentiful supply locally, proves an insurmountable obstacle to any effort made to conflict-resolution in the region.

The demand for cobalt now grows with demand for the lithium-ion batteries that charge electric vehicles and store renewable energy.

The country that controls access to this high-grade Congo “blood cobalt” therefore controls the energy of the future.

Whether it is from new or older manufacturing industries, the demand for low-cost Congo minerals will only increase, and in order to meet that demand and keeps costs down, a ruthless CEO is what is needed to manage the country.

Millions of Congolese have paid in blood for the extraction of coltan, known also as "grey gold"


The DRC’s open-pit high grade copper mines rank amongst the ten largest in the world, but in the field of human rights, the country lingers at the bottom.

The British NGO Freedom from Torture ranks Congo fourth of all the countries in the world in the practice of torture. And 70% of the crimes and human rights violations recorded in DRC in 2016 were committed by the national security forces, under direct or indirect orders from the head of state or his immediate entourage.

The list of uninvestigated mass graves can beggar belief: Kibumba in North Kivu, Makobola, Tingi-Tingi, Mbandaka, Kisangani, Beni, Sumbi, Nienge, Lolo Bene in Bas-Congo, Rubare in North Kivu, Camp Kibembe, Lubumbashi. Two years since its discovery, the mass grave of Maluku, like so many others, remains uninvestigated.

Leaked documents reveal that orders from the Ministry of the Interior, distributed to senior officials of the National Intelligence Agency, the Police Force and the Directorate General for Migration in 2014, justified the use of torture when used with “discretion”, against political opponents, and as a “method of silent repression and intimidation” to maintain a hold on power.


As it was in the past for King Leopold II, Congo is Joseph Kabila’s private enterprise.

There are mines that are directly controlled by the president and his family. Those that are not are sub-contracted, in the name of Joseph Kabila, to militias, mercenaries or trading systems of companies that do business in “vacant lands” that lie beyond the state’s control.

Kabila’s economic empire consists of at least 70 companies, all managed or majority-owned by members of his family. It includes death squads that operate as false flags throughout the country as part of the government’s general military strategy.

Military officers and undercover civilians recruit mercenaries by order of the president and his family, and under the protection of the regional general intelligence services of nations including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

These armed gangs, known as “presidential militias”, operate freely in the Congo but also work as a kind of sub-regional mafia, facilitating what is more politely described as a process of “cross-border economic development”.

Saracen Uganda Ltd, for example, a company dedicated to transforming professional security services in East Africa and providing access to Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Car Tracking Services, Security Dogs, and Guards, was criticized in a 2002 UN Security Council report for training rebel paramilitary forces in the DRC.

General Salim Saleh, half-brother of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, is one of the company’s founders. Uganda has become the factory and cradle of mercenaries, and the commercial hub of the gold trade despite the denunciations of international NGOs and observers.

Mining concessions in DRC have been acquired by huge international mining companies either at suspiciously low prices or for billions of dollars that never reached the Congolese state coffers.


The New York Times reported recently that Kabila “has softened criticism from his Western allies by ensuring that they profited from Congo’s wealth. Huge mineral concessions were handed to corporations from countries that finance Congo’s elections and that support Mr. Kabila’s government with foreign aid”.

In 2010, The Dodd-Franck Act was passed in the US in attempt to prohibit  trade in minerals obtained through conflict. This law created by the Democratic Party, however, has had the unintended affect of giving a boost to illicit cross-border trafficking, which are used in such a way as to hide the supply chain.

According to UN investigators, smuggling is facilitated by the Congolese national armed forces (FARDC) as well as by the national armies of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda: Ituri gold is exported from Congo to Uganda and sold as Ugandan; Coltan from North Kivu to Rwanda and sold as Rwandan; Diamonds from Mbuji-Mayi to China and Zimbabwe; and gold from South Kivu and North Katanga to Burundi and Tanzania.


EU and US sanctions, targeted against Congolese officials but not Joseph Kabila, are ineffective in the field. Kabila and his cohorts remain untouchable princes in the Congo, living in style and with impunity. And in any case, history teaches us that several authoritarian regimes, against all odds, have resisted international sanctions.

UN member-states committed to the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – a political commitment designed to end the worst forms of violence and persecution –  are failing to fulfill this commitment towards the Congolese population.

It’s time Joseph Kabila should be held accountable for his crimes.

Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo are the founders of the Orion Congo Studies Network (OCSN)

The blood metals in your phone

Almost all smartphones are built with a range of minerals mined in conflict zones. Here's to find them in the phone in your pocket.

Tantalum is mainly used to make capacitors - electricity storage - small enough to fit in a phone. The are hundreds of these in every phones, across many circuits.

Columbium, aka niobium , has been mooted as a replacement for tantalum - but both are found in the same coltan ore ("coltan is a short for columbium-tantalum'). Congo is the world's largest producer of coltan, much of mined by hand, including child labour. UNICEF estimates that around 40.000 children works as informal-sector miners in DRC.

Cobalt is used to make the small rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power modern mobile phones, as well as laptops and tablets.

Tin may not sound like a high-tech metal, but it is used to make almost all the solder - 'metal glue'- that holds together phones and other electronics. Nearly half of all the world's mined tin is turned into solder, according to Friends of the Earth.

Copper, gold, and silver are used for the wiring of the phone and the printed circuit boards.

Tungsten is a strong metal that is used in a small mechanism to make the phone vibrate when you get a call buzzes, remember that the tungsten vibrating is probably funding armed groups in Congo.