USIP’s Raymond Gilpin and Brett Boor examine how conflict minerals are a symptom – and not the cause – of the continued instability in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Instability in the DRC
Photo courtesy of NY Times/Johan Spanner

A little more than two years since President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, the northeastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are once again embroiled in violent conflict. Section 1502 of the Act aims to break the link between the region’s mining industry and violent factions by requiring all U.S.-registered companies to certify that their entire supply chains are conflict-free. The law is based on the presumption that the violence in northeastern DRC is primarily fuelled by violent competition for control of the region’s lucrative gold and tin ore mines.

The recent flare up of hostilities suggests that this is not the case. Not only has there been a resurgence of violent conflict following a purported decrease in ‘conflict mining,’ but we have also witnessed a shift in funding modalities by the belligerents. It appears that U.S. Congressman Barney Frank (a co-sponsor of the Dodd-Frank Act) has not achieved his goal of “…cut[ting] off funding to people who kill people.”

In this “On the Issues,” USIP’s Raymond Gilpin and Brett Boor examine conflict dynamics in the DRC and explore national, regional and global implications.

What caused the latest round of violence?

The immediate cause of the most recent violence in northeastern DRC is believed to be a mutiny in April 2012. The ostensible reasons for the mutiny were poor conditions, inadequate supplies and unpaid salaries. However, upon closer examination is does appear that renegade leaders, like Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda (who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague), were concerned that President Kabila was finally serious about disbanding all parallel structures within the Congolese armed forces, including the “Amani Leo.” The July 2012 conviction of former warlord Thomas Lubanga heightened their anxiety. A new group, the M-23 (or March 23 Movement, in commemoration of the first agreement the CNDP, National Congress for the Defence of the People, signed a peace treaty with the government) emerged as a major force, attacking government forces and threatening Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. In addition to these proximate causes, it is worth noting that the virtual absence of central government control in northeastern DRC makes it easy for rebellions to take root and quickly spiral out of control. According to a recent United Nations report, direct support from Rwanda is an important contributing factor, as groups like the M-23 allegedly enjoy safe haven and receive material support from across the border. The neighboring Rwandan government, led by President Paul Kagame, staunchly denies these assertions.

Is the conflict transnational?

Historically, conflicts in this part of the DRC tend to spill across the borders. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwandan forces crossed the border in pursuit of Hutu extremists. The Rwandan government has repeatedly expressed concern about the threat posed by Hutu extremists in ‘ungoverned spaces’ in this part of the DRC. Many believe Rwanda gains by being able to control the border and enjoy proceeds from the lucrative mining industry. The July 2012 U.N. report catalogues what it describes as the active involvement of Rwanda in supporting armed groups in recent months. The international community expressed its disapproval and demanded an immediate cessation of Rwanda’s involvement and support to armed groups. In addition to exerting diplomatic pressure, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom cutting aid to Rwanda. The transnational nature of the conflict makes it much more difficult to solve and hence merits a robust international response.

Wasn’t Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank supposed to “cut off funding to people who kill people”? Is the law working?

As mentioned earlier, an underlying assumption of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act is that there is a close causal relationship between conflict minerals and violent conflict in northeastern DRC. According to Congressman Barney Frank, the express goal of Article 1502 was to use mining to achieve the “cut[ting] off of funding to people who kill people.” Though well-intentioned, such sentiments fail to address the root causes of conflict and grossly underestimate the resilience and adaptability of the warring factions. In recent months the armed groups have proven that they can quickly adapt, shifting from conflict mining to smuggling, racketeering (including ‘taxes’ imposed on coal and cattle) and bank robbery. Although strategies to stem the flow of funds to the warring groups are clearly critical in resolving this ongoing crisis, they can only be effective if they are part of a comprehensive solution that seeks to address the underlying drivers of the conflict; particularly security sector reform, socioeconomic inequality and poor governance.

How is the latest violence affecting communities?

It is estimated that since the April mutiny, some 470,000 people have been displaced, with around 51,000 crossing the borders into Rwanda (19,400) and Uganda (31,600). Media reports suggest that scores have lost their lives and thousands have been deprived of their means of livelihood. Acute shortages of food, fuel and other supplies have also been reported.

What’s being done to contain the violence?

First, the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in the DRC, MONUSCO, has become much more involved, especially with their vow to protect Goma from a rebel siege. With a force a little over 19,000, MONUSCO is clearly an important part of the equation. However, it is also obvious that a stronger mandate is needed, consistent with the ‘right to protect’ civilians. Second, the Congolese military is fighting alongside MONUSCO forces supplying both tanks and troops to the efforts. Third, the diplomatic pressure currently being placed on Rwanda could help address the important cross-border dimensions of this conflict. While it is important to contain the current outbreak of violence, much more should be done to address the root causes of the conflict in northeastern DRC. Until governance improves, urgent steps are taken to establish the rule of law and security sector reform programs are implemented, outbreaks of violence are likely to recur.

What can organizations like USIP do?

USIP’s convening power could help initiate conflict resolution mechanisms. USIP’s DRC Diaspora Dialogue is an example of such an initiative. In addition, the USIP Academy could conduct appropriate capacity building exercises for government officials, implementing agencies and community leaders.  Furthermore, USIP’s recent “Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Options Tabletop Exercise” shows USIP’s ability to assist with, and plan for, complex emergencies. This assistance could be further implemented in the training of peace keepers and other personnel that could benefit from USIP’s expertise. The DRC has faced a complex and multifaceted emergency for decades. Finally, through the combination of USIP’s various, the Institute has the ability to engage on multiple fronts with both the central government and local communities. The diverse skill sets in the Institute’s Centers of Innovation could help design creative solutions in areas like: security sector reform, rule of law, media, outreach to vulnerable groups (including women, youth, and minorities), and understanding the economic foundations of the conflict.

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