Congo Update Spring 2018

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo shows that conflict is never isolated, and its consequences are far from linear. The conflict is widely cited as the deadliest since World War II and it has been estimated that at the peak of the violence, over 5 million lives were lost between 1994 and 2003. While there are entire books and informative articles (some are included below) that describe the conflict’s roots and history, it is particularly relevant today to discuss minerals, sanctions, and the upcoming election in the DRC to illustrate some of the dynamics that perpetuate and could possibly alleviate some of the conflict elements.

While ranked 176 in the Human Development Index [1], the country is rich in minerals including the conflict minerals 3Ts (tin, tantalum, and tungsten) and gold [2]. These valued minerals are used in supply chains that ultimately contribute to products such as laptops and cell phones, yet their presence perpetuates the struggle for control and violence. The contrast between the potential wealth and development continues as experts estimate that there are around 24 trillion dollars in untapped mineral resources yet the entire economy of the DRC totals at only around 41 billion dollars [3]. The dissonance can be attributed to the lack of accountability from the mining companies and as well as the inextricable links between President Kabila (who took office in 2001) and the companies.

Other states are aware of the lack of company accountability and government contributions to the conflict. In 2010, the United States adopted legislation designed to reduce the purchase of conflict minerals to limit armed groups’ incomes and their ability to terrorize local populations. However, the sanctions had unintended consequences as miners lost work, which made enlisting in one of the country’s 70 armed groups more appealing [4]. In 2016 and 2017, the EU and US imposed sanctions that were targeted at individual officials in attempt to make the sanctions more effective and aimed at harmful networks instead of the entire country [5].

In a more direct attempt to reduce conflict, mediations and negotiations were conducted to break the cycle of violence. One of the more recent and notable attempts at conflict resolution was conducted in 2016 by the Congolese Catholic Church who mediated the Saint Sylvester Agreement. In 2016, Angola and the Republic of Congo convinced President Kabila to enter into the mediation, and the agreement produced was ultimately an internal Congolese document (which has its benefits, but the lack of international actors involved limited the leverage that could be used when implementing the agreement). The Saint Sylvester Agreement was signed on December 31, 2016 and included provisions regarding term limits as well as the stipulation that President Kabila would leave office after the scheduled 2017 elections. However, in 2017, the government created deterrents and the election was pushed back to its current deadline of December 23, 2018.

While the minerals, sanctions, and elections are important to consider when assessing whether there will be any change in the DRC’s political arena, the extensive history of the conflict and the community based organizations involved in influencing change are essential to examine as well. The elections are scheduled for the end of 2018, and their presence or absence will be an important precedent for the country.

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