The illegal exploitation of natural resources has been at the heart of conflict in the Great Lakes region of central Africa for many years.
In 1998, the armies of as many as six neighbouring countries entered the Democratic Republic of Congo, purportedly to take sides in a civil war sparked by the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
It quickly became apparent that resource plunder, not altruism, was the chief reason for this military intervention. What followed has often been described as “Africa’s First World War”, responsible for the deaths of five million people and the displacement of millions more. It is a war that has earned DRC the unenviable reputation as the site of the worst mineral-driven conflict in the world.
The Great Lakes region, like many parts of the African continent, is blessed with large natural resource endowments. These resources could be an effective catalyst for development provided that they are managed in a sustainable and transparent manner and that the revenues generated from their exploitation are used to benefit their citizens and the public good. Instead, war and instability have taken an immense toll on the economic and political development of the entire region.
While the epicentre of the mineral plunder has been in the Kivus and Orientale provinces in eastern DRC, the conflict has repercussions of more global proportions. Rare and high value minerals at the centre of the conflict have direct connections to brand name tech gadgets almost all of us rely on everyday—from smart phones and computers to gaming consoles and digital cameras.
The globalized aspects of this conflict demand responses that take both local and international dynamics into consideration. The peace and stability of DRC is not solely a problem of Central Africa. The interconnected nature of how these resources are exploited and managed across the globe requires careful coordination amongst all stakeholders involved throughout the mineral supply chain.
The conflict in the DRC is extremely complex, and likewise, PAC`s programs have evolved to address a number of interlinked issues in the region. The Great Lakes Program has four primary areas of focus:
Supporting the ICGLR Regional Certification Mechanism for Conflict Minerals
The international community has long recognized the role of mineral exploitation in conflict financing. Following an extensive research program, PAC drew on our expertise with the Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds and proposed a Regional Certification Mechanism for the states of the Great Lakes Region. The rapid adoption of this mechanism is a testament to the quality of the work, and PAC continues to engage with the governments of the ICGLR to assist them with their implementation.
Creating Conflict-Free Supply Chains of Artisanally Produced Gold
Owing to the high market price of the metal, gold is one of the most important minerals in terms of conflict financing, yet it is also at the core of the livelihoods of a great many people in the region. PAC is currently piloting a program in Orientale province with the aim of tracking gold straight from the mine site to the consumer to ensure that the gold in your jewelry and electronics is ethically produced and conflict-free.
Supporting Regional Civil Society and Natural Resource Governance
Ultimately, the goal of ending the trade in conflict minerals requires buy-in from the grassroots as well as governments. Local communities must be involved in monitoring the conditions under which minerals are extracted and traded. With a mind to this, PAC has supported the creation of a civil society platform, where NGOs can go to share expertise and recieve training in order to monitor the extractive industries for themselves.
Women, Security and Natural Resource Governance
As with most informal industries, women make up a large percentage of the workforce in artisanal mining. To date, the experiences of these women has gone largely undocumented. PAC is currently engaged in researching the gendered experience of extraction with the objective of discerning the distinct nature of women and girls’ participation in the informal mineral sector’s economy, all along the chain of custody. As well, we are working to determine how women may either benefit from or experience (further) marginalization in the sector.