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.