[T]here's no data showing that the mineral trade is the primary cause of violence in the eastern Congo. It's just not there. There are anecdotal accounts and reports on the mineral supply chains and reports on the horrific conditions in the mines. [... A]s of yet, as far as I've been able to tell, there's nothing that shows anything that:
1. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity near the mines than it does in non-mining areas of the region,
2. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity along the primary mineral supply routes,
3. that armed groups engaged in the mineral trade proportionally commit more acts of violence than those not engaged in the mineral trade,
4. or that those groups that control more mines or make more money from mining engage in proportionally higher levels of violence than those who control fewer mines and make less money.
This doesn't mean that minerals don't matter. But the militarized mineral trade is a symptom of the disease of state failure, not the root cause of violence.
Enough is guilty of vastly understating the role of history, ethnicity, local and regional politics, and other factors in causing and sustaining war in Congo, or more accurately, war in the Kivus, since most of Congo is now in a state of quasi-peace. Prendergast should know better, and likely he does know better, but he has created a campaign that vastly oversimplifies the conflict in the Congo and ignores the fact that most gold produced in Congo is from areas at peace—not at war—which leads to the final problem with the 60 Minutes story.
Get rid of your cell phone, laptop, car, refrigerator, radio, microwave oven, MP3 player...anything with a chip capacitor in it. Let us know how that works out for you.
1. The conflict in the DRC is all about minerals.
Not quite. The war began in 1996, with three main causes: the collapse of the Zairian state after 32 years of misrule; the spillover from the Rwandan genocide with a million refugees (including perpetrators of genocide) on Congolese soil; and local conflicts over land, citizenship and power. There was a lot of money made from looting tin and gold stocks in the Kivus in 1996/7, and some multinationals (Lundin, AMF, De Beers) made deals with the rebels before they got to Kinshasa, but there is little indication that this was a main motivation for the war.
More substantial involvement in the minerals trade began with the coltan boom of 1999-2001. Now the minerals trade is the the largest money maker in the Kivusm, and many armed groups, including the Congolese army, heavily tax the minerals trade and make a fortune. But they also make money off charcoal (a $30 million dollar trade around Goma alone), fuel (the biggest import commodity) and other trade.
Also, there are many areas where there are rebel groups but few minerals - for example, the Lord's Resistance Army, that massacred over 300 people in December, does not appear to be exploiting the mineral trade. Laurent Nkunda's CNDP, possibly the strongest militia in the region until 2009, only controlled one mine, although they had interests in many trading companies in Goma for which they provided protection.
So yes, mining is a key element in the conflict and has served to prolong the fighting and motivate some of the actors. But the violence is a result of a many things and to reduce it to mining would be simplistic.
2. Coltan, a key ingredient for cell phones, is the main mineral traded in the Congo
Nope. Coltan does contain tantalum, which is a crucial ingredient for cell phones. Coltan exports peaked in 2000 due to a bubble in the market, but collapsed and little coltan was exported between 2002-2007. Tin is still king: In 2009, according to Congolese government figures, 520 tons of coltan were exported from the Kivus and around twenty times as much tin.
[Caveat: because a lot of coltan gets exported as tin (it's twice as valuable, so its cheaper to export it as tin), we may not have very accurate figures. Also, recently coltan prices have been climbing up again after several big mines elsewhere in the world suspended operations.]
It's also important to note that over 80% of the world's tantalum comes from Australia, Brazil and Canada, according to the US Geological Survey.
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