DR Congo’s perfect storm
A leaked White House memo, which outlines the suspension of a portion of the Dodd-Frank rule on ‘conflict minerals’, will exacerbate already high levels of violence in DR Congo. US President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will relieve companies for at least the next two years from demonstrating to US authorities that the minerals they use have been sourced ethically. The measure will particularly affect firms that manufacture products containing tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold sourced from DR Congo. These four ‘conflict minerals’ covered by the Dodd-Frank Act, which are mostly found in the eastern Kivu provinces, are directly linked to widespread violence and human rights abuses in these regions.
The order means that mineral rich areas that were previously less lucrative because of the ban on conflict minerals will once again be able to increase production and supply US companies. The suspension of the law will therefore provide armed groups in the eastern Kivu provinces with an extra incentive to fight for control of the region’s mineral wealth. For example, armed groups such as the FDLR and Mai Mai Charles continue to exploit resources, including gold and tin, in North and South Kivu to finance their operations. These armed militias will have another reason to ramp up their illegal operations as lifting the ban will suddenly make it easier to export minerals.
Armed factions in DR Congo are known to use rape, genital mutilation and sexual slavery as a means to intimidate local communities and force them to work in the mines under their control. While the memo called for a plan to be created in order to address concerns over human rights violation and the funding of armed groups, any alternative is highly unlikely to be effective. We therefore expect human rights violation to worsen considerably when the draft memo is signed.
The memo comes at a time of great instability in DR Congo. Insecurity in many parts of the country, including the Kivu provinces, has significantly deteriorated against the background of high-running tensions over the delayed general election. The eastern provinces have also seen the M23 rebellion re-emerge since November 2016; violent incursions have increased in January 2017 and we expect them to worsen.
Electoral tensions have not only exacerbated violence in already conflict-prone areas, such as the Kivus, many traditionally peaceful parts of the country − including the Kasai provinces – have descended into lawlessness due to the absence of security forces. Indeed, police have been redeployed to major urban centres – including Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma – in an effort to clamp down on anti-government protests, leaving a security vacuum in many other parts of the country.
The suspension of the ban is the latest in a series of events that have combined to brew up a ‘perfect storm’ that has the potential to tip an already unstable country over the brink.
Written by Anaïs De Meulder, Africa Analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft