DRC: Curse of the Gold

Rebels in the eastern parts of the vast central African country, funded by the invisible hand of Western countries that have companies holding on to highly lucrative mining concessions in the Katanga province, continue to destabilise the region ahead of the election in an effort to split mineral-rich regions from the rest of the country. The DRC is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, with vast deposits of minerals ranging from diamonds, platinum, gold to uranium. The exploration of mineral deposits has been disrupted by fighting since 1997, and the Congolese people continue to pay a price for the wealth that even they have not had a share of. The United Nations Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently published a report, titled “The Curse of Gold”, in which it said gold deposits have catalysed the conflict in the north-east Ituri district, where hostilities have failed to cease since the war to depose Mobutu Sese Seko’s government broke out in 1997. Ironically, countries like Uganda without significant mining activity have emerged as major exporters of gold and other minerals extracted from the DRC. Most of the gold from the Congo’s trouble spots is sent to Uganda, and the country is reported to have become a significant exporter of gold overnight. Uganda exported gold worth US$61 million in 2005, a big leap from the amount it was exporting in 1998 at the beginning of the war. The government is now exporting almost 10 times as much gold as it was exporting at the beginning of the war, and some importers from Switzerland have blacklisted Ugandan gold. Despite the general air of peace that seems to cover the greater part of the DRC, massacres, arrests, torture, forced labour and summary executions by armed militias continue in the mineral-rich regions as the armed groups continue to use gold extracted from mines to fund the insurgency. The HRW report said more than 2 000 civilians were killed in Ituri’s mineral-rich Mongbwalu settlement between 2002 and 2003 in fights over mines by armed Hema and Lendu militias. The area is reported to have changed hands 10 times within the space of a year, displacing thousands of civilians in the process.

March 2006
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