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Lessons Learned from Addressing Conflict Minerals with a Supply Chain Strategy
As a result of civil war, ethnic tensions, and a long history of exploitation, the DR Congo is currently embroiled in a deadly conflict, with violence claiming the lives of approximately 45,000 Congolese civilians each month, half of whom are children. As of 2008, mining and mineral production account for approximately 13.4% of the DR Congo GDP. Rebel groups, such as the FDLR, CNDP, Mai Mai and various other militias compete for control over the mineral wealth using brutal tactics, including mutilation and sexual violence.
The rebel forces use vicious methods to enslave the citizens into working in the mines offering barely enough resources for the workers to survive, as well as confiscating their land and supplies. The DR Congo has a vast mineral wealth largely comprised of its tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold deposits and it is precisely the fight for control of these mineral mines that have led to the atrocities currently occurring in the region.
The mined mineral providing the largest funding to militia groups is tin, also known by its mineral ore name cassiterite. With 70% of the cassiterite from the North Kivu region--originating from the Bisie mine-- it is the biggest cassiterite mine in the country. As of October 2010, the cassiterite originating from the DRC constituted approximately 4% of global production and in 2008 contributed an estimated US$114 million to armed rebel groups.
Columbite-tantalite (also known as coltan), a mineral ore used in the production of tantalum, also provides a vital revenue stream to rebel groups operating in the area. This mineral is used in the manufacturing of capacitors in circuit boards, as it is highly heat resistant and can carry high electrical charges. The Congo’s coltan exports account for approximately 20% annual global production and contributed an estimated US$11.8 million to armed groups in 2008. This mineral is vital in the production of everyday electronics such as cell phones and laptops.
The final of the “Three T’s” is tungsten, a product of the mineral ore Wolframite. Two mines that are important to note are the Ishenge and Kamole mines which are particularly important, as due to their proximity to the Rwandan boarder, they are particularly vulnerable to smuggling. As of 2008, DR Congo was the fifth largest producer of tungsten contributing 2-4 percent of the global supply, which contributed an estimated US$ 7.3 million to armed rebel groups.
Gold, while the smallest conflict mineral by volume, contributed approximately US$ 50 million to rebel groups in 2008, making it second to tin in terms of profitability for militia groups. The value of gold relative to its small weight makes this mineral particularly susceptible to smuggling. While incredibly valuable to the jewelry industry, the mineral also contributes to the production of electronics in the form of conductors and edge connectors on motherboards.