Violence in Congo as Mining Companies Seek to Increase Production

On December 8th, 15 UN peacekeepers were killed and 40 others injured in an attack by militants in the east end of the country. The media is reporting that it is the deadliest attack upon peacekeepers in nearly a quarter-century. This comes on the heels of another attack in the North Kivu region where militants attacked a UN base killing five Congolese soldiers.

The attacks were carried out by a group called the Allied Democratic Forces. They’re said to have originated with groups in neighbouring Uganda. Their attacks have killed several hundred people over the last three years.

Efforts have been made to link the militants to Al Qaeda and the Shabab, Islamic extremists. The UN acknowledges that the group is mostly made up of Muslims, but Islam is not their motivating force. Reports claim that they’re driven by a profit motive that has specifically targeted the mining industry.

In truth, the group operates a defacto state made up of camps hidden in the jungles. In their society, there is “an internal security service, a prison, health clinics, and an orphanage” as well as schools for boys and girls.[1]

Reliable information on the group is difficult to find. Many suggest that their actions are an act of resistance to foreign companies exploiting the natural resources of the country.

In 2009, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, including the world’s largest reserves of coltan and significant quantities of the world’s cobalt.[2]

The company Glencore said that it was going to double production of cobalt, the main component in batteries, in preparation for the rise in electric cars. Their main source for the mineral is a mine in the Congo, Katanga. They said they’re going to increase output to over 30,000 tons per year by 2019. If successful it will leave them with 40% of the world’s cobalt supplies.

The capitalist mining industry is having a great negative effect on the population. [3] Currently there is a food shortage, food production in the country has dropped significantly. The poverty in the country has shifted labour resources from farming to mining, leaving much of the farmland unused. This is particularly disheartening as the land in the Congo is quite fertile. “The richly fertile soil (especially that in the eastern highlands which is volcanic in origin) could produce enough food to feed half of Africa, but the country is so poor that at present its people do not produce enough food to feed themselves”. [4]

Perhaps the most depressing of all is the child labour that is utilized in the country. The UN estimates that there are 168 million child labourers in the world. The majority of them are in Africa where they are used to mine cobalt. UNICEF estimates that up to 40,000 children are used in cobalt mines in the Congo alone. A single shift can last up to 24 hours underground paying out only $2 a day, often half that. The labourers can be as young as seven years old.[5]