The DRC's 'resources curse'
Cobalt and coltan are abundant in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But, paired with regional instability, the minerals attract militia, exploitation and violence.
Rich resources and violent opportunists
In the unstable eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, treasures like gold and tin attract opportunistic militia. The violent groups exploit people, including children, to mine for "conflict minerals." With the revenue they buy weapons to conquer more territories and perpetuate the fighting.
Protecting citizens and legal mining operations
MONUSCO, the UN's biggest and most expensive peace-keeping mission, is working to stabilize the provinces of North and South Kivu, which lie at the center of the country's violence. Security forces patrol mining villages like Nzibira, which sits at the edge of Zola Zola, a legal cassiterite mine.
Paying the human price for mobile phones
Cassiterite is just one of the minerals used in mobile phones. Half of the world's production of those minerals comes from Central Africa. The DRC's export of tin, gold and other ore has been under particular scrutiny since 2010, when laws were introduced in the United States requiring listed US companies to ensure their supply chains were free from "conflict minerals".
Proving the legality of minerals
A poster in Nzibira explains how sacks of minerals need to be properly sealed and labeled by the mine inspector so their legal origin can be proven to US firms. The system, however, has many gaps. Illicit mines can simply sell their yield on the black market or smuggle their goods into a legal mine to have them packed there.
Exploitation of children
Despite efforts by rights groups, human rights violations remain widespread in mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children like Esperance Furahaare, who was kidnapped and raped by militia when she was 14 years old, are common victims of exploitation and violence.
Mines, which are difficult to police, can also harm the environment and surrounding communities. At illegal mines, waste water runoff often makes its way into local water sources, polluting the supply.
Unclear future for laws tackling conflict minerals
US lawmakers are currently trying to advance a bill that would eliminate the 2010 reforms. Legislators argue that the Dodd-Frank Act has stifled economic development in the US and has not effectively addressed exploitation in Central Africa. While US companies must ensure their supplies are not conflict minerals, all they are expected to do is ask their suppliers, not supply proof or origin.