THE PRICE OF PRECIOUS

Miners eat lunch from a communal bowl in the mining town of Pluto. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Miners eat lunch from a communal bowl in the mining town of Pluto. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

The eastern Congo is a landscape of lowland forests, fertile savannahs, chain lakes, and plentiful minerals. It is also a place where civil war rages—despite a 2009 peace accord—in a repeating nightmare of massacres, rapes, conscription of child soldiers, and plundered national parks. In February 2012, the horrific violence erupted anew as the Congolese army launched an attack against a notoriously brutal rebel group led by Bosco Ntaganda a warlord indicted by the International Criminal Court, setting off a multi-fronted battle for territory, money, and power. In 2013, the number of refugees trying to escape the violence in the DRC is believed to be 2 million—the highest level in three years. And yet the latest conflict has received little international attention.

What fuels the violence? Minerals. The North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Congo have high concentrations of the tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold that are essential to the manufacture of the cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, and gaming systems that the whole world desires.  In the early 2000’s, as mineral prices soared, armed groups including the armies of Rwanda and Uganda quickly realized they could profit from their extraction. And so the region has become a grim crossroads for roving rebels seeking minerals and revenge. The mines are almost exclusively under the control of various armed groups—the Hutu and Tutsi paramilitaries, the Mai-Mai fighters, and a brand new militia called M23—each descending on local villages in a macabre rotation, one after another, month after month, in a wave of mayhem. As anthropologist Stephen Jackson has noted, “Minerals both finance violence and provide an incentive for it.”

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