A Congolese general who recently defected from the army and is believed to be behind the country's most recent rebellion is apparently bankrolling the operation with a war chest he amassed while controlling Congo's lucrative mines, according to an international watchdog group.
In a report published Thursday, London-based Global Witness makes the link between the country's illicit mining trade and its history of conflict.
It stresses that the delay in Washington in implementing the two-year-old Dodd-Frank Act _ which includes a provision requiring U.S. companies to carry out due diligence in order to avoid the use of so-called "conflict minerals" from Congo _ risks undermining efforts to clean up the mining sector in Congo.
A case-in-point is ex-Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda, who fled into the bush last month with hundreds of his men. His men have regrouped and started a new rebellion in the Masisi and Rutshuru districts of eastern Congo, causing thousands of people to flee.
Nicknamed the Terminator, Ntaganda is a former warlord accused of atrocities who agreed along with his fighters to join the army as part of a 2009 peace deal. The Global Witness report reveals how Ntaganda used his position inside the military to control mines producing cassiterite and tin in eastern Congo, building a business empire.
He deployed his former fighters _ now soldiers in the regular army _ to key mining areas in the mineral-rich provinces of North and South Kivu. Miners in the Masisi territory of North Kivu told the rights group this March that the military units forced them to hand over one day's worth of minerals each week. The minerals are then sold for profit, benefiting Ntaganda and his men, the report alleged.
In another case, Col. Innocent Habarugira, who was a commander under Ntaganda in the rebel National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, was forcing residents to dig for him at a cassiterite mine in Mpati, North Kivu. The colonel was paying them $2 per kilogram less than the market price, justifying it as a fee for "security" provided by him and his soldiers.
Ntaganda, says the report, funneled minerals controlled by his men to the provincial capital of Goma, from where he ran a profitable smuggling operation, ferrying the minerals across the border into Rwanda. They are sold onward to smelters in Asia, eventually making their way into electronics products made by major American and European companies.
The United Nations Group of Experts has extensively documented this trade, and estimated in a report published last year that Ntaganda was earning $15,000 a week. His relapse into insurgency now has consequences for Congo, as well as the region, as refugees displaced by the recent fighting flow across the porous border into both Rwanda and Uganda.
"Insurrections, new or long-standing, always require money," the report says. "And it is almost certain that Ntaganda's activities are being financed through the funds he has been allowed to amass over many years via the mineral trade."
Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in July 2010, acted as a major catalyst for change in Congo because it required American companies using tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold to reveal their supply chains in an effort to avoid using minerals that benefit armed groups in Congo. The passage of the act spurred electronics companies to begin efforts to analyze their supply chains, with several publishing their suppliers on their websites for transparency.
However, the law has not been fully implemented because the rules on how the law should be applied have not yet been drafted by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law required the SEC to publish the rules by April 2011, and the regulator is now over a year late as it faces a possible lawsuit from the Chamber of Commerce.
"When the law was passed, it was a huge breakthrough on the debate regarding conflict minerals ... it had a catalytic effect," said Mike Davis, a conflict resources expert at London-based Global Witness and one of the authors of the report. "It's like the U.S. has driven a bus into the middle of this debate, saying, 'We will take care of this issue. Everyone climb on board!' And then refused to move the bus forward."