According to Remy Kasindi, Director of Research at the Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in Central Africa (a think tank based in Bukavu) terrorist organisations have infiltrated the illicit mineral networks in the region.
Kasindi explained that terror groups such as al-Shabaab and the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) have joined hands in smuggling minerals from North Kivu. ADF-NALU participates in illegal gold mining, timber smuggling and precious metal mining in DRC.In 2013, the DR Congo government accused Somali mercenaries connected to al-Shabaab of joining ADF-NALU in North Kivu province to destabilise the country.
Al-Shabaab’s allegiance to larger international terror groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda means its expansion into the DRC poses a significant threat.
The increase in large-scale smuggling and laundering of natural resources by organised criminal and terror groups is inextricably linked to conflict in the region.
Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme reported that: “Every year, minerals, timber, charcoal and wildlife products such as ivory, valued between US$0.7 and 1.3 billion annually, are exploited and smuggled illegally out of the conflict zones and surrounding areas of the eastern DRC.”
It further explains that: “Around 98% of the net profit from these illicit deals goes to transnational organised criminal and terror networks operating in and outside DRC. In contrast, indigenous armed groups retain only around 2%.”
In January this year, al-Shabaab attacked a Kenya Defence Forces camp in El Adde, Somalia. The move points to a change of tactics, and does the group pose a clear indication of the continued threat. Their involvement in mineral smuggling in the DRC will likely ensure that it remains sufficiently resourced to keep funding its activities, despite efforts by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations to cut off channels for financing.
The terror group has been coming under intense pressure in Somalia, and al-Shabaab leaders have been looking for new ways to target the states engaged in Somalia’s counter-terrorism efforts. The AMISOM military component is comprised of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia, and al-Shabaab might try to destabilise Burundi and Uganda, given its presence in the neighbouring eastern DRC.The growth of Islam in the region has begun to fuel fears of radicalisation among local DRC communities.
According to the 2014 Journal of International Organisations Studies, 28 of the 44 mosques (63%) in the Medina region of eastern DRC were erected between 2005 and 2012. Most of these mosques are funded by Pakistan, a country that has been labelled as an exporter of terrorism. Pakistan has also allegedly been involved in the ‘guns for gold’ trade and mineral smuggling via the presence of its peacekeepers in the eastern DRC.
The use of African resources in global conflicts is not new. “The brass casings of allied shells fired at the battles of Passchendaele and the Somme during the First World War were 75% Congolese copper all of which led to the massive deaths on the Western Front,’”reports the BBC.
Similarly, during World War II, the uranium for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from a mine in southeast Congo.”
It is time for the exploitation of DRC minerals by terrorists and illicit networks to be put to a halt; not only to curb the role of these resources in fuelling and financing conflict – but also to ensure that these resources generate much-needed revenue to promote development. Global cooperation and collective action, as envisaged by the African Mining Vision, is needed now more than ever.
ISS Nairobi – Kenya