Editor's Note: This blog was written by Holly Dranginis and Sasha Lezhnev and originally appeared on ThinkProgress.
The armed conflict in eastern Congo that has killed over 5.4 million people is financed largely by trading minerals used in an array of common consumer products around the world, from electronics to jewelry. Recent critiques by the Cato Institute and in the Washington Post have questioned whether current local and international initiatives to combat the problem are causing more harm than good. Last month, the Enough Project’s U.S. and Congo-based teams visited mining communities in eastern Congo to get an updated assessment on conflict minerals.
To help you better understand what's at stake, we've provided 9 things you need to know about conflict minerals on ThinkProgress. Here are just a few:
Conflict minerals reforms and military pressure are reducing the power of armed groups. Conflict minerals reforms have made it less profitable for armed groups to mine tin, tungsten, and tantalum (the “3T” minerals), and military operations also have had a major impact on them. Several of the most significant armed groups that were also involved in the conflict minerals trade have decreased significantly in size or have disappeared. In contrast to the situation over the past two decades, there is no longer a major Rwanda-backed militia in eastern Congo. Another major threat, the FDLR armed group, is now one-quarter of its size from five years ago. Several other militias such as Nyatura and Mai Mai Morgan are severely weakened. But this is a long-term process, and the war is not completely over. Other remaining armed groups must be the targets of peace-building efforts.
Conflict gold is still a problem. Congo’s artisanally-mined gold continues to drive violence against civilians. While security at 3T mines is improving, armed groups are still illegally mining and smuggling millions of dollars’ worth of gold. Once again, the global markets that accept that gold are complicit. Both ends of the pipeline need to be addressed. Artisanal gold miners should have access to a formal market that would improve working conditions and help prevent their exploitation. On the other side of the pipeline, companies that use gold in their products can play a positive role by cleaning up their supply chains and supporting a legal, peaceful gold trade in Congo. Some jewelry companies have begun to take positive action by sourcing conflict-free gold and contributing to livelihood projects.
Photo: Miners at the Nzibira tin mine in South Kivu, eastern Congo (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)