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Boom Town: What happened when Wall Street reform came to Congo’s frontier mining towns

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Boom Town: What happened when Wall Street reform came to Congo’s frontier mining towns

Posted by Holly Dranginis on February 12, 2016

Boom Town: What happened when Wall Street reform came to Congo’s frontier mining towns

Editor's Note – This piece has been cross-posted from

She never wanted to be a miner. Daphrose grew up in the rainforest, where Congo’s mountain gorillas are protected from hunters by an elite group of park rangers. When she was a teenager, Daphrose had no such protection against armed rebels, who terrorized her community. It was 2004 and her town was under siege. Attacks in the area by an array of militias targeted civilians and forced the shuttering of local aid efforts. She and her family were forced to flee.
Daphrose didn’t know at the time that this kind of violence was erupting all over the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), an extension of the armed conflict that began in the mid-1990s. When she first sought refuge in the mining town of Rubaya, she lived in a United Nations displaced persons camp. But Rubaya wasn’t the safe haven she was looking for.
“Rubaya quickly became too dangerous to stay in,” Daphrose told me early one morning near the town’s busy market. “I’d have to flee now and then because of the war. The CNDP and the national army were fighting.” The CNDP was a Rwanda-backed rebel militia notorious for occupying mining territories and brutalizing civilians. Today, its former leader Bosco Ntaganda is facing charges in The Hague for war crimes including systematic rape and slavery.

In the early 2000s, violence in eastern Congo followed a pattern: where there were lucrative minerals in the earth, armed groups flocked, sometimes invading from across a nearby border. In the 2004 Human Rights Watch essay, “Engine of War,” the authors Arvind Ganesan and Alex Vines write about complex international networks of illicit mining linked to Congo’s then-raging armed conflict. Alongside the essay’s text appears a photo of a boy, with the caption, “At the Rubaya Sunday market miners sell a highly lucrative powder called coltan, which is used by U.S., European, and Canadian manufacturers of chips for cellular phones and computers.”
Recognizing this link between warfare and a shadowy trade in minerals, advocacy groups and policymakers launched an effort to decouple American business from Congo’s deadly violence, in hopes of promoting peace.
In July, I went to eastern Congo — specifically to Rubaya — to talk to people there, to hear what they thought about the impact of this U.S. regulation. I wanted to know what life was like in their communities before Section 1502, and what it’s like now. If they experienced change, what caused it? I wanted to know not only what they observed of minerals reform, but how they felt about it, what visions they had for Congo’s future, and what they thought were the best ways to make those hopes a reality.


Boom Town

Photo: Rubaya town, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Holly Dranginis / Enough Project