Blog, 2 March, 2009
I am back home in Indiana. In the first two days here Iâ€™ve had four significant opportunities to share about the experiences and events of the Congo! There are about eight other engagements that are beginning to fall into place for the next five months already, so if you have interest in scheduling a single speaking engagement (or a cluster of events), please email me at email@example.com
or call 260-982-2971. But I want to report some on our last week in the DRC.
About ten days ago we made plans to travel to Walikale, over the mountains to the west of Goma. It was the site of the joint military operation against the Hutu FDLR militia by the DRC and Rwanda troops. It is also the staging ground for two-day walking treks out to the Bisie mine, probably one of the richest deposits of cassiterite and coltan in the DRC. It is also the location of some of the poorest people in the Congo! The UN flight we were to go on was cancelled and our tight schedule did not allow going a week later, so we missed that trip. :-(
The following Monday we visited the ecumenical Bethesda Hospital and met two families with members who had been badly burned in an attack on their village. The joint DRC/Rwandan military operation had passed through their area targeting Hutu FDLR militia. The FDLR had circled back to the village and accused the villagers of being collaborators. The militia killed ten civilians and set fire to at least two homes. Two members in each of two families had severe burns over their bodies. Neighbors carried them to a UN camp and they were transported about 100 kilometers to this hospital.
In another ward we visited two people from another village only 60 kilometers away. In an area controlled by DRC military and former CNDP rebel troops, armed soldiers had approached homes asking villagers for money. Because they had none, the soldiers shot them, only wounding them. So, the fighting may be winding down, but all is not back to normal yet!
I caught a moto ride to the border just hours after the big propaganda rally that sent off the Rwandan troops after one month of the joint operation in the DRC against the FDLR. A second convoy must have crossed the day I caught the bus to Kigali for my flight because there were a dozen troop carriers gathered in Gesenyi as the bus drove out of town. Citizens of the DRC had been quite concerned that this operation might be a front for the Rwandan troops to enter and stay again, but that does not seem to be in the plan.
Two days earlier two of us CPTers had visited the director of Mining Processing Congo (MPC). We talked lots about the contrast of the mineral wealth in their Bisie Mine and the poverty of the people. Apparently he had tried to set in motion a plan to build housing, a school, a clinic and a hydro plant for electricity that would also meet the needs of the people in that area. It never happened as the mine was taken over by Col Sammy of the 85th regiment of the DRC military, but not under the control of the government! Sammy was taking in $500,000 a month, so was reluctant to leave.
With MPC we explored what a â€śFair Trade Mineralsâ€ť certification process would look like. At this point the director is ready to buy the minerals even if they are still connected to this illegal mining operation, but his board of directors is holding the line! He said that in the midst of the joint operation Col Sammy had been in Goma, he thought to remove him from the mother lode, but he went back to Walikale, apparently having paid off the right people!
The UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon was to be in Goma on the Saturday after I left. The director of the UN Development Program had told us that the UN had played an integral role with the diamond trade in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but she suspected that the big UN countries had nixed any such action here with this rich country. Unless something is done to bring the mineral wealth under the control of the country with benefits for the citizens, conflict will return with a fury.
As consumers of computers, cell phones, play stations, etc and as investors in companies that extract the mineral wealth from countries like the DRC, each of you can play a very important role in developing accountability of mining companies and the DRC government by being clear that you will invest and buy products only if the highest labor, environmental and transparency standards can be guaranteed for the company and the products. Much like Fair Trade coffee or certified forest products began to impact those markets, Fair Trade Minerals can begin to change the way in which mineral wealth is extracted from the Congo! Just begin to ask some questions of your product companies.
Thank you for your interest in this work of CPT! Come join us next time!
Blessings of peace to you!