"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


minerals week: funding & violence in the kivus

One of the reasons I'm not convinced that the recently signed-into-law conflict minerals provisions of the U.S. financial reform legislation will make much of a difference has to do with the nature of violence and the way violence is funded in the region.

As I understand it, the advocates claim that effect of this legislation will cut off major sources of revenue for the various armed groups operating in the Kivu provinces and Ituri district. The logic goes something like this:
  • Monitoring supply chains and pushing companies to avoid using conflict minerals will cut armed groups off from their primary sources of revenue.
  • Without the revenue gained from mineral extraction and/or taxing the mineral trade, armed groups will not be able to purchase weapons, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to continue fighting.
  • The effects of the lack of revenue will eventually be a factor that forces the armed groups to the negotiating table, where a peace process can be worked out.
If I'm incorrect on the basic logic of the argument, please explain where I've got it wrong.

I believe this logic is flawed for a number of reasons. Taking it point-by-point:
  • The mineral trade is not the only source of revenue for rebels in the Kivus. There is solid data to suggest that the CNDP (which has theoretically integrated its troops into the national army and become a political party, but still maintains a parallel administration in North Kivu) derives about 15% of its revenue from the mineral trade. The FDLR gets up to 75% of its revenue from minerals, but that mostly comes from gold, which is completely unregulated and almost untraceable. The 85th brigade of the Congolese national army, the FARDC, gets as much as 95% of its revenue from the mineral trade.*
  • The conflict minerals legislation will not leave the most significant rebel groups destitute. This is key. Elizabeth Allen provided an excellent discussion of this issue a few months back. As she notes, alternative revenue sources will continue to fund the rebels' activity. The FDLR and CNDP, along with some of the Mai Mai groups (which originated as local defense militias), derive revenue from taxing trade and transport through the areas they control, the timber industry, charcoal production, and interests in plantations and cattle ranches. The CNDP and some Mai Mai militias also get some backing from prominent businessmen in the region. All of the armed groups in the region are likely to find other means by which they can support their activities. Without functioning public security institutions, no one can stop them.
  • Even if they lose all funding, armed groups are unlikely to stop terrorizing the population. It's unfortunate but true that armed groups in the Kivus don't necessarily need to buy weapons or ammunition in order to attack the population. They don't necessarily need the revenue from the mineral trade to keep buying weapons, either. The region is super-saturated with small arms. They are cheap and readily available. And the patterns by which violence happens in the Kivus do not always involve guns. Many rapes are committed by groups of men who attack young girls and women as they are on the way to work their fields, or while they're fetching the day's water. This type of violence is likely to continue whether or not the rebels are cut off from their funding stream. Why? Because there's no one to prevent them from doing so.
  • What about the army? Of the Kivu's armed groups, the FARDC's 85th brigade is by far the most dependent on the mineral trade. It is also responsible for a large number of human rights violations. Its soldiers will not be demobilized even if the brigade loses its primary source of income. So what will they do to support themselves? It's very likely that they will become more likely to prey upon the population, which they will now need for all of their sustenance. The 85th brigade of the FARDC is not the only unit that generally fails to act in the interest of the population, but the consequences of a lost revenue stream in the absence of functioning institutions is likely to make for much more violence, especially in the short term.
  • Negotiations are unlikely. Even assuming that the CNDP threat is finally in decline, it's very unclear why anyone thinks the FDLR will ever come to a negotiating table. The FDLR is led by people who participated in the Rwandan genocide. While some fighters have been persuaded to enter the DDRRR process, the hard-core elements of the organization have no interest in negotiating, being integrated into the armed forces, or taking any actions that they perceive might have the effect of forcing them to face justice in Rwanda. It's not at all clear with whom the 85th brigade would negotiate, or how they can possibly be brought under command and control structures when the DRC's government can't regularly pay its soldiers a reasonable salary on a predictable basis.
I believe that the advocates on this issue are operating based on a flawed understanding not only of the nature of violence in the Kivus, but also of the logic that motivates the fighters. Again from Elizabeth Allen:
...many actors fighting in eastern Congo are motivated by ideological concerns that compete with, and oftentimes supersede, economic motivations...
We'll turn to a discussion of these ideological motivations and of the region's history tomorrow. If you're following this issue, you should definitely read Jason Stearns' defense of the legislation.

*UPDATE: This is why I shouldn't write posts late at night. As Jason points out in the comments, the 85th disbanded in late 2009 and has been replaced by the 1st, which includes many ex-CNDP. Sorry for the failure to update.


Anonymous Harrison Mitchell said...

Great post Laura, I think this sums up nicely our thinking on the issue as well.

One further thought - the legislation will largely affect already formal actors. Semi-formal actors (what we call shadow economy) will have to choose between informal and formal routes.

Current smuggling estimates are between 10-20% of the official trade in the 3T minerals. Gold is 90% or more and there is zero chance of regulating the gold trade at the moment.

Just as it will be interesting to see whether formal companies choose to stay engaged or pull out (after assessing the risk), it will be interesting to note what effect the legislation has on the informal trade in the coming months.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 2:29:00 AM

Anonymous Dave Algoso said...

Laura, I agree with you that this legislation is not a complete solution, but I'm not convinced that it will have as little impact as you say.

I think you set up a straw man with the second bullet of the advocates' logic: "Without the revenue gained from mineral extraction and/or taxing the mineral trade, armed groups will not be able to purchase weapons, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to continue fighting."

I would just make a simple edit: "armed groups will not be able to purchase as many weapons" -- and maybe I'm quibbling, but this weakens your counterargument. Unless I'm mistaken, you concede that the legislation will have some impact on the groups' finances. A small impact maybe, but an impact nonetheless. Sure, they'll still have other funds for purchasing weapons, but they'll have less. They'll have to pursue financing options that they chose to forgo because the minerals trade was more efficient. So this legislation will push them into less efficient funding options, leading to less funding.

The impact of this reduced funding on their willingness to fight depends on the mix of ideological and economic motivations. Obviously, this varies by armed group and even by individual. You know Congo better than I do, so I'm looking forward to your future comments on the ideological motivations.

Speaking generally though, conflicts have elements of both motivations. So if you reduce the economic motivation, doesn't that reduce the overall motivation? And if that reduced motivation aids DDR efforts that peel away some of the fighters, doesn't that leave the hard-core elements more isolated with even less capacity? Maybe they still won't negotiate, but it certainly makes it harder to fight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 3:55:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks, Harrison. You know more about this than I do, of course. The issue of the informal trade, especially in gold, is one that hasn't been well dealt with by the advocates or the legislators.

Dave, that's a very valid point. One of my questions: do they need weapons to fight? A group of men can overpower young girls whether they have guns, machetes, or just their bare hands. Perhaps I'm overly cynical on this point, but I do think the rebels will be able to continue to buy weapons, etc. using other revenue streams, and take from the population whatever else they need/want.

More on the motivation issue tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 4:15:00 AM

Anonymous bugesera said...

Laura, you are right about the limited effect of this law. It's just another way of making consummers feel good.
As of the FDLR, i think it's kigali who exagerate their strength to have an excuse to invade congo time to time and refuse to talk to anyone who oppose the regime. I doubt there are many so called genocidaires left after 15 years of hunting and killing by the RPA in Kivu. Some of their members might have took part in the rwandan genocide but let's not forget that most of their combatants are the surviving children of refugees whose parents were killed during the invasion by rwanda, and i doubt they were old enough to participate in the killing in 1994. - kigali would argue that being hutus and all, they have the genocide ideology in them anyway, but that´s kigali.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 5:18:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Bugesera, that is an important point, although I don't want to understate the fact that there are elements of the FDLR leadership who are certainly genocidaires. But, you're right; most of their combatants are far too young to have participated in the 1994 genocide (at this point, many weren't even born then, or were infants). The FDLR certainly indoctrinates all its members with a militant anti-Tutsi rhetoric, which is why Kigali is right to be concerned.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 5:34:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for spending time weighing on this issue. I tend to agree with much of your analysis.

Allen is absolutely right in diagnosing the problem, "...many actors fighting in eastern Congo are motivated by ideological concerns that compete with, and oftentimes supersede, economic motivations..."

In fact, expect for high ranking officers, the "economic motivations" argument is very weak.

But we also need to understand that he armed groups are not monolithic and have are driven by different by a wide range of reasons--some of which need in-depth analysis. For instance, if it is true that the majority f soldiers in CNDP are Hutu...why would they be fighting for Laurent Nkunda, a Tutsi "nationalist?" Is it that these fighters are abducted by force? or are they promised some financial gain?

Also, with the FDLR, I think a distinction needs to be made between the EX-FAR, the interahamwe and the young recruits. The FDLR has expressed an interest in committing to dialogue? wouldn't it be a small compromise to make for the sake of peace in Kivu? This wouldn't be the first time that genocidaires are tolerated for the sake of peace?

Do you have a coherent reason why Rwanda REFUSES to negotiate with the FDLR? And why the FDLR is excluded in diplomatic talks...the Nairobi Communique?

What other solutions?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 10:08:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Anon, I'm going to try to get into some of this in tomorrow's post. Quickly:

-The CNDP soldiers who are Hutus - It's important to remember that ethnicity is a social construct. We've seen shifts in the way Kinyarwanda-speakers identify themselves in the Kivus over the last twenty years. At times, the Hutus and Tutsis haven't gotten along. At others, they've found it convenient to identify as "Rwandaphones" due to perceived threats from each other. As you probably know, there's a lot of anger and hatred of all the Rwandaphones on the part of other Congolese in the region. I'd argue that's the reason most of the Hutus who joined the CNDP did so. If you're being threatened, why would you not work with the Tutsis who are also being threatened for similar reasons?
-FDLR - I agree that the distinction within the group has to be made. It's far easier to convince some of the younger guys to disarm, return to Rwanda, etc. Why won't Rwanda negotiate with the FDLR? For the same reason that George W. Bush wouldn't negotiate with Hamas. The RPF perceives the FDLR as an existential threat that cannot be reasoned with. And, of course, there's an argument to be made that the RPF benefits from having an enemy in the Kivus.
-Other solutions: security sector reform should be the top priority. Everything else depends on it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 2:09:00 PM

Anonymous Dave Algoso said...

No, they don't need weapons to fight. But they sure help.

Capacity to commit violence isn't binary (commit or not commit). There's a continuum. I'm thinking that if a policy pushes a violent group further down that continuum, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 12:10:00 AM

Blogger bugesera said...

Good point laura,
but why would rwanda refuses to talk with the FDLR?
my belief is they did talk( at least with a fraction of them), which explain why the fdlr haven't done anything in rwanda since a long time.

if you look at the evolution of the FDLR since 1995, you see that the organisation ( RDR, ALIR, FDLR) was no longer a treat to rwanda since a long time.
The FDLR and its precedent never intended to fight in congo, but in rwanda, what they did through 1995 -99, and they were military defeated.
After their defeat, their leadership desintegrated. The political leaders moved to europe or america, the military leaders returned to rwanda with a large number of combatants.Those who remained in Kivu were desorganised groups of young people that could only struggle to survive on a daily basis, but a majority of them did return to rwanda. Those who returned to rwanda were either emprisonned, or send back to congo to fight in different rwanda sponsored groups( CNDP for example)

So all this to say that all the fighting groups in kivus are mostly rwandan or ugandan creations, or resulting in the congolese government inability to establish its control over its own troops.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:21:00 AM

Blogger Jason Stearns said...

FYI - Unless something happened in the past few months, the 85th brigade was forced to leave Bisie and disband in early 2009 during Umoja Wetu. It was replaced by the 1st brigade, led by ex-CNDP commanders.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:55:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Yeah, brain freeze on that one. Oops.

Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:37:00 AM


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