The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Blood Minerals for the Big Corporations

Apr 22, 2024

This article is translated from the March 22, issue #2903 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the Trotskyist group of that name in France.

In North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seven million people have had to leave their towns and flee ever further afield. War has raged unabated in this region for thirty years. The conflict has intensified in recent months, pitting the Congolese army against the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group.

France bears a crushing responsibility for the genesis of this interminable war. In 1994, after supporting and arming the genocidal Rwandan government, the French army protected the escape of the Hutu militias into Congo, after they had just massacred 800,000 Tutsis. These militias took control of the refugee camps and attacked the local Tutsi population, sparking the creation of self-defense groups.

These were the beginnings of the two Congo wars. In 1996, the Rwandan army, allied to the Ugandan army, entered the country, marched on the capital Kinshasa and overthrew the dictator Mobutu. Two years later, the new dictator of Congo, Laurent Désiré Kabila, changed alliances and provoked a new war, this time involving the armies of seven African countries and a multitude of armed groups, resulting in millions of deaths among the population.

Despite an official peace agreement signed in 2002, war has never ceased in the North Kivu region. The M23 has distant origins among the Tutsis who defended themselves against the Hutu genociders after 1994, but after being integrated into the Congolese army for a time and then mutinying, its members have long since become nothing more than a band of predators allied with Rwanda. The Congolese army, for its part, is supported by so-called Wazalendo militias, formed at the behest of Congolese President Tshisekedi to supposedly "defend themselves against foreign invasion." The population is caught between these armed bands, who are waging a reign of terror, and the terrorized inhabitants no longer know where to take refuge. Many fugitives have taken to the camps set up in Uganda, in such numbers that humanitarian organizations no longer have enough to feed them. Others have taken refuge in Goma, the regional capital encircled by the M23, but find no security there, having to contend with extortion by Congolese soldiers and the Wazalendo sect.

Behind this endless war lies the region’s mineral wealth. North Kivu contains 80% of the world’s reserves of coltan, a valuable mineral that is indispensable in the manufacture of smartphones and computers, and the region abounds in other mineral riches. Multinationals, African governments, and mafia gangs are rushing to exploit it. 40,000 children, the diggers, work in the mine holes. At the mines’ exits, these child miners are confronted by the men of a hundred or so armed groups working in concert with the Rwandan, Congolese or Ugandan armies. All are ready to fight to the death and massacre the population to get their hands on the mineral wealth. But at the end of the chain, once all these local intermediaries have been paid, the product ends up in the hands of the big global corporations.

On February 19, for example, the European Union signed a cooperation agreement with Rwanda on raw materials, particularly coltan, even though the country has not a single gram of this mineral in its subsoil, and everything it can export comes from Kivu. The big corporations thus enrich themselves through the work of the miners, which does not prevent the hypocritical denunciations of the European Union against the crimes perpetrated in the Congo.

In Kivu, the armed groups and soldiers of African countries are merely the face of capitalist exploitation.