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Congo's Resources: Who Benfits?

Small-scale artisanal mine near Lubumbashi, DRC (V. Berger)

The DRC's mineral wealth is not being exploited to improve the lives of its people, but rather to fuel conflict.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, is tremendously rich in natural resources, with extraordinary reserves, including the world’s largest deposits of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper. Nonetheless, the DRC is one of the world's poorest countries.

That is because the DRC's mineral wealth is not being exploited to improve the lives of its people, but rather to fuel conflict. Local warlords and foreign bandits alike fight over control of mines and sell minerals excavated by forced labor to the highest bidder.

Illicit exploitation of the DRC's mineral wealth "has financed armed groups that target civilians and perpetuate widespread human rights abuses in the eastern part of the country," said Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats.

"The crisis has undermined the ability of the Congolese people to benefit from the country’s vast mineral resource wealth.”

Under Secretary Hormats announced that the U.S. State Department is implementing a new strategic action plan on conflict minerals as part of a larger strategy on the DRC. It depends on publicizing the issue and working toward the elimination of trade in illegally obtained minerals, while helping to create conditions for legal trade. At the same time, the U.S. will work with the U.N. Mission in the DRC and other international partners to strengthen the country's institutions and civil society.

The U.S. also sees the need to protect small-scale artisanal miners and mining communities, which are unregulated in the DRC, yet do most of the mineral extraction. Some 12.5 million people are employed by these small mines.

"If we can promote transparency, accountability, security, and professionalization of the industry it can enhance the well-being and self-sufficiency of several thousand men, women and children," said Under Secretary Hormats. "More miners will be able to exercise their right to work without coercion. That means more parents will be able to provide for their children without succumbing to debt and indentured servitude. And more boys and girls will be able to go to school and live up to their full potential."