The Problem

The Democratic Republic of Congo is very rich in minerals, which are exported and end up in our computers, phones, cars and other goods. However, the vast majority of the population do not benefit from the huge mineral wealth of the country, but are living in poverty. They are amongst the poorest people in the world, while their country, measured by its mineral wealth, may be one of the richest. Also, they are suffering, and many are dying, because of conflict caused by those greedy for the country’s resources. The term “conflict minerals” came about because armed militias took control of many of the mines.

The causes of the problem, and hence the remedies, are complex. However, they can be summed up as poor governance, poor infrastructure, greed for minerals, and the negative influence of foreign countries, in particular Rwanda. We in Europe are among the end users of the minerals that are extracted in a way that gives no benefit, and causes suffering to the Congolese people. 

It is essential that the problems of poor governance and corruption in the DRC are tackled, that the infrastructure is improved, and that Rwanda is stopped, by international pressure, from supporting the violent rebel group, M23. The UK government is reluctant to speak out or put pressure on Rwanda because of its much-publicised attempts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

We need to have strong controls to ensure that, where we buy minerals, the people of Congo benefit. Attempts have been and are being made in the US and the EU, to trace the source of minerals and to ensure that those extracted with no benefit to the Congolese are not purchased. These attempts should be supported and strengthened, both in the EU and in Britain now it has left the EU. It is important that we trace the source of minerals, as a large quantity of minerals mined in Congo are marketed as being sourced from Rwanda or elsewhere. 

One problem, which has not been tackled, is the fact that many minerals come to Europe via China in goods such as computers, phones and cars. Responsible sourcing would need to include these minerals as well as those that come direct from Africa to Europe. (On a very small scale, an ethical phone called Fairphone is being produced and marketed, which is a step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign of things to come, but it is a drop in the ocean.)

The minerals are mined by companies, often international, an increasing proportion being Chinese. There are also “artisanal miners,” local people who mine using low tech methods, so mining is dangerous, and poverty may lead children to work in the mines as well. People eager to be ethical in mineral sourcing may choose to avoid minerals from artisanal miners altogether, but their work is an essential source of income for local people who live in poverty. 

The problems cannot be solved simply by people abroad working hard to ensure that supply chains are ethical. Work is needed both in the DRC and abroad.



We are hearing a lot about Rwanda in the news – mainly about whether it is a safe place to send asylum seekers. However, another aspect of Rwanda gets little attention – its involvement in Congo (DRC). In Eastern Congo, bordering on Rwanda, in the provinces of Ituri and North and South Kivu, are lands rich in minerals, and armed militia terrorise the local population, killing men, women and children and driving them from their homes, so that they can mine illegally and steal the minerals in which the DRC is so rich. The armed group causing most concern at present is M23, which controls substantial amounts of territory in East Congo. It is backed by Rwanda, and exports minerals to Rwanda, where they are often re-labelled as having been sourced in Rwanda, which is not rich in minerals.

The government of the DRC is currently threatening legal action against Apple for using minerals that are illegally sourced in this way. President Tshisekedi of DRC refuses to meet M23, as he says they are an empty shell created by Rwanda to justify its aggression against the DRC. The United Nations and the United States call on Rwanda to stop its support for M23. national income.

Unless countries are willing to cut off aid until Rwanda ceases its murderous activities in DRC, little will change. Countries such as the US that host international companies such as Apple  need to use legal processes to stop them from using illegally mined minerals, obtained at the  most of many Congolese lives. The minerals are used in many devices including computers, electrical vehicles and mobile phones. President Tshisekedi of Congo (DRC) says that our telephones contain the blood of Congolese people.