December 11, 2009:
The UN has concluded that the primary problem with violence in eastern Congo is the illegal trade in illegal trade in valuable minerals. For example, Hutu rebel militias control the mining of cassiterite. While the major source is Bolivia, Congo contains large deposits. Cassiterite is a component of tin ore and is used increasingly in electronics. It sells for over nine dollars a pound (nearly $20 per kilogram). The Hutu warlords have established an informal, and illegal, network that mines and transports the cassiterite from eastern Congo to Uganda and Burundi, and eventually the United Arab Emirates, where its enters the world market. This network also supports the mining and smuggling of coltan and wolframite. This trade is similar to the one that supports, or supported, rebel movements in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory coast. The valuable commodity there was diamonds. The illegal trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia have largely been shut down.
Ivory Coast is another matter. Despite efforts to regulate the "blood diamond" trade, illegal diamond mining in northern Ivory Coast continues, and is a major source of income for the northern rebels. The diamonds are smuggled across the border to Mali, where a network of dealers have well established methods for getting past the diamond industry attempts to stop the sale of "blood diamonds." There's little fighting in Ivory Coast, although the potential for renewed violence persists.
Meanwhile, Congo is still an ongoing blood bath. Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the countryside, perpetuating the bloodiest (and least reported) war of the post Cold War era (over five million dead, and counting). Peacekeepers and army action have reduced the size of these violent groups, but not eliminated them. There are now fewer places that the bad guys can roam freely. Attempts to merge rebels into the army has not worked well. The last major problem, a Tutsi militia in the east that will not disarm until the government destroys Hutu militias built around Hutu mass murderers who fled neighboring Rwanda in the 1990s, is being disbanded. But the bandits and warlords are not going to disappear completely. The reason is money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. UN peacekeepers are criticized for not fighting more, but thats not their job. The Congolese army is not up to it yet either, so there it simmers. The UN believes that interrupting the flow of illegal minerals will weaken the rebels sufficiently that the peacekeepers can eliminate the violence. But the minerals trade, like the diamond trade to the west, has proved very resilient.