Profit from illicit mining, not political power, behind insurgency in Great Lakes

Sunday October 24 2021

Militiamen, including alleged children, of the armed group URDPC from the Lendu community. PHOTO | AFP


Huge profits from smuggling of minerals is the main reason behind a surge in rebel movements in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

And in what could provide further evidence that natural resources, rather than a search for political power is behind insurgencies, a UN Special Envoy this week said countries connected by trade must be involved in ending the fighting.

Huang Xia, the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region says there must be unity among regional countries, and those that import minerals from the region to ensure the mines do not become a centre of bloodshed.

Mr Huang was speaking at the Annual Open Debate on the Great Lakes Region at the UN Security Council this past Wednesday in New York under the theme; "Supporting the renewed commitment of the countries of the Great Lakes region to peace and development."

Convened at the initiative of Kenya -- currently holding the presidency of the Council-- the meeting was also attended by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Executive Secretary Joao Caholo and Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Under-Secretary-General for Africa. It was chaired by Raychelle Omamo, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

“The office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the ICGLR executive secretariat are undertaking advocacy to sensitise transit and destination countries of smuggled minerals to support the region's efforts,” said Mr Huang, adding that to respond effectively to this challenge, there is a need for co-operation between the states of the region, civil society, regional organisations and international partners and the United Nations.


Leaders attended the hybrid meeting to show their support and “renewed commitment of the countries of the Great Lakes region to peace and development.”

Mr Huang, said that the Great Lakes Region is experiencing positive momentum, particularly in the "continued political dialogue between the countries of the region; the increase in state visits which has given impetus to inter-state co-operation."

He said that “the rapprochement, the opening up and a series of political gestures" which constitute "a sign to be encouraged," especially after DR Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi mended fences with neighbours recently.

President Tshisekedi has vowed to “build bridges and break down walls between states” in his recent overtures. And as the current chairperson of the African Union, he has said that it should include security co-operation and trade.

Mr Huang also praised the "commitment" of Joao Lourenço, the president of Angola who is the current chair of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), to support the peace process in DRC which has this week signed a ceasefire between its warrying parties.

Beyond the commitment of the region's leaders, emphasis was placed on the role of women in peace building as participants admitted most of the negotiations had left women out.

“The Security Council and other UN agencies must continue to encourage and design peace processes that are inclusive of the people, and particularly women at grassroots level,” said Ms Omamo.

The UN has passed Resolution 1325 and the subsequent decisions to recognise the participation of women in building, negotiating and keeping the peace and she argued that implementing this will lead to durable peace deals.

"A key role of women peace keepers must be the protection of women and children in conflict zones. In this regard women peace keepers must acquire new skills and competencies,” Omamo said. But even as countries choose dialogue, just how restrictive are their borders to discourage smuggling or illegal sale of minerals? Mr Huang said mining’s dirty money has encouraged rebel groups to keep the violence, knowing the channels are unfettered.

Commitment by countries to the military solution was also praised at the Council, with the UN special envoy welcoming “the progress in eradicating rebel groups in eastern DR Congo, while at the same time welcoming Kenya's commitment to send troops to reinforce the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Congo. The diplomat nevertheless points out that the region continues to be infested with rebels, encouraged by the profits from contraband. The persistence of armed groups, the resurgence of attacks by the ADF, Ugandan rebels established in eastern DR Congo, and the attack on Burundi airport last September by Burundian rebels from the Resistance for the Rule of Law in Burundi, RED-Tabara, constitute threats to the peace and stability of the region, he said.

Mr Huang explains that these rebels continue to be involved in the exploitation and commercialisation of natural resources and "the income from which finances their supply of weapons and their recruitment."

The ICGLR boss Mr Caholo said; “Militias control mining sites and this must not continue," adding that "peacekeeping should avoid being involved in mineral trade or benefitting in any way from mining activities. There are accusations that some members of peacekeeping missions have promoted smuggling in the Great Lakes Region.

“Peacekeeping mission in the Great Lakes Region should be aware of the regional and international mineral judicial standard and principle which we are striving to put in place.

He urged countries in the region to strengthen cross-border monitoring.