Part 2: Democratic Republic of Congo: Presidential elections and blood minerals

December 1, 2011

Watch the event here. 

By Thomas Lowe

Many of the challenges facing Congo stem from its size, mineral wealth and its social complexity. The result of the Congo elections says Mary Harper, Africa Editor at BBC World Service will not be known for months, yet an incredible 18,000 candidates have put themselves forward.

One key question is how Congo can be so rich in minerals, yet be so poor. Jean Roger Kaseki, Labour councillor from Islington and Human Rights campaigner got support from the rest of the panel when he said that establishing and strengthening institutions is important to changing this.

“If the government doesn’t [rebuild institutions], if the government clings on to power, the Congo will slide back to what it was before.”

The military in the country is closely linked to the black-market minerals trade. Trade of this type does nothing to help the economy and does much to encourage violence – Eastern Congo is known as the rape capital of the world.

One way to counter this, says Mike Davis of Global Witness is to introduce ‘due diligence’ – legal speak for checking where your materials come from. And there’s good reason for this.

“When you look at the headline grabbers amongst the most violent and notorious armed groups now. They all have… a pretty tight connection with the minerals trade.”

The US ‘Dodd-Frank Act’ which demands that all US based companies run checks on the origin of their materials became law in 2010. But as Davis says “this is a law the size of a telephone book – it’s vast” and so is slow to implement. Getting China to agree to any policing of raw material sourcing is another thorny subject.

It’s not just companies, but countries too that have a large influence over what happens in Congo. According to Natzet Tesfay, head of forecasting at Exclusive Analysis Ltd, neighbouring states loom large over national politics, and will be important – particularly if more claims of electoral fraud are made during the current elections.

“This undermines the results that are likely to come. And so its key to look at which side the neighbours are falling on.”

Congo Brazzaville and Angola would likely support an opposition figure, Uganda is on the fence and Rwanda and Burundi would lend their support to Kabila ‘by default’.

After decades of violence, the Congolese government mantra is that peace must come before justice is sought. Filmmaker Fiona Lloyd-Davies says this is all wrong.

“The government has said everyone can put down your weapons it doesn’t matter what you’ve done… but unfortunately that just cannot work, they have to have justice in order to get peace.”

Mobile courts she says have won some victories. A colonel was recently tried and convicted on a rape charge and this sends a signal that even high-up members of the military cannot act with impunity.

All who spoke sought out signs of hope for a better future Congo, and there are some says Davies.

“Despite all the things we’ve been talking about tonight, [the Congolese] find a way to survive and continue their lives and for me one of the most inspiring things was talking to a student in Goma… and she said ‘I want to be the first President of Congo because I want to help the people of my country. And as long as there are people who aspire to this kind of thing maybe there is some hope for Congo”

View event here.