This is the original version of the article I published with Alphonse Maindo on Now Africa which was put up on this blog.

When Aid Agencies Miss the Point: rape and the Global Marketplace in the DRC

The question of the blindness (?) of aid policies becomes alarming when considering conflict minerals and rape in the DRC? Is this an isolated case? The disastrous situation for women in Afghanistan shows some sinister coherence…

On August 22nd last, the Securities and Exchange Commission confirmed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act, whereby public companies had to disclose the origin of their conflict minerals adjoining from the DRC or an adjoining country. These include Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Expanding on the original law passed in 2010 and known in the DRC as the ‘Loi Obama’, it requires companies to make measures of ‘due diligence’ and monitor every step of the transactions by independent firms to ensure transparency, provenance and accountability.

Conflict minerals comprise the 3Ts(tin, tantalite and tungsten) as well as gold, used mainly in the electronics industry that is to say our daily electronic equipment, in our much beloved cell phones especially, lap-tops, MP3s and digital cameras. The aim was and remains It requires all public companies trading in these commodities to make sure that their business does not profit in anyway the warlords engaged in the region, in particular in the eastern provinces of the DRC. This law came about as the result of pressure groups in particular Human Rights Watch, the ‘Enough’ project and Global Witness

Since the passing of the law in 2010, all 29 companies officially registered trading houses have officially ceased exporting minerals without taking due diligence measures. The three who have failed to do so are Chinese-owned businesses who are not subject to these laws

The law has been criticized as placing the onus on the companies and removing responsibility from the Congolese government, henceforth cast as the only reliable authority, even though groups linked to the Congolese army ( FARDC) have been particularly active in the private control of mines in which corrupt government officials have played an extremely significant part. Research into the identity of individual armed groups, their national and international partners and mode of functioning would be necessary for real efficiency. Further criticism of the law stresses the virtual embargo that has followed, the gradual closing down of mines production and the loss of work for countless Congolese workmen and local communities. Nevertheless there is evidence to show that smuggling has increased and that minerals have been moved from the mines of origin to other countries: this is only an increase of an established pattern which has fuelled guerilla wars in the region for decades. T: the 3Ts, essential for electronics from DRC; have been smuggled out to Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi on their way to South-East Asia countries that will be now under greater scrutiny since the SCI ruling?? Nevertheless some issues need additional monitoring, namely the routes used to send these minerals to China and elsewhere

How much of the 3Ts is produced in the DRC is subject to debate. What seems certain is that first, the two Kivu provinces may hold the greatest reserves on the continent and second, Rwanda which has relatively few mines to speak of, is one the region’s main exporter, exports having gone up since the application of the Dodd-Frank law. Labeling -or rather absence thereof- has become a prominent feature in this business, all the more that foreign-implanted companies sell the minerals to multinationals; employing circumtuous routes to Asia. where the components are made up. Furthermore, the absence of any regulating with the Chinese firms increasingly present in the region has favoured such uncontrolled transactions.

Whilst all these points need to be explained more thoroughly, what is certain is that amongst the human rights abuses reported by different institutions, rape was a major cause for such drastic legislation and continues, unabated.


Already in August 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out the link between armed conflict, sexual violence, and minerals when she visited eastern Congo, arguing that the world needs to do more “to prevent the mineral wealth from the DRC ending up in the hands of those who fund the violence.”[1].

Yet what seems extraordinary is that in much of the reports and the work done on rape and rape prevention, this economic background is hardly everreferred to. Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict famously called the DRC “the rape capital of the world” Statistics indeed are horrific and reports indicate the increase of gang raping (over 60% according to the Oxfam report of 2010, of which 56% happen in the home)[2]

Typically of reports of this kind, Oxfam calls on the Congolese government and the international community to “Increase provision of medical care for survivors of sexual, violence, Ensure that the protection provided by the UN peacekeepers and Congolese security services is tailored to local realities. Reform the Congolese security sector and justice system”

Lilewise William Hague’s commission to “renew the British Government’s commitment to tackling sexual violence in armed conflict” and to set up a team of experts including “skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists and experts in the care and protection of victims and witnesses”.

All well and fine, one can only be in agreement with such propositions. The experts that are significantly absent from this wunder team are ethnographers, local partners and specialists in economics and global trade, in brief specialists about the actual terrain where such abuse takes place. These recommendations do not take into consideration deeper reasons. The loose implication is that war (as a an unexplained phenomenon) and the archetypal villains known as warlords are the cause- as everywhere else where such illegal power prevails. Gender stereotypes prevail (“bad” male perpetrators, exclusively female victims), possibly racist implications may well be present as the main criticisms come from white, institutions from ex-colonial powers. Add to that the tribal conntation, omnipresent in media talk about Africa.

Conventional humanitarian aid agencies fail to take into consideration the following:

1) behind the warlords’ activities lies a complex political and economic situation where the global market interests are at stake (including those of the countries involved in international aid policies).

2) More often than not, companies do not have private armies and depend on local militias to access mines and even organize their exploitation. These would warrant an extended in-depth enquiry.

3) Mass rape has increasingly a form of terror exercised systematically in zones where high linked to high tech are present. To quote Women Rights militant from Bukavu, Venantie Bisimwa “Rape is the most economical form of violence against a community: families are instantaneously destroyed” Rape seems to be used as a systematic means of terror by armed militias in Eastern Congo to get to these priceless resources.The map of armed groups and rapes seem to coincide with zones where technology-linked mines are abundant. To stress the point, Bisimwa”s group hold a yearly one-day mobile phone strike as a protest against rape in their country. An idea that could be taken further afield to alert public opinion?

4) More than just acute discrimination against women is at stake with the increasing numbers of boys in the count of victims. Sometimes women are incriminated and even sentenced during trials of noted warlords, Rather like in the Rwandan massacres where there were a number of women amongst the perpetrators..

This, in DRC, was the case of the notorious Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga whose wife was also sentenced to jail. The fact that Gédéon, as he is locally known, managed to break out of the Kasapa prison in Lubumbashi , in September 2011,with 967 other inmates goes a long way in demonstrating the lack of weight court decisions have in this part of the world. he has since returned to the activities that had originally landed him with a death sentence that was never carried out.

Yet industry is trying to regulate this trade. The unfortunately underfunded ITSCI (International Tin Supply Chain Initiative) has been working on transparency with OCDE rulings and, according to the most recent “Enough” report[3], a number of companies have already started to take measures limiting the use of conflict minerals, well aware of the consequences of unregulated mining.

Progress is certainly slow, loopholes remain gigantic and the bureaucracy cumbersome. Nevertheless it is a step in the right direction. This begs the following question: Why are all these aid agencies reluctant to work with the institutions that are trying so hard to regulate mining ?

It is true that the likes of WHO et al are domiciliated in Switzerland just like Glencore the notoriously secretive commodities company, whose activities are regularly called into question. Likewise for AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, the mining company listed on stock exchanges of NY, Johannesburg, Accra, London, Australia where international aid agencies have major offices. That would be too easy.

Maybe the problem is the general refusal of political commitment on the behalf of aid agencies worldwide. Aid often appears as a partner of war- for instance in Afghanistan. Whilst US army and allies have been busy bombing local populations and fighting counter-insurgency, aid has been delivered- often with little or no effectiveness. For instance infant and maternal mortality continue to be just about the highest in the world, just after Niger which does not enjoy even the tiniest fraction of the aid sent to Afghanistan. UN agencies purportedly fight for women’s rights in Kabul whilst the US has been steadily negotiating with the Taliban.

In Africa, the governments that are funding agencies to “help” rape situation in the DRC are also the ones that generally have been supporting the totally irresponsible Congolese governments from Mobutu (included) onwards. Whilst UNHCR funds refugee camps in east Africa, the world supports the wars that fuel the wars leading to the establishment of the self-same camps.

It is time to work through such cynical realpolitik. If even the much- blighted industrial world is attempting to forgeing the tools to fight against human rights abuses within world economy, it is time that aid agencies worked conjunctly in approaching the problem in a holistic way. The first step would be in mapping out mines- which is already being done by the larger consortiums- and simultaneously mass rapes they are seeing how and where they coincide. This project, which is being mapped out by the authors of this article, needs to be undertaken from the grassroots upwards, in collaboration with local communities, human rights groups and universities. Not just rape in DRC is at stake but the whole approach to truly efficient aid.


[1] « » \l « _ednref3 »




[3]Taking conflict out of consumer gadgets.…/CorporateRankings20, August 2012.




  1. on 04 Déc 2015 at 8:15 Julissa

    There’s a fair bit of humanitarian aid to NGOs that doesn’t apepar on the FTS because it’s not from one of the major institutional donors or just forgotten. Not sure that all the ICRC allocation to DRC gets on there, and probably not a lot of the church funding, for example. Also funding is sometimes not included on the FTS as an oversight, and it doesn’t include development aid (although a large chunk is admittedly through budget support, that’s not all of it), so I’d say your figures are if anything an underestimate, though maybe not by such a significant amount, I’m not sure. Really great blog, btw, please keep it going.