Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finally, a solution for "conflict minerals"

In my continuing series on "What's for Christmas" blog, today I feature...drones!

Yes, folks, that's right. The Kinshasa government has cut the Gordian knot in the Kivus, slicing through the complexities of natural resources & conflict and has decided: drones are the way to go.

A bit of explanation is necessary. The Congolese Vice-Minister of Mines Victor Kasongo, who is said to wield considerably more influence than his boss in the ministry, has been visiting the US for the past few weeks. His trip was prompted by increased pressure on the Congolese government to put some order in the mining sector in the Kivus region, where various armed groups make millions in profits from the minerals trade. In particular, the government is worried that two bills in the US Congress will lead big companies to boycott Congolese minerals. Kasongo flew to Washington to reassure congressmen that the government is taking this very serious. Among the plans the government has is to use drones to take high-quality pictures of mining sites in the eastern Congo. Kasongo said that the government has looked at some US drones, but thinks they're not good enough, so they are currently considering some Israeli ones. (Israeli has previously provided weapons and training to President Kabila, as detailed here in a 2003 UN report; Congolese officials have close links to the Israeli establishment through businessmen like Dan Gertler, as suggested by this article.)

What would these drones do? This is not exactly clear. How could images, even very detailed ones, help establish the connection between armed groups and the international mining supply chain? They could help establish which mining sites are occupied by soldiers, but they would have a hard time showing whether these soldiers belong to the Congolese army or rebel groups. As the UN reports have shown, the complex and clandestine links between politicians, business and armed groups are difficult to trace and involve human intelligence gathering, not drone overflights. However, when the issue of setting up an independent monitoring team, Kasongo was reportedly dismissive in one meeting in DC, suggesting that drones could do this job. One must wonder whether the Congolese government might not spend its paltry budget on better things. Apparently civilian U.A.Vs (unmanned aerial vehicles) cost between $80,000 and $3 million.

Merry Christmas, Congo.


Unknown said...

Hey Jason,

Do you know anything about this EU-spearheaded Task Force on illegal exploitation/trade in natural resources in the Great Lakes Region? It was apparently set up in Feb 2009 but I can't find any info on what it's been doing since or even its exact membership.

I don't know what to say about this drone stuff! I'm worried some sections of the US government might actually think this sounds good and go for it.

Thanks for all the precious info you're putting up on here!


edward rackley said...

it's also rather pitiful that, once again, a solution is presumed to come from without (the skies,in this case) instead of from congolese officials working on the ground. if admin officials on the ground can't sort this out, why would anyone think a drone could do it for them? furthermore, there is massive human support/analysis teams behind every drone the US deploys, and FARDC is far from such capacity. unless they wanted to outsource that piece of expertise as well--it would fit the general Kabiliste tendency to outsource everything these days.

Jason Stearns said...

Exactly. The same problems plague the US with drones in Pakistan, where they have invested tens of millions in the program.

Eugenia - the EU Task Force is working on this, although I haven't followed it closely. They will be meeting in mid-Jan to discuss these issues in detail. They are looking to help the Congolese government set up mechanisms to control the mineral trade.

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