Congolese citizens look at tank shells lying next to the roadside, left behind by retreating government troops as they fled an assault by M23 rebels, in eastern Congo, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Thousands of Congolese soldiers and policemen defected to the M23 rebels Wednesday, as rebel leaders vowed to take control of all Congo, including the capital Kinshasa. The rebels organized a rally at Goma’s Stadium of Volcanoes Wednesday after seizing control of the strategic city in eastern Congo Tuesday.(AP Photo/Marc Hofer)
by Associated Press
Goma, Congo — The resurgent conflict in the vast African nation of Congo involves several armed groups, at least two other countries and the minerals that go into handhelds and laptops, probably including the one you’re reading this story on if you’re seeing it on a device.
It’s complicated but it boils down to a struggle for wealth, ethnic animosity and a lack of central government control. Here are some of the issues:
Congo is sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to two-thirds of the way across the continent. It is plagued by a lack of roads and railways. The feeble government in the capital Kinshasa is nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away from Goma, the strategic eastern town that was seized by M23 rebels on Nov. 20. A succession of rebel groups and warlords have for years taken advantage of the power vacuum to get a piece of the mining action in eastern Congo.
Eastern Congo is estimated to have mineral deposits worth trillions of dollars, according to mining experts. The area holds about 70 percent of the world’s supply of tantalum, a metal used in cellphones, tablets, laptops and other computers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The eastern region also has massive amounts of gold, tin, tungsten, copper, coltan and cobalt. Much of the ore mined is smuggled out of Congo and passes through Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, according to the Enough Project, a Washington-based organization campaigning against conflict minerals. Some 450,000 artisanal miners work in eastern Congo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The M23 rebel group was formed almost eight months ago by former members of a now defunct insurgent group that had been incorporated into the Congolese army as part of a March 23, 2009, peace agreement. The new group was created by the former rebels who deserted from the army. Their name refers to the date of the peace agreement, which M23 accuses the government of not honoring. Since May, M23 has seized territory in North Kivu province, culminating last week with the capture of Goma, a lakeside city of 1 million and a key trading hub bordering Rwanda.