Top of news in my Africa world last year was the Congo government very hilariously, or not, announced they are not going to have an election this year because it is too expensive! They quoted $1.8 billion dollars as the cost they could not come up with to do the election and a need to register 30 million voters in a country with little to no infrastructure. Yup just like that they decided no election, like as if they are postponing a birthday or something! Here is the not so fun story on this link.
My African friends and I were floored by this announcement but we cannot say we were surprised! Government has always been shaky in the Congo with each new leader the past 4 decades gaining power through a military coup. Let’s go into the biggest reason behind the never ending conflict in Central Africa, natural resources.
Like I mentioned before, Central Africa is one the most resource rich areas of Africa and possibly the world, but also the poorest. This is because of impact of the never ending civil wars that are centered around these same resources, which have turned out to be a blessing and a curse! Historically these wars are localized fights of control of resources, but since the Europeans showed up on the scene, the involvement of western countries and corporations has further complicated and fueled the fighting. Let’s talk about some interesting things about the Congo wars in recent years.
So everyone knows about the Congo war. Over its course, it is estimated 5.4 million people have been killed, millions more displaced, not to mention the sexual violence against women that got international headlines. Like the wars in East Africa, the Congo war is complex but in recent years there is one clear causal phenomenon of its proliferation, global consumerism. You see, amongst the Congo’s vast mineral resources, that include largely untapped reserves of oil, gold, diamonds, copper, uranium, cobalt and other minerals, there is also tantalum. This is a rare-earth metal used in the nuclear power industry, mobile phones, computers, digital cameras and other high-tech products. With demand for tantalum growing faster than supply, fueled by rapidly-developing high-tech branches, tantalum is becoming more profitable than gold or diamonds and this demand has been source of financing for the armed groups in the Congo war. It means inadvertly all of us are financing this war with our consumption of all of the electronic gadgets that we cannot live without!
I found an interesting development on the US end regarding this issue. Two bills went to the US congress over conflict wars in 2010; the Congo Conflict Minerals Act and the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act. These two bills required companies listed on the Securities 9and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose new information in their financial reporting and help ensure that such minerals do not support the conflict. The Congo Conflict Minerals Act, required SEC-listed electronic companies, such as Apple, Nokia, and Nintendo, to disclose the exact location of the mines from which they receive their tin, tantalum, and tungsten in their regular reporting. The Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act required all SEC-listed companies to fully disclose the amount of money paid to foreign governments for oil, gas, and minerals—collectively called extractive resources—in their required financial statements. These bill were part of the financial regulations that came with the Obama administration, as you may have guessed with the Republicans going after everything he did, a few weeks ago the transparency act was repealed! I obviously have feelings about this but I will die from them before 4 years of this presidency is out.
As a bonus story in this piece today, another resource war story that is close to my heart has been happening in the the oil rich Niger delta in Nigeria.
There is endless conflict in the region over the exploitation of the region and communities by oil companies and the Nigerian government. Oil is Nigeria’s biggest export and they have let many oil companies come in and drill, with little attention to environmental issues and social responsibility. The oil companies and the Nigerian government have been accused of illegal appropriation of property, broken economic development contracts, and environmental damage caused by oil spills and gas flares. Local uprisings have been met with systematic militarization, with violence by the state, multinationals and local militias deployed as an instrument of governance and intimidation to force the communities into submission. What I love about the story of this conflict is the prominence of women in it.
Women are the front and center of the resistance in the Niger Delta. One of the most famous protests in the region was 2002 protests against Chevron. The women staged an anti oil occupation during which they exposed their bare bodies in order to shame male officials with the curse of nakedness. For 10 days they refused to move from an extraction site and blocked production of oil as the demanded jobs for their sons and husbands, investment in the local infrastructure and a cleanup of the environmental damage caused by oil exploration.
A couple of things about this protest.
The nakedness is a significant part of the protests because women, especially older women, being naked is culturally a symbol of extreme ostracism to whoever it’s being directed at. Secondly the women in the protests were from different tribes coming together for the greater good. This was huge because these different ethnic groups had previously been in conflict with each other for many years over the meagre resources handed out by government and oil companies. Lastly formal women’s groups have historically been a part of the social and political organization in the Niger Delta. Though these have tended to be based around cultural activities, they have also provided women-only spaces to organize voices of inclusion and assertion. The establishment and recognition of these organizations has helped provide a strong power base from which to challenge the multinationals. Girl power ya’ll!