Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Congo - War Over Minerals.

Throughout history, wars are always fought over resources, be they land, slaves, oil or other mineral wealth. The connection between oil and conflict in Iraq appears close, and western companies now have 30 year exploitation rights over the Iraqi oil. Afghanistan is more complex, since it has little oil, although there is rumour that a pipeline is planned to carry oil from central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Karachi and the southern Pakistani coast, thus obviating the far longer route through China. Whatever is the truth of this, I don't believe that such military actions as are currently ongoing there are simply in the interests of overthrowing a dictatorial rule and restoring freedom to the people. Resources must underpin the proceedings in some way.

Meanwhile unimaginable strife continues to prevail in the Congo. Three million people are reckoned to have died in consequence of the protracted civil war there, mostly from disease and starvation. Congo, formerly the Belgian Congo which gained its independence in 1960, is rich in mineral wealth, most renownedly its gold. Indeed, it is this bestowal of gold, copper, diamonds, tantalite (tantalum), cassiterite (tin) and over one third of the world's known reserve of cobalt that is responsible for much of the country's unstable history, since the rest of the world wants to get its hands on this bounty.

Since the war began in 1998, various different factions have been engaged in the plundering of Congo's mineral resources, which raises ethical issues for the companies, particularly in the electronics industry, who have taken receipt of materials like gold, copper, tantalum and tin which they use in growing amount. There is a need for such organisations and suppliers to investigate at source exactly where these materials come from, before they find their way onto the open market. Of course, profit margins will always be an issue.

Tantalum is an essential component of electronic capacitors, as are used in computers, cell phones, air-bag safety systems, pacemakers and GPS, and most of it is mined in Australia. Nonetheless, there are substantial deposits of tantalite in Africa, in the Congo and Rwanda and also in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I find it ironic that both Congo and Rwanda should be in possession of considerable reserves of the same mineral, given their recent tribal antipathies, but I am reminded that many of Africa's troubles are due to divisions created artificially by the former colonial powers who drew chalk lines across a map of Africa, apportioning its lands and its wealth for themselves, unbeknown to the underlying geology of the continent which was laid down long before the rules of men.

Consequently, I doubt there will ever be peace in Africa, and it is always easier to grab resources of all kinds from regions that are unstable, poor and whose populations are rendered devoid of any sense of security, certainty, permanence and hope.

Related Reading.
"Battle for Congo's mineral assets." By Alka Marwaha. BBC World Service.


mfresh said...

no comments because the people in the states only know what is on the news what only tells you what negativity that goes on,but they don't tell you the true reasons why civil wars go on in other country's cause by the white man and make it seem that these people are evil in the world when there the real "problem not the solution"

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

I think I get what you're saying and it's a fair comment. It is, for example argued that WWI, was really a struggle for resources including oil, which is why Laurence of Arabia was put in charge of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire... i.e. to grab oil within the Middle East.

During the war all powers began to realise that economic success and political power would depend on having enough fuel, hence the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

We can speculate as to what future historians might write about our present age.

Oil/economics/war are inextricably linked, and when we are using less oil, doubtless it will be some other resource, maybe biomass, that is the geopolitical lynchpin.



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