Tour of the coltan mines, DR Congo in 2013 #KAIROS20

woman carrying rocks from coltan mine
Photo by Danielle Dubuc.

In our time, can we still do without a laptop? Who isn’t tempted by the latest MP5 player or a new digital camera? These electronic devices are and will always be an integral part of our daily lives. But do we know what is behind the components of our mobile phone? 

A short tour of the coltan mines and mining sites presents us with a harsh reality. 

Is the DRC a cursed geological scandal? The subsoil of the DRC has immense natural resources. Each year, up to $10 billion worth of Congolese copper and cobalt are sold abroad by mining companies. The conflict in the eastern part of the country is closely linked to natural resources, has left millions dead and displaced, and caused a humanitarian disaster. 

The authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are a shame and a failure for the vast majority of Congolese who suffer from the deterioration of their living conditions. Since 1965, the year which coincides with the coming to power of President Mobutu Sese Seko, the Congolese leaders have not stopped diverting the country’s resources for selfish, personal interests and even better, for the interests of their genocidal allies who keep them in power, to the detriment of the Congolese population. 

To achieve their ends, they are using all means, including the proliferation of armed conflicts in mining regions with the aim of creating instability and fraudulently exploiting mineral resources. There, you can meet children who worked in the mines and who escaped. They tell you how they got kidnapped on their way to school. Women and young girls tell you how they were torn from the arms of their parents or husbands to become sex slaves. Everyone knows what is happening in this region, but nobody is doing anything, not even the United Nations present with their peacekeepers. 

A visit to the region allowed us to obtain first-hand information, from the victims and their responders. We also obtained second-hand information, through the civil societies operating in the region. 

This morning, I would like to share with you my experience during the mission carried out in the Congolese province of Kivu in eastern DRC, specifically in the city of Bukavu and its surroundings. 

In June 2013, in fact, I was part of the KAIROS “Women of courage” delegation which went to this province where it observed one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet and offered support and the solidarity of Canadian citizens. The delegation was made up of KAIROS staff, representatives of KAIROS member organizations, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and two African partner organizations of KAIROS. This post provides an overview of what I have seen and heard from the victims and from the people who work with the victims. 

Let me point out that since our visit the situation has hardly improved. On the contrary, reports from our local partners indicate that human rights violations and insecurity are taking on very alarming proportions with the discovery of numerous mass graves.  

In 2013, there was an increase in sexual violence in this part of the country. The victims got younger and younger – some were even two-year-old girls.  

As elsewhere, rape is used as a weapon of war, a weapon of mass destruction. I call it that because, culturally and socially, women are the nurturers of the community and the guarantor of its values. To attack women in this way is to destroy their integrity, and through them, the soul of the whole community. 

As consequences of these rapes, I will retain among others: 

  • A rejection and denigration of raped women in general, 
  • Rejection and denigration of married women on the part of their husbands, families and communities; 
  • an increase in unwanted pregnancies; 
  • an increase in cases of physical and psychological trauma; 
  • an increase in poverty; 
  • an upsurge in sexually transmitted diseases; etc. 

In order to cope, many of these victims engage in prostitution to ensure their survival and that of their children. This is where NGOs such as Héritiers de la justice come in, which supports women and their families in taking the step towards healing. 

With its education programs, its legal clinic for the support of survivors of sexual violence, HJ enables women and girls to heal, to rebuild their lives and to be trained as interveners in matters of sexual violence, paralegals and facilitators of social change. Seeds of hope are thus planted in the community, at the grassroots level. 

In the face of a desperate humanitarian situation and gross human rights violations, the courageous women I have met in the DRC are a source of hope. 

Brave women are everywhere: they refuse to go into hiding to protect themselves from rape; they denounce their attackers despite impunity. The impunity which has become one of the means of securing offenders by leaving them in society to perpetuate insecurity. 

The following photos were taken by Danielle Dubuc .

We met:   

  • The women leaders who benefited from the training given by the Héritiers de la Justice facilitators: they were proud to give their testimonies, having learned that this was the only way to heal and continue to live. These women are responsible for the straw huts that train women victims of violence to become agents of social change. See photo # 6 
  • The director of a training and rehabilitation center for unemployed young girls. Girls who attend this center receive training to start a small business. See photo # 9 
  • Women of all ages, designated as women bearers of stones. These women are hired as day laborers to carry the stones on their backs, climbing a steep slope from the quarry to the side of the road. The men then come to collect the stones to sell them to the builders of the villas in the town of Bukavu and the surrounding area. They received less than $ 1.00 per day as compensation. Thanks to the training received at the straw hut, the women have formed a cooperative. The boss must negotiate with a committee that speaks on behalf of all women for equal and fair pay. See photo # 10 
  • This woman is a widow. Her husband and sons were killed because they wanted to intervene while the men in uniform took turns raping her. She was left for dead. But the women in the straw hut near their home rescued her by taking her to Panzi Hospital. Her daughter was also raped and had a child from that rape. Here, she celebrates the life these men in uniform failed to take away from her. See photo # 4 

Laws against rape exist at all levels. One example is the creation of the International Conference on Large (ICGLR), which facilitated regional agreements aimed at ending gender-based violence and eliminating illegal mining. The efforts to eliminate these scourges do not materialize in a tangible way on the ground. At the local level, all the speeches, posters distributed etc. … do not stop sexual violence. The stakes appear to be too high to regularize and secure the mineral extraction sites which, for the moment, attract men in uniforms, militias, and the anarchy that this entails. So go find out who benefits from it! 

In our program, we planned to visit a gold industrial mine run by a Canadian company. The villagers were expropriated to make way for the mining facility. 850 families have been relocated to the top of the mountain. The relocation as well as the size and quality of the houses are hotly contested by the villagers. 

The high mountain climate does not allow the villagers to go about their daily business such as farming and herding. One of the possibilities that remains is to be hired as day laborers (with a little luck). 

In terms of social responsibility, the company in question has created a foundation whose objective posted on its site is to promote local social and economic development. However, even the roads leading to and around the site are still dirt. 

A site visit was not possible for unknown reasons. While we were still in front of the fence that gives access to the site, a helicopter landed in the yard of the enclosure; the loading was done, and it disappeared in midair as it had come. Neither seen nor known, destination unknown. Photo # 11 

After grilling for a few hours in the sun while waiting for permission to visit the site, we left for the rest of our visits to a village located a little further down. 

Let me end this testimony with this story: One evening, an old man comes back from the fields peacefully when he hears the sound of propellers and the thud of armored trucks. He looks up and sees the helicopter in the sky and trucks entering the village. He exclaims and says: Don’t tell me they found another deposit near the village. It brings bad luck! He had not finished his sentence as the men in uniform got out of the truck and seized all the young people in the village to make them either sex slaves or cannon fodder. Those who returned were sick or pregnant and useless in the eyes of the kidnappers. The village was no longer the same. The young people who escaped capture left for the city, leaving behind sadness and desolation. 

Let me tell you that the subsoil of the DRC is full of all kinds of minerals that the world is mining. It is one of the countries that supply raw materials that consolidates artificial intelligence. What should be a blessing for the people brings misfortune to the general population while those in power and their fascist partners reap the benefits of these riches. Those who dare to denounce these abuses are the object of reprisals, arrested or physically eliminated. The country has lost dissidents and NGO leaders for daring to do so. 

Despite repression, intimidation, kidnappings and assassinations, these women who receive the training are active in their respective circles and the snowball is growing. These women and men rehabilitated in their rights are grateful for having benefited from the generosity of Canadians through the support of KAIROS 

It is thanks to KAIROS that the flame of social justice in me has grown, allowing me to get involved in social justice organizations to raise awareness on these abuses and injustices and to contribute, however little it may be, to improving the living conditions of the victims and the population. It is also thanks to KAIROS that I learned about what was happening in the DRC and the various issues involved. KAIROS has also allowed me to see and understand the similarities of issues experienced in other regions such as the Philippines. 

Marie-Claude Manga

Filed in: #KAIROS20 Anniversary, Africa, Gender Justice/Women of Courage


Share with your network:Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone
Print this page