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.