Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo

SUROOSH ALVI: It’s late. We’re deep in the
heart of it now. I don’t know how much
water we have. We haven’t eaten in a
really long time. And my glasses are fogging
up because it’s so hot. And I can’t see. And I’m walking in the mud. I don’t know, man. I think this might
be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. The Democratic Republic
of Congo. It’s one of the poorest
countries in the world, and thanks to insanely complicated
mix of politics, armed conflict, and corruption, it’s
also one of the most under-reported. It also happens to be home to a
nondescript black rock known as coltan, a vital ingredient
in the production of nearly every cell phone and computer
on the planet. Without coltan, our
technology-driven lives would come to a screeching halt. And Congo has 80% of
the world’s supply. Congo also has cassiterite,
gold, and a slew of other minerals that make the
world go round. Now, you’d think that having so
much of the stuff would be good for Congo, but the reality
is far from the case. There’s a reason they’re called
conflict minerals. [SHOUTING] SUROOSH ALVI: Since the mid
1990s, armed groups have used these minerals to fund a
series of fantastically complicated and horrifically
violent wars. MALE SPEAKER: We have
to kill them. We have to kill them. SUROOSH ALVI: And as the tech
boom drove up the price of these minerals, violence
skyrocketed. Slaves to technology that we
are, we had see for ourselves where these minerals were coming
from and what these rebels were fighting for. MALE SPEAKERS:
my cameraman Jake and producer Jason, we hopped on a plane
and flew to Congo. Our first stop was Kinshasa. To say that Congo’s natural
resources have been more of a curse than a blessing would
be an understatement. Conrad described this place as
“the vilest scramble for loot that has ever disfigured the
human conscience.” That was written in the 1800s, right
around the time that Belgian colonists were stripping the
country of its rich supply of ivory and rubber, killing nearly
half the population in the process. In the 1960s, it was the United
States that was after Congo’s cobalt for its Cold War
fighter jets, leading to its support for a dictator who
renamed the country Zaire and embezzled billions of dollars. MOBUTO SESE SEKO:
global demand for technology that is inadvertently fueling
the conflict in Congo. The statistics we read
are staggering. Five million people have died
in the Congo because of this conflict since the mid ’90s
until about 2007. It’s a huge number. The most since any war
since World War II. The government in Kinshasa says
that the war is over, but Kinshasa is a long way from the
jungles of eastern Congo, where most of the rebel groups
and the minerals that finance them are located. So we needed to go east
to find out what was really going on. One thing that had been drilled
into our heads before we came to Congo was
that you do not fly on Congolese airlines. This is a country whose aircraft
are banned from European airspace. Last year, a crash that killed
20 people was the result of a crocodile escaping from a
passenger’s carry on luggage. But with Goma being over 1,000
miles away, we didn’t have much of a choice. And as it turned out, that
flight would be the most comfortable experience
of the days to come. One thing we’ve noticed since we
came here is that there are fires burning everywhere
in Congo. I guess they’re just burning
their garbage. But it kind of feels apocalyptic
at times. Watch out. We’re in Goma. It’s in eastern Congo, right
on the Rwandan border. This has been the epicenter of
the conflict since 1994. It’s also the center for
humanitarian aid. There are 51 different
international organizations based here. As you can see, there’s UN guys
everywhere around us. It’s kind of chaotic. We’re also pretty close to
the mines where coltan is extracted from, and we’re going
to go check that out. When we got to Goma, we met up
with Tim Freccia, a veteran crisis and conflict photographer
who has worked in Congo for years. He told us that we were
under-dressed for our trip to the cold mountain mining town of
Numbi, so we went shopping. I’ve got a nice polo here. I got a Minnesota Golden
Gophers hoodie. Jake got a great Carhartt. But I think this might be a
strong look when I’m going to interview the militia. Some Wu wear. The only problem is it’s
fucking disgusting. Is it pretty good? MALE SPEAKER: Yeah. SUROOSH ALVI: Yeah,
you like it? MALE SPEAKER: I like it. SUROOSH ALVI: He likes it. We got our outfits. So we’re going to visit the
mines today, the Numbi mines. It’s where they extract
coltan from. HOREB BUJAMBO: And cassiterite
and tourmaline, and some other precious stones. SUROOSH ALVI: This is Horeb. He’s our new buddy. He’s our new best friend. He knows everyone. He’s a bit of a celebrity
got a TV show. What’s your show called? HOREB BUJAMBO: Monusco
Realites. It’s a kind of Congo reality. SUROOSH ALVI: Is it safe to say
that you’re a Congolese reality TV star? HOREB BUJAMBO: I’m a celebrity
for many Congolese, just because I tell them the
stories which they– SUROOSH ALVI: They don’t know. HOREB BUJAMBO: They
don’t know. I tell stories about Congo. SUROOSH ALVI: I’ve driven a
lot of treacherous roads before, but this one seems
to be the worst. HOREB BUJAMBO: We are
still going up. Up and up. SUROOSH ALVI: Oh my god, I can’t
even look right now. This is completely fucked. HOREB BUJAMBO: Yeah, Yeah. I saw vehicles, they
went down. SUROOSH ALVI: Fall
down the hill? HOREB BUJAMBO: It’s not
a safe road, yeah. SUROOSH ALVI: We figured
that out. HOREB BUJAMBO: Despite the
beauty of this place. SUROOSH ALVI: Yeah,
it’s beautiful. HOREB BUJAMBO: Yeah. SUROOSH ALVI: What if we
all just push him out? Straight out? Nothing’s working this way. He’s not getting anywhere. MALE SPEAKERS:
these people appear from? Like, we’re in the middle
of nowhere. I thought you were kidding
when you said hiring local labor. They just conveniently had
a shovel, as well. MALE SPEAKER:
we sank into the mud hole, the kids were all like, thumbs
up, we got him. Now they’re all here, and
they’re going to work until they get us out, and they’re
gonna get paid. MALE SPEAKERS:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] SUROOSH ALVI: Yes, yes. We finally got out. But before long, we
got stuck again. And again. And again. Until one thing became
very clear. We were not making it back
to Goma anytime soon. It looks like we’re probably
going to end up sleeping at the mines tonight, which
is a bit odd. I can’t believe connecting
two land cruisers with seatbelts worked. They’re saying we have to hurry
because it’s going to rain again soon, and if we don’t
get past this patch of red earth, we’re going to
be stuck sleeping here. When we finally got to Numbi,
we had to smooth talk the local officials into showing
us the mines. So these are all the powerful
dudes of the town. Yet another negotiation. Bonjour, Suroosh. MALE SPEAKER: [INAUDIBLE]. SUROOSH ALVI: Nice
to meet you. [FRENCH]. This way. In what would become a running
theme for the rest of our trip, the locals said the mines
were just over there around the bend. And then we would get over there
and around the bend, they were just over there,
and over the hill. Like a quick two kilometers. Holy fuck. I’m about to pass out, Jake. Hey Jake, how many people
are working? JAKE BURGHART: None. SUROOSH ALVI: Really? JAKE BURGHART: They’ve
all gone home. We have to come back tomorrow. SUROOSH ALVI: The mine
had no miners. It was completely empty. The locals told us that this
mine in particular is owned by a member of Congo Senate who
lives in Kinshasa, and that his miners pull 15 kilos of
coltan out of it every day. At $30 a kilo, that’s about
$13,000 a month, a lot of money in a country where most of
the people survive on less than $1 a day. And while the senator gets the
big rocks, the bottom feeders get by on what washes
down the stream. So we got totally set up. Basically when we pulled
into town. MALE SPEAKER: Lower, lower,
lower your voice. SUROOSH ALVI: Basically
we got totally set up. When we pulled into town,
alarm bells went off. And they said yeah, we’ll show
you a mine, and they took us on a trek far, far away from
town to a mine where they sent in advance someone ahead of us
to clear everyone out because there were kids working
in the mine. Then we got there, and they’re
like, oh, yeah, everybody’s just gone home for the day. They actually fessed up to that
to Horeb, to our guy, so, I’m still pissed off. It’s gonna be an interesting
night. Probably about 5:30 in the
morning here in the Numbi mining town. This is a town with
no electricity, with no running water. We basically got stranded out
here, which wasn’t really part of the plan. They didn’t take too kindly to
us initially, but they were even worried about our safety,
because we’re in South Kivu, and they’re not used to
this kind of thing. A bunch of foreigners spending
a night here. They gave us this little
house to stay in. Then they offered us a couple
soldiers to guard us all night long. You know, yesterday we
experienced them trying to keep some secrets hidden. So today we have a plan. We’re going to break free. We’re going to go a couple
kilometers, and we’re going to set up and wait for the miners
to show up so we can really see how these mines operate. This is the main street of
the Numbi mining town. It’s very muddy today, after
raining all night. It reeks of urine. Here’s my breakfast, along with
two Advils and some kind of mega antibiotic cure all. When anything goes wrong in
Africa, you take that pill. Plugs up your ass,
reduces fever. Well, so much for getting a
head start on everyone. Oh, shit. Jason, Jason, come here. I think it’s like, quicksand. I just kept going down. This is not going to be fun. This is the main Numbi mine. Just got there. These houses are all miners
who work right here. It took two days of trekking
and looking. We’re finally here in the
heart of the mine. This is where all kinds of
minerals are coming out of, everything from tantalum
to coltan. MALE SPEAKER: This is what
you call tourmaline. I can show you one that
is the biggest one. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. They say that this is
the most expensive. This is where they get it. You can see that this man is
fortunate, because he got this block of stone, which
has everything. SUROOSH ALVI: A lot inside. MALE SPEAKER: Yeah, it
has a lot inside. SUROOSH ALVI: It seems so
primitive, with their bare hands, and with shovels. They’re pulling it out, and a
lot of it ends up in super high tech devices. And you never think when you’re
using those devices back home, that this is how
it actually starts. And that without this process,
it wouldn’t exist, or it wouldn’t work. The mine that we finally saw
was so different from the horror stories that
we had heard. We were expecting to see forced
child labor, inhumane conditions, and rebels
everywhere. Maybe things were changing in
eastern Congo, or at least that’s how this mine
made it seem. In recent years, activist
organizations in the US and Europe have been pressuring
electronics companies into taking greater responsibility
for keeping rebels out of their supply chain. And in 2010, the US Congress
passed legislation forcing companies to declare their
use of conflict minerals. MALE SPEAKER:
credit for this change? Is it the government
the government want to make these changes? Was it because of the pressure
of western corporations and governments? MALE SPEAKER:
peaceful that it was hard to imagine that there was
ever a war here. Everything that we’ve been
walking on, during the like, second Congolese war, this
was like a battlefield. The mine was an almost picture
perfect symbol of progress, but I couldn’t help but wonder
how long it would be before a bunch of guys showed up with
guns and screwed it all up. TIM FRECCIA: That’s the whole
point with conflict minerals is it’s in every businessman’s
interest to keep conflict going. Then there’s no control,
there’s no government. There’s nobody watching
whether or not children are working. SUROOSH ALVI: Our last
stop in Numbi was the coltan storage facility. And not surprisingly, it was the
nicest building in town. MALE SPEAKER:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] SUROOSH ALVI: Let me see? Wow. This is coltan. This is what it’s all about. 80% of the world’s supply comes
from here in Congo. Thank you, Congo, for providing
this for us. MALE SPEAKER:
cassarite. Is it pure, solid cassarite? MALE SPEAKER:
basically what tin, tin ore comes from. MALE SPEAKER: Yeah,
it’s heavy. SUROOSH ALVI: It’s heavy. We struggled for two days to
find the mines, and eventually we got there. We are going back to Goma on
motorcycles because roads are so bad now, and so dangerous
that they’re saying that a Land Cruiser almost fell
off a cliff last night. We’d seen one of the mines
where coltan comes from. We’re happy that the conditions
there seem to be improving, but with so many
armed groups operating in eastern Congo, that could
change in an instant. But where did all these rebels
come from in the first place? Most people know about
the Rwandan genocide. Hutus killing Tutsis. But few understand how it led to
a war in neighboring Congo. Here’s the short version. Millions of Rwandan refugees
streaming across the border. Among them, many of
the Hutu soldiers involved in the genocide. Soldiers that the new
Tutsi leadership in Rwanda wanted dead. Before long, eastern Congo
became home to a litany of armed militias supported
by foreign countries. We’re on our way to
meet the Mai Mai. They are a witch doctor militia
and self-proclaimed protectors of Congolese soil. They are the most feared
militia in the country. It is believed they have
special powers. They can fly, they
can disappear. And bullets pass through
them like water. And we’re going to go
camping with them. Most of the groups who have been
using minerals to fuel their military operations have
been from the countries surrounding Congo. The Mai Mai are a sort of
patriotic response to this influx of foreigners, and they
are the all too often overlooked link in the vicious
circle that is conflict in eastern Congo. As long as they’re convinced
that Congo is being corrupted by outsiders, they will
keep fighting. [CAR HONKING] MALE SPEAKER:
three hours ago, and on our drive here, again, beautiful. Eastern Congo is stunning. But as we approached Masisi
territory in this town that we’re in now, things
were getting worse. More humanitarian aid
vehicles everywhere. Everybody here needs help. The locals, they’re dirt poor,
and they’re hungry. Horeb is going to talk to
people to sort shit out. Make sure we don’t get into
any trouble as we proceed. The Mai Mai agreed to let us
into their world, which we’re really excited to see. MULTIPLE SPEAKERS:
Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris. JAKE BURGHART: This is the
second time people have thought I was Chuck Norris. MALE SPEAKER: Yeah? JAKE BURGHART: I didn’t even
have a headband on. SUROOSH ALVI: So what’s
happening? We’re waiting for
the motorcycles? HOREB BUJAMBO: We are still
bargaining about the price for the motorcycles. Going to that area
is not easy. It’s something like going
to a war zone. People here are saying that the
last time when they went there, they were beaten
by Mai Mai when they took some people there. Then they’re asking us to
guarantee that when they spend the night there, if we shall
assure that nobody will beat them, and nobody will
traumatize them. SUROOSH ALVI: The further we got
from Masisi, the reality of the situation we were heading
into began to sink in. The various rebel groups that
still occupy much of the bush are packs of battle-hardened,
murderous thugs, whose names have become synonymous
with the word rape. FEMALE SPEAKER 1:
notorious rebel group operating in Congo today is the
FDLR, a Hutu power group tied to the perpetrators of
the Rwandan genocide. FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
where the road ends. Now we wait for some
motorcycles. We sat around waiting at a
nearby UN post for the motorcycle guys we
hired to arrive. Yeah, the same guys that
were harassing us when we arrived in Masisi. We got six kilometers from the
point where the road ends for the car, and we’re waiting
for the motorcycles. Our motorcycles aren’t coming,
or they’re not here yet. And this is the UN
base in the area. We had to register with
them, which kind of makes me a bit nervous. They say it’s just a formality
in case something happens. The Congolese government
doesn’t really have any jurisdiction where
we’re going. So you turn the phone
on for 15 minutes. UN OFFICER: Only 15. SUROOSH ALVI: OK. UN OFFICER: That is
only for you. SUROOSH ALVI: In the evening,
and in the morning. 6:00 and 6:00. UN OFFICER: No. Only– SUROOSH ALVI: Only once. UN OFFICER: Only 15 minutes. SUROOSH ALVI: In 24 hours. OK. I understand. Thank you. JAKE BURGHART: Thank you. UN OFFICER: We are not
using this line. We have radio sets. We are specially open for you. SUROOSH ALVI: OK. UN OFFICER: For 15 minutes. If you have some mess,
you can talk. SUROOSH ALVI: OK. Thank you. And then we were standing there,
and I just thought, we should just ask them if we can
sleep here, because I don’t like the idea of if our
motorcycle guys show up, we go six kilometers with them, and
then it’s going to get dark, it’s going to rain, and we’re
gong to be wandering through the Congolese jungle in
the dark, trying to find the Mai Mai. Sounds a bit sketchy to me. Just as I was getting
comfortable, the motorcycles guys arrived, and we were off,
racing to get to the Mai Mai camp before dark. As we were riding deeper into
the jungle, we got stopped by a bunch of young
guys with guns. We’d been told that the
Congolese military, the FARDC, were a little rough
around the edges. But there was something
about these guys that made us nervous. MALE SPEAKER:
Horeb whispered to us that these guys were the dreaded
Rwandan Hutu rebels, the FDLR. Basically, the last people
in the world we wanted to run into. HOREB BUJAMBO: I knew that these
people we met on the way were Rwandans and not Mai Mai
just because they were speaking in Kinyarwandan,
and this is what the Mai Mai don’t do. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] MALE SPEAKER:
people know about the FDLR. If you don’t cooperate or so,
you can pay your life. SUROOSH ALVI: We’d heard rumors
that for some reason, the Mai Mai and the FDLR were
working together, but it wasn’t until the creepy
commander of their outpost gave us four of his armed guards
to take us to the Mai Mai camp that we actually
believed it. So we continued our journey
through the jungle at night. You see anything? I don’t know how far we are from
the final destination, the Mai Mai camp,
but it’s late. We’re deep in the
heart of it now. I don’t know, man. I think this might
be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. How far are we? We arrived here 14 hours after
we left Vilma this morning. The last three hours of which
was walking through the jungle in the dark, which is
a first for me. I’m not afraid to say it, I am
soft, living in New York City, sitting at my desk
12 hours a day. I’m a professional emailer,
just [TYPING SOUNDS]. I wanted to stay with the Indian
UN guys, because their place was great. Because I knew there was no way
we were going to get there in 90 minutes, and I knew we
were going to end up walking through a Congolese
jungle at night. And it sucked, but we’re here. MALE SPEAKERS:
Mai Mai camp right now. We are way off the grid,
deep in the bush. We’re so far out here that the
UN jurisdiction ended, and then the Congolese government
troops, the FARDC, their jurisdiction ended. We encountered some Rwandan
rebels going through that area. And after that, it’s
just bush. But hopefully we’re gonna
meet the general now. We want to interview him and
get an understanding of why they’re the most political
and feared militia in this country. It would be great if we
could see the special powers that they have. I want to see them turn
themselves into animals. I think that would
be pretty cool. All right. I need Imodium. MALE SPEAKERS:
is shorthand for the wide assortment of local militias
in Eastern Congo. General Janvier is the leader
of a group known as the Patriotic Alliance for a Free
and Sovereign Congo, also known as the APCLS. The thing about rebel leaders
is that much of their power lies in their mystique. They don’t want to seem
overeager to meet the press. So we had a wait around until
the general could carve some time out of his busy schedule
to meet with us. MALE SPEAKER: He looks
like Chuck Norris. SUROOSH ALVI: In the meantime,
we hung out with some of his soldiers. Horeb, how many times
has he been shot? HOREB BUJAMBO:
fighting when he was shot? APCLS SOLDIER:
Tutsis, it’s shorthand for the Rwandan government,
who they blame for most of Congo’s problems. HOREB BUJAMBO:
a name, the dog? HOREB BUJAMBO: Bobby. SUROOSH ALVI: Bobby. HOREB BUJAMBO: They say that
Bobby has also battled and contributed to many fighting. SUROOSH ALVI: Really? But he looks so nice. He just winked at me. MALE SPEAKERS:
was ordered to stop speaking, we received word that
the general was finally ready to see us. But in order to do so, we had to
cross one of the sketchiest Lord of the Flies- esque
bridges imaginable. Then we were led to an even
more remote encampment. Then, after being surrounded
by heavily armed guards, we met with the general’s
secretary, who meticulously transcribed our every word. The general finally granted
us an audience. We can start? HOREB BUJAMBO: Yeah. SUROOSH ALVI: OK, monsieur
le general, thank you for your time. My first question is, since
the time of Belgian colonization, the natural
resources of this country have been taken from the
Congolese people. As the protectors of Congolese
soil, what is your view on the mining that’s taken place in
the country and the way foreign corporations
and governments are involved with that? GENERAL JANVIER:
Janvier’s beef was not with foreigners in general,
but with the current government of Rwanda. So I was starting to understand
why they’d team up with the FDLR. It seems to me that you have a
common enemy with the FDLR, and I’m wondering, are you
friends with them? And also, do you think that
they should leave this country, along with the
rest of the Rwandans? GENERAL JANVIER:
totally confused. Were they or weren’t they
allied with the FDLR? The UN group of experts report
that you and your group have been working with FDLR, and it’s
very important for us to get clarity on this
from you, so we communicate this report correctly. GENERAL JANVIER:
this was total bullshit, because it was the FDLR who
escorted us to the Mai Mai camp, I didn’t want to piss
off our new friends, so I decided to change topics. Could you explain to me what
some of these special powers are that the Mai Mai have? GENERAL JANVIER:
but I am not white. And I believe in God. GENERAL JANVIER:
wouldn’t show off his magical powers, but what he did insist
on showing us were his prisoners, two FARDC soldiers
they kidnapped two months ago while patrolling the area. This was a remarkably weird,
unsettling, and Heart of Darkness moment. It seems that they’re pretty
healthy, and haven’t been abused or beaten. So why are you being
nice to them? GENERAL JANVIER:
general served up his propaganda, he fed us
a nice, hot meal of Congolese rice and beans. It’s the first meal we’ve
had in a few days. We’re about to trek through
the jungle. This time in the middle
of the afternoon, so I expect it will be hot. Took us 14 hours to get here. Hopefully it won’t take
that long to get back. He was a nice guy,
the general. On our trek back, we
managed to piss off the creepy FDLR commander. FDLR COMMANDER:
by our motorcycle guys. What happened? JASON MOJICA: Well, they’re
holding out for like, a whole lot more money. SUROOSH ALVI: The UN guys
are gonna get involved. And had our lives threatened
by a bunch of locals drunk on 12% beer. But the strangest part of it
all was that by this point, after just one week in the
Congo, all this lunacy seemed completely normal. Leaving tomorrow. The trip has come to an end. It was good vibes, it
was scary at times. We learned a lot. We had to work hard to
get to the story. Whether we were going to the
mines in Numbi, or whether we were trying to meet with
General Janvier. It’s an incredibly complicated
situation in place. There are no easy answers. But we– well, how do I end that? There are no easy answers. It’s easy to pin the country’s
problems on the past. On the legacy of brutality by
Belgian colonialists and kleptocratic rulers, the
practices of Western corporations, or wars with
neighboring nations. But that doesn’t make
any of them go away. If we demanded conflict-free
electronics, maybe the rebel groups would simply melt
away into the jungle. Or maybe it would lead to
businesses avoiding coltan from Congo altogether, making
one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer, which
is kind of what seems to be happening. Congo is one of the most
under-reported stories in the world, and now we
understand why. It’s so insanely complicated
that’s it’s hard to know where to start. We did, however, see some signs
of hope and progress. But it’s a fragile progress in
a place where anyone with a gun and an agenda can
basically have his own little kingdom. So until the government in
Kinshasa takes control of its territory and ensures that its
army is the only one operating in the jungle, Congo will
continue to be a war zone. And instead of being a blessing,
the minerals that fuel this conflict will continue
to be a curse.

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