From Coltan to Cattle: Unearthing Violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Ann A. Laudati, Environment and Society, Utah State University

Research Grant, 2012

The aim of my research program was to understand the linkages between natural resources and violent conflict, using Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as a case study. In particular, there exists extensive research that looks at whether there are links and what those links are. There is very little scholarship, however, about the mechanisms connecting violent conflict and natural resources. My project aimed to address this scholarly gap through a micro level qualitative investigation that asked how and in what ways does the use of natural resources in the DRC shape instances of violence. The DRC is a particularly relevant case study given the multiple natural resources at play in past and current “wars” and the significance particular resources have held within scholarly and media narratives surrounding the violence.

My earliest trips to the field focused on investigating the wider portfolio of resources that were linked to the region’s fighting. My paper published in 2013 entitled “Beyond Minerals” in the Review of African Political Economy highlights the findings from these earlier investigations. The paper illustrates the diversity of resources drawn upon by different conflict actors. In addition to well-known conflict resources such as minerals and timber, more mundane commodities, such as marijuana and palm oil, were found to be significant valuables in the region’s rebel economy.

I thus seek to understand how the use of different natural resources by armed actors leads to differentiated forms of violence against civilians.

Such findings raise important questions about the scholarly attention devoted to “conflict minerals,” as such a narrow focus overlooks non-mineral economies with important implications for peace in the region. Later research in the area, which continues today thanks to continued financial support through multiple other grants, focuses on the micro dynamics through which engagement in these various natural resource economies contributes to violence in the region.

It thus moves away from a general understanding of which natural resources play a role in the conflict to an analysis of how their use contributes to particular violent outcomes. In other words, what are the mechanisms through which these natural resources contribute to different forms of violence.

  1. Laudati, AA, 2013, “Beyond minerals: broadening 'economies of violence' in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” Review of African Political Economy, vol 40., pp. 32-50.

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