How much gold could you cram into a pocket? Or into a briefcase?
About $30,000 and $700,000, respectively, estimates the The Enough Project, an initiative working to end genocide and crimes against humanity throughout Sudan and the Congo. According to a new report published today by Enough, gold is now the No. 1 Congolese conflict mineral, besting the likes of coltan, tantalum, tin and tungsten, and fueling armed groups like the FDLR. And while the official gold exports out of eastern Congo in the first half of 2012 clocked in at around 23 kilograms, the report goes on to claim that between two and four tons of gold left the country via illegal, often bloody routes.
So maybe it is safe to assume that a good deal of gold being smuggled out from Congo today is indeed either stuffed into pants or bricked neatly inside carryalls.
It’s this portability and the potential profits, naturally, that have armed groups turning to gold with such vigor. But as VICE experienced first hand when getting to the dark heart of an industry that keeps all our gadgets and laptops ticking, fanning out precious minerals – to Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda, in gold’s case – is not without great risks.
“If you drive from Walikale (a major minerals center) to Goma, you have to pass three different checkpoints,” one minerals transporter, Willy, told Enough. “You have to pay the (Rwandan Hutu Democratic Forces), you have to pay the (former National Congress for the Defense of the People), and you have to pay the army. You have to pay all, or they will kill you.”
Thus bringing a whole new meaning, you gold-ring wearers, to having blood on your hands.