New evidence from a United Nations report and a high-profile investor arbitration case is casting a spotlight on Rwanda’s role in sophisticated smuggling networks that extract gold and coltan from Congolese conflict zones and funnel the strategically important minerals illicitly into the global supply chain for consumer products such as cellphones, computers and jewellery.
The smuggling is also fuelling military and human-rights abuses in Central Africa, while damaging the region’s corporate-supported efforts to regulate the minerals trade, the evidence suggests.
Experts have been aware of the smuggling for many years, but fresh details from UN researchers and filings in the case have revealed how these networks are flourishing in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), even as governments claim to be cleaning up the underground trade.
The UN report uses photos, interviews with smugglers and other sources to document the trafficking of minerals across the border into Rwanda, where they are exported into the world’s supply chains.
The arbitration case has included testimony from mining company executives who confirm the smuggling. The illicit trade would explain how Rwanda has become one of the world’s biggest coltan exporters, despite having few producing mines of its own.
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