Natural Resources Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: A Question of Governance?

Author:Clementine Burnley
Position:Works as a senior project manager for Adelphi Research on topics of natural resources governance and peace building in the Great Lakes region
7FALL 2011
by Clementine Burnley*
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) is a frag-
ile post-conflict state that is immensely rich in natural
resources. Effective management of its mining, oil, and
forestry resources is key to its future economic progress.1 How-
ever, the DRC is widely regarded as a textbook forum for natu-
ral resource-induced conflicts at both local and national levels.2
If natural resources are the main cause of conflicts, then improv-
ing governance over those resources could reduce the likelihood
of conflict. Academic studies on conflict causes could be usefully
linked to research on governance to improve the management of
natural resources in conflict-prone societies. For instance, studies
have revealed that countries with high quality institutions dedicated
to the management of valuable natural resources minimize poten-
tial problems faced by resource-rich and conflict-prone countries.3
However, natural resource management can be complex
and difficult due to incongruent political, social, economic,
and environmental goals even in peaceful societies.4 Conflict-
prone societies such as the DRC present even more complex
challenges given the underlying political and historical reasons
for the conflicts.5 Despite these significant difficulties, best
governance practices such as incorporating stakeholder input and
financing strategies could both prevent and resolve conflicts. This
article summarizes findings about a number of important external
and internal factors fueling conflict, institutional and governance
challenges in managing resources, and highlights a number of
ways in which donor institutions have worked with policymakers to
improve resource governance in the DRC. In adopting these tech-
niques for equitable and efficient natural resource management, the
DRC could achieve long-term peace and economic stability.
There is a large body of quantitative research on the external
factors relevant for understanding civil conflicts at the local,
national, and international level.6 Examples of these external
factors include resources type and the characteristics of the
state.7 These studies have focused on the access to and use
of natural resources by conflict parties, especially the role of
conflict financing through the exploitation of natural resources.8
Valuable natural resources like diamonds, gold, oil, timber, and
even drug crops and medicinal plants, have been found to be
prone to misappropriation.9 The control of these resources may
allow rebels to generate conflict financing.10
Along similar lines, several quantitative political science
studies demonstrated that the abundance of natural resources
increases the statistical risk of armed conflict at the national
level.11 However, numerous other studies have criticized the
robustness of such conclusions.12 This criticism reflects flaws
such as the methodology of the quantitative studies, which fail
to distinguish civil war onset and ongoing civil war as equal
components of civil war prevalence.13 Despite this flaw, these
studies can nonetheless be useful in understanding how conflict
makes the management of natural resources more difficult and
vice versa.14
Another set of academic studies focuses on environmental
scarcity and competition between groups for these natural
resources.15 Increasing demand from growing populations and
inequalities in the distribution of natural resources can ulti-
mately lead to environmental degradation.16 These studies have
also been criticized for methodological weaknesses, paucity of
data, and according too much weight to environmental factors
and too little emphasis on human factors such as technological
innovativeness and ingenuity.17 Nevertheless, the concept of
competition between groups over distribution of resources
is pertinent to an understanding of the current, and sometimes
violent, community-level conflicts over land and forest usage in
the eastern provinces of the DRC.18
The DRC includes most of the Congo Basin region, an
area of enormous wealth in terms of biodiversity, timber, and
mineral resources.19 Despite this natural wealth, however, the
DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world with signifi-
cant infrastructure deficiencies and an economy that is highly
dependent upon agriculture and forestry.20 Violent and non-
violent conflicts linked to the use of its natural resources have
historically prevented the DRC from fully utilizing its resources
to generate revenue and improve quality of life for its citizens.21
Specifically, numerous policy reports have highlighted the
role of minerals in financing the armed groups involved in the
* Clementine Burnley works as a senior project manager for Adelphi Research
on topics of natural resources governance and peace building in the Great Lakes
region. She has carried out fieldwork in Western Uganda, Democratic Repub-
lic of Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Clementine has also worked on several
research projects to derive indicators of environmental status from a combina-
tion of earth observation and socio-economic data.
most recent DRC conflicts.22 Control over mining areas in the
eastern provinces continues to shift between different indepen-
dent armed groups and units of the Military of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (“FARDC”).23 The struggle for control
over these resources has exacerbated conflict and created greater
difficulty in managing the resources to benefit the public.24
Despite a recent transition towards peace, conflict and inse-
curity remain in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu,
Orientale, Maniema, and Katanga.25 These conflicts are par-
ticularly acute in the northeastern provinces of Ituri in Orientale,
and North and South Kivu, where local militia and foreign rebel
forces continue to terrorize the regions.26 A prime example of
conflict is the Virunga National Park (“Park”) located in north-
eastern DRC, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda.27 The
Park was the site of some of the large-scale armed conflicts that
occurred in the Kivu Provinces.28 The 1994 Rwandan genocide
and resulting refugee crisis led to the presence of about 700,000
refugees on the edges of the Park.29 These displaced groups
increased the consumption of resources both inside and outside
the Park, furthering the impact on the environment and leading
to mass deforestation.30
Identity and nationality, which are linked to land and politi-
cal power, have also played an important part in the different
conflicts of the DRC. In the absence of alternative income-
earning opportunities in the formal economy or in commerce,
access to land is essential to livelihoods in DRC.31 There have
been several historic conflicts over grazing land and land
ownership between Hema and Lendu peoples in Ituri.32 These
conflicts have killed 10,000 and displaced 50,000.33 Moreover,
these types of conflicts are likely to continue until those natural
resources with income-generating potential, such as timber, are
better managed.34
The twin challenges of governance for the DRC are to
provide security for all of its citizens and to build democratic,
transparent, and accountable institutions capable of manag-
ing its enormous resource wealth for the benefit of its entire
population.35 Although the existing legal framework recognizes
the right to use land via customary law, it also allows for land
grabbing, the purchase of occupied land, and the eviction of
tenants.36 And since the government retains the right to define
“Congolese people,” the issue of who is entitled to land rights is
highly politicized.37 Further tensions stem from the unclear role
of formal and customary authorities.38 Thus legal reform is nec-
essary to prevent future land-grabbing opportunities that could
cause armed conflict.39 Legitimizing certain existing formal
and customary systems of land administration, and providing a
forum for land use disputes, could help diffuse both future con-
flicts and lay a framework for sustainable land management.48
The demarcation of conservation areas in the DRC is also a
contentious political issue. The existence of conservation areas
has been linked to colonial land demarcations, which are not
always understood or accepted by the communities affected.40
In response, managers of these protected areas have engaged
in participatory management methods involving local communi-
ties, such as consultations, participatory demarcation, and the
creation of alternative livelihood activities.41
However, conflict exists not only over the natural resources
but also over collaboration: site-specific, cross-border collabo-
ration efforts between conservation organizations in Rwanda,
DRC, and Uganda have continued during various wars at the
regional level.42 Furthermore, the DRC continues to face signifi-
cant challenges in its reform processes in all natural resources
sectors.43 The widespread disintegration of government func-
tionality during the prolonged conflicts has left a legacy of
bureaucratic inefficiencies in knowledge, expertise, capacity,
and resourcing across all sectors.44 These shortcomings mean
that institutions often are unable to respond to the serious prob-
lems they face.45 For instance, in the area of education, only
thirty-two percent of teachers in secondary school and twenty
percent of those in higher education are qualified at the level
mandated by their posts.46 Congo’s National Statistical Institute
(“INS”) lacks resources to collect the necessary information by
which ministries’ performance can be verified.47 Even in areas
where periodic reporting is mandatory, such as the mining indus-
try, it is still difficult to find reliable data on mining operators,
production, or exported commodities.48
Transparency in governance remains another main chal-
lenge to effective natural resources in the DRC. The country now
ranks 164th out of 178 in the 2011 Transparency International
Corruption Perception Index, while the World Bank/IFC Doing
Business 2011 survey ranks DRC 175th out of 183 countries.49
A number of authors have highlighted the negative effects of
corruption on the management of natural resources in DRC.50
For instance, policy processes are prone to disruption by politi-
cians acting in their own, rent-seeking interests.51 Furthermore,
government agents at mine sites illegally tax the operations in
eastern DRC, justifying their practice by blaming the lack of
monetary support from the central government.52
The concept of “capacity” refers to the ability of individuals
and institutions to conceive and carry out decisions effectively
and efficiently.53 There is a clear need for institutional capacity
building in the DRC to ensure compliance with the international
norms and agreements relevant to environmental management.54
At the individual level, capacity building refers to the
processes of teaching and skills training.55 At the local and
national institutional level, improvements to the functioning
of institutions and capacity of administrators could help civil
services better use revenue and natural resources to reduce
poverty.56 Increasingly, administrators are using capacity build-
ing to encourage ownership through participation and mutual
exchange of knowledge.57 Building individual capacity in terms
of natural resource management would involve increasing the
level of expertise in its legal, scientific, or technical aspects.58
For example, increasing expertise in the implementation and
monitoring of regulatory compliance or increasing awareness of
FALL 2011 9
the conflict risk in managing natural resources would increase
the government and different communities’ ability to address
these conflicts.59 Moreover, increasing scientific expertise in
the geological field would allow DRC’s institutions to improve
their negotiating power with extractive industry counterparts.60
Similarly, capacity building for local businesses could help
to promote the development of homegrown industries in the
minerals sector.61
On the international level, governance initiatives relevant
to the environment in the DRC are conditioned by the various
international treaties and environmental agreements to which
the country is a signatory.62 These initiatives and treaties specify
actions to protect the DRC’s biodiversity, endangered species,
timber, and wetlands as well as to mitigate climate change.63
USAID and the European Development Fund both have agree-
ments with the DRC to fund such programs, which encompass
regional conservation and production areas.64 Given this outside
support for local and national institutions, it is vital to create
an implementation framework that creates coherent sector-wide
Specifically, the DRC is currently developing a governance
framework for the forestry sector.66 The population is highly
dependent on the forestry sector and, although precise data is
uncertain, the expansive forests of the DRC provide a wide array
of benefits, including timber for domestic use and export, fuel
wood, a variety of forest foods and medicines, and a carbon
sink for sequestration programs.67 It is estimated that the DRC’s
timber resources are equal to that of all other African countries
combined and the timber industry is expected to benefit from
increasing demand in China and India.68 Therefore, this sector
is a high priority for reform.69 The ongoing forestry reforms
are part of the preparation of a national strategy for Reducing
Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
(“REDD”), by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conserva-
tion and Tourism (known by the French acronym “MECNT”).70
The DRC’s 2002 Forest Code is an important first step in both
regulating an important resource and creating an implementation
framework for fund programs such as REDD. 71
Land use conflicts between different resource users and
managers have often arisen in eastern DRC. And although
individual organizations managing land within or adjacent to
protected areas have each addressed the conflicts differently,
a number of good practices have been proven to reduce usage
conflicts.72 Such practices include devolving rights to local
communities, diversifying economic activities around protected
areas, improving land use planning and zoning, securing tenure
to land and resources, ensuring stakeholder participation in
resource management, integrating policies relating to natural
resources, and legitimizing community-based management
initiatives.73 Given the success of these tactics, many national
programs in the DRC are beginning to embrace these concepts.
Accordingly, donors and the government of the DRC are
working together to build institutional and individual capacities
for participatory management of natural resources in various
In the forestry sector, the International Development
Association and the Global Environment Facility are support-
ing the Forest and Nature Conservation Project to provide
infrastructure, equipment, training, and project coordination
at the national level for the MECNT, regional, and provin-
cial management bodies.75 Implementing best practices will
strengthen MECNT’s institutional capacity to as well as commu-
nity participation in sustainable forest management.76 Striving
for similar goals, WWF and United Nations Human Settlements
Programme (“UN-HABITAT”) are collaborating to manage
conflicts linked to land tenure bordering protected areas in east-
ern DRC, combining participatory demarcation with conflict
mediation and land administration.77
To facilitate best practices, it is important to recognize that
the external economic environment, such as levels of direct
foreign investment and variability in price of commodities,
is largely outside the control of the Congolese.78 However, Con-
golese policymakers and administrators can nonetheless control
how revenues and investments are managed.79 Improvements to
the institutional governance systems for resource revenues have
focused on increasing efficiency in three dimensions: manage-
ment, allocation of revenue, and distribution of benefits.80
International efforts have focused on supporting transpar-
ency in revenue management and restricting the financing
of armed groups.81 The Extractive Industries Transparency
Initiative (“EITI”) tries to increase transparency surrounding
resources exploitation, revenue generation, and budget alloca-
tions.82 The DRC has been classified by the EITI as “close to
compliant.”83 Transparency initiative objectives support the
disclosure of information for the extractive industry and civil
stakeholders’ demands for accountability from policymakers
and institutions.84 However, it will take time for capacity build-
ing to redress the current imbalance between levels of influence
by state and civil society actors.85 At the moment, capacity and
knowledge gaps on the part of civil society mean that it is diffi-
cult for civil stakeholders to hold institutions and political actors
accountable for their actions.86
Trade restrictions have also been introduced to reduce
availability of resource-based financing to conflict actors.87 For
example, the Kimberley Process for Conflict Diamonds is an
intergovernmental process established to regulate and reduce
trading in diamonds from rebel-controlled areas.88 This and
other similar initiatives require companies to report whether
their supply chain contains minerals sourced from conflict zones
that may have contributed to the financing of armed groups.89
This, in turn, requires due diligence and traceability mechanisms
to distinguish between “clean” and “dirty” minerals.90
In the DRC, a number of traceability initiatives already exist
at the national, regional, and international levels. At the national
level, the DRC’s Mining Law of 2002 requires community
consultations, disclosure of contract terms by both companies
and the government, and revenue transparency through adher-
ence to EITI guidelines.91 The publication of the 2010 Mining
Contracts Review, carried out to determine benefits of these
contracts to the DRC, is still in progress.92
At the regional level, several regional groups have adopted
traceability and accountability mechanisms. The Organiza-
tion for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”),
for example, has drawn up auditing guidelines for mineral
processors.93 The International Conference of the Great Lakes
has also committed to a regional certification mechanism, which
provides a clear procedure and adequate records of mineral
origins.94 The International Tin Research Initiative has also
improved due diligence, traceability, and certification processes
for tin through the Tin Supply Chain Initiative.95 However,
these traceability initiatives in DRC ultimately face difficulties
linked to cost, implementation, monitoring, human capacity, and
resource gaps.96
National initiatives supplement industry-led and regional
traceability schemes. In the United States, the recent 2010
Conflict Minerals Provision of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street
Reform and Consumer Protection Act requires companies to
represent accurate information regarding the source and supply
chain of certain minerals.97 The German Federal Institute for
Geosciences and Natural Resources has supported the estab-
lishment of Certified Trading Chains.98 These initiatives would
assist in reducing resource-based financing to conflict actors
through international trade channels.99
There are some examples of good non-renewable resource
management in from countries of the global north. Norway, for
example, has successfully used macroeconomic tools to guide
oil revenues, domestic oil retention, and revenue utilization,
avoiding the potentially harmful effects of equitable redistribu-
tion.100 In this way, Norway has managed to avoid the typical
problems of an oil economy, such as the boom-b ust cycle and
wealth concentration.101 Despite the fact that the two countries
differ in their government accountability systems and transpar-
ency, Norway’s solutions may provide guidance to the DRC.102
Combining Norway’s approach with transparency and account-
ability initiatives could provide a better system for managing
non-renewable resources.103
The challenge for the DRC is to improve the workings of
institutional and political processes at both the national and
the local level to ensure that natural resources are used in a
sustainable manner to improve the lives of communities.
International examples of successful resource management
are often supported by international organizations and private
nongovernmental organizations (“NGOs”). The World Heritage
Institute (UNESCO), Congolese Institute for the Conservation
of Nature (“ICCN”), and local NGOs are currently collaborating
on “Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict:
Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo.”104 That project, which has been running since 2000
with multi-donor funding, supports not only the key financial,
logistical, and technical sectors, but also provides access to the
higher political decision-makers at the national regional and
international levels.105
Another example, the World Wildlife Fund’s (“WWF”)
Eco-Makala Project, has responded to the deforestation by refu-
gees in the southern part of the Virunga National Park in North
Kivu Province by introducing legal fuel wood plantations.106 The
WWF project increases the availability of sustainable energy
for the area around Goma and to reduce rural poverty in Masisi
and Rutshuru.107 The United States Agency for International
Development (“USAID”) Central Africa Regional Program on
the Environment is helping to support the WWF, demarking
protected areas using a combination of participatory methods,
mapping, and GIS tools.108 The project works with local com-
munities and chiefs, restricting access to certain areas in order to
sensitize communities to the benefits of maintaining biodiversity
in their surrounding areas.109 Conservation International is sup-
porting the ICCN to jointly manage resource reserves with local
communities in the Equateur Province to provide livelihood
alternatives and also to track deforestation.110
With normalization of relations between the DRC and
Rwanda, and integration of some armed groups into the state
army and police forces, the most important conflict management
processes affecting the Kivu Provinces have taken place at the
national and international level.111 Security sector reform is
also ongoing, but still leaves much to be desired.112 The most
immediate challenge for policymakers is to end illegal control
over, and taxation of, mining, both by the Congolese army and
by armed groups.113 This would require bringing areas currently
under the control of armed groups under state control through
military action or negotiation.114
Additionally, the government needs to stop those at the
highest military and political levels from seizing the profits from
minerals. A number of specific recommendations have been
made by expert organizations working in the field of safeguards,
advocating the monitoring and inspection systems for mining
areas where the Congolese military are deployed and reinforce-
ment of military sanctions to end impunity and increase account-
ability in army units.115
The theories of environmental scarcity and of natural
resources wealth as conflict causes in the DRC are well docu-
mented. What remains unclear, however, is why large-scale
armed violence persists in some eastern provinces of the
country, while other, equally resource rich provinces, such as
Katanga and the hinterlands of the Kivu Provinces, escape such
violence.116 This suggests that additional tensions, such as those
between industrial and artisanal miners and those linked to local
socioeconomic factors are of the upmost relevance.117
This article has described the consequences of prolonged
instability for natural resource management in the DRC. Fur-
ther, natural resources management remains a low priority for
11FALL 2011
political actors, many of whom favor the consolidation of power
and wealth.118 The presence of those stakeholders who instigate
and profit from instability constitutes the major obstacle to
effective natural resources management and to improvements in
overall governance in the DRC.119
The political, economic, and social contexts in which natural
resources are used and the manner in which resources are man-
aged is paramount to prevent and manage conflicts at all levels.
The nature and scale of the conflicts described in this paper are
each different and, therefore, the management approaches cor-
respondingly different.
This article has also outlined a number of ways in which
donor institutions have worked with policymakers to improve
resource governance in the DRC. The initiatives described sup-
port alternative income opportunities for local communities,
redistribution of revenues from some extractive industries, and
prevention of local resources usage conflicts. Many of the natu-
ral resources management activities have had active participa-
tion of communities as a key component.
Governance objectives are often broadly formulated to
strengthen institutions, build institutional and human capacity,
and improve rule of law. These broad aims, while useful as guid-
ing principles, remain extremely abstract. Successful governance,
however, requires specific measures and binding timeframes for
implementation in order to reform key areas such as the accurate
monitoring and legal enforcement of natural resources manage-
ment strategies. While the institutional structures and processes
may already be in place, it will still take a long planning process,
significant additional resources, and political will to achieve the
needed transparency and accountability for the management of
all natural resources sectors in the DRC.
Endnotes: Natural Resources Conflict in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo: A question of Governance?
1 See World Development Indicators, WORLD BANK (last updated Sept. 2011),
2 See UNITED NATIONS, Final Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal
Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Demo-
cratic Republic of the Congo, S/2002/1146 (2009),
5 See Philippe le Billon, The Political Ecology of War: Natural Resources
and Armed Conflicts, 20 Pol. GEOGRAPHY 562-66 (2001), http://www.geog.ubc.
6 See, e.g., Paul Collier & Anke Hoeffler, Greed and Grievance in Civil War,
56 OXFORD ECO. PAPERS No.4 563 (2004) (arguing that economic reliance on
primary commodity exports and large diaspora increases risk of conflict).
7 Id. See also David Collier et al., A Sea Change in Political Methodology,
9 NEWSL. OF THE Am. Pol. Sci. Ass’n (2010).
8 See Indra de Soysa, Paradise is a Bazaar? Greed, Creed, and Governance
in Civil War, 39 J. OF PEACE RESEARCH 395, 404-05, 413 (2002). See also Collier
& Hoeffler, supra note 7, at 1.
9 See generally UNITED NATIONS, supra note 2.
10 See UNITED NATIONS, supra note 2, at 20.
11 See Collier & Hoeffler, supra note 7; see also Le Billon, supra note 5.
12 See Nicholas Sambanis & Ibrahim Elbadawi, How Much War Will We See?
Explaining the Prevalence of Civil War, 46 J. of Conflict Resolution 307-34
(2002); see also James Fearon, Primary Commodity Exports and Civil War,
49 J. of Conflict Resolution 483-507 (2005); see also Håvard Hegre & Nicholas
Sambanis, Sensitivity Analysis of Empirical Results on Civil War Onset, J. of
Conflict Resolution 508-35 (2006).
13 Sambanis & Elbadawi, supra note 13, at 307.
14 See Le Billon, supra note 5, at 563-66.
16 See RENNER, supra note 16, at 36, 59.
17 See Nils P. Gleditsch et al., Armed conflict 1946-2001: A New Dataset,
39 J. OF PEACE RESEARCH, 615-37 (2002).
18 See generally Collier & Hoeffler supra note 7. See also International Peace
Information Service (IPIS), The Complexity of Resource Governance in a
Context of State Fragility: The Case of Eastern DRC 8, 54 (Nov. 2010),
19 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, Background Note:
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Sept. 30, 2011),
20 See Peter Bofin et al. (eds.), REDD Integrity: Addressing governance and
corruption challenges in schemes for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Forest Degradation 25 (2011),
21 See U.S. Department of State, supra note 20.
22 See IPIS, supra note 19. See also UNITED NATIONS, Final Report of the
Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other
Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supra note 2.
23 IPIS, supra note 19, at 10.
24 Id. at 68-69.
25 Id. at 8, 54.
26 Id.
27 José Kalpers, Volcanoes under Siege: Impact of a Decade of Armed Con-
flict in the Virungas, WORLDWILDLIFE.ORG,
publications/africa/144/titlepage.htm (last visited Nov. 18, 2011).
28 Id.
29 Id.
30 Id.
31 Id.
32 See René Lemarchand, The Democratic Republic of Congo: From Collapse
to Potential Reconstruction 35, 36 (Oct. 27, 2011),
33 Id.
34 See Forests Monitor, The Timber Trade and Poverty Alleviation in the
Upper Great Lakes Region 8-9 (2007),
35 See USAID, Country Profile: Democratic Republic of Congo, http://
of-congo (last visited Nov. 18, 2011).
36 Id.
37 Id. See also IPIS, supra note 19, at 71.
38 USAID, supra note 35.
39 Id.
40 See Kalpers, supra note 28.
41 Id.
(Graeme L. Worboys et al. eds., 2010).
43 See USAID, supra note 35.
44 Id.
45 Id.continued on page 52