Wars? It´s About Resources – Stupid!

Commentary | September 23, 2016


Militias burning civilians in South Sudan, rebel commanders marching girls to forced sex in Congo, Mozambique army hunting an elusive mutiny leader – it´s the economy stupid! Brazen wars, especially in Africa, have one common link – a burning lust to monopolize dwindling fresh water reserves in Nile basin, lucrative coltan metal deposits in Congo, and natural gas wells dotting Mozambique´s coast. 

To end devastating resource based wars, the solution begins by cutting the artery of violence – that is illicit finance dealings. Militia, and rampaging armies are motivated by external “petro-dollars” before they cross their spears against civilians. For example, the UN Security Council Group of Experts in October 2012, declared that traders in Rwanda, East Africa, profiting from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled across the border from mines in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are helping fund a rebellion in their resource-rich neighbor. 

In more stark revelations, the report accused neighbors Uganda and Rwanda of arming, training and providing troop advice to rebels fighting the Congo government. This is a clear, bloody fight over lucrative minerals in an area where Chatham House, the British think-tank, says an estimated 10 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on gold and metals that enrich the global electronic industry. Therefore, to choke Congo´s ruinous wars, that have claimed over 4 million lives, cut the route of “war finance.” 

This is simple yet so difficult. The surest step to lasting piece is to clamp down on bankers, oil corporations, foreign armies and dealers that supply millions of dollars and weapons to Congos´s rebels. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime is right in saying “illicit money laundering is devastating to peace and economies.” To save water or mineral resources in conflict affected countries like Congo, there must be bilateral cooperation to properly train and deploy customs officers, financial crimes accountants, weapons inspectors, weapons embargo lawyers. 

This is too heavy a task to leave to a poor country like Congo alone. International specialist agencies like INTERPOL, UN, donor goverments and peacekeepers must cooperate. It is of paramount importance to pay decent salaries to international law enforcers in poor countries so they remain motivated to challenge illicit financiers of resource based wars. 

To reverse resource wars and secure natural resources in poor countries the arm of international justice must bite hard on offenders. Congo and Liberia, again, comes to mind, and the International Criminal Court comes into the spotlight. For instance, Liberia´s ex-president, militia leader, and “blood diamond” war financier, Mr. Charles Taylor, has been jailed and brought to book in a landmark case at the International Criminal Court. Thus, one of Africa´s messiest diamond wars, where civilians endured the cutting off of their arms “short sleeve” machete attacks, has ended. Liberia has an elected country and its diamond deposits are driving peace and a 6, 2 % annual economic growth according to the World Bank. Liberia is a perfect case study of how restorative justice is an excellent tool to guard a country´s natural resources. I say: donor countries, universities, foundations must train more human rights lawyers, grassroots peace monitors, and qualified judges to bring war crimes financiers to book. When militias and resource plundering armies know they can’t kill or enslave with impunity, countries and rural communities will feel emboldened to enjoy their natural resources in a transparent manner. 

The recent jailing of Congo ex vice president and warlord, Jean Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court in The Hague is an inspiring example. Open Data, modern information technology tools, perhaps are the greatest tools to prevent future wars and ensure a transparent sharing of dwindling water resources. Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia are a perfect example today. These powers in the horn of Africa are engaged in a gruesome quarrel over control of the precious Nile River water. One is blasting along the river, building water gobbling electricity dams, the other is attempting to dry the Nile stream and choke off the neighbor’s irrigation systems. This won’t end well. 

“The Nile must be shared, or the results will be catastrophic,” says Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor a geopolitical intelligence firm, and defence author. I propose: satellite technology mapping of Nile water reserves, drone collection of Nile water flow patterns, and nuclear isotope analysis of Nile water longevity must all be deployed to measure whether competition over the water is sustainable. When science data about the potential of Nile water for agriculture or trade are shared transparently, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan can possibly cooperate in safeguarding the Nile and peacefully sharing its waters. 

In summary – I am tempted to say hitting hard on war financiers, revamping international prosecutions and data guidance is the right mixture to guard natural resources and peace.


This essay was the third place winner in the 2016 Nextgen Essay Contest. Ms. Simango is an A-Level High school student at Mutare Girls High School, Zimbabwe, specialising in Biology. Her main interests are tennis, debating, volunteering and choral music.

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