Roadblock rebels: IPIS maps important mechanism of conflict funding in Central Africa

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 IPIS puts roadblocks on the map as key mechanism of conflict funding besides natural resources, revealing its devastating scope in funding armed actors in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic

Mapping over a thousand roadblocks, two IPIS reports released today have uncovered the shocking extent of armed predation on trade routes in conflict-ridden Central Africa. Roadblocks, they claim, have netted armed groups around 6 million Euros annually in the impoverished Central African Republic alone. Strangling development and livelihoods, attracting violent confrontations and generating millions in revenues, roadblocks are as crucial to continuing conflict in Central Africa as natural resources, experts claim.

“Its time for the international community to broaden its scope beyond conflict minerals”, argues Peer Schouten, IPIS coordinator for the new research.

The DR Congo and the CAR are often used as poster children for ‘conflict minerals’ concerns. The International Peace Information Service (IPIS) has substantiated such concerns by mapping the extent of armed presence at mining sites in DR Congo, last highlighting an armed presence at over half of the 1,635 mining sites it has visited.

Experts always knew that rebels didn’t rely on revenues from mining sites alone. However, without large-scale data, it has been difficult to make other funding mechanisms visible. IPIS’s new research, in collaboration with the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), sheds new and crucial light on how roadblocks provide an additional and substantial revenue stream for armed groups in Central Africa. By mapping over a thousand roadblocks in DR Congo and CAR, IPIS literally puts roadblocks on the map as a key means of conflict funding

The two separate reports pinpoint 1082 roadblocks:

  • 798 in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden North and South Kivu provinces (home to a myriad of militias and some of the DRC’s worst human rights atrocities); and
  • 284 in the troubled Central African Republic, where warring armed factions control over two thirds of territory and the UN has warned of possible genocide.
  • Armed actors are present at every 2 out of 3 roadblocks.

While the research also shows that natural resources remain important to conflict funding –taxed at a third of all roadblocks mapped – armed actors tax much more than minerals alone. “In fact, Ex-Seleka groups in the CAR make most of their money taxing cattle and Sudanese coffee traders”, explains Schouten.

In DR Congo, minerals account for only half of the natural resources taxed at roadblocks. Armed groups like the FDLR and Nyatura, as well as undisciplined Congolese army units, have much more diversified predation strategies. They rely heavily on taxing agricultural produce, charcoal and timber.

“Finding a Congolese road without a roadblock is a challenge – basically everything that moves, is taxed” says Schouten, the reports’ lead author. “Women going to market, farmers accessing fields, traders taking to the road… We were surprised at the sheer density of roadblocks. They indicate the extent of structural extortion in Congo. And it’s the people that suffer.”

Whereas rebels control most roadblocks in CAR, IPIS findings indicate that the national army is the largest single roadblock operator in Congo, with a presence at nearly half of the roadblocks mapped.

Moreover, in both countries, commercial companies, NGOs and UN Agencies contribute to this form of conflict financing: “Everyone subcontracts bulk transport to private transporters, who pay at roadblocks like everyone else”. Six transport companies in North Kivu province alone, pay over 1,5 million USD annually at roadblocks, the research finds.

“IPIS’ findings are significant. We are excited about these results – they could make a difference to how we strategically address conflict funding both in policy and on the ground”, says David Gressly, the United Nations Deputy Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.