The Night OwlsTuesday, February 14, 2017 Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN
Illicit traders are nicknamed “owls” because they work at night, when the miners crawl out of their shafts. If owls are caught by the police, they lose all their goods and their capital.
In a dark room, one such trader spoke softly, anxious to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. He told IRIN how the police had confiscated his minerals and then sold them on to MMR, without paying him a cent. Another said: MMR buys “tonnes and tonnes… how can they come to confiscate the 20 or 30 kilos that I need to survive, and leave me empty-handed? Don’t you see this is not normal?”
Prior to MMR’s stranglehold, traders could buy and sell minerals freely. Many of them were wandering across eastern Congo, trading minerals worth a few hundred dollars, much like any other merchandise. They would sell them to larger buying houses that would then export them abroad.
According to the UN investigation, this all changed in Kisengo after MMR obtained its exclusive buying rights. Congolese soldiers now “actively track down any infringing traders, jail them — sometimes for several days — and deliver the seized minerals” to MMR, its report says. Those who refuse to sell their minerals to MMR are detained until they agree.