M23 Captures Rubaya, a Key Coltan Mining City in Eastern DR Congo

The town of Rubaya in the Masisi territory of DR Congo, a notable center for coltan mining, was reportedly seized by the M23 rebel group late Tuesday evening. The M23 spokesperson, Colonel Willy Ngoma, confirmed the takeover to the BBC, stating their aim was not economic gain from the area’s rich coltan deposits, but rather to push back against hostile forces accused of genocidal intentions.

This development follows intense fighting between the M23 rebels and government forces throughout Tuesday, which forced many Rubaya residents to flee their homes. A local civil society leader in Masisi, Voltaire Sadiki, informed the BBC that M23 had also taken the town of Kibaya and was interacting with the local populace, urging those with weapons to surrender them to facilitate ongoing mining operations.

Government spokesperson for North Kivu province, who also speaks for the state military, has promised to provide more information on the situation in Rubaya later.

This strategic area lies within the lush, green hills of Masisi, but is scarred with large mining pits and mounds of earth from extensive coltan mining activities. Travel from Goma to Rubaya takes approximately two hours by road through dirt tracks heading west.

Rubaya’s significance extends beyond local boundaries due to its major contribution to the global coltan supply, a mineral crucial for the production of modern electronic devices. DR Congo is currently the world’s second-largest exporter of coltan, having shipped 1,918 tons internationally in 2023, just behind Rwanda’s 2,070 tons, according to the Ecofin Agency.

Despite the critical role of coltan mined in Rubaya on the international stage, the majority of its local population lives in poverty, primarily relying on mining for their livelihood, as reported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The situation in Rubaya occurs amid allegations by the Congolese government against Rwanda. The government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 and facilitating the illegal export of minerals from captured territories, which Rwanda firmly denies. Meanwhile, the Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, has been in Paris discussing these issues, urging international sanctions against Rwanda for its alleged involvement in supporting M23.

As tensions continue to rise, the control of Rubaya represents more than just a local power shift; it is a focal point in the broader geopolitical strife involving resource exploitation and regional stability in Central Africa.