DR Congo mining ban hasn't worked, say critics
The goverment of DR Congo says it will soon lift a temporary mining ban, aimed at stopping illegal extraction in its eastern provinces.
But there's evidence the move hasn't achieved its objective of ridding the region of its worst offenders.
A blogger for the Christian Science Monitor asserts that the ban in no way changed the nature of the industry, nor affected its underlying corruption.
Instead, says Laura Seay, it has had a severely negative impact on the livelihoods of relatively poor small scale miners.
DRC to lift mining ban in mid-October - Minister
1 October 2010
NAIROBI - Democratic Republic of Congo plans to lift a temporary ban on mining in its troubled eastern provinces by the middle of October after attempting to improve regulation of the sector, its mines minister said on Friday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference held in Nairobi to design plans to curb illegal mining in the region, Martin Kabwelulu told Reuters he intended to lift the ban in about two weeks from now.
On September 11, the government banned mining in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema, areas rich in gold, tin ore cassiterite, and hi-tech mineral coltan in a bid to stop armed groups, government troops and smugglers from profiting from mining.
No major mining companies operate in the three provinces.
"Two weeks from now, we will lift the ban, the date is not yet set but it should be between 15-20 October," Kabwelulu said.
"We have succeeded in implementing the ban, we have stopped some of the illegal mining and put in place measures so that when we re-start we want to be sure that the production is coming from one known source and going to the next stage. We had to improve our control because there was total chaos," he said.
He said a commission to look into mining was being set up, after which the ban would be lifted.
Some five-million people have been killed in the central African state since the start of a 1998-2003 war, and the government and UN forces are struggling to uproot myriad rebel groups still active in the minerals-rich east.
Many of Congo's minerals are dug from unofficial artisanal mines and concerns that the proceeds from their sale support rebel groups responsible for recent massacres and rapes has led to new efforts to clamp down.
Kabwelulu said mining in that part of the country was linked to rebels and some government troops, a fact that has led analysts to say clamping down on the vice could prove difficult.
"Some of the illegal mining is done by various rebel groups and some of it by our own military troops. They have used the money to foment war. Estimates indicate there is a lot of money in illegal mining," Kabwelulu said.
"As the DRC we want to break the link between rebel groups and minerals, because this is a security concern. They sell minerals and they buy arms."
He said the ban covered minerals extraction, processing and marketing in the eastern areas, where most villagers had not seen any financial benefit from the mines, which was something the government also wanted to address during the ban.
New legislation by the United States requiring companies sourcing from Congo and its nine neighbours to prove minerals are conflict-free, has prompted regional meetings to tackle the issue of illegal exploitation and illicit trade in minerals.
The meeting in Nairobi precedes a round-table of presidents to be held in November, bringing together 11 countries in the Great Lakes region to help guarantee that their minerals are "conflict-free" to avoid possible embargoes.
Maxwell Mwale, Zambia's mines minister and chair of the group of countries in the Great Lakes fighting against illegal mining said the activity was a threat to peace in the region.
"Illegal mining is one of the root causes that drive conflict and weakens governments in the region," Mwale said.
The group of countries fighting illegal mining includes Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
DRC minerals ban puts stress on firms, workers
30 September 2010
KINSHASA - A ban on mining activity and exports in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo has left millions of dollars' worth of tin ore stuck in the conflict-strewn zone and put thousands of people out of work.
Rising insecurity in Congo's eastern Walikale district, home to most of the country's cassiterite - tin ore - and where more than 300 rapes took place in a rebel attack last month, prompted the government on September 11 to ban mining in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces.
Emmanuel Ndimubanzi, head of the mining division of North Kivu, where the industry makes up 90% of provincial government receipts and which is the source of most of Congo's cassiterite, said more than 50 000 people were affected.
"We usually export $10-million a month in value, but this has come to a halt," Ndimubanzi told Reuters. "Trade has slowed down ... and mining planes have stopped, so provinces are no longer being supplied with food and goods."
Minerals Supply Africa (MSA), which buys from nearly half the middlemen in the province and exports 20 containers a month, much of it to Malaysia Smelting Corporation, also said the halt had put its business in doubt and thousands out of work.
"My credit lines are frozen, and I won't be able to make the money back even after the ban is lifted," David Bensusan of MSA told Reuters by telephone, adding he had $4-million worth of cassiterite tied up in containers unable to move due to the ban.
"We've got 40 tonnes of metal out there sitting in a warehouse in the bush worth $300 000, which isn't making me comfortable," said James Tidmarsh of exporter Tengen Metals.
Supply problems, mostly in Indonesia and China, have lifted the price of tin on world markets steadily since June, from $15 000/t to more than $24 000 this week, close to all-time highs.
"Congo's ban is a significant factor in the mix," said Peter Kettle, a market analyst at tin industry lobby ITRI.
Congo's expected 14 000 t will make up about 5% of world production this year.
Ban Risks Smuggling, Insecurity
Around five-million people have been killed in the central African state since the start of a 1998-2003 war, and the government and UN forces are struggling to uproot various rebel groups still active in the east.
The surprise ban requires agents to present credentials and show the source of their funding to the government in an effort to "re-establish (the state's) authority over the land".
But detractors are concerned it will lead to a rise in smuggling and fail to reduce widespread insecurity and tackle the true control of mines by what the Ministry of Mines described as "mafia-like groups", which President Joseph Kabila blasted on launching the ban.
"This ban just came falling out of the sky - from the president- with no warning, and no one dares to go to the sky for clarification," said a western donor. "It's already damaging the economy in the east so badly we are considering humanitarian aid."
Gregory Mthembu-Salter, consultant to a United Nations panel of experts, said tin mines previously run by rebels have mostly been taken over by the army.
Minister of Mines Martin Kabwelulu told Reuters, "We know that there are officials who are engaging in illicit activities; we are putting them under observation."
Many expect the ban to be lifted by October 15, but Kabwelulu said no date has yet been fixed.
Edited by: Reuters
Congo mining ban hurt more than it helped
A Congo mining ban, instituted recently and meant to halt financing for rebel movements, has hurt everyday Congolese who rely on mining for their livelihood.
By Laura Seay, Guest blogger*
Christian Science Monitor
5 October 2010
You may remember that a few weeks ago, Congolese President Joseph Kabila suspended all mining in the country's eastern North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema provinces. This ban was ostensibly undertaken to curtail the use of mineral exploitation as a means of financing the region's various and sundry rebel movements.
But then it turned out it wasn't actually a ban on all mining; rather, only the activities of artisanal miners were put to a stop. And it turned out that predictably, this didn't go over well with the 50,000 or so people who suddenly found themselves out of a job. That's because mining in the eastern Congo is not simply an activity in which warlords engage; it's part of the regional economy. Without mining, people don't eat. And that includes people who are in no way directly involved in the mining industry. As one Western donor told Reuters, "It's already damaging the economy in the East so badly we are considering humanitarian aid."
Now Martin Kabwelulu, the minister of mines, says that he will allow mining to resume in the provinces around October 15. He says this can be done because "... We have stopped some of the illegal mining and put in place measures so that when we re-start we want to be sure that the production is coming from one known source and going to the next stage. We had to improve our control because there was total chaos."
And the DRC government - which, let's remember, has been incapable of really controlling the east for the last 16 years - managed to do this in less than a month?
Clearly the question we should be asking is not whether the mining ban will stop all the violence in the east (it hasn't), but rather who is now benefiting from the trade. The source of most violence and human rights violations in the Kivus for the past few years has not been rebel groups, but rather is the national army itself. Since presumably Kabila couldn't take control of the mineral trade without the army, odds are that they're now getting a cut of the profits.
Most observers also believe that the detente between Kabila and Kagame (which ended fighting in January 2009, which is why Nkunda is under house arrest outside Kigali rather than marauding in North Kivu) almost certainly involved some guarantee of Rwandan access to Congolese minerals since Rwanda lacks minerals of its own and needs the revenue. I seriously doubt that access will be permanently cut off any time in the near future, especially given the fairly credible reports that Rwandan troops are currently in North Kivu to support (read: force) the redeployment of CNDP troops who've been integrated into the FARDC.
Meanwhile, many civil society and community leaders in the region are distressed over the loss of livelihoods for thousands and thousands of Congolese who were already on the brink of starvation. As a general concept, just about everyone agrees that allowing the population to benefit from the mineral trade would be a good thing for the region. But the actual steps to doing that - especially when it's not at all clear that these latest measures will benefit the population - are quite harmful to normal people. Without institutions in place to ensure the rule of law, the fair distribution of resources and resource revenues, and basic security, as civil society leaders in Walikale pointed out, this move was premature.
This series of events also underscores the need for advocates not to oversimplify narratives, which is exactly what happened with the story of conflict minerals and the consumer's capacity to change the DRC. The legislation passed in the US this year made it seem to the DRC government that they had to do something about the situation, but the lack of serious institution-building support on the part of the US government - which passed an ill-conceived law without addressing any of the underlying issues that actually drive fighting in the region - coupled with the DRC's massive norms of corruption in almost every sector means that the government's actions are likely to only cause a shift in who exploits the minerals on the backs of the population. It's certainly not going to bring about peace or help the DRC's poor.
In the short term, this decision created very serious suffering for the population who was dependent on their work in the mines. I have no doubt that children have become malnourished - and may die - as a direct consequence of the ban. You cannot cut off an entire sector of a weak economy overnight without severe consequences, and the most vulnerable are hit the worst by shocks like this one. That's why it's so terribly important for advocates, policy makers, and politicians to get it right.
* Laura Seay blogs at Texas in Africa. The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.