MAC: Mines and Communities

DR Congo sends troops to intimidate and remove small miners

Published by MAC on 2019-07-23
Source: Reuters

The DR Congo's army appears to be increasingly resorting to brutality and hunan rights abuses in removing thousands of small-scale workers  from mining concessions.

INSIGHT-Send in the troops: Congo raises the stakes on illegal mining

Aaron Ross


17 July 2019

* Tens of thousands of miners trespass on concessions

* Congo’s cobalt essential to electric vehicle revolution

* Congo says army deployment to prevent deadly accidents

DAKAR - A Congolese army officer arrived in the village of Kafwaya in June and warned residents not to trespass on a major Chinese copper and cobalt mine next door. As night fell about a week later, the soldiers moved in.

“They didn’t say anything to anyone,” said Fabien Ilunga, an official in Kafwaya, which is home to thousands of miners eking out a living by illegally exploiting the nearby mineral resources. “The army started to burn down the tarpaulin houses.”

Deploying soldiers to clear tens of thousands of illegal informal miners from mining concessions is a new approach by the authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo, who have wrestled with the problem for decades.

Years of negotiations, alternative employment programmes and sporadic interventions by the police have all failed to resolve the issue, which has long been a concern for mining companies sitting on some of the world’s richest mineral deposits.

But using soldiers to keep illegal miners out of vast concessions is likely to be a protracted and potentially violent battle, analysts say. The United Nations has often accused the Congolese army of human rights abuses.

Tech giants and automakers that use Congolese cobalt in smartphones and electric cars are already trying to clean up their supply chains after reports of child labour at informal mines in Congo. Any prolonged violence between soldiers and miners could unsettle investors again.

“Any further involvement of state security forces on mine sites will increase miners’ social risk exposure, which is already probably the biggest risk they face,” said Indigo Ellis, Africa analyst for risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

The Congolese authorities say informal miners are endangering the country’s interests and the army deployments are also meant to prevent the kinds of accidents that killed 43 illegal miners at a Glencore project on June 27.


Since the army deployed in southeastern Congo, thousands of illegal diggers have been pushed off Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine and China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume Mine (TFM).

In the case of Kafwaya, which is in China Molybdenum’s 1,800 square kilometre TFM concession, local activists said a few days after the army’s initial warning on June 13, soldiers set market stalls ablaze and put up camp nearby.

Less than a week later, soldiers torched dozens of homes belonging to miners and farmers alike and ransacked a school, residents and a local activist group said.

They said the fires severely burned a 3-year-old girl and a 14-month-old boy who were caught inside their homes.

General John Numbi, who led the operation, denied anyone was hurt. Asked later about the specific allegations, he sent a text message that just said: “Let’s be serious.”

China Molybdenum declined to comment. TFM’s deputy general director, Kasongo Bin Nassor, said at a conference last week that the mine had asked the government to do more to secure the concession, but did not request the army be deployed.

He said the mine had been invaded and illegal miners had roughed up TFM employees, damaged machinery and made it hard to access certain parts of the concession.

“Once you have metals that require serious investment, you cannot encourage artisanal mining,” Bin Nassor said.

General Numbi is currently under U.S., EU and Swiss sanctions for reportedly threatening violence against opposition politicians in 2016. He denies any wrongdoing.


The risk of ending up with Congolese cobalt mined by children in dangerous conditions has already prompted some car companies to look for alternatives.

Tesla is trying to use more nickel - which is mainly sourced from Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia and New Caledonia - and less cobalt in car batteries. Tesla says its next generation battery won’t use cobalt at all.

BMW, meanwhile, said in April it would buy cobalt directly from mines in Australia and Morocco.

General Motors said it did not purchase cobalt directly and referred questions to LG Chem, its battery supplier.

LG Chem said it was using blockchain technology in partnership with automakers Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen , tech firm IBM and Huayou Cobalt to trace ethically sourced minerals, including cobalt.

Apple said since 2016 its suppliers in Congo have taken part in third-party audits to ensure they abide by a code of conduct. The U.S. tech giant dropped two cobalt refiners and smelters last year.

But with 64% of global cobalt supplies coming from Congo in 2018, according to the United States Geological Survey, it will be difficult for companies to cut the country out of their supply chains entirely.


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