'The mineral curse'. File of articles reflecting upon the 6-month  mining ban in eastern DRC

“When the mines close, no-one has enough to eat. When the mines close, the small diggers start digging their graves”. Obvious facts that stare us in the face but which did not cross the minds of the decision-makers who brought to a six-month standstill an economy that thousands of men and women depend on. The Goma-based Pole Institute presents a file of articles reflecting upon temporary ban on mining operations in eastern DRC.

'The mineral curse'. File of articles reflecting upon the 6-month  mining ban in eastern DRC

On 16 March 2011, one week after the lifting of President Joseph Kabila’s temporary ban on mining operations in the eastern provinces of the country (Maniema, North Kivu and South Kivu), the Standing committee for joint action in the mining sector, supported by the Pole Institute, met at the Utamaduni Centre. The purpose of the meeting was not so much to take stock of the consequences of the six month suspension but rather to analyse the issues at stake and the challenges the economic players in this sector will now have to face.

Around the table that day were the economic operators in the mining sector, representatives from the public services, the army,
researchers from North and South Kivu and delegates from the local cooperatives of artisanal diggers of Walikale. The successive presentations and discussions were extremely rich and inspirational for the team from the Pole Institute who attended the meeting. The Pole Institute has condensed some of the reminiscences into this file, to which may be added other testimonies from the players in this highly complex sector.

Onesphore Sematumba, director of Information and Advocacy at the Pole Institute, asked the following question: "The mining economy in Eastern DRC: after the Joseph Kabila’s hammer, Barack Obama’s anvil?" After six months of a total stoppage of mining, the economic operators were authorised to resume operations only 22 days before the coming into force of the Dodd-Franck Act, Session 502, known as the Obama Law, which lays down drastic regulatory conditions for the importing of minerals from the DRC and neighbouring countries no later than 1st April 20111. For the players in the sector, this law is tantamount to a de facto embargo, and they advocate a moratorium. The "Securities Exchange Commission" has postponed the application of Dodd- Franck
Act section 1502 to the end of 2011. But the withdrawal of the heavyweights of the electronics and domestic appliances industry from the local minerals market in the eastern Congo has caused a de facto boycott that has put an end to several activities
related to the mining sector.

For Sematumba, prohibiting mining operations at a time when it was a race against the clock to comply with the new American legislation was an appalling mistake, among so many others. In his article entitled "Mining companies resume operations in
Eastern DR Congo: the issues at stake and the challenges", Aloys Tegera, director of Research at Pole Institute, sketches an eloquent portrait of the net losses suffered by the provincial government during the six months suspension and identifies the challenges awaiting the sector in the near future. Tegera particularly stresses the incongruity on the part of the Congolese leaders to aspire to industrial scale mining without laying the foundations in terms of road and power infrastructure or that of obliging artisan diggers to organise themselves in cooperatives in order to access the mining sites. The researcher advocates the recognition and strengthening of the initiatives underway in favour of transparency and traceability "to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater as the American legislation has done".

Primo Pascal Rudahigwa, journalist and associate researcher at Pole Institute, visited Walikale territory one month after the lifting of the temporary presidential ban on mining. After the local and provincial authorities reopening parade, mining operations are struggling to resume. "The traders and everyone involved in mineral transactions were disappointed to observe that no sooner was the ban lifted than the mineral trading companies closed their doors from 1st April 2011." To escape the reigning poverty, "all the traders, diggers and prostitutes who were waiting for the manna from Walikale have made for Manono in Katanga province, where a large quantity of cassiterite is also produced…". Rudahigwa nonetheless ends his article by mentioning some progress made in the Walikale mining circuit, including the demilitarisation of all the mining sites which are now under the control of the Mining Police (Police des Mines).

Véronique Isenmann, a development aid volunteer from Eirene Suisse who works at Pole Institute, attended the meeting of the
Standing committee for joint action for the first time and drew some conclusions, which are so simple they could be said to be self
evident. “When the mines close”, she said, “no-one has enough to eat”. And another: “When the mines close, the small diggers start digging their graves”. And again: “The people in the mining sector are not all rogues”. Obvious facts that stare us in the face but which did not cross the minds of the decision-makers who brought to a sixmonth standstill an economy that thousands of men and women depend on. 

The results expected from the Standing committee for joint action in the mining sector in Eastern DRC cannot be limited to mere files. We have to take another important step and commence concerted action to consolidate a sector that is the livelihood of a great number of our citizens and make our "pledge of goodwill” – as local stakeholders – “to work for responsible transparency of the mineral supply chain in the Eastern DR Congo", as Tegera wrote in his article.

 

POLE INSTITUTE
Pole Institute is an intercultural institute in the Great Lakes region. The Institute is based in Goma, in the eastern North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Institute was established by a group of people originating from North and South Kivu provinces who took up the challenge of exchanging views in a crisis context marked by many unfortunate events, and which is characterized by cycles of violence, poverty, bad governance and insecurity. As a result, Pole Institute seeks to provide a space for:
Analysis and research on the major local challenges and their national, regional and international implications (widespread poverty, social violence, ethnic divisions, absence of moral points of reference, a culture of impunity etc.);
Analysis and strengthening of the survival strategies of populations living in a context of war and prolonged crisis;
Analysis of war economies to develop approaches to strengthening local populations and their economic activities
Action research and lobbying in partnership with local, regional and international actors and institutions.