Illegal Mining in Eastern Congo
By Paul Ndiho
January 13, 2011
Following a ban on mining activities in a large part of eastern Congo, business in the surrounding areas is coming to a halt. Businessmen and officials fear the ban could damage other economic sectors.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining-driven economy has been crippled by the global economy’s drop in demand for minerals. Income from mining and other exports make up more than 60 percent of state revenues. To put an end to illegal mining, last year the government banned all mining activities in Eastern Congo. Political analyst Yussa Bunzigiye Prosper says the mining ban has had a detrimental effect on working people:
“I think the government in Congo is running away from their responsibility. The primary duty of the government is to provide security for the people, irrespective of whatever activity. The Government cannot prevent people from trying to make a living or to have something to eat. And those people depend on any activity which have been used to, be it mining.”
Tin ore, or cassiterite, is in huge demand worldwide for its use in electronics. Congo’s eastern Walikale district is home to most of the country’s cassiterite, and where more than 300 rapes took place in a rebel attack in July and August. The rising insecurity prompted the government in September to ban mining in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces. But local business people say the ban is hurting them more than it is improving security.
”Since the president suspended cassiterite mining, we are not selling. The cassiterite miners used to come from the Goma bush and would bring cassiterite to be sold. After that, they would buy other materials for their own environment. Since this problem however, there is no circulation of money. We are not selling at all.”
An estimated 5 million people are believed to have been killed in the Congo since the start of civil war. The Congolese government and U.N. forces are still struggling to uproot various rebel groups active in the region.
Business people in Eastern Congo say that the mining ban only leads to smuggling of minerals, and hurts everyone:
“The consequences are serious. Soon, we wouldn’t have worked for four months. Can you imagine what kind of an impact this will have? Go speak to the bankers, go speak to businesses, go speak to the aviation sector, go see the people that are in the petrol business, everything is moving at a very slow pace”
Yusser Prosper says that President Joseph Kabila’s decision to ban mining in the eastern DRC diverts attention from real problems:
“Are you suggesting that President Joseph Kabila is part of the corruption, part of the scam to steal away from his own people?
“You cannot say that the whole country has bee has been mismanaged as a result of the illegal mining. No, you go in other parts of the country which have nothing to do with illicit mining in Congo and you still see the same thing…You still see insecurity, You still see violence against women and those are the failures of the government, and the corruption. The corruption is the one, which is the foundation of all this wrong things which are happening in the Congo.”
Congo’s cassiteriate made up about 5 percent of world production this year. More than 50,000 people were affected after exports worth $10 ten million dollars came to a halt. Many mining companies have tons of ore sitting in warehouses or in the bush, waiting for the freeze to be lifted. And United Nations experts say that tin mines previously run by rebels have mostly been taken over by the army.