Non-industrial mining, carried out by vast numbers of men, women and children working for themselves, is rising fast in resource-rich Third World countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2003, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) provided direct employment to an estimated 11.5 million to 13 million people around the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the processes of globalisation, economic liberalisation and political transformation have helped to generate unprecedented interest in mineral resources on the part of impoverished ordinary people, entrepreneurs, traders, rebels and badly paid army officers. Hundreds of thousands of prospective workers have travelled to artisanal mining sites in the hope of finding a new source of income.
In spite of its spectacular expansion, however, ASM has not shaken off its negative reputation among policymakers and development specialists. The sector is frequently presented as technologically backward and inefficient, with limited potential for poverty reduction. Moreover, these circles assume the sector is almost ungovernable due to the large number of actors involved, the lack of binding property rights for artisanal miners, the virtual absence of written contracts and the inherently ephemeral nature of artisanal digging activities. Since those attracted to artisanal mining are predominantly young people - many of them from poor backgrounds - these commentators suspect that the potential for conflict in artisanal mining areas is relatively high.
Eager to get a firmer grip on the sector, several donor bodies and international institutions have made considerable efforts to formalise ASM activities and to improve the livelihoods of artisanal miners. The World Bank has provided financial support to countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania, with a view to encouraging their ASM sectors to take on more formal trappings. Meanwhile, the European Union, the International Labour Organisation and the UN Industrial Development Organisation have financed projects in the fields of environmental management, labour, alternative livelihoods and technological development.
Unfortunately, these policy interventions have not always yielded the desired results. The main explanation for this appears to be insufficient insight into what really goes on in the mining areas and the trading centres. It is vitally important that initiatives aimed at reforming the artisanal mining industry are based on a thorough knowledge and grasp of the political, economic and social dynamics at the grassroots level. As Hilson has rightly pointed out, ‘a poor understanding of artisanal, mine-community dynamics and operators’ needs has, in a number of cases, led to the design and implementation of inappropriate support schemes and interventions’.
The aim of this research report is to analyse the trading networks within the mining sector and their links to military, economic and political actors in eastern DRC. Although a host of publications over the last decade have highlighted the important role played by coltan, gold and cassiterite in the region’s ongoing conflict, there is still little awareness of the modus operandi of the various actors involved in the exploitation and trade of these minerals. More information is needed about the ways in which people at different levels of the commodity chain operate against the backdrop of state fragility.
Contrary to common assumptions, state fragility is not synonymous with anarchy or chaos. It is not because a state is fragile that there are no forms of governance at the local level. When formal government institutions are absent, ineffective or illegitimate, their place is frequently taken – either partly or entirely - by non-state actors such as international institutions, nongovernmental organisations and even private companies. So, even though Congo is generally considered a prototypical example of a fragile state – it has lost control over part of its territory, fails to offer decent public services to its citizens and has a malfunctioning administration – this does not necessarily mean that natural resource governance in eastern DRC is nonexistent.