The Role Of The Exploitation Of Natural Resources In Fuelling And Prolonging Crises In The Eastern DRC

International Alert
International Alert
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Publication Location: 
London, UK
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Date of Publication: 
January 2010
Executive Summary: 

1. Gold and various metals of the tin group (cassiterite, coltan, niobium and tungsten) have been mined in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since the beginning of the 20th century. The mining sector was heavily affected by the disintegration of the Congolese state, by widespread corruption and by the destruction of local infrastructure. The national mining companies in the eastern DRC (OKIMO, SOMINKI) collapsed during the 1990s, leaving the way open for informal artisanal mining, in which thousands of miners were employed. The wars waged in North and South Kivu and Ituri between 1996 and 2003 strengthened the illegal character of artisanal mining and fueled the formation of militias who exploited their control of the mines in order to raise the funds necessary for their own economic survival and arms purchases.

2. In a situation where insecurity and illegality fed on each other, the mining economy became a particularly opaque conflict economy (“conflict minerals”). The eastern DRC became an area of uncontrolled extraction of raw materials, organised by local and regional interests operating with actors in the international market.

3. The geography of the mining areas is not well documented. Among the most important sites are Mongbwalu and Djalassiga (Ituri), Durba (Upper Uélé) Numbi, Kama, Kamituga, Twangiza, Lugushwa and Minoro (South Kivu) and Bisié, Itebero, Mumba-Bibatama, Lueshe, Fatwa Kasugho, Musienene and Manguredjipa (North Kivu), Kalima, Kampene, Namoya, and Makania (Maniema). Although the system of mining and marketing of mineral ores in the Kivus has been widely publicised, it is still not possible to provide a complete cartography of production sites. This is partly due to the fact that it is nearly impossible for artisanal mining to act in conformity with the new Mining Code of 2002, which stipulates that it should be carried out in a mining area ‘demarcated by surface area and depth’; Article IV states that wherever the conditions ‘do not allow for industrial or semi-industrial exploitation, the Ministry of Mines can construct settlements inside the boundaries of a defined geographical area in a zone of artisanal exploitation’. But none of these zones in the eastern DRC have been defined to date. Information on mining activity should in principle be centralised in the Provincial Mining Directorates, which do not have the resources enabling them to carry out these tasks. As a result, available information is incomplete. The opaqueness of the mining sector is not simply due to deliberate concealment and fraud, nor to the problems caused by the continued presence and activities of armed groups. The problem starts with the existence of huge gaps in available information about the geography of production.

4. For a number of reasons it is at present not possible to know with any degree of certainty how much ore is produced and exported, due to the multiplicity of government bodies that interfere in the control of production and exportation of ore, and because of deficiencies in the accounting, fraud and smuggling across borders, especially with regard to gold. The quantitative measurement of production requires a system for recovering information which has yet to be developed from administrative statistics, the Fédération des Entreprises Congolaises (FEC) and field research among producers and transporters. Taking into account the lack of centralisation and reliable statistics, any such investigation will necessarily be localised and will not provide an overall view. Smuggling will remain the blind spot in any attempt at quantification.

5. Production from the mining sites in Orientale Province, in Maniema and in North Katanga passes in part through the Kivus and Ituri. Orientale Province, Maniema and North Katanga suffer from a lack of knowledge, as do the diamond mining areas in the Kivus.

6. The informal nature of mining production does not mean that it is not structured. The system of production is based on exploiting a labour force of countless underpaid labourers and on a series of exactions sought by all those people, whether civilian or military, intervening along the way between the mine and the trading houses. Diggers, shovelers and transporters of the ore are working with primitive tools and raw muscle power under the watch of team leaders or soldiers. The various armed groups, as well as the Congolese Army (FARDC), actively take part in this predatory process.

7. The history of concessions illustrates the instability of prospecting and exploitation rights. The “waltz of contracts” that characterised the end of Mobutu’s reign and the regime of Laurent-Désiré Kabila can be explained by the nature of arbitrary power, not through economic reasoning. In the regions analysed, mining activity is based on local arrangements, where modern legal rights must coexist with customary law. Nevertheless, and even if the foreign companies that have taken over from SOMINKI and OKIMO have been slow to relaunch mining activities, international companies remain very interested in working in the DRC.

8. Since 2000, there have been two systems for the commercial trading of “conflict minerals”: informal trading by purchasing agents and trading by the military. Even after the official withdrawal of foreign armed forces from Congolese soil, military trading has not completely disappeared. The FARDC and the various armed groups have militarised, brutalised and bled dry artisanal mining, extracting handsome profits. Mining is therefore an important issue for security and conflict resolution.

The substantial involvement of the FARDC in mineral trading makes the army a “selfgenerating revenue agency”. The high-level beneficiaries of these illegal activities ensure that they stay below the radar. The FARDC’s involvement has also led to the creation of a criminal network of senior army officers who act in collusion with those in senior governmental positions. The FARDC’s major involvement in the mining trade, and the desire to maintain the status quo, is a factor that has slowed down the army’s “integration” efforts, and thus army reform.

9. The current system of commercial trading is an oligopolistic one that enriches a whole group of government officials, army officers, militia leaders, traders, transporters and foreign intermediaries whose profits are thought to be running in the millions of dollars. The attempts by the UN and by NGOs at identifying the individuals involved in these “networks of elites” have only been partially successful, Despite their lack of transparency, these “networks of elites” illustrate the criminal nature of relationships between business, politics and violence. Trade in minerals represents a significant part of the legal and illegal income of officials responsible for regulating the trade; even if the taxes imposed are less than they should be due to fraud, they still amount to several million dollars each year. In this light it can be seen that the “mining question” represents high stakes for governance in the eastern DRC.

10. The minerals trade in the DRC is based on a multimodal system of communication, which includes porterage, road and air transport, and reveals a regional geo-economy that is firmly turned towards East Africa. Border towns or those near the border, such as Goma, Bukavu, Uvira, Beni, Butembo and Bunia where the trading agencies are set up – create a bridge between the informal upstream chain and the downstream linked to the circuits of the globalised economy. The trade in minerals contributes to the informal economic integration of the Great Lakes Region and demonstrates a clear separation between politics (within the framework of national sovereignty) and economics (within the system of integrated trade in East Africa). Congolese minerals are exported through official trading networks that transit through Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Minerals are also smuggled across the eastern borders of these three transit countries and the origin of the exported minerals is systematically concealed. The minerals follow the same commercial routes as other merchandise and are part of a cross-border trade. A degree of specialisation in the commercial routes exists, corresponding to political and above all economic considerations. The Uvira-Bujumbura route is particularly used for gold shipments and the Bukavu-Cyangugu route for exports of gold, cassiterite and coltan. In the early 1990s, Burundi was the most important transit point for Congolese gold, but following the international embargo against the Buyoya regime, and the creation of a tax exemption system for gold in Uganda, Uganda replaced Burundi. In recent years, Tanzania has also become increasingly important in the export of diamonds.

11. Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda profit greatly from the trade in Congolese minerals, which constitute a major source of income. Specialisation applies here too: gold moves through Burundi and Uganda and minerals from the tin group pass through Rwanda. Their spheres of economic influence in eastern DRC have remained fairly stable since 2000. The “mining question” therefore represents major stakes in the geo-economy of the whole region.

12. The investigations carried out by the UN and NGOs have brought to light the ultimate recipients in the trade of “conflict minerals” in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Asia, as well as the pivotal role of certain groups of businessmen (Lebanese, Indo-Pakistani, Russian, etc.). The American, Russian and Chinese networks are the least well documented.

13. Mining fraud takes the form of illegal taxation (over- or under-taxation) and of smuggling. Corruption in the mining sector impedes all serious attempts to re-establish the authority of the state and contributes to “governance through disorder” in this region. The problem of corruption in the mining sector is a major governance issue in the DRC. National and international initiatives (EITI) set up to regulate the Congolese mining industry have not yet been implemented in the eastern part of the country and have had few results nationally.

14. The social and economic stakes of artisanal mining are considerable. For most of the miners involved in it as a means of survival, either willingly or by necessity, artisanal mining is a poverty trap. Work in a mine represents a break with traditional social organisation by changing the roles of young people and women. It is dangerous, with the risk of accidents, and violent, in light of the sharp rivalries between armed groups and mine site owners.

In spite of its job-creation effects, mining is a poverty trap: behind the illusion of sudden wealth, it generates a dynamic of impoverishment. Research on the human consequences of artisanal mining has concentrated on the diggers, who are the most numerous and the worst off. Some attention has, however, been paid to the various actors along the trading chain, once the minerals leave the mine all the way to the trading houses. There are winners and losers among them, but who are they? A close study would undoubtedly show that the ethnic groups who traditionally held dominant trading positions also control the minerals trade, such as the Bashi in South Kivu and the Nande in North Kivu. Both of these regard the Banyarwanda as intruders and have always sought to discredit them because they are competitors.

Artisanal mining is part of a worldwide process of social transformation driving people from the countryside towards the mines and urban centres. Small towns have sprung up around the largest mining sites, further altering the spatial distribution of the population. These agglomerations created from mining have changed economic, social and cultural life in the Kivus and Ituri.

The system of artisanal mining exploitation produces both direct and indirect violence. Direct violence throughout the trading chain of mining production can be classified into two categories: violence perpetrated by armed men (militia and security forces) towards those engaged in trade, and violent conflict among traders themselves. The minerals trade is a violentbusiness, and even when the mining areas are “calm”, they still resemble the “Congolese FarWest” or, strictly speaking, the “Far East”. The conflicts between the informal owners ofmining carrés [squares] can turn violent when the intervention of the authorities determiningrights is insufficient. The presence of militias and the army is naturally an important catalystof violence. Traders also fall victim to armed men who often intercept them to steal theirgoods.

15. The environmental consequences of mining are negative in every respect, from chemical pollution of the water table, deforestation, diversion of rivers, the sweeping away of whole sections of hillsides and the disappearance of arable land to intensive poaching in national parks to feed the miners. These parks have had to pay a heavy price for anarchic mining activities, especially in the Kahuzi Biega National Park, where mining of coltan and cassiterite is in full swing. Given the park’s immense size, the damage inflicted by opening the mines appears as only a few scars in the dense forest. But the slaughter of wild animals to feed the workforce has caused considerable damage, especially since part of the poached game is diverted to markets in the towns in Kivu. Therefore, the mining issue is also an environmental issue in eastern DRC.

16. The current UN sanctions regime (a freeze on assets and travel bans) is directed against the traders and not against the trade in minerals. The UN itself admits the sanctions regime is ineffective because of the lack of cooperation on the part of governments and the lack of any perceived harm by the companies that have learned to manage the risk to their reputation from their activities in the conflict zones. For the moment, the most striking result of being added to the UN list has been the suspension of certain supply contracts by import companies. Some Western firms have distanced themselves from their Congolese suppliers. The UN is now focusing on mapping publications of the mining sites and on controlling borders.

17. Currently two responses to the problem of “conflict minerals” are being debated: restrict trade (to a greater or lesser degree – from total embargo to selective bans) or formalise the trade through a mix of economic, institutional and security actions. Sceptical about the possibility of reducing insecurity by restricting trade, some organisations (INICA, DfID, USAID, etc.) have proposed an alternative of trying to formalise it in order to make it more disciplined and ethical. The latter option, inspired by the Kimberley Process and by the development sector, would involve a global strategy linking sanctions with an improvement in security in all its aspects (legal, economic and physical) and a reform of mining activities.

18. There have been no tangible results from Congolese efforts to improve the situation, such as suspending exports of ore in 2007, closing customs posts in Bunagana and Ishasha in 2008, closing the mines in Walikale and Adidi in 2008, etc. While international initiatives on this problem tend to multiply, it is worth drawing attention to the initiatives to trace coltan by Germany and the requirement to declare the origin of minerals by the US.

19. With a view to helping establish a mining industry that does not generate further violent conflict, this report recommends the following:

1. Improving geographical knowledge about mining activities;

2. Improving knowledge about mining in Ituri and in the Kivus;

3. Understanding the downstream side of the commercial chain;

4. Evaluating the possibilities of imposing sanctions;

5. Spreading information in the DRC;

6. Supporting the proposal of formalising trade;

7. Reducing incentives for smuggling by harmonising and simplifying customs tariffs at a regional level.