[OPE-L] Congo's abandoned miners

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Tue Jul 18 2006 - 13:23:39 EDT

Congo's abandoned miners
The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its 
first general election since 1960 at the end of 
this month, a sign that peace may be returning 
after civil and regional wars that killed three 
million people between 1997 and 2003. The 
European Union's willingness to send troops to 
oversee the election is an indication of the 
value the world sets on the DRC's mineral 
resources, which it previously looted.
By Colette Braeckman
An angry crowd of men and children surrounds each 
new delegation as it arrives at the Ruashi mine 
in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of 
Congo (DRC). The miners are thin and their faces 
white with dust, but their voices are strong as 
they sing: "This land belonged to our ancestors, 
its copper belongs to us".
Mwambe Kataki, Remy Ilunga and Pierre Kalume used 
to work for the powerful Gecamines mining 
company; now they dig for themselves and speak 
for all the miners when they insist that they 
will not be moved. They want to keep out the big 
companies which, after years of war, are 
returning to Katanga (Shaba) encouraged by the 
privatisation programme of Joseph Kabila's 
It is the same further north in Kivu, where 
former workers from the Kamituga mine are 
threatening to prevent the Canadian company Banro 
from restarting production, and in Ituri, where 
trouble has flared at the Kilo Moto mine. The big 
companies are taking on only a few skilled 
workers and their investments are protected by 
new conditions absolving them from any social 
obligations. The state lacks the resources to 
retrain those made redundant.
At Ruashi, just outside Lubumbashi, the South 
African company Ruashi Mining has yet to rebuild; 
there are no guards or barbed wire. The opencast 
mine still resembles the surface of the moon, 
riddled with holes and craters. Children worm 
their way into tunnels hacked out by men armed 
only with pickaxes. Some dig, others separate out 
the ore and bag it. Nearby, articulated lorries 
load up before making for the Zambian border. 
Small companies use improvised on-site furnaces 
to extract copper and cobalt; after initial 
refining, these are trucked to South Africa or to 
the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where 
Chinese cargo ships wait.
The mayor of Lubumbashi, Floribert Kaseba, is 
proud of the fact that there are no beggars or 
street children, unlike in the capital, Kinshasa. 
But although everyone has work, conditions are 
difficult. Most of the 70,000 miners in Katanga 
earn less than a dollar a day. They have set up a 
mutual society, the Entreprise minière artisanale 
du Katanga (Emak), but that serves only to 
guarantee their funeral expenses (cave-ins are 
frequent). Mining provides 74% of the DRC's 
exports. Of almost a million workers employed, 
only 35,000 are registered.
The DRC's miners have every reason to be 
suspicious. Under the paternalistic colonial 
system which was inherited by Joseph Mobutu when 
he seized power in 1965, major state-owned 
enterprises such as Gecamines and Minière de 
Bakwanga au Kasaï (Miba), which generated most of 
the country's earnings, had to provide their 
workers and their families with housing and free 
healthcare, benefits
That reinforced the feeling of being part of the 
company. Privatisation threw all the cards in the 
air: the major state-owned companies were 
dismantled and their successors then sought to 
break with the past and with the previous social 
Conditions for workers did not improve during the 
mining bonanza. Towards the end of the Mobutu 
regime in the 1990s, the World Bank persuaded 
prime minister Kengo wa Dondo that a 
privatisation programme, especially for mining 
companies, would replenish the state's treasury 
and enable it to pay its debts.
In May 1995, as Gecamines was dismembered and 
other state companies privatised, big foreign 
mining corporations lined up: Lundin, Banro and 
Mindev from Canada; the Belgo-Canadian Barrick 
Gold; Australia's Anvil Mining; and Benscor and 
Iscor from South Africa.
Given the country's instability, the big 
companies preferred to operate by proxy. When 
fighting broke out in 1996 (leading to the fall 
of the Mobutu regime seven months later), junior 
companies were set up on the ground to deal with 
the rebel factions. Their stock could always be 
bought up later.
American Mineral Fields, the Australian company 
Russel Resources and Zimbabwe's Ridgepointe 
Overseas funded Laurent-Désiré Kabila's military 
campaign, and later the DRC's political and 
administrative reconstruction. In return they 
obtained agreements for three Gecamines sites, to 
mining resources at Mongbwalu (1) in the 
northeastern province of Ituri, and to the 
diamond concessions in Kisangani.
Cash and carry
All good things come to an end. Shortly after 
Kabila came to power in May 1997, he turned his 
back on his predatory Ugandan and Rwandan allies 
and announced that renegotiated mining contracts 
would make the new employers responsible, like 
their predecessors, for the social welfare of 
their workers. Such ungrateful and radical 
behaviour, together with security considerations, 
precipitated the second Congo war in 1998. When 
Uganda and Rwanda, with western approval, tried 
to expel their former ally, the population 
resisted and, more seriously, Angola and Zimbabwe 
sent troops to Kabila's defence.
Congo fragmented into four autonomous 
territories, administered by the government and 
three rebel groups, the most important being the 
Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy 
(RCD-Goma) and the Congo Liberation Movement 
(MLC), created with the support of the Ugandan 
army. The central government and the rebels had 
to fund both their own military operations and 
those of their allies. The four regions, now 
separate, were transformed into vast 
cash-and-carry markets where criminal 
organisations could shop for gold, copper, 
colombo tantalite (coltan, which is used in the 
manufacture of mobile phones), timber and 
diamonds (2).
These predators paid the warlords who held actual 
power in cash and, if necessary, weapons. The 
resulting human (3.5 million civilian victims) 
and political catastrophe (3) was of no great 
interest to the outside world. It was also an 
economic disaster. Since 2000, although demand 
for coltan has begun to fall and diamonds are 
gradually becoming more traceable, worldwide 
demand for copper, cobalt and uranium has 
increased, with Chinese economic growth and 
Indian demand driving up prices. The exploitation 
of these minerals requires major long-term 
investment, which presupposes a relatively stable 
political environment. The freebooters' days are 
over, and South Africa's mining industry, with 
its many new black capitalists, regards central 
Africa, especially Katanga's copper belt, as its 
natural zone of expansion.
Congo's warring parties and their allies finally 
responded to international pressure and met in 
the South African resort of Sun City where, in 
2003, they signed an agreement for the departure 
of foreign troops, the reunification of the 
country and a two-year period of transition 
eventually extended to this year.
The main goal of the closely-involved 
international community (the major western powers 
and South Africa) is to legitimise and stabilise 
the current regime in order to revive the economy 
and rebuild the country. The Congolese population 
can look forward to their first genuinely free 
elections for 46 years, and to the end of a 
system run by a self-perpetuating elite.
Although legislative elections and the first 
round of the presidential election are scheduled 
for this summer, the reality of the transition is 
becoming clear. Reports from international 
organisations have demonstrated the extent to 
which the pillaging of resources continued after 
the official ceasefire in 2003 (4). Such 
revelations miss the point. Although the Sun City 
agreement laid down certain principles, it was 
never designed to democratise the management of 
the DRC's resources, but only to end the war, 
encourage foreign troops to leave Congolese 
territory and replace short term mafia operations 
with more stable, although not necessarily less 
greedy, economic players.
The warlords favoured
In its determination not to confuse politics with 
morality, the Sun City agreement favoured 
warlords over civilians and the former political 
class. People were disgusted by the "one plus 
four" formula that seemed to often amnesties with 
impunity: under the formula, Joseph Kabila, who 
had become president after his father's murder in 
January 2001, agreed to share power with four 
vice presidents, drawn from the rebel factions, 
the political opposition and civil society.
One of them, Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former 
businessman accused by United Nations experts of 
having pillaged the equatorial region's banks and 
coffee crops, became president of the economic 
and financial commission. Another former rebel, 
Azarias Ruberwa, whose troops, with Rwandan 
forces, were responsible for serious massacres in 
the east of the country, took over the policy, 
defence and security commission.
The speed of reunification is an indication of 
the strength of national solidarity and the 
extent to which the fighting was driven by 
outside influences. But it failed to go below the 
surface. All the parties kept their most powerful 
forces in reserve and the troops of the new 
national army, rarely or badly paid because funds 
are siphoned off, often live at the expense of 
the population. In an attempt to control the 
situation, the UN requested and approved a 
European force of 2,000 (see "EU intervention in 
the Congo") to reinforce 17,500 UN troops already 
Since reunification, the restored state has been 
responsible for guaranteeing the basic physical 
and legal security of investors in the mining 
sector. The government, just emerging from a war 
and riven by contradictions, remains weak: during 
the transitional period it is hardly in a 
position to contest the one-sided contracts that 
have been imposed by the companies. The selling 
of natural resources did not stop with the end of 
hostilities: it has changed its nature. The 
unelected members of the national assembly were 
required to draw up mining and forestry codes 
whose liberal terms were dictated by the World 
Bank, which allow private interests to operate 
unencumbered by obligations.
The World Bank has pushed through the 
restructuring of Gecamines. Before the company 
was sold off piecemeal, 10,500 workers received 
redundancy payments of $1,900-$30,000. These sums 
went to repay debts or meet immediate expenses. 
The workers, who have been deprived of any social 
support, are now working in the informal economy. 
The companies replace them with machines, taking 
on as few skilled personnel as possible.
The government has granted significant tax 
breaks, from 15 to 30 years, to several partly 
state-owned companies. In 2004 most of these paid 
only $400,000 in taxes. In the diamond sector, 
MIBA has lost 45% of its assets to the 
Congolese-Zimbabwean company Sengamines. And 
although the approval of the new constitution 
last November by 85% of electors was a major 
achievement in a country lacking roads or the 
means of communication, it was also a victory for 
those who seek to limit state prerogatives. It 
divides the country into 26 provinces and splits 
its resources, 60% for the central administration 
and 40% to the provincial authorities. Its aim is 
to decentralise resources, but the autonomy 
conceded to provincial governments risks 
increasing local corruption.
The new government may have legitimacy and 
support, but will it have the courage to rid 
itself of its more dubious supporters and ignore 
the hardly disinterested advice of the 
"international community". Will it dare suggest 
renegotiating the mining agreements?

See also

Democratic Republic of Congo's mineral resources
EU intervention in the Congo, by Ralf Custers
The long road to peace
More about Colette Braeckman.
Translated by Donald Hounam
Colette Braeckman is a journalist for 'Le Soir' in Brussels
(1) See Stefanu Liberti, "Congo and Uganda: a 
rush of gold", Le Monde diplomatique, English 
language edition, December 2005.
(2) Report by the UN expert panel on the illegal 
exploitation of natural resources and other forms 
of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the 
Congo, S2003/1027, 23 October 2003.
(3) International Federation for Human Rights 
report, "Observations sur la situation en 
République démocratique du Congo (RDC)", 27 March 
(4) See "The State vs the People: governance, 
mining and the transitional regime in the DRC", 
Netherlands Institute for South Africa report, 
March 2006, http://www.niza.nl/ index_en.phtml/

English language editorial director: W

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