News / Africa

Could Industrial Mining Bring Jobs, Peace to Eastern Congo?

FILE - A Congolese mineral trader displays semi-precious tourmaline gem stones in a mud hut at Numbi in eastern Congo.
FILE - A Congolese mineral trader displays semi-precious tourmaline gem stones in a mud hut at Numbi in eastern Congo.
Nick Long
— Mining experts say warring parties in eastern Congo are missing the big picture. They say armed groups are fighting over surface-level mines and blocking access to billions of dollars in mineral deposits deeper underground. Could unlocking that potential be the key to sustainable peace?

Nearly all of the mines in eastern Congo’s Kivu provinces are still worked by small-scale or "artisanal" miners using picks and shovels, who, in many cases, are forced to pay illegal taxes to armed groups or to the army.

The minerals are mostly smuggled to neighboring countries to avoid Congo’s other taxes, and officials in those neighboring countries, as well as the Congolese army, have allegedly supported armed groups in order to keep this situation going.

Digging deeper

But there could be a win-win solution for both sides of the borders, says Sasha Lezhnev, of the Enough Project, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for responsible minerals trade.

"I think what has been discovered in the last few years, if you look at a mine like Bisie in Walikale for example, is in fact when geologists come and drill into the ground they discover hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars worth of deposits of these minerals," Lezhnev said. "And yet the Congolese government has not really opened up these mines as they have in other parts of the country to investors."

The mine at Bisie, where mining is still entirely artisanal, is an exceptionally rich deposit, and two years ago was reported to be producing most of the tin ore exported from eastern Congo. But a number of other sites, including several gold mines, could also be exploited industrially, and without funding rebel groups like the FDLR, Lezhnev suggests.

"Some of these areas are not really in conflict. Frankly, the FDLR has been pushed out of many of these mines, so it’s the army [in control]," he said. "So theoretically, the government should be able to say to the army, oh no, please go and do your business somewhere else."

Lezhnev says if the government could open up these mines to serious investors, neighboring countries could also benefit by providing services.

"So building on that I would say the key to unlocking peace is really to develop those mines in eastern Congo, and also in Rwanda and other areas of the region, by working closely with the private sector and NGOs to develop responsible minerals trade that actually works across borders," Lezhnev said.

A premature concept

How soon could this happen? A close observer of mining in the region, the Dutch lawmaker Judith Sargentini - who’s campaigning against conflict minerals - says industrial investment might be premature because of the impact on jobs.

"Yes, you could imagine that if things in eastern Congo calm down that in 20, 30 or 40 years you do indeed see a bigger industrialization of mining," she said. "But I do think you can organize it as well at the moment with artisanal mining, creating a lot of jobs, and I find that very important also for stabilizing the country."

So far, almost the only experience the Kivus have had with industrial mining has been with the company Banro. Congolese researcher Kamundala Byemba reported last year that out of 6,000-12,000 miners working in the Twangiza area where Banro drilled a pit, only 850 were offered jobs by the company and many of those jobs were temporary, while the others lost access to the mine.

The Banro foundation chairman, Martin Jones, disputes those figures.

He said, "That’s absolutely incorrect. There are many thousands of artisanal miners working at Twangiza but when we brought the south pit into production it was only a matter of finding work alternatives for 1,200-1,300 of them."

Banro says it directly employs 1,200 Congolese nationals, has offered as many as 2,000 other jobs in eastern Congo through labor hire companies and that its investment has indirectly created as many as 20,000 jobs in the wider economy.

It also says its charitable foundation has invested $4 million in social projects in eastern Congo, such as schools and training centers, and built or repaired 550 kilometers of roads.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid