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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs