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

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs