the DRC mining ban: the view from Kamituga
Today I'm pleased to feature a guest post from Sara Geenen. Sara is a Researcher at the Institute of Development Policy and Management (University of Antwerp) and is working on a PhD on the gold sector in South Kivu. As she makes clear here, the mining ban in the eastern Congo has actually made life worse for many Congolese:
Almost three months ago now, Kabila decided to suspend all artisanal mining activities in South Kivu, North Kivu and Maniema. Until now, the measure hasn’t been lifted, despite the announcement of Minister Kabwelulu that they would do so soon. The reasoning behind this decision is still not clear, and several hypotheses are being put forward (organisation of the sector, formalisation, paving the way for industrial companies, or as a benevolent gesture towards the international community, reaction to the US legislation, etc.). But the impact of the decision is very clear, and visible in and beyond the mining sites of North-Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema. In the mining sites, thousands of people who survived on mineral exploitation – and all related activities – have lost their revenues. Moreover, the revenues from the mineral trade also stimulated other sectors of the economy and generated necessary foreign currency, which is not provided to the formal banking sector in Congo. For example, transportation in the Kalehe region, which was very dynamic because of the trade in minerals, has come to a stand still. This has immediate effects on the agricultural sector, since local peasants are not able to sell and transport to market their products anymore. In trading hubs like Bukavu, the mining ban also plays out. Traders are not allowed to export their products, so they are stuck with huge quantities of raw material, in other words a large amount of “immobilized capital." They are not able to pay back the loans they have taken from their creditors, and their debtors will not be able to reimburse their loans either. No exports means no foreign currency, which has effects upon the entire economy. No income for diggers and traders means no purchasing power and no consumption. The effects are spilling over to the entire economy, both formal and informal (see also a report by Pole Institute).
In this contribution I would like to follow up on your excellent post 'in which the law of unintended consequences takes its nasty course." Because when it comes to unintended (or maybe not?) and perverse consequences, there are many examples. I’ll just give the example of Kamituga, a gold mining town situated at about 180 km from Bukavu, where my colleague Gabriel Kamundala (Université Catholique du Bukavu) did a field mission from 10 to 14 November 2010.
Kamituga has more than 100.000 inhabitants, most of them directly or indirectly depending upon artisanal mining or trade. In 2008 and 2009 we studied the complex system of exploitation and property rights, the organization of the work, the relations between diggers, pit owners and traders, their relations with the authorities, etc. (See the paper here and a forthcoming piece in an edited volume: Ansoms and Marysse, Natural resources and local livelihoods in the Great Lakes Region) My field research taught me to consider those diggers and small traders as agents, and not as passive victims of destructive forces or violent groups. The mines in Kamituga were not militarized; the minerals were not conflict minerals. Unfortunately my case did not at all fit the image NGO's and advocates like to show us.
Since the ban on artisanal mining took effect, things have changed in Kamituga. Currently there are soldiers of the national army (FARDC) or policemen in front of every pit. They are ‘securing the implementation of the president’s decision’, but of course they also see their benefit. Diggers can now arrange entrance permits for the mining shafts. This phenomenon is locally referred to as ‘cooperation’ and it is perfectly similar to the situation Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers described in “Divisé par deux." In practice, diggers can pay a sum – varying between $100 and $300 – to the soldier or policeman. With this ‘entrance permit’ they may go and work in whichever shaft they like. The diggers are perfectly aware of the best producing shafts, which of course are now attracting most individuals. Obviously, the pit owners of these shafts do not appreciate this, since it deprives them of a very large part of their production and profit.
In early November, a pit owner heard about his pit being exploited by clandestine diggers. When he went out at night to verify whether this was true, he met a soldier guarding the entrance. The soldier shot at him without hesitation, and the man presently lost his left arm. Another dispute between a clandestine digger and a soldier has resulted in the digger being shot. This event has provoked a violent reaction from the population. The diggers have used the death of their colleague to organize a protest march to the town hall. Many other people joined them, and in an attempt to stop the crowd, the police, trying to fire some shots in the air, shot four people. Several people were also injured; some official buildings were plundered, as well as the house of the soldier who shot the clandestine digger; and the population opened the prison gates, through which some prisoners were able to escape.
Despite the mining ban, gold exploitation in Kamituga continues. But the working conditions for the population have become even worse. Kamituga has a long history of both industrial and artisanal exploitation. Therefore, there is a considerable part of the population that is skilled and experienced in the sector. They know how to circumvent the measure and continue evacuating the gold quartz. For some of them the current situation reminds of the late eighties and early nineties, when they, as clandestine diggers, went in the industrial company’s shafts at night. Their resilience and experience is part of their capital. But the whole enterprise has become risky. The Mining Police has found that ‘catching clandestines’ is a profitable business. The sum to be paid when you are caught amounts to $150.
An unintended consequence? Collateral damage? When looking at this case, the following statement by the head of Global Witness campaign seems ironic: "It is clear to anyone who observes Congo closely that competition to control and exploit the country's vast mineral wealth is fueling the brutal conflict. The ban on mining activity could provide breathing space for fundamental reforms."
In Kamituga, the effect of the ban on mining is rather an increased militarization of the gold chain and increased levels of violence. The population perceives the measure as an establishment of military control over the mines. When asked about the rationale for the mining ban, they answer that “this measure has been taken in order to allow the FARDC to take control over the artisanal sector”. The same phenomena have been observed by the Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman in the Walikale region: soldiers guards the mines, where civilians enter at night and work for the soldier’s account.
To be continued indeed…