Congo-Kinshasa: From Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold in East - Same Miners, Different Enemies

press release

Kinshasa — Gold miners in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) no longer fear homicidal warlords and militias but they are still being ruthlessly exploited – by a plague of corrupt government officials, bureaucrats and security personnel, who all demand illegal taxes, fees and levies from the miners without delivering any meaningful services in return, according to a major research report released today.

Produced by the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW), the report – Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo – highlights the poor governance of the mining sector, which could be the driving force behind genuine socio-economic development in the region, and the daily battle for survival by thousands of artisanal and small scale gold miners, who produce nearly all of eastern DRC’s gold.

“It is a myriad of corrupt government agents, rather than armed militias, who are now preying on artisanal gold miners in eastern Congo and preventing them from reaping the benefits of greater stability and record-breaking gold prices on global markets,” said Dr Claude Kabemba, Director of SARW. “In most cases, artisanal and small-scale miners are no better off than during the chaotic reign of the militias – and in many areas, they are worse off. It is time for the DRC government to act to allow for gold-driven economic growth in the east.”

The report, which was based on 10-months of research in gold-mining communities in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Maniema and Orientale by a team of 12 Congolese researchers and a renowned international expert, found that:

  • The artisanal gold-mining communities of the Kivus, Maniema and Orientale are in the grip of a historic gold rush, complete with all the classic symptoms – chaotic migrations, poor sanitary and health conditions, dangerous mine excavation techniques resulting in frequent fatalities, increasing criminal exploitation of the entire process, and incalculable environmental costs;
  •  Artisanal gold mining produces between US$1-2 billion per year and undeniably represents the biggest single source of income for eastern DRC and the best hope for economic growth and development;
  •  But gold miners have not benefited from this gold rush and from notable improvements in the broader economic and security context, which include the establishment of peace in most gold-mining areas; record-breaking gold prices on world markets; and the restructuring of government agencies, partly supported by the international community, to increase supervision and enforcement of laws in all mining areas;
  •  Gold is the economic lifeblood of the eastern DRC, but the Congolese government lacks any credible and reliable institutional presence, any statistical data, or any genuine plan to collect data. Inevitably, all policy implementation efforts for the informal gold sector are ineffective; and,
  •  While the exploitation of artisanal and small-scale miners continues, the identity of those responsible has changed. They are no longer warlords and militia leaders but government administrators, members of state military and security organisations, and racketeers.

According to the report, the cumulative effect of the regular shakedowns by state agents and the trading power of the racketeers have left most miners mired in desperate poverty and communities struggling to survive – despite living on top of such rich gold reserves.

“The town of Bunia and the surrounding region, where thousands of miners dig for their living, have not been disturbed by wars or rebellions since 2005, yet the majority of the population is in the grip of acute poverty and desperation,” said Georges Bokundu, SARW DRC Coordinator.

“This has nothing to do with wars and rebellions and everything to do with irresponsible policies and the greed of state agents – and so it is up to the Congolese government to act.”

The report concludes with four key recommendations to improve conditions for artisanal miners in eastern Congo and pave the way for gold-led socio-economic development:

Stop the criminal exploitation of the gold-mining sector – The government must act to halt the increasingly criminal exploitation of artisanal and small-scale miners by a plague of government bureaucrats, officials and security agents – and end the illegal export of almost 100 percent of the gold produced in the east.

Provide adequate physical protection to miners – If the government provided adequate physical protection to artisanal and small-scale miners – by reallocating funds to support legitimate army regiments – gold production would increase and so would the sector’s impact on individual livelihoods and the region’s economy.

Protect artisanal and small-scale gold miners from racketeers – The government needs to tackle the racketeers, who are buying the miners’ gold at unfairly low prices and selling them food, tools and other merchandise at hugely inflated prices – and leaving them constantly digging for survival.

Reorganise or close SAESSCAM – The Service for the Assistance and Supervision of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (SAESSCAM) was established to support miners but its underpaid – or often unpaid – agents simply extort ‘taxes’, ‘levies’ and other ‘fees’ without providing any services in return. The government must totally restructure the institution or close it down.

About the report and new Congo gold website

Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo can be downloaded from the new www.gold.sarwatch.org website.

A dozen SARW researchers visited dozens of gold mining sites, interviewing hundreds of miners, their wives and children, gold traders, government officials, soldiers, officers and agents of the national military, security and police organizations. The project is on-going.

Research teams continue to monitor and assess the general economic and trade conditions, as well as the security, labour, gender, health and environmental issues affecting artisanal and small-scale mining communities. The results of the on-going research will be published in separate reports during the coming months.

The new Congo gold website will be the hub of the on-going research project – providing a space where activists, academics, journalists, decision-makers from Congo and elsewhere can find a wealth of material from research reports to gold contracts, from analyses of key domestic and international laws and regulations to blogs from researchers in the field, from videos of artisanal mining communities to photo essays on the gold trade.

The coordinator and main author of the report was Enrico Carisch, who has served on the UN Group of Experts on the DRC and on other UN Expert Panels in Somalia, Liberia and Sudan (from 2003-2010). Commissioned by the German Ministry for Economic and Technical Development, he has worked as an advisor and consultant on natural resource certification mechanisms for the DRC Ministry of Mines and the ICGLR. Researchers: Lucien Bahimba, Jean-Marie Barongo, Prof Kennedy Kihangi Bindu, Augustin Byamungu, Richard Etale, Franck Kabwe, Gabriel Kamundala, Nelly Lubala, Jacques Makundju, Hortence Migabo, Alexis Muhima, Raoul Kitungano Mulondani.

About SARW

The mission of the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) is to ensure that extraction of natural resources in southern Africa contributes to sustainable development, which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

A project of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), SARW aims to monitor corporate and state conduct in the extraction and beneficiation of natural resources in the region; consolidate research and advocacy on natural resources extraction issues; shine a spotlight on the specific dynamics of natural resources in the region and building a distinctive understanding of the regional geo-political dynamics of resource economics; provide a platform of action, coordination and organization for researchers, policy makers and social justice activists to help oversee and strengthen corporate and state accountability in natural resources extraction; and, highlight the relationship between resource extraction activities and human rights and advocate for improved environmental and social responsibility practices.

SARW focuses on 10 southern Africa countries but is also working to build a strong research and advocacy network with research institutions, think tanks, universities, civil society organizations, lawyers and communities in southern Africa, the African continent and beyond that are interested in the extractive industries as it relates to revenue transparency, corporate social responsibility, human rights and poverty eradication.

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