Social development nongovernmental organisation Pact-Congo is finding ways to reduce conflicts associated with the complex issue of artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Together with corporate partners and donors, such as the United States Agency for Inter- national Development and the International Finance Corporation, Pact-Congo has been undertaking a series of projects in the Katanga copperbelt, in the DRC.
Pact-Congo programme director Karen Hayes says: “We believe in positive corporate engagement with nongovernmental organisations, and we see a huge need and potential for working directly with mining companies operating in the DRC. We are frequently approached by companies wanting to solve the problems with the artisanal miners in and around the companies’ mining sites. We aim to be a dedicated partner to both the companies and the artisanal miners.”
Corporate partners have included DRC-focused copper producer Anvil Mining, and DRC-focused copper-cobalt producer, Katanga Mining and international mining company First Quantum Minerals. In the northern DRC, Pact-Congo works with South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti on its gold concession.
Pact-Congo reports that its conflict management and artisanal mining projects aim to deal with the conflict between the commercial mining companies and the subsistence diggers or illegal/informal miners.
Hayes says: “A key area for Pact-Congo is artisanal mining and the numerous challenges associated with it, such as land rights and violent conflict. “There is certainly an important economic role for regulated, safe and legal artisanal mining, but many of the current practices are dangerous and conflictual. Ultimately, we must find peaceful solutions between commercial mines and informal artisanal miners.”
Hayes reports that compromises can be reached whereby some subcommercial sites can be made available for safe artisanal mining. In other cases, it is best that artisanal miners find alternative, economical and sustainable livelihoods.
Some of these solutions include training and education programmes in anticipation of employment in modern mining operations. Another solution is the facilitation of alternative, economical and sustainable livelihoods for artisanal miners. For instance, livelihood alternatives include agriculture and micro-
In order to achieve these aims, Pact-Congo provides a range of assistance, such as
business counselling, training and access to sources of microfinance credit.
Pact-Congo has also proposed the rehabil- itation of roads with the potential for labour-intensive methods.
Hayes reports that the global economic crisis is having a severe effect in the Katanga province at present. It has been reported that mining operations have been suspended or are closing down in the DRC. Copper- and cobalt-mining are prolific components of the economy in that country and have been affected by reduced commodity prices and decreased demand.
This means that mines intending to train informal miners, or which took the step to fully employ previously informal miners, are having to retrench them owing to the crisis.
Hayes further states that the retrenched mineworkers in Katanga cannot return to artisanal copper-mining because it is no longer a lucrative prospect. Hayes says: “In September 2008, in Kolwezi, there were 40 copper buyers. Then, at the end of November 2008, there were only two buyers.”
There are a number of other obstacles in addition to the global recession. Private mining companies in the DRC have had their contracts allowing them to mine reviewed by government. Unfortunately, this pro- cess has been long and refracted, resulting in uncertainty and frustration for the companies willing to invest and cooperate with communities in the DRC.
In addition, the conflict in the east of the DRC has instilled low-investor confidence in that country. “There have been several years of gradually improving stability, but now the DRC is becoming a high-risk investment area for mining companies,” says Hayes.
Pact-Congo is intrinsically dedicated to the social development of the communities in the DRC’s mining areas. It has partnered with several corporate mining companies in setting goals towards achieving this. However, there are great challenges ahead for initiatives concerning the relationship between the artisanal mining trade and private mining companies in the DRC.