Transnational nonprofit organisation Crisis Group says tensions continue to build in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) mining heartland between industrial and artisanal miners.
The organisation highlights in its latest report, titled 'Mineral Concessions: Avoiding Conflict in DRC’s Mining Heartland', the frustration between industrial and artisanal miners owing to competition, in the Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces.
In these mineral-rich provinces, State security forces intervened in June and July last year to expel more than 10 000 artisanal miners who were encroaching on two of the country’s largest industrial mining sites.
Crisis Group economics of conflict fellow Anouk Rigterink explains that artisanal miners lack economic opportunities. They are often denied access to industrial sites, even for purposes of exploiting commercially non-viable deposits and the region lacks artisanal mining zones.
These frustrations are exacerbated by the fact that industrial mining permits in the DRC now cover virtually all lands where mineral deposits have been found.
Other local factors make the mining sector potentially explosive, particularly the narrative that “migrants” from nearby Kasaï, attracted by artisanal mining, are “stealing” the Katanga region’s mineral wealth.
Crisis Group Central Africa project deputy director Nelleke van de Walle notes that the local tensions shoot multiple fault lines through the governing coalition that DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, whose family hails from Kasaï, has formed with his predecessor Joseph Kabila, whose power base is Katanga.
“The coalition government’s internal frictions resonate especially keenly in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba.”
Crisis Group says Tshisekedi faces the twin challenges of defusing mining sector tensions and working within the fragile political coalition he has formed with his rival, Kabila.
“Whether or not he succeeds will bear on the country’s stability and prosperity, as well as on his political future,” the organisation states.
Crisis Group believes the DRC government should help artisanal miners earn livelihoods by carving out new small-scale mining zones, together with the private sector, and remove impediments to industrial subcontracting of artisanal miners.
It recommends that companies do initial groundwork to prepare sites within these zones for artisanal mining, and that these sites be protected from being taken over by industrial mining companies.
The government should also protect the right of industrial companies to subcontract with artisanal cooperatives by carving these arrangements out of the decree directing a newly established (but not yet stood up) government entity to buy all artisanally mined cobalt.
For their part, mining companies should subcontract artisanal miners to exploit deposits they cannot profitably mine – conditional on artisanal miners upholding basic safety, labour and environmental standards – and comply with provisions in the recently enacted iteration of the mining law that require mining companies to contribute a set percentage of their revenue directly to local development.
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Organisations setting due diligence standards for mining also have a role to play. These organisations used to consider artisanal mining to be exclusively a channel for funding armed groups and reflected this view in their due diligence requirements.
“More recently, they have recognised its potential as a source of livelihoods. They should adapt their formal standards to convey that industrial mining companies can harm local development efforts and increase the potential for violence if they fail to adopt policies that take into account the needs of artisanal miners and the communities where they live,” the organisation says.
“It will not be easy for Tshisekedi to make headway on the fraught issue of artisanal mining; but while the need to work in a fraying coalition with Kabila no doubt constrains Tshisekedi’s capacity to make many of the above changes, he can still press for them, seek to harness the support of political allies and begin generating momentum for their achievement.
“Even if the effort fails to achieve all of its goals in the near term, it can only improve prospects for peace and prosperity in the DRC’s mining heartland,” concludes Rigterink.