Can Mining's 'Paradise Lost' be 'Regained'

8th June 2001

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is arguably the mining industry's 'Paradise Lost' – but World Bank efforts to enact a Tanzanian-type mining code could hasten the 'Regaining' process. The vast country – which, at 2,3-million square kilometres, is about twice the size of South Africa – holds within in its borders a veritable treasure chest of natural-resource wealth. This ranges from world-class copper and cobalt deposits through to diamonds, gold, zinc, manganese, water, timber and a host of other minerals, such as columbite-tantalite (coltan).

However, over the years, and to this day, these riches have been as much a curse as a blessing, leading to, and sustaining unrest – a fact that has been highlighted once again in a recent United Nations Security Council report on how illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC was fuelling the ongoing strife. Indeed, it is safe to say that in the DRC, mining is inextricably linked to politics. And, in the current context, it is also inextricably linked to the conflict. Take the involvement of Zimbabwe's Billy Rautenbach and John Bredenkamp in the copper areas for example. Or, the intricate network emerging in eastern DRC, where minerals such as coltan and diamonds and gold are being exploited to fund the war against Kinshasa and enrich powerful individuals in Uganda and Rwanda.

This volatile mix, together with the broader security concerns of countries in the Great Lakes, has made for a highly complex political environment, for which there is no quick fix.

Nonetheless, the mining community is closely monitoring recent political developments, which has seen Joseph Kabila take over the seat of power in Kinshasa, following the assassination of his increasingly recalcitrant and maligned father, Laurent-D