Gold mining in Congo

© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times
© James Oatway/Sunday Times

Gold miners in eastern DRC no longer fear warlords but now they are exploited by a plague of corrupt government officials and security personnel.

They all demand illegal taxes, fees and levies from the miners without delivering any meaningful services in return, according to a major research report 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.

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.
 
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.

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