Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo

By Enrico Carisch | November 14th, 2012
Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo

In 2011, the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) launched a regional monitoring effort to assess the physical, social and economic security risks, as well as the socio-economic, humanitarian and commercial conditions, faced by artisanal gold-mining communities in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Maniema and Orientale in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The research sought to answer two fundamental questions that have been asked for many years:

  • Are illegally armed groups and militias still the most significant threat to artisanal and small-scale miners, who produce nearly all of eastern DRC’s gold; and
  • How do government services respond to the most essential needs of artisanal miners?

During the research - which produced Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo - the following key insights emerged:

1.     Gold miners in the eastern DRC have not benefited 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 in all mining areas.

While most of the artisanal and small-scale miners who were interviewed no longer fear homicidal militias, they are now confronted with daily hordes of corrupt government officials, functionaries, and law-enforcement or security personnel, who all wrest illegal taxes and fees from the miners – in addition to straight bribes and extortions – without delivering any meaningful services in return. The situation is exacerbated by widespread ignorance of the laws in force.

2.     Artisanal gold mining continues its 100-year-long history as one of the most important sources of income and the most powerful monetising instrument for the populations of the provinces of North and South Kivu, Maniema and Orientale. While gold is undeniably the economic lifeblood of the eastern DRC, the government of the Congo 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.

3.     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. And while the exploitation of artisanal and small-scale miners continues, the identity of those responsible has now changed. They are no longer warlords and militia leaders but government administrators, members of the government’s military and security organisations, and many regional traders.

Key recommendations

1.     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% of the gold produced in the east.

2.     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.

3.     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. 

4.     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.

With this project, SARW is contributing to the Congolese people’s search for peace, security and, in particular, economic stability. The project also demonstrates how civil society can assume a leadership role in the redevelopment of the DRC by providing original field-research and comprehensive analysis.

The SARW project is ongoing. 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 ongoing research will be published in separate reports during the coming months.

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