World News‎ > ‎

Congo conflict mineral clampdown seen tough to enforce

posted 14 Sept 2010, 09:27 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 14 Sept 2010, 09:29 ]

Democratic Republic of Congo has banned mining operations in the country's east in a move aimed at undermining illegal networks fuelling the region's violence.

MUBI, DR CONGO (SEPTEMBER 11, 2010) REUTERS - Congo will struggle to enforce its new ban on mining in rebellious eastern areas and the move is likely to increase smuggling rather than help clean up an industry accused of fuelling conflict, analysts say.

Congo's mines ministry issued a statement on Saturday (September 11) banning the mining, processing and marketing of minerals in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces, although it is not clear on how it will be enforced.

Congo is under growing international pressure to stop armed groups profiting from mining, but analysts say a clampdown on so-called "conflict minerals" will be difficult because government troops are themselves heavily involved in the trade.

In the mining hub of Walikale, those trading in mines wish they had an earlier warning to sell some of the mineral stocks they had.

Walikale has made headlines recently after rebels raided and raped more than 500 women and children in a two-month period only a few km from a UN protection force base.

Silimu Kasimu is a business man who trades in minerals and worries about the future.

"The stock which I have here in the warehouse is 11 tonnes, which I had I had before this decision was made. It will now be difficult to take it from here to Goma since the president made this decision. I have 11 tonnes in the warehouse, as well as extra tones that I have yet to bring to the warehouse. It would have been better for our president to allow us to sell the remaining stocks, so that I can make a bit of money," said Kasimu.

The eastern region is rich in minerals such as gold, cassiterite and tantalum that end up in jewellery, laptops and cell phones.

No major firms operate there, but small-scale mining employs thousands and has been linked to simmering conflicts.

Some five million people have died in the central African state since the start of a 1998-2003 war.

Despite the official end of that war, government and U.N. forces are struggling to uproot myriad rebel groups that still roam the east, often fighting over control of mines.

But Kasimu maintains that his business is authentic and registered with the authorities.

"These documents prove that we have paid 500 US dollars. These are the documents that I also use to show the authorities that I am legal business and that I can buy minerals here, this is all legal. What we do is legal and we are recognised by the authorities," he said.

For Godura-Sadiki, a miner, this will affect many people who make a living working in the mines.

"We are tired, and we are disappointed by the decision that the president has made of closing these mines, because this is our lives, we don't know what else to do. We refused to steal or deal participate in illegal mining, so that we can help our country and our land," said Sadiki.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation in July calling on companies to prove material extracted from Congo and its nine neighbours is "conflict free."

Congo's government said the ban had been put in place as mining was linked to "mafia-like" groups but many believe the ban is likely to push legal business to these very operators.

A ban could also increase the likelihood of unrest in the region as tens of thousands of Congolese live off the mining industry, analysts say.

"I think they need to come up with measures that will ensure that everybody participates in ensuring that, that part of the country is stabilised, that rebels are engaged to ensure that they stop the reason for their... the reasons for being in the bush are resolved and that include a regional approach. There are countries which are involved, there are rebels using the Congo, Ugandan rebels, Rwandan rebels are all in the ITRIDRC. I think it's a regional thing. But I think at the end of the day the responsibility is with the Congolese government, they need to build up capacity, they need to find mechanisms to ensure that they control that part, they need to build the army, there's no country that can survive without a strong army especially when the country has gone through wars and still facing rebels," said Claude Kabemba, Director of the Southern Africa Resource.

Former rebel for the national congress for the defence of the people (CNDP), Colonel Mpaka Kalamo, says that residents do look for minerals but they don't mine illegally.

"The people of Walikale do mine for mineral but they are not rebels. I can plead on their behalf to the president, who is one of my relatives. We will look for the enemy , but he (the president) can make things easier for the people of Walikale to do business," Kalamo said.

During Congo's five-year conflict, which sucked in six neighbouring armies, all sides were accused of looting resources.

Undisciplined government units, as well as rebels, are still accused of vying for control of minerals.

Fighters from the CNDP, a former rebel group now integrated into the army, was particularly involved in a trade that was earning fighters tens of millions of dollars, according to analysts.

Rwanda, whose army has previously backed Congo's rebels and was accused of plunder in the war, has announced a plan to introduce a minerals tracing scheme to help buyers certify the origins and supply chain of tin and other ores.

But Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a UK-based tin industry body, warned that the future of its project to improve transparency in Congo was now in doubt as a result of the ban.