WHEN
MINES FUEL
CONFLICT

NESTLED BETWEEN THE LUSH HILLS OF SOUTH KIVU, EASTERN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), IS THE VILLAGE OF BRIEMBO.

A couple of hundred makeshift homes made of recovered wood and blue tarpaulin roofs house around 1,200 miners, who work 12 hours shifts in an artisanal cassiterite (tin) mine, just a few hundred metres away.

Like Wakilongo, most miners, from nearby villages in South Kivuor other provinces, are lured by the possibilities of earning a livingfrom mining.

I used to work in gold mines, but due to a decrease in production, I decided to come here as some of my colleagues told me I could make a living and support my family from working in cassiterite mines,” said Wakilongo Masumbuko.

Cassiterite is the parent mineral of tin. Mining of cassiterite is conducted mostly by artisanal (small scale) methods in Eastern DRC. The country accounts for about 3 percent of the global supply of tin.

These so called ‘conflict minerals’ find their way into international supply chains by passing through a variety of intermediaries before being purchased by multinational electronics companies working in the automotive, jewellery and electronics sectors.

“For decades armed groups in Eastern DRC and some Congolese army factions, have been profiting from the artisanal mining of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (known as the 3Ts+Gold)”, says Jean-Philippe Chauzy, IOM Chief of Mission in DRC.

“Pretty much every single electronic device we own – mobile phones, tablets, laptops and gaming consoles, to mention a few –contains tantalum, which is extracted from coltan ore of which the DRC is the world’s largest producer,” adds Chauzy.

THE ILLEGAL TRADE OF MINERALS FUELS CONFLICT

Profits from illegal mining fuel armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Through intimidation and control over the local populations, armed groups secure control of mines and trading routes that enable them to sell the minerals illicitly on the black market. The profits provide the funding that armed groups need to continue fighting. In addition, the illegal export of these minerals means that no taxes are paid to the DRC government.

A new project by the UN Migration Agency (IOM) is helping certify mines as conflict-free and ensure profits are re-invested into the community.

In 2014, in a bid to increase transparency in the DRC mining sector, IOM, with support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), launched the Responsible Minerals Trade (RMT) program, which aims to regulate trade in the strategic 3Ts+Gold minerals by establishing conflict-free supply chains, including the setting up of Centres de Negoces (Trading Counters).

The project promotes the civilian control of the mining sector. It ensures that those mine sites are not in the hands of illegal armed groups or rogue elements within the state security apparatus, and do not employ children or vulnerable women. It also aims to protect the civilian population working on or living around those mining sites,” says Chauzy.

IOM has been supporting this objective by validating mining sites. To date, over 310 mining sites mostly in the east of the country have been validated and IOM hopes to have validated more than 500 mining sites by the end of 2018.

To improve the transparency of the supply chain, the minerals are traced all the way from extraction to wholesale. This is very much in line with the US Dodd-Frank legislation that requires listed US firms trading in the 3Ts+G to prove that those minerals are conflict-free.

For the miners, working in a certified artisanal mine has clear advantages. Not only are the mines a safer, healthier working environments but the miners are also guaranteed a fair income and basic rights as members of mining cooperatives.

“We are grouped around a mining cooperative called COMIANGUE because a portion of the revenue generated from mining is reinvested into the community.”

The minerals extracted from Birembo’s artisanal mines are usually transported to Nzibira Point de Vente (Sales Counter), just a few kilometres away. Here, they are weighed, put inside pouches, tagged and sealed, under the supervision of an agent from DRC’s Service for the Assistance and Supervision of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (SAESSCAM).

“The tagging systems ensures that the minerals’ journey is traceable all the way to the end, when they are exported and sold abroad”, says Dieu Donne Cabwinwe, SAESSCAM Chief of Administration and Finance.

“With IOM’s project, we are helping take back the mines from armed groups and instead generate revenue for our government”, he added.

He collects the taxes paid on each kilogram of raw minerals, while a representative of the mining division of the Provincial Ministry of Mines issues a travel permit that enables the minerals to travel within the country, up to the export point.

This system helps generate much needed tax revenue for the government of DRC.

Nzibira Sales Point, South Kivu: A mining agent fills in the necessary paperwork to pay taxes and receive a 'travel certificate' for the certified minerals to transported to their final sales point. 

Nzibira Sales Point, South Kivu: A mining agent fills in the necessary paperwork to pay taxes and receive a 'travel certificate' for the certified minerals to transported to their final sales point. 

A levy of 2.2 per cent on the value of each exported container of minerals is added to a ‘basket fund’, which supports community projects such as health centres, schools and roads in the areas where the mines are found.

Back in Birembo village, Wakilongo and one of his fellow miners walk down the hill back to the village. They grab two bottles of beer and sit on the edge of a hill to relax after a long day at work. “I work seven days a week. I start at 6am and finish at 6pm. When I rest…I either have a beer with my friends or I sleep,” says Wakilongo.

“Life is better here because we mine small quantities of cassiterite but it’s enough for me to earn money to feed my family. I hope that what I earn will improve the life of my family. I’m confident because with the little I earn, my children can eat and will be able to study.”

Wakilongo Masumbuko, miner
The RMT project is helping promote civilian control of the minerals sector and ensure that vulnerable populations are protected from human rights abuses, therefore improve security in some conflict-affected areas in DRC.

However, there is a need to increase the number of certified mines and more consistent investigations and prosecution of individuals involved in corruption and illegal export in order to start seeing a considerable reduction in the export of conflict minerals. This will ultimately contribute to chocking off a key source of funding for DRC’s armed groups, shining a light of hope for peace in the eastern part of the country.