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Verite sou tanbou; discussion on mining exploitation in the Congo
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Verite sou tambouFollowing the showing of the documentary «L’Or noyé du Kamituga» by Yvon Lammens et the journalist Colette Braeckman (*), Mme. Baeckman answered the questions from the public present at FOKAL, on the conditions of mining exploitation in a country such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

«Kamituga is a mining town situated in the east of the Congo (Kivu), which symbolises the historical economic tragedy of the country. My purpose in this documentary is to show the region, show how people live in a degraded economic situation, where they were abandoned by the old mining company and the government, trapped in a war, disorder, armed gang conflict and how they struggle to survive nonetheless».

 

«Filmed over many years, the film came out five years ago. Some archival images show the exploitation under colonial rule, then the abandonment of the area by the Belgium mining company SOMINKI in the eighties, when it went under without compensating the workers. The workers then began mining individually, sharing their profits with the local military who controlled the area. Then, the BANRO Company came to Kamituga, buying an important mine for only 3.5 million dollars, a bargain. This company refused to acknowledge SOMINKI’s social debts. I think that companies should be held accountable for social debts in the same way countries are accountable to their bankers and financiers. The debt toward workers who worked all their lives for a company also exists. To achieve peace, the social debt has to be paid».

 

«The companies answer that they pay royalties. But they actually pay very little compared to the profits they make, since these royalties were badly negotiated. They pay to Kinshasa, to the mining or finance ministry in the best case, and to private individuals in the worst case. Though the law stipulates that 40% of royalties go back to the provinces, this is not done and the people in the regions never profit from mining».

 

«BANRO invested in new gold mines that seem very promising. It also has employed young workers of the region but in doing this it has also expropriated many individual miners who were making a small living from their work, saying that the land now belongs to the company. Some of the angered workers have since joined armed groups that ransom the population. The government solution of giving large tracks of land to mining companies does not take into account the thousands of people that make a small living mining in the informal economy. We have to be realistic, it is not possible to integrate all those workers into the formal economy rapidly, and new mining techniques use more and more machinery that replaces workers. Solutions have to be found, such as leaving some areas to big mining companies and other areas to individual miners on a transitional basis. Otherwise, people will not be able to make a living and in this situation creates insecurity. Going from an informal economy to a modern one, without thinking of the population, results in social and military insecurity».

 

Why did the government give such good conditions to mining companies since it was in a position to negotiate for the good of its population?

 

«It’s the link between mining exploitation and war; we were at that stage in the second war of the Congo. Laurent Désiré Kabila took power during the first war and wanted to negotiate contracts with the big mining interests. At that moment, western governments decreed that he was not reliable and started the second war with foreign troops. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda invaded the Congo so he called on his friends Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Namibia for help. But the latter countries were given access to diamond mines for their war effort. The country was without a functional army, ruined by Mobutu’s dictatorship and forced into a war effort without means. The government tried to renegotiate with BANRO for a better contract but a Washington tribunal ruled in favor of the mining company and the Congo, which was already ruined had to pay an indemnity of one billion dollars. It was thus forced to renegotiate with BANRO at 3,5 million dollars, an incredible bargain for the company».

 

Would the population be better off if there was no gold in the area? What if they had concentrated on agriculture?

 

«This region has extremely rich lands and if the population had gone into agriculture, they would not be in this sad situation. On the other hand, it is possible to produce wealth through mining if it is well done and benefits the whole of the population. Two years ago the United-States decreed an embargo on all mining products from those regions in the hope of putting an end to combat. For many months, the embargo was in place to stop the sale of «blood minerals» as they were called, but this only produced an economic crisis, because we cannot go back».

 

«The situation of the youth working in the mines is disastrous. These are former combatants that were in military groups and who then went into mining. If you decree an embargo without accompanying measures, people will once again take arms, attack civilians and go into illegal activities. Prudent measures have to be taken to change the situation, by first re-establishing State authority that should enforce mining rules, and control the borders to stop illegal trafficking. But re-establishing State authority is extremely difficult since illegal transport of minerals to neighboring countries would be difficult to stop. To say that all mining will be closed and people will turn to agriculture is impossible, one cannot rewrite history.

 

Have we any idea where all this gold goes? Is the much talked about development of Rwanda paid for by the exploitation of mines in the Congo?

 

In great part, since the borders are not controlled, the minerals extracted in the Congo leave toward neighboring countries, but they also don’t stay in Rwanda. They leave for Europe, Germany, Switzerland and the United-States, most notably the minerals used in making cell phones. A precious metals exchange has been created in Rwanda, but this country produces very little and the exchange is used mostly for minerals illegally transiting from the Congo. Today’s debate is to instigate a traceability mode so the minerals can be legally exported, not only from the Congo but also Rwanda. We have to recognise that each time the Congo tries to put export controls in the Kivu province, rebellions and revolts start. The strategic interests of the great powers which control Congolese mining resources, explain the many wars».

 

(*) Other than the articles published in «Le Soir» for thirty years, Colette Braeckman is the author of many books on Central Africa, such as «Le dinosaur, le Zaïre de Mobutu», «Rwanda, histoire d’un génocide», «Rwanda-Burundi; les racines de la violence», «Terreur Africaine», «Les Nouveaux Prédateurs», by Fayard publishers, «Lumumba, un crime d’État», by Eden publishers, and participated in many collective writings such as; «Kabila prend le pouvoir, Les prémices d’une chute, La champagne victorieuse de l’AFDL, Le Congo aujourd’hui,«La Guerre, enfants admis, 300 000 enfants soldats dans le monde; comment combattre ce fléau?» by Éditions Complexe publishers and «Congo 1960; échec d’une décolonisation» by André Versaille publishers. The reporter also has a blog:, Le carnet de Colette Braeckman.