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Congolese living in mining region blame 'Obama's law' for economic struggles

There is widespread misunderstanding in Congo about US legislation targeting conflict minerals.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger / April 25, 2011

Walikale, Democratic Republic of Congo

“We don’t understand why President Obama would want to cut off Congo’s minerals,” said Idrissa Assani, expressing a sentiment clearly shared by his fellow miners who sat together in the dark office of their mining cooperative. “It is the innocents who are vulnerable” and who will suffer most from “Obama’s law,” he said.

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In the simple wooden structure with dirt floors, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight coming through the open door and through spaces in the paneling, Assani pulled out a pristine copy of “Obama’s law,” as the conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank bill is locally known. People are already suffering from the “embargo” imposed by President Obama and expecting conditions to only get worse, he said.

Leafing through the pages of the legislation, Enough analyst Fidel Bafilemba noted to the French and Kiswahili speakers that nowhere in the US bill is there any mention of an embargo or a ban on Congo minerals. Rather, the law calls for companies to conduct due diligence on minerals from Congo to ensure that armed groups and military units do not benefit from these resources. The group of miners was surprised, admitting that it has been difficult to understand the details of Obama’s law since none of them speak English and they’ve never seen a translated version of the bill.

Adding to the confusion, President Kabila suddenly instituted a mining ban last fall that effectively shut down all legitimate mining activities in North and South Kivu and Maniema. The government lifted the ban in March, but mining companies remain skittish. A European mining executive told Enough the ban was “a knee-jerk reaction” to the US legislation and allegations of mass rapes in mining areas. “Kabila had to show that he was doing something,” the executive said, but he emphasized that the ban badly complicated certification efforts and is being viewed by local populations as part and parcel of the Obama law. “I have no idea who is advising [Kabila],” he added, shaking his head.

During Enough’s recent visit to this mineral-rich region, we heard about the detrimental effects of the ban from people directly involved in mining but also from local officials, shop and restaurant owners, prostitutes, and motor bike drivers. “The population here was living in misery [during the mining ban],” said the director of a comptoir in the village of Ndjingala, at the entrance to the area’s largest mine, Bisie.

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