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UN, Congo government try to formalize the mining industry

The plan for formalizing Congo's mining industry relies on the removal of armed groups from the process, but that is a difficult task.

By Laura Heaton, Fidel BafilembaGuest bloggers / April 29, 2011

Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in northeastern Congo on Feb. 23, 2009. Civil conflict in Congo has been driven for more than a decade by the violent struggle for control over the country's vast natural resources, including gold, diamonds and timber, most of which is exploited using hard manual labour.

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

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In Enough’s recent reporting from Walikale, a remote, minerals rich area of eastern Congo, we’ve noted in no uncertain terms that the humanitarian, security, and economic situation there is precarious. A decade after large mineral deposits were found in the region, livelihoods have become inextricably intertwined with mining – people prefer to go to the mines than to cultivate or pursue other forms of income generation, leaving communities largely dependent on basic supplies coming from Goma. The benefits of Walikale’s minerals are vast, but they fail to trickle down to the local population.

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Several initiatives are underway to try to formalize Congo’s mining sector, with various stakeholders involved in each. Coordination and harmonization of efforts will be a major challenge to declaring Congo’s minerals conflict-free.

One of the most promising initiatives for formalizing the mining industry is the establishment of centres de negoce, or trading centers. The United Nations mission in Congo, or MONUSCO, in conjunction with the Congolese government, is backing the construction of five trading centers in the Kivu region, two of which are located in Walikale territory, one near the massive – and notorious – Bisie mine and another in Itebero, about 45 miles from Walikale town.

Here’s how the process should work:

At the mine: Armed groups and soldiers pulled out of the mine. While civilian control is being established, security will be provided in the mine and along trading routes by mining police, with a security perimeter provided by MONUSCO and the Congolese national army. Authorized miners will have to show mining permits to the mining administration and agents with the Small-scale Mining Technical Assistance and Training Service, or SAESSCAM. Each minerals bag will be tagged as it comes out of the mine. No tax will be collected either at the mine or along trading routes.

At the trading center: Standard set of 10 percent tax will be imposed on each minerals bag brought in by miners, collected by SAESSCAM; mining administration will verify permits for miners and companies/comptoirs; laboratory will determine grade of minerals; price for minerals will be set. Then minerals will be retagged and sold to companies/comptoirs, who will ship them by air or road to export centers. MONUSCO and the mining police will provide security at the trading center.

In export cities (Goma/Bukavu): Mining technical department will checks statistics and mining title conformity. Minerals will be roughly processed, sampled by mining laboratory to determine minerals grade, and issued a delivery certificate. Then minerals will be packed up, and the mines administration will issue mineral export authorization. Before minerals are exported, the Congolese central bank will issue a certificate if the load has gone through due traceability process. Finally, Customs Office will document the shipment, and the minerals will be cleared for export.

Encouraging as this plan is in theory, significant challenges threaten to derail the initiative.

Ultimately, the plan hinges on the withdrawal of armed groups, including the Congolese army, from the mines. It will be a challenging feat considering how deeply members of armed groups are invested in mining – from the rank-and-file soldiers to top commanders, to state officials and, some say, even President Kabila himself. Nevertheless, military commanders in North Kivu say that the military pullout from the mines is already well underway. “The chief commander of the army gave a formal instruction to the army to withdraw from the mines,” Major-General Dieudonné Amuli, chief commander of Amani Leo operation, told Enough. “It’s an order that will be observed by everyone here on the ground. Anyone who infringes on the order will be prosecuted,” he said.

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