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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.

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But while the mines may soon appear to be free from the influence of armed groups, the reality will be less clear-cut. Enough heard multiple times from people living near the mine that soldiers just take their uniforms off to look like civilians when they go into the mine. Issuing identification cards to authorize only people with legitimate business to enter the mines should cut down on soldiers posing as civilians, but logistically even this step presents challenges. For instance, miners with the Cooperation of Artisanal Miners of Bisie said they still had not received ID cards for 2011 as of mid-April. Other logistical arrangements are yet to be determined and could undercut the system if conflict minerals are still able to seep in, such as how and where to securely store the stock ready for shipment at the trading centers.

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Security remains an acute concern throughout the Kivu region. While the presence of militias has obvious threats for local populations, it also justifies the deployment of soldiers and police to areas at risk, which not coincidentally are also often areas rich in minerals. Gold mining is particularly problematic; armed groups control an estimated 85 percent of gold mines.

Shortages of funding are a continuous threat to certification efforts, and some promising initiatives stalled out during President Kabila’s six-month mining ban that was lifted in March. While the UN mission, the US, UK, and Canada back the centres de negoce initiative, the centers cover just one stage – albeit a key one – on the supply chain. And even if these five centers function effectively, they will likely not be able to cover enough territory or output. The North Kivu mining minister estimated that 15 trading centers would be needed to cover that province’s mining territories alone.

But the extent of the government’s commitment and willingness to follow through may be the biggest unknown. “Some of these key politicians who were brought out of the rebellion made deals with Kabila,” said a UN source. “It’s unclear what they agreed and therefore hard to know whether Kabila has any leverage over them.”

A European mining executive said that he isn’t optimistic that the US legislation will have the desired effect of cutting off armed groups, because of the lack of political will, even as companies stall operations. “The Congolese government still doesn’t believe that the world wouldn’t want its minerals,” he said.

But among communities in Walikale and mining executives alike, there is a real fear – grounded in the experience of the mining ban, when shipments fell from 20 tons to one daily – that a certification scheme won’t be put in place in time to reassure skittish buyers and the business won’t rebound.

“This centre de negoce will be finished within a week or 10 days,” said Sylvain Luendo, an engineering assistant for IOM, the agency implementing the construction phase. “It’s up to the government to decide when they will inaugurate and open it,” adding that he didn’t know when that would be.

Laura Heaton and Fidel Bafilemba blog for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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