President Kabila ordered the lift of a six-month ban on mining in the three eastern provinces of Maniema, North Kivu, and South Kivu, effective March 10, a week from today. The Minister of Mines Martin Kabwelulu made the announcement at the conclusion of a conference Tuesday with provincial representatives from the nation’s mining sector.
Kabwelulu claimed the ban allowed the government to “put in place a mineral tracing program that will conform with international standards.” He went on to say that “we’re all called to improve our governance as well as the business climate in the mining sector.” President Kabila unilaterally announced the ban last year on Sept. 9 as a means to break up “mafia groups” that have controlled the mineral trade in the east.
However, the ban has not seemed to accomplish any of these objectives, and both violence and illicit mineral extraction has continued unabated. Essentially the ban allowed the government to use its army, including the problematic ex-CNDP units, to establish greater control over mine sites in the eastern provinces. The government has done nothing to indicate that it has improved traceability. Given the national army's divisions, dysfunctionality, and propensity to smuggling, it would be hard to endorse greater military control of the mines as indicative of an increased governmental ability to trace minerals to the source.
This haphazard approach to addressing the conflict minerals trade has created more problems than it has solved. A few major criticisms of the ban are:
The ban did not stop extraction or smuggling. Illegal mining continued and became more militarized. It allowed the government forces, including a significant portion of the ex-CNDP brigades, to take control of more strategic reserves that had until that point been under control of the FDLR or other illegal armed groups. With civilians not being able to legally mine or transport mineral shipments, the military became the only group that had the resources (manpower, trucks, checkpoints, control at airports, etc.) to logistically pull it off. Since September we have seen numerous incidents of mineral smuggling, perpetrated primarily by the Congolese military. These include the seizure of truckloads of cassiterite on the Rwandan border at Rubaya and the recent dramatic cases of gold smuggling in Goma and Nairobi—all allegedly linked to senior military commanders.
Communities continued to suffer. Although the ban applied to both civilian and military entities, while recently traveling through North and South Kivu, Enough heard multiple reports of armed groups, not wanting to relinquish control or exploitation of mine sites, forcing individuals from nearby communities to work the mines. In addition, mass rape and sexual assault as a weapon still occur in areas where armed actors control strategic mineral reserves, most recently illustrated by the New Year’s assaults near Fizi. While some perpetrators of the Fizi attack were recently found guilty in a landmark hearing conducted by a mobile justice unit, many perpetrators of GBV still operate in an environment of impunity.
Certification initiatives were stalled. Finally, international multi-stakeholder efforts to create mineral traceability schemes were severely hampered by the ban. Projects that were being piloted prior to the ban, such as the tin industry's “bag and tag” system, had to shut down as they weren't able to legitimately trace extraction and transport of materials – activities made illegal by the ban. These groups attempted to shift their pilot areas to Rwanda and the Katanga province but were unable to operate where it really counted: in the eastern provinces.
Next Thursday the mining ban will be lifted and civilian extraction and transport will resume. It will be crucial that the US in conjunction with regional governments and other donor nations steps in and plays a larger role in ensuring transparency and credibility to the process.