Mining Ban in Eastern Congo lifted

On the 10th March president Kabila lifted the mining ban in the Eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema in Congo. The ban had been introduced in September 2010 and had been a reaction to the rape of more than 300 women and children in Walikale Territory, North Kivu between July 30 and August 2 2010. According to the United Nations, the attack had been carried out by rebel solders as an act of punishment for the villagers colluding with government forces.


At the time of the attacks the Congolese government stated that one of the reasons behind the attack was the mineral exploitation in the region as rival militias aim to control the natural resources of the region. Minerals from Congo are vital for European industry. Just to give one example, Coltan from Congo can be found in the batteries of many European mobile phones.


Even while the ban was in place critics pointed at its ineffectiveness. The area of Eastern Congo is so vast and remote that it was impossible to deploy enough manpower to enforce the mining ban effectively. In fact civilians continued to be conscripted by armed groups for forced labour in the mines.


Moreover, soldiers of the government were part of the problem instead of a solution. Very often they did not defend law and order in the region, but were implicated themselves in the trade of natural resources. A United Nations report published shortly after the Walikale attack pointed out that the Congolese army was unable to provide security in the region precisely because parts of it were colluding with militia groups for their own profit. Global Witness accuses the Congolese government of not having done much to end the military's control over the mines and affirms that, during the months of the ban, their control over the mining activities actually increased.


A negative side effect of the imposed ban was that up to 2 million families depending on the revenue generated by mining were left without their source of income, while it did not stop armed groups from continuing mining activities to finance themselves.


When it started the mining ban, the Congolese government stated that it intended to establish a more formal mechanism for mining in the country, which aimed to allow the benefits of mining to reach the local communities and not militia groups. In spite of the government's claims that the ban had enabled order to be re-established in the sector and that nothing would be like it was before the ban, the reality is that the ban did not achieve its objective and that business has continued as usual.


After the end of the ban the government launched a code of conduct meant to reduce fraud and to increase transparency in the mining industry. Considering the incapacity of the Congolese government to impose its laws in the mining sector, it is very difficult to see how this code of conduct could have any positive impact.


Thomas Lazzeri

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