Mining in the Congo

Mining in the Congo
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  Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Patience Kabamba and Christine Doidge) On July 6, 2013 a public relations representative for Banro Coorporation  —  a Canadian gold mining company whose current projects, as of 2014, lie along the Twangiza-Namoya gold  belt in the South Kivu and Manima provinces of The Democratic Republic of the Congo  —  met and discussed relations between the firm and local elders of Luwinda, a city 59 kilometers north of Bukavu. Like many mining companies in the Congo, Banro Corporation gained gold concession in the DRC when Laurent Kabila, a rebel fighting to overthrow the Mobutu government, marched toward Kinshasa in 1996-1997, spurring The First Congo War. When Mobutu fled to Morocco on May 17, 2007 Laurent Kabila became the third president of the DRC and promptly decided to renegotiate all contracts signed while a rebel leader. As a result, Banro Corp. lost their contract and took the government of the Congo to court in New York. Banro Corp. won the suit and, through negotiation with the new government of the Congo under Laurent Kablia‟s son, Joseph Kabila, after his assassination in 2001, Banro Corp. secured a 25 year contract for the extraction of gold in Mwangaza, Kamituga and Maboya in South Kivu and Maniema, areas spanning 3.632 square kilometers. (BANRO CONGO, Mining S.A.R.L.internal documents) The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, has been called a “ geological scandal ”  as it houses perhaps the richest concentration of precious metals and minerals in its soil, yet holds one of the lowest rungs on the world economic ladder. As Michael Wrong accurately states:  The mineral belt that fans out from Katanga‟s dry savannah into neighbouring Zambia contains copper and zinc in concentrations rival nations can only dream about and enough cobalt to corner the global market. Nearly 500 miles North-West lies another gift of nature: the dark red gravel banks that trace the winding course of the Kanshi River, second biggest source of industrial diamonds in the world. There are other gifts: diamonds at Tshikapa in the South-West and Kisangani in the North, what was for a time the world‟s main source of uranium at Shinkolobwe, and across from the border with Uganda comes the enticing glitter of gold, cadmium and cassiterite, manganese and wolframite, beryl, columbo-tantalite and germanium: metals with mysterious, evocative names. No wonder a US ambassador once memorably referred to „the Congo caviar‟ in a cable back to headquarters. Wrong 2000: 108) The Democratic Republic of the Congo abounds in mineral resources, giving it the potential to  be one of the richest countries on the planet. Instead, the DRC has one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the world. In 2009, African Business magazine estimated the total untapped mineral wealth of the DRC to be US$24 trillion, a number equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States combined. Unfortunately, the scramble to tap such wealth  —  which seems to mirror the colonial scramble in Africa  —  has lead to incredible conflict in the DRC. The technology boom in the 1990‟s increased  the demand for minerals such as niobium, tungsten, pyrochlore, coltan, and germanium which, as Colette Braeckman asserts in The  Looting of the Congo , “are used in hi-tech manufacturing from mobile phones to spaceships .” (New Internationalist Magazine Issue 367). It is tragically ironic that the same minerals used in  creating the technological and digital devices that have made life in the industrialized world more convenient and productive, have also been a major cause of conflict in eastern DRC. The war of primitive accumulation occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has manifested not only at the individual and social level, but also the global level as western countries, corporations, and financial markets continue the race to dominate the Congo ‟s  rich mining sector. This external competition has fuelled and sustained much of the violence within the eastern part of the country in wars that have been waged for nearly two decades. Therefore, it is not only poverty in the DRC that is structural  —  as the country is forced to merely assert itself on the world economy as a supplier of raw materials  —   but also conflict and violence. As a report from the World Bank states, “ Since 1998, over 3.5 million people are estimated to have died. During the same period, countless millions of others have been plunged into acute vulnerability due to displacement, loss of economic livelihoods, dilapidated institutions, and a destroyed social fabric. ” (Report No. 66158 -ZR p. 1) The latest violence erupting in the Congo has centralized around its rich mining sector as foreign countries and corporations vie for access to its mineral rich soil. If we want to understand the issue of mineral extraction in the Congo we much first understand the historical factors which led to such exploitation. Eric Hobsbawm cites the search for cheaper raw material as the main catalyst for European and American colonialism: Between 1880 and 1914…most of the world outside Europe and America [were]…formally partitioned into territories under the formal rule or informal  political domination of one or other of a handful of states: mainly Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherland, Belgium, the USA, and Japan … Technological development now relied on raw materials which, for  reasons of climate or the hazards of geology, were to be found exclusively or  profusely in remote places. The internal-combustion engine, that typical child of our period, relied on oil and rubber…Rubber was exclusively a tropical product, extracted by the atrocious exploitation of natives in the rainforests of the Congo and the Amazon…The new electrical and motor industries hungered for o ne of the most ancient metals, copper. Its major reserves, and eventually producers, were in what the late twentieth century called Third World: Chile, Peru, Zaire, Zambia. (Hobsbawm 1989: 57, 63) The Congo was among the most exploited territories during the colonial scramble for Africa. Conceived by King Leopold of Belgium as merely an extractive space, it had no sovereignty. The internal structure of the country, from its network of roads and railways to its health and education systems, was entirely organized for the purpose of facilitating the extraction of raw materials from the DRC to Belgium. Since Adam Hochschild‟s  King Leopold the Ghost  , it is well known that King Leopold‟s Congo Free State was little more than a barbaric looting enterprise. Such a space, steeped in the psychology of oppression and carved up as its oppressors saw fit, would never become a politically stable entity after independence as it never had a  political consensus between inhabitants in the first place. The borders of the DRC, like the borders of all African countries, were Western-imposed, man-made boundaries. This is how the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose surface area (2.3 million km 2 ) spans the equivalent of two-thirds of the European Union and whose inhabitants are diverse in both ethnic and cultural identity, became a single entity, protected and held together merely for its economic value, its natural resources. One of the major problems the Congo still faces today lies in its ability to transition itself from an extractive space to a   politically autonomous one, where people can organize their productive lives for their own development and for the development of their country. Such a task was expressed during independence by Crawford Young: “Belgium . . . constructed in Africa a colonial state which stood out by the thoroughness of its organization, the formidable accretion of power through an interlocking alliance of state, church, and capital, and the ambition of its economic and social objectives. The very strength of the system as a colonial structure, and its steadfast refusal to face effectively the problem of political adaptation until it began to disintegrate, made an ordered transfer of power  peculiarly difficult. A colonizer who suddenly lost the profound conviction of the righteousness of his policy was confronted with a revolution by the colonized which lacked both structure and ideology. Total colonialism was replaced by total independence virtually overnight, yet the very completeness of the victory of the colonized had as its concomitant an impotence which emptied success of its substance (1965:572)”  In fact, the years following Congolese independence were characterized by violence due to the trauma emanating from this abrupt autonomy. Katanga and Kasai, which presented a semblance of political homogeneity, wanted to secede from the geographical monster King Leopold built, maintained, then suddenly dropped. Though the most natural transition post independence would have been for the Congo to break into smaller, more politically coherent pieces, th e UN‟s intervention kept these secessions from coming to fruition. Mobutu was placed in power partly due to Cold War logistics, as a way for outside interests to keep the Soviet Union away from the Congo‟s minerals .
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