Gold miners in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) no longer fear homicidal warlords and militias but they are still being ruthlessly exploited – by a plague of corrupt government officials, bureaucrats and security personnel, who all demand illegal taxes, fees and levies from the miners without delivering any meaningful services in return.
A report ‘Conflict Gold to Criminal Gold: The new face of artisanal gold mining in Congo’ by Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) highlights the poor governance of the mining sector which could be the driving force behind genuine socio-economic development in the region, and the daily battle for survival by thousands of artisanal and small scale gold miners, who produce nearly all of eastern DRC’s gold.
The report, based on 10-months of research in gold-mining communities in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Maniema and Orientale by a team of 12 Congolese researchers and a renowned international expert, found that the artisanal gold-mining communities of the Kivus, Maniema and Orientale are in the grip of a historic gold-rush, complete with all the classic symptoms – chaotic migrations, poor sanitary and health conditions, dangerous mine excavation techniques resulting in frequent fatalities, increasing criminal exploitation of the entire process, and incalculable environmental costs.
Artisanal gold mining produces between US$1-2 billion per year and undeniably represents the biggest single source of income for eastern DRC and the best hope for economic growth and development.
According to the report, the cumulative effect of the regular shakedowns by state agents and the trading power of the racketeers have left most miners mired in desperate poverty and communities struggling to survive – despite living on top of such rich gold reserves.
“The town of Bunia and the surrounding region, where thousands of miners dig for their living, have not been disturbed by wars or rebellions since 2005, yet the majority of the population is in the grip of acute poverty and desperation,” said Georges Bokundu, SARW DRC Co-ordinator. “This has nothing to do with wars and rebellions and everything to do with irresponsible policies and the greed of state agents – and so it is up to the Congolese government to act.” For more information please go to http://www.gold.sarwatch.org –Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre