We need to change the management of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Aliou Diouf, Francophone Africa Researcher & Representative, BHRRC

Dr Denis Mukwege in 2014. Image: European Paliament via Flickr

The elections of December 30 could trigger a long-awaited break in how to manage the wealth of the country

“My country is being systematically looted with the complicity of people claiming to be our leaders. Looted for their power, their wealth and their glory. Looted at the expense of millions of innocent men, women and children abandoned in extreme poverty. While the profits from our minerals end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy.”

These strong words spoken by Congolese Doctor Denis Mukwege as he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month summarise the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

The DRC is one of the richest countries in terms of natural resources in Africa. It has cooper, cobalt, zinc, coltan, cassiterite, gold, bauxite, diamond, oil, and gas. However, DRC is also one of the poorest countries in the world, because the Congolese people have seen little benefit from these immense natural resources, which have been exploited for many decades.

The time has come to change this situation. Natural resources belong to the Congolese people, who have an inalienable right to benefit from them. The country’s general elections on Sunday, December 30th, should mark a fundamental break in how the natural resources are managed in the DRC. 

Mismanaged natural resources and disappointed people

Like most of the natural resource-rich African countries, the DRC has many difficulties in managing its immense natural wealth, especially in the extractive sector. Currently, the sector is facing a lot of problems: transparency, frauds, corruption, etc. Some unscrupulous multinationals, a small elitist minority, and armed groups, are getting richer while the people are suffering. The desire for natural resources is also fueling conflicts. It creates insecurity in some areas in the east of the country and abuse and violence on local communities. Pollution, expropriations, relocations, but also child labor and repression by security forces, are often linked to the activities of these companies. Positive action or initiatives developed by some companies based on their corporate social responsibility efforts are useful but far from satisfying the expectation of these communities.                    

The poor management in the DRC’s extractive industry has been criticized for many years. Global Witness has revealed that more than $750 million of mining revenues paid by companies to state bodies in the DRC was lost to the treasury between 2013 and 2015. Another report recently highlighted corruption and human rights violations in cobalt exploitation. The company Gecamines denied related allegations in a recent report.

The opaque relations between Dan Gertler - the Israeli billionaire President of the DGI group - and some companies like Och-Ziff and Glencore were revealed last August by Global Witness, which noted that Gertler received and distributed millions in bribes related to DRC mining deals. Gertler has rejected these allegations, but has been sanctioned by the American Treasury Department for corruption in oil and mining transactions in the Congo.

Moreover, despite progress in the traceability of minerals, some in the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and some armed groups are still involved in trafficking minerals, especially gold. Illicit financial flows also have a direct link with conflicts and the illegal exploitation of natural resources. And finally, one could mention the abuses committed by the forestry industry and environmental degradations, especially regarding authorities’ willingness to exploit oil in Virunga National Park despite civil society opposition.       

Congolese people are disappointed because they are not benefitting from their country’s natural resources and are victims of companies’ social and environmental impacts. 

Change in natural resources management needed

This change should come from a strong political will to manage the mining sector in a transparent and sustainable way for the benefit of all the Congolese people, and in a way which respects human rights and the environment. Such a policy change also requires responsible behavior from all actors in the sector, especially decision-makers and companies. Therefore, we are recommending the following: 

► To current and future Congolese authorities:

♦ Improve the fight against corruption, especially in the mining sector;

♦ Implement the new mining code properly;

♦ Fully integrate and implement the EITI standards;

♦ Ensure a fair and equitable use of revenue generated by natural resources;

♦ Ensure the protection of Human Rights Defenders;

♦ End impunity, especially for abuse involving companies.

 

► To companies, especially mining, oil and gas companies: 

♦ Respect the mining code and relevant regulation;

♦ Respect and implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other relevant international principles and standards;

♦ Have a human rights policy and an efficient grievance mechanism for impacted communities;

♦ Respect Human Rights Defenders and denounce any attacks against them and the narrowing of civic space;

Support authorities’ efforts to increase transparency in the extractive sector and efforts to fight corruption;

♦ Have a solid corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy for communities.       

The DRC elections on December 30th constitute a unique opportunity to advocate for a radical change in the management of natural resources in the DRC. To make this change happen, companies must respect the law and the country has to be ruled by someone able to build a state where the government will serve its people - as noted by Dr Mukwege.  

Aliou Diouf is Francophone Africa Researcher & Representative for BHRRC.

A version of this article first appeared in La Tribune Afrique on December 26th.

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