The Dominion Paper, November 2008
The Congolese government surprised many when it announced early last year that it would be conducting a review of 63 mining contracts that were signed during the Second Congo War.
The review aimed to revisit the conditions under which mining concessions and contracts were granted during the bloodiest years of the conflict, which is also known as Africa’s World War, during which as many as 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998.
It is expected that the review will call for the re-negotiation of about 25 mining contracts and the possible cancellation of about 22 others. The release of the review was originally scheduled for October, but has been delayed since fighting broke out in the east of the country, displacing about half a million people.
The Second Congo War was fueled in large part by a scramble for resources. The war involved eight African states, multiple rebel groups and several very powerful multinational companies, among them Canadian companies. The war officially came to an end in 2003; conflict remains prevalent throughout the country; and according to the International Rescue Committee, 45,000 people die each month from war-related causes.
Congolese newspaper Le Phare published leaked results of the review in November 2007, which revealed that several mining contracts would be re-negotiated or canceled.
Following reports in the media about the contracts, mining companies with interests in the Congo on the London, Toronto and New York stock exchanges saw a sudden drop in their stock prices, an indication of the importance of Congo’s resources to foreign investors.
Among the companies whose contracts are being reviewed are Canadian-Australian company Anvil Mining, Anglogold Ashanti (described as “Africa’s biggest gold miner”), BHP Billiton, and Freeport McMoRan, a company that has invested in the Tenke Fungurume mine, in which Vancouver based company Lundin Mining has a 24.75 per cent stake.
The kind of abuses that these companies are alleged to have engaged in during and after the war years makes the re-negotiation or cancellation of their contracts seem long overdue.
Anvil Mining employees were taken to Congolese courts
in June 2007 over allegations that they had provided logistical assistance and ground transportation to the Congolese Armed Forces during an assault on a fishing town called Kilwa in October 2004 in which 70 to 100 civilians were killed.
According to a report by MiningWatch Canada and Entraide Missionnaire, the company’s vehicles were used, among other things, to remove corpses in the aftermath of the assault.
Despite multiple eyewitness testimonies, the company employees were acquitted. The trial was criticized by the UN and several human rights NGOs, including the UK-based human rights NGO Global Witness, who said that Congolese authorities had blocked investigations into the massacre for an entire year; witnesses and victims were intimidated; and a military prosecutor who refused to drop the charges against the employees was transferred to another jurisdiction.
Even more damning evidence of human rights abuses by a company whose contract is being reviewed was exposed by Human Rights Watch in 2005 through a report entitled The Curse of Gold.
The report revealed that in 2002, AngloGold Ashanti – a company partnered with Canada’s Barrick Gold – was negotiating with two rebel groups, the UPC (Hema Union des Patriotes Congolais) and the FNI (Front des Nationalists Integrationnistes) to have access to gold-abundant areas that were out of control of the central government in Kinshasa.
At the time, these rebel groups were carrying out massacres of civilians in the hundreds; The UPC killed about 800 civilians from late 2002 to early 2003, while the FNI forces killed some 500 civilians in May 2003 in a “48-day war.” In return for granting concessions to the company, the FNI were provided with logistical, transportation and housing assistance.
Journalists Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski go so far as to claim that Human Rights Watch did not reveal the most damning evidence against AngloGold. They allege that the company sent its top lawyers into the country to protect rebel militia leaders.
Further damning evidence implicating mining companies in human rights abuses was made public by the UN in a report issued in 2002 detailing which companies were involved.
The current re-negotiation of contracts is partly a response to the public outcry over these abuses and has been closely watched by civil society organizations that have expressed concern at the secrecy surrounding the process. But what does the review actually mean for the mining companies under scrutiny? Will such a process lead to a decrease in the actual number of Congolese citizens that die in the thousands every month?
The Congolese government’s controversial decision to scrutinize mining contracts can be seen as a defiant act against the foreign domination of resources in the Congo. In fact, the Congolese government stated that it wants to increase its share in the Tenke Fungurume mine, which contains the world’s largest unexploited deposits of copper and cobalt.
Lundin Mining, which has a 24.75 per cent stake in the project, claimed in an article published in the Globe and Mail that such a demand would make the mine economically unfeasible. Human rights and land claim issues remain unresolved in the Tenke project. Artisanal miners in the area of the mine are resisting relocating the source of their livelihood to give way for the mining concession.
Beyond its symbolic importance, the renegotiation process may simply transfer resources from foreign mining companies to the Congolese government elite, with little or no benefit actually transferring to the millions of Congolese survivors that have been widowed, raped, brutalized and displaced by years of war over the resources under the land on which they live.
Carina Tertsakian, spokeswoman for Global Witness, notes that many officials in the Congolese transitional government that was set up in 2006 are the same people that established contracts with these mining companies in the first place, making a fair outcome of the review process questionable.
Here in Canada, resistance to mining companies like Barrick Gold has taken the form of organized grassroots actions as well as advocacy by environmental and human rights organizations. During the Congo review process, The Halifax Initiative has been pressuring the Canadian government to stop supporting the Tenke Project, which has been deemed illegal by the review process.
Meanwhile, a coalition of Congolese and human rights NGOs has called upon the Congolese government to conduct negotiations in an open and fair process. “The ultimate aim of this exercise should be to ensure that the Congolese people can benefit from their country’s wealth – a right which they have been denied for decades,” said the NGOs.
“The government should guarantee that the additional profits which result from this review are channeled into the country’s long-term development.”