As the expiration date for the mining ban in eastern Congo came and went, speculations abound on its potential duration and possible new regulations Kinshasa may mandate. The ban, which was to be lifted on October 15, continues to be shrouded in mystery as to the original motivations and ultimate outcomes. However, one thing is for sure, it has done little to deter systematic violence or armed groups from continuing to jockey for control of strategic mineral reserves in the countries unstable east.
Despite the ban, armed groups continue to maintain control of strategic mining sites and prey off the civilian populations in mining areas. In addition to the largest rebel group, the Rwandan linked FDLR, there are now roughly 18 variations of local Mai Mai groups throughout the Kivu provinces and Maniema, all having very little, if any, political agenda, and all involved in employing violent tactics to secure mineral and financial resources. However, one of the greatest threats in the region continues to come from the Congolese army, or FARDC, itself.
The army faces major divisions in the east between the ex-CNDP rebel forces that were subsumed into national army in 2009 and those elements loyal to Kinshasa. The FARDC in eastern Congo has recently been on the hook for recruiting child soldiers, engaging in human rights abuses so egregious that the U.N. suspended support to one of the military’s operational zones, and having lost a great deal of ground to the FDLR rebel groups, while focusing on control of mining sites.
The ex-CNDP elements within the FARDC have blatantly refused directives from Kinshasa with zero repercussions, including an initiative by Kabila himself to attempt to redeploy those units composed of the former rebels outside the east, essentially leaving any hopes for security sector reform impossible.
Additionally, it seems as though the ban is doing little to stop the continuation of mining in its target areas. Prior to the ban, various aircraft based in Goma flew at a rate of 20-30 flights per day to the Walikale region and back to deliver goods and supplies while picking up mineral shipments. Those flights ceased after President Kabila put the ban in place in early September.
As of two weeks ago, aircraft from Goma have begun to once again fly to Walikale and back. The resumption of these flights indicates that substantial activity continues in Walikale and weakens the already paltry image of government commitment to reform in the region. Further, on a recent trip to the region, Enough staff heard repeated reports of continued mining by the FARDC and FDLR in both North and South Kivu provinces, in all cases using exploitative measures, including forced labor, to pressure local communities to continue extraction.
As deliberation in Kinshasa continues, the ban seems to have accomplished little more than creating increased tension in the east. Armed groups committing illegal acts continue to make increased pushes for greater control of resources, often at the expense of local populations. Army reform and reconciliation between ex-CNDP rebels and military leaders has taken a severe blow, and any vestige of control from Kinshasa seems an illusion at best. Illegal extraction and smuggling of minerals continues to take place. The Congolese government risks greatly exacerbating instability in its eastern provinces by remaining opaque in its process and intentions. The push for legitimizing and formalizing the mining sector in the east hangs in the balance.