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Flares are launched by DR Congo Police forces during a demonstration in Goma on 19 September 2016. AFP/Mustafa Mulopwe
Briefing 123 / Africa

Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The “Street” and Politics in DR Congo

Angry demonstrations hit Kinshasa in September as President Kabila’s aim to stay in power beyond a 19 December constitutional deadline became clearer. Regional and international actors must use diplomatic and financial levers to bring about credible democratic elections and to reverse the DRC's worsening spiral of violence.

I. Overview

Demonstrations in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), turned violent on 19 September 2016, when the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) should have launched the constitutionally-required presidential election process. Protests were expected as a political dialogue launched on 1 September had failed to agree on what to do about the delay. This has accentuated the risk of violent popular anger in urban centres and of a heavy-handed security response. A risk also remains that political parties, including the ruling majority coalition (henceforth “the majority”) and the opposition that looks to the street to force President Joseph Kabila to step down, will seek to manipulate that anger. Depending on loosely organised popular revolts to force political change is a tactic that could spiral out of control. To prevent more violence, Congo’s partners need to use diplomatic and financial tools to focus the actors, particularly the majority, on the need to move rapidly to credible elections. They also need to use their leverage and public positions to minimise violence while the political blockage continues.

Map of Democratic Republic of Congo. CRISIS GROUP

Throughout the DRC’s history, political actors have expected the power of the street to change seemingly deadlocked political situations. As in past periods of popular revolt, there is now a merging political crisis and economic downturn. The promise of democratisation has accentuated the country’s fragmentation since the 1990s, and the popular legitimacy of political parties and civil society organisations, with the exception of the Catholic Church, continues to shrink as their numbers grow. Public frustration is exacerbated by pervasive poverty and chronic violence. The government’s control increasingly rests on largely dysfunctional security forces in which issues of command and control increase the risk for excessive use of force. Protest is a legitimate form of political expression by a population understandably frustrated by the failure to adhere to the constitution and hold elections on time. The primary responsibility for ensuring that protests take place peacefully lies with the government. However, protests to succeed must be part of a coherent political strategy; no actors should use them to inflame tensions.

Ten years after the generally successful 2006 elections, the DRC faces another deep crisis. President Kabila’s attempt to stay in power beyond his second and last constitutionally-permitted term, which concludes on 19 December, is unravelling more than a decade of progress. Less than three months before his mandate ends, the majority hopes to retain power by forcing a long delay of the vote (glissement), while the opposition vies to lead a “transition”. With the end of Kabila’s mandate near and in the absence of a consensus agreement, the risk of further violent confrontation increases.

To reduce the potential for urban violence in the coming months:

  • The African Union (AU), UN and other international partners will have to support further inclusive political dialogue with a focus on the post-19 December arrangements and directed toward getting to credible elections within a tight, specified timetable. Domestic actors will have to climb down from their maximalist positions and engage in this dialogue in good faith.
     
  • Short of resolving the political deadlock, they will also need to take measures to reduce the risk of violence, while allowing for legitimate peaceful protest. Political parties have a large responsibility not only to work toward elections in good faith, but also to avoid further inflaming tensions. The government must maintain media freedoms, balanced by holding accountable state actors and opposition politicians alike.
     
  • From the internationals’ side, more forceful and coherent diplomacy, even, for example, the threat of removing UN peacekeepers, in particular the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), could help advance the dialogue. Building police capacity to manage protests peacefully, using the good offices of the UN and the diplomatic corps and judiciously threatening targeted sanctions on those who inflame tensions could help reduce the risk of violence.

This briefing is based on fieldwork in Bukavu, Goma, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa and is part of a series of publications on the DRC’s broader electoral process.

II. Current Political Context

Over the five years since Kabila’s 2011 re-election, Congolese political debate has focused on 2016 and the end of his second mandate.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Reports N°s 225, Congo: Is Democratic Change Possible?, 5 May 2015; 239, Katanga: Tensions in DRC’s Mineral Heartland, 3 August 2016; and statement, “A Nuanced but Firm Political Approach for DR Congo’s Decisive Autumn”, 15 September 2016.Hide Footnote  The opposition and civil society, including the Catholic Church through its national managing body, CENCO have consistently supported the constitution’s presidential term limit and electoral timetable.[fn]CENCO is the national episcopal conference of the Congo, including all the country’s Catholic bishops.Hide Footnote  Huge demonstrations in January 2015 to protest against apparent government attempts to delay the elections showed that this position has wide support. However, with elections still some way off and the ruling majority showing no signs of being willing to relinquish power, the situation has become blocked.

The opposition comprises historical opponents of Kabila, led by Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), as well as others who were once with Kabila but now oppose him, such as Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and newer arrivals who split from the majority in 2015: the G7 group of seven parties that left the majority and Moïse Katumbi.[fn]Katumbi is the high-profile former governor of Katanga who broke from his former ally president Kabila in 2015 and declared his intent to run for president in May 2016.Hide Footnote  Politicised youth and civil society organisations have increasingly joined the political debate. While attempts at opposition unity such as the “Citizen Front 2016” faltered, they were succeeded in June 2016 by the Rassemblement, which brings together the UDPS, G7 and Katumbi, as well as a number of other parties, but not the UNC.[fn]In full: “Le Rassemblement des Forces Politiques et Sociales de la RDC acquises au changement”.Hide Footnote

Politicised youth and civil society organisations have increasingly joined the political debate.

To agree on the management of the country post-19 December and the organisation of the elections, most Congolese actors as well as the international community agree to the principle of political dialogue. The first such attempt to address electoral questions was launched in September, facilitated by the AU, but the Rassemblement refused to take part, demanding release of political prisoners and a stronger international mediation role. CENCO did participate but stated its concerns about lack of inclusivity early on.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, opposition and CENCO officials, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

On 19 September, when the electoral process should have started, the opposition held a protest march that continued for two days despite violence from the start. The UN Human Rights Council estimated the toll at 53 dead and over 100 wounded.[fn]Rassemblement communiqué, 13 September 2016. Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based Congolese official, September 2016. The opposition considered its death toll to be 50. “RD Congo: La solitude du chef”, Jeune Afrique, 25 September 2016. Violences à Kinshasa: l’ONU dénonce ‘un usage excessif de la force’”, Radio Okapi, 29 September 2016.Hide Footnote  While the AU-facilitated dialogue stagnates, international pressure has been rising on the majority and opposition alike. In a major meeting in Kinshasa on 4 October, the Rassemblement laid out its vision for a dialogue, indicating a more conciliatory approach.[fn]Final report of the Rassemblement meeting, Kinshasa 4 October 2016. “Congo: Reynders veut une date pour les élections”, Le Soir, 5 October 2016.Hide Footnote An anxious population is watching, uncertain about joining any future opposition call for mobilisation that could result in further violence, but angry enough to “spontaneously” erupt given the right political or social trigger. It remains unclear whether, in case of a major confrontation, the security forces will remain unified behind the majority.

III. The “Street” in Congolese History

Street protest is a vital part of Congolese political life, especially as people have few other channels to express views and dissatisfaction. It was particularly important on the eve of independence in 1960, during the aborted democratisation period of the early 1990s, at the beginning of the Second Congo War (1998-2003) and in both rounds of democratic elections (2006 and 2011). However, popular protest movements have rarely achieved their desired ends. More often they have been manipulated for political gain or been unable to shift political dynamics. Protests also have had a dark side. State actors have often used and sometimes instigated violent street movements to discredit foes and allow poorly paid security forces to loot, as under Mobutu in 1993. Their agents have frequently used disproportionate force, and destruction has been particularly bad when discipline breaks down. Large, protest often results in riot and looting and can manifest ugly xenophobic attitudes, whether anti-Rwandan in the civil war or against Chinese businesses lately.

The street is an easily sparked powder keg. Violence is omnipresent in the rapidly-growing cities, often exacerbated rather than restrained by a still-militarised style of policing, and the presence of the army and politicised intelligence service.[fn]Kinshasa’s population is estimated to have grown from nearly 2.7 million in 1984 (the last census) to over eleven million. “Democratic Republic of Congo”. Police reform, part of the wider security sector reform (SSR) launched after the 2003 war, emphasises “community policing”, but implementation and training remain problematic. Crisis Group interview, senior Congolese officials, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  The mostly pauperised urban population lives a precarious existence characterised by daily struggle. Families have little to no reserves, must make hard choices, for example what child to send to school, and depend on mostly informal solidarity networks to make ends meet.[fn]“This poverty is such that the population is driven to asking what the state does for it”, Crisis Group translation of Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo’s 15 September speech opening the second parliamentary session of 2016. Crisis Group interview, womens group representative, Kinshasa, September 2016. On informal networks, see Michel Lusamba Kibayu, “Portrait des quartiers populaires a Kinshasa: un territoire, une identite, Institute d’études du développement, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), 2009.Hide Footnote

Congo urbanised rapidly under colonial rule, and by 1957 23 per cent of the population, particularly migrant labour, lived in major industrial and transportation hubs.[fn]For more, see Crawford Young, Politics in the Congo (New Jersey, 1965), pp. 204-231.Hide Footnote  Urban growth continued even after the economic recession in the late 1950s, but fed by a rural exodus and increasing numbers of people born in cities.[fn]City dwellers, physically disconnected from their area of origin, created new social institutions such as “tribal organisations” and unions. Ibid, p. 214.Hide Footnote  The colonial state, nicknamed bula matari (the breaker of rocks), maintained a firm grip through its force publique, despite periodic uprisings.

Independence was precipitated by massive riots in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) in January 1959. While the immediate trigger was a football match, the underlying factors were similar to other periods of popular revolt: violent security services, poor living standards and a single political idea, in this case independence, rapidly gaining ground. Under President Mobutu Sese Seko’s one-party state (1965-1990), political protest was mostly by students. His 1968 decision to abolish their unions in favour of his party youth wing led to violent protest in 1969. Frequent student protest also accompanied the end of the one-party state in 1990, including a May incident when students humiliated members of parliament by abducting them and cutting their hair. The infiltration of state agents at the University of Lubumbashi (UNILU) in 1991 resulted in a massacre of up to 100 people on the campus and cuts in international aid.[fn]Charles Didier Gondola, “Tropical Cowboys: Westerns, Violence and Masculinity among the Young Bills of Kinshasa”, Afrique & histoire, vol. 7 (2009), pp. 75-98; Young, Politics, op. cit., pp. 152-153. Jean Abemba Bulaimu, Hubert Ntumba Lukungwa, Mouvements etudiants et évolution politique en République Démocratique du Congo, Tôme 1: 1971-1991, Cahiers du Centre d’Etudes Politiques (Kinshasa, 2004). Gauthier de Villers, Jean Omasombo, “When Kinois Take to the Street”, in Theodore Trefon (ed.), Reinventing order in the Congo (London, 2004), p. 141. “Zaïre, a country study”, Area Handbook Series (Library of Congress, 1994), p. 246. Crisis Group interview, academic, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

Street protest is a vital part of Congolese political life, especially as people have few other channels to express views and dissatisfaction.

The aborted 1990s democratisation process prompted the mushrooming of political parties and social organisations in and around the National Sovereign Conference (CNS).[fn]The CNS, inspired by events in other Francophone African countries, lasted from 1991 to 1992 and consisted of a wide-ranging review of the country’s history in an attempt to set the stage for a better future. While it produced some valuable discussion, it was undermined by Mobutu.Hide Footnote  The period also saw hyperinflation and political deadlock, leading to mutinies and widespread looting, initiated by military units then followed by the population. Kinshasa was most severely hit, first in September 1991 (followed by similar incidents in other provinces) and again in January 1993. The latter transgressions, by Mobutu’s Special Presidential Division (DSP), were particularly violent, with up to 500 casualties. The economic impact was disastrous.[fn]Average inflation in 1990-1995 was 3,616 per cent. David Van Reybrouck, Congo, the Epic History of a People (New York, 2015) p. 430. René Lemarchand, “The Democratic Republic of Congo: From Collapse to Potential Reconstruction”, University of Copenhagen, September 2001. Gauthier de Villers, Zaire: la transition manqué 1990-1997 (Tervuren, 1997), p. 29. de Villers, Omasombo, “When Kinois Take to the Street”, op. cit., p. 147.Hide Footnote

The period’s largest popular mobilisation was the 16 February 1992 “March of Hope”, or “March of the Christians”, mainly organised by Catholic parishes and lay organisations, rather than the church hierarchy. This mostly peaceful procession was unauthorised and violently repressed by DSP troops, with at least 35 casualties.[fn]Mwamba Bapuwa,  Phillippe Dorlodot, Marche d’espoir: Kinshasa 16 février 1992 (Paris, 2000). Van Reybrouck, Congo, op. cit., p. 403.Hide Footnote  This and subsequent unrest had a profound impact on political consciousness, especially in Kinshasa, though it did not precipitate desired change: Mobutu only left power in 1997, as his regime crumbled under pressure of a foreign invasion.

In response to the violence, the opposition increasingly reverted to journées ville morte (one-day general strikes), which aimed to bring public and economic life in the cities to a halt. However, precarious social conditions meant that many people could not afford to observe them. Another phenomenon was the emergence of the parlementaires debout (street debaters).[fn]de Villers, Omasombo, “When Kinois Take to the Street”, op. cit., p. 146. Crisis Group interviews, journalist, local communities in neighbourhoods (cités), Kinshasa, July, September 2016. Parlementaires debout, groups of mostly men debating current affairs, perform an important role as conduits between the population and political parties, making sense of and contributing to radio trottoir (pavement radio) in a country where access to media is limited. Camille Dugrand, “‘Combattants de la parole’: parlementaires-debout et mobilisation partisane à Kinshasa”, Politique Africaine, no. 127 (2012), pp. 49-69.Hide Footnote

The First Congo War (1996-1997) and Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s seizure of power put democratisation on hold for a decade. He tried to replace representative democracy with Popular Power Committees (CPP), but they amounted to little as his regime did not capture popular imagination. Motivated by strong anti-Rwandan sentiment and nationalist fervour at the start of the Second Congo War (1998-2003), the street rose in August 1998, mobilising self-defence groups to help defend Kinshasa. Citizens called it “a liberation through their own hands”, but it did not translate to greater governmental legitimacy.[fn]de Villers, Histoire du Politique au Congo-Kinshasa (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016), p. 161; de Villers, Omasombo, “La bataille de Kinshasa”, Politique Africaine, no. 84 (2001), pp. 17-32.Hide Footnote

The elections represented hope for development and an end to a decade of conflict and destruction.

Joseph Kabila assumed the presidency after his father was assassinated in 2001. In line with the peace agreement that ended the Second Congo War, he started a transition in 2003 and voter registration in 2005 that reignited democratic aspirations. The voter card, also an identity card, became an important symbol, but the public’s enthusiasm was not shared by politicians in the transition government. Election delays announced in 2005 caused riots in January, May and June. The main actors were the Catholic Church, which played a calming role, and the exiled Etienne Tshisekedi, who agitated public opinion and whose UPDS party boycotted the voter registration and electoral process.[fn]Gérard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War (London, 2009), pp. 303-304.Hide Footnote  Rioting in Kinshasa resulted in several casualties but did not derail the process. The elections represented hope for development and an end to a decade of conflict and destruction.

While the 2006 election was widely considered credible, there was short but intense urban warfare between the military factions of the two main candidates, President Kabila and Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) leader and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.[fn]The fighting also included street children (shégués) in units under Bemba’s command. Gérard Gerold, “RD Congo, analyse comparative des violences électorales (2006-2011)”, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, 2013.Hide Footnote  Angolan troops intervened in support of Kabila in Kinshasa, and fighting was stopped in the capital by the presence of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) and the European Force for the DRC (EUFOR RD Congo).[fn]Crisis Group interview, DRC diplomat, Pretoria, April 2015; Claudia Major, “EU-UN cooperation in military crisis management: the experience of EUFOR RD Congo in 2006”, European Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), September 2008.Hide Footnote

The 2011 election had a very different dynamic. Though militias were gone, at least in urban areas, so too was much hope and confidence. An unpopular Kabila kept tight control over CENI. His main opponent, Tshisekedi, was confrontational, calling for his followers (combattants) to “terrorise” the police. CENI declared Kabila the victor, but Tshisekedi symbolically took the oath of office in his Kinshasa headquarters. However, his expected call for an uprising never came, turning some militants against his party.[fn]Theodore Trefon, Congo Masquerade (London, 2011), p. 29. Crisis Group Report, Congo, op. cit. “RDC: Etienne Tshiskedi appelle à la violence et à la terreur, Agence France-Presse, 11 November 2011. Clashes in Kinshasa between Tshisekedi’s followers and pro-government militants on the election eve led to at least ten deaths. “Le bilan des tensions à Kinshasa s’alourdit: environ 10 morts et 40 blessés”, Radio Okapi, 27 November 2011. Crisis Group interview, Congolese analyst, Nairobi, September 2016.Hide Footnote  The street responded relatively calmly.

IV. Grievances and Strategies for Mobilisation

A. Socio-economic Grievance, Political Catalyst

The grievances that drive protest movements in the DRC are broad, but centre on living conditions and political freedom. A 2011 report analysing their perceptions concluded that Congolese “were generally pessimistic about the current state of their country”. The most prominent grievances are unemployment, corruption and lack of access to education, electricity, roads and transport. Rising inflation, a consequence of economic crisis, further worsens precarious living conditions.[fn]Democratic Republic of Congo, Nationwide Baseline Perception Research Report, May 2011, pp. 1-3 (non-attributed document, in Crisis Group’s possession). Crisis Group interviews, youth and community associations, civil society representatives, Masina and Lingwala municipalities, Kinshasa, September 2016. See also Gérard Bisambu (ed.), “Verbatim des populations Congolaises”, Agir pour des Elections transparantes et apaisées (AETA), March-April 2016. Crisis Group interview, Lingwala community association, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Violent crime is another scourge in Kinshasa’s heavily populated poor neighbourhoods (cités). Most notorious are the often violent, machete-wielding Kuluna urban gangs. After 10pm people rarely go into the sparsely lit streets.[fn]Krossy Mavakala Kalunseviko, Etude de la Perception du Phénomène Kuluna par les Habitants de la Commune de Kinshasa (Kinshasa, 2013). The gangs are associated with combat sports (boxing, wrestling); members are called jeunes sportifs or Pomba. Crisis Group interviews, citizens, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  In 2013, police launched the violent Operation Likofi to tackle the gangs. Popular reaction to abuses was mixed, as Kuluna activity dropped for a considerable period. Politicians, in particular the majority’s Peoples’ Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD), reportedly use Kuluna to sow disorder during protests.[fn]“Report of The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on Human Rights Violations committed by Agents of the PNC during Operation Likofi in Kinshasa between 15 November 2013 and 15 February 2014”, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), October 2014. Crisis Group interviews, citizens, Kinshasa, March 2016. Crisis Group interview, youth group representative, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Socio-economic frustration and the fact that Kinshasa’s population has never identified with the regime contribute to hostility toward specific communities. This is particularly true for Swahili speakers, originating from the East and thus identified with the current regime.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society member, Kinshasa, September 2016; Kris Berwouts, “The Rise of the Street: The Population of Kinshasa as an unpredictable Actor in the Electoral Process”, Africa Policy Brief no. 16, Egmont Institute, July 2016, p. 3. From the outset the regime has been identified with the Kivus and Katanga, both predominantly Swahili-speaking areas.Hide Footnote  Joseph Kabila has never connected to the capital’s people and does not speak the city’s language, Lingala.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Congolese citizens, Kinshasa, March, July, September 2016. “Pourquoi les Kinois n’aiment pas Joseph Kabila”, SlateAfrique.com, 27 April 2012. Kabila polled 14.7 per cent in Kinshasa in the 2006 first round, 32 per cent in the run-off against Bemba; and 30 per cent, versus 64.1 per cent for Etienne Tshiskedi in the single 2011 round.Hide Footnote  During the January 2015 riots, Chinese-owned shops in the cités were targeted and plundered. Hostility towards the Indo-Pakistani community is based on economic competition but is also due to media coverage of attacks on Congolese living in India.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, youth group representative, Kinshasa, March 2016; Congolese small business owner, Kinshasa, September 2016. Chinese companies operate many mines and are building infrastructure in several cities, and there are many small Chinese businesses that compete with “local” businesses, contributing to some hostility. “RDC: les commerces indiens sous protection policière à Kinshasa”, RFI, 9 September 2016. Congolese resent Indians and Pakistanis for operating succesful small businesses, undercutting market prices. Crisis Group interview, Congolese researcher, Kinshasa, July 2016.Hide Footnote

The state’s inability to address continuing insecurity in the East is a permanent source of tension. Agitation about the wars and disturbances there (1,500km from Kinshasa) has remained limited elsewhere, except during the take-over of Goma in 2012 by the rebel M23, whose Rwandan support touched a very raw public nerve, and the ongoing security crisis in Beni (North Kivu).[fn]Unknown assailants in Beni have killed over 600 civilians over two years. Attacks are mostly attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), but research also implicates military units, former Rally for Congolese Democracy-Kisangani/Movement for Liberation (RCD-K/ML) and community self-defence groups. “Qui sont les tueurs de Beni”, Congo Research Group, March 2016. For more background on the ADF, see Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°23, Eastern Congo: The ADF-NALU’s Lost Rebellion, 19 December 2012.Hide Footnote  Violence in Beni appears to many to show government indifference and failure of the armed forces and has sparked political mobilisation in the cities in North Kivu (Beni, Butembo, Bunia and Goma). Social movements, such as Lucha (see below), and political actors from the East are outraged. Many use social media to protest. Showing how lack of trust in the broader political process and more local concerns often interweave, some fear the government may use the Beni situation to delay elections.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society, youth groups and local researchers, Goma and Bukavu, March 2016. “#JesuisBeni: les Congolais mobilisés pour en finir avec les massacres au Kivu”, Le Monde Afrique, 17 May 2016. Crisis Group interview, civil society representative, Kinshasa, September 2016. The majority’s UDCO party leader stated as much regarding election delay in a recent interview. Jean-Claude Masangu, “Dialogue: L’aboutissement espéré est qu’on puisse avoir des élections apaisées prochainement”, Digitalcongo, 12 September 2016.

For most in Kinshasa, Kabila has become the symbol of stagnation and societal ills. In the current political climate, traditional civil society, new youth organisations and the radical political opposition have found a degree of unity in their stance against him, but there is little agreement on the way forward.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local community groups, youth activist, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

B. The Politics of Mobilisation

Society is highly fragmented, with more than 500 political parties and a myriad of social organisations and platforms claiming to represent it.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese researcher, Kinshasa, September 2016. This complicated the September 2016 dialogue, which ever more civil society organisations tried to join. Crisis Group interviews, civil society member, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  The credibility and foundation of most parties is very shallow, even that of the few big ones, the majority and opposition alike, such as PPRD, UDPS and the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU). It is notable that many calls for mobilisation from parties since January 2015 have gone largely unheeded. Tshisekedi, the historic opposition leader, seems to be the only politician capable of mobilising large numbers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Masina and Lingwala municipalities, Kinshasa, September 2016. See also Berwouts, “The Rise of the Street”, op. cit., July 2016. For an analysis of Congolese political parties, see “Les Partis Politiques Congolais en Question”, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung/Centre d’Etudes Politiques, 2013. Christophe Rigaud, “RDC: l’opposition montre les muscles à Kinshasa”, Afrikarabia, 31 July 2016.Hide Footnote

1. The churches

The Catholic Church, with its clerical, lay and educational structures, has deep roots in the DRC.

The Catholic Church, with its clerical, lay and educational structures, has deep roots in the DRC. Since the 2011 elections, Cardinal Monsengwo and the Church more generally have criticised regime attempts to extend its time in power. The Church softened its vocal stance somewhat in early 2016, when it cancelled a repeat of the 1992 “March of the Christians”, and is currently actively involved to help increase the inclusiveness of the dialogue and negotiate an agreement between government and opposition over the terms that would allow dialogue to continue with the necessary popular legitimacy.[fn]CENCO stated that the events on 19 and 20 September, after which it suspended its participation in the dialogue, demonstrated the dialogue’s lack of popular support. CENCO communiqué, 1 October 2016.Hide Footnote  In mid-2016, it launched a long-planned, massive civic and voter education program, focusing on dialogue and non-violence. As an important moral voice, it can, to a limited degree, calm the public, but it is not monolithic and has to find consensus between its various organisations and constituencies. Other faith-based organisations such as the Kimbanguist, protestant and charismatic churches, generally are considered closer to the majority but have limited political impact.[fn]“RDC – le Cardinal Monsengwo: Dieu, Kabila et lui”, Jeune Afrique, 22 December 2015. Crisis Group interviews, CENCO officials, Kinshasa, March, July, September 2016. “Guide de l’Animateur et de l’Animatrice de Proximité pour la Première Campagne d’Education Civique”, Projet d’Education Civique et Electorale de la Cenco, May 2016. Bishop Fridolin Ambongo, CENCO deputy president, is the public leader of the more assertive, principled line. Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based diplomat, September 2016; Crisis Group analyst interview in previous capacity, senior clergy, Kisangani, September 2015. Crisis Group interview, Congolese researcher, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

2. Youth movements

Youth frustration with lack of employment and effective governance has led to the rise of a new type of social organisation, typified by Lucha (Lutte pour le Changement), a group formed in Goma in May 2012. Starting as a protest against the lack of drinking water there, it is creative in its social action and protest and has since taken a more political stance, drawing the ire of North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku, who called it “tomorrow’s terrorists”. It is loosely and flatly structured, using mostly social media to fight for better governance, but it has significant leadership problems and shallow roots nationally, so has difficulty coordinating positions countrywide.[fn]Kris Berwouts, “‘La Lucha’ – Goma’s own brand of Indignados”, African Arguments, 13 January 2014. Crisis Group interviews, Lucha members and sympathisers, Goma, March 2016; Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Its internal workings are not clear and an international civil society observer called it “almost a sect”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, international civil society observer, Kinshasa, June 2016.Hide Footnote

In April 2014, Lucha helped create Filimbi (whistle), which held its first meeting in March 2015 in Kinshasa. It was inspired by other successful African youth movements, in particular Y’en a marre (Senegal) and Balai Citoyen (Burkina Faso).[fn]Those movements resisted attempts by the Senegalese (Wade) and Burkina Fase (Campaoré) presidents to circumvent term limits.Hide Footnote  Security forces arrested participants, and government spokesman Lambert Mende said its members were “terrorists”.[fn]“‘Questions et Réponses’ sur Filimbi à l’attention des membres du Parlement de la République Démocratique du Congo”, Kinshasa 2 April 2015 (document in Crisis Group’s possession). “DRC: Treated Like Criminals: DRC’s Race to Silence Dissent”, Amnesty International, 26 November 2015; Laurène Rimondi, “RDC: Filimbi, la nouvelle génération de citoyens qui ébranle le pouvoir”, Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP), 17 August 2015.Hide Footnote  Several Filimbi leaders, including coordinator Floribert Anzuluni, are now based abroad.

Relations between Lucha and Filimbi have been uneasy. Lucha remains a loosely-organised middle-class movement, largely based in Goma, while Filimbi is mainly composed of well-connected Kinshasa youth.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, youth activists, Lucha, Filimbi, several other civil society organisations, Brussels, February 2016; Goma, March 2016; Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  When President Kabila met unexpectedly with Lucha in Goma on 18 August 2016, Filimbi said on social media that it would never have done so.[fn]“‘Non, Filimbi ne rencontrera jamais Kabila’, affirme Ben Carbone”, Politico, August 2016. Crisis Group social media interaction, Filimbi leadership, Nairobi, August 2016. Lucha appointed a representative from a list of political prisoners to be released for the preparatory talks, but he continues to be held. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lucha, August 2016.Hide Footnote  Lucha maintains discreet contacts with senior officials, mainly to secure release of its members, reportedly in exchange for a more conciliatory attitude toward the political dialogue. Government repression has increased both movements’ visibility and legitimacy. Amnesty International has campaigned for release of the activists, whose incarceration has paradoxically facilitated their numbers: the Kinshasa Lucha chapter was founded in the city’s prison.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats and analysts, Kinshasa, March 2016; Lucha, Goma, March 2016; Kinshasa, September 2016; “Dismantling dissent, DRC’s repression of expression amidst electoral delays”, Amnesty International, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Lucha’s and Filimbi’s reach beyond Goma and Kinshasa remains shallow. Other youth groups lead a more discreet existence. During the January 2015 protests and subsequent ones in Lubumbashi, Goma and Kinshasa, many youths confronted the security forces, and they reportedly remain organised in Kinshasa, at least in part based on those experiences. Some may be willing to escalate violence; in January 2015, a number of people targeted regime symbols, including ransacking the evangelical church attended by Kinshasa police Chief Célestin Kanyama.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, youth and civil society activists and Congolese researcher, Goma, March 2016; Kinshasa, March, July, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Politicians’ telephone numbers circulated on social media, and several received threats. During the 19 September 2016 Kinshasa riots, protesters burned properties of officials close to the majority, including its party representatives.

Groups such as Lucha insist on non-violent protest and try to capture the imagination with initiatives such as a proposal to mobilise 50,000 volunteers to support CENI’s election preparation work.[fn]“Alternance dans les délais constitutionnels: L’ultime solution”, communiqué Lucha, 14 September 2016.Hide Footnote  However, their followers may find it hard to avoid being pulled into the increasingly heated and polarised climate.

3. Communication

The “Yebela” Rally Cry

People sing the "yebela" rally cry during an international football match on 4 September 2016. The song is summarised as “Watch out, everything has a beginning and an end; soon your mandate is over”. YouTube/CONGOKIMIATV

The widely used protest rallying cries are “yebela” (“know-it”, ie, that your mandate is about to expire) and “telema” (“arise”, “stand-up”). The latter has been adopted by “Citizen Front 2016” and chanted at several public occasions, including a 4 September international football match.[fn]The “yebela” rally cry originates from a song first used during a 2015 football match with Congo-Brazzaville. The song is summarised as “Watch out, everything has a beginning and an end; soon your mandate is over”. Berwouts, “The Rise of the Street”, op. cit., July 2016. The Citizen Front 2016, begun in December 2015, was the first attempt to create a platform bringing social and political actors together. Crisis Group interviews, citizens, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Both are prominent social media hashtags. Social media has some reach in Kinshasa, but the most potent communication is by word of mouth and SMS, by which rumours and information spread rapidly through the sprawling city and country. During the January 2015 protests, authorities shut down mobile internet and SMS communications.

Because of the formal media’s limited independence, reach and capacity, opposition parties, especially the UDPS, spread more complex messages through groups such as the parlementaires debout, which are linked to their militants (combattants). The distribution of paper tracts remains the main way to call for mobilisation. The opposition considers official media rebuttals of these free publicity. In a city where music is omnipresent, songs, often challenging dire social conditions, are another important form of communication. Many are recorded in small studios in the cités and distributed around bars.[fn]

The DRC has an abundant media landscape, mostly in Kinshasa, with many publications, TV and radio stations. But most are owned by politicians and used for personal ends, which can include spreading confrontational messages and insulting foes. Several TV stations, including both owned by Moïse Katumbi, had their licences revoked in January 2016.[fn]The official reason for revoking the licenses of the two stations, Nyota TV and Radio TV Mapendo, was non-payment of taxes.Hide Footnote  Some opposition groups maintain internet websites with hate messages and xenophobic opinions, such as accusations that Kabila is Rwandan, language often used at opposition protests.[fn]Marie-Soleil Frère, “Le paysage médiatique congolais. Etat des lieux, enjeux et défis”, October 2008. “Congo: Une bataille électorale périlleuse”, Congo Research Group, August 2016, p. 27; Michael Fleshman, “RDC: les medias défendent la démocratie”, Afrique Renouveau, April 2007. Candide Okeke, “Le Rwanda Tire Les Ficelles: Mike Mbongo l’oeil et l’oreille de Ruberwa au sein de la dynamique de l’opposition”, Apareco, June 2016. Ann Garrison, “Congolese protest election delay: Non Kabila Rwandais”, 24 January 2015.Hide Footnote

Crisis Group interview, UDPS official, Kinshasa, September 2016; Marie-Soleil Frère, Elections et médias en Afrique centrale (Paris, 2009).The UDPS particularly maintain strong links with these groups at several locations in Kinshasa. Crisis Group interviews, youth group, Masina municipality, young musicians and studio owner, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

4. The challenge of sustaining protests

Between late January 2015 and July 2016 opposition rallies and protest marches remained limited in scope, usually fewer than 10,000 in Kinshasa.[fn]There were also protests in Bukavu, Goma and Lubumbashi. Security forces have been permanently deployed throughout Lubumbashi to stamp down on protests.Hide Footnote  The cancelled February 2016 “March of the Christians” could have been different. A 31 July opposition rally organised immediately after Tshisekedi’s return to Kinshasa was the largest since the 2011 elections. No violent incidents were reported, because neither side wanted to risk a confrontation (see Section IV.B).

In 2016, the opposition has increasingly reverted to calling for ville mortes. The first, to replace the “March of Christians”, was generally well observed in cities like Kinshasa and Bukavu but failed in strategically important Lubumbashi, where the majority’s intimidation tactics limited its momentum. Several others were well observed, but the opposition seems to be aware this tactic must be used sparingly, as few people can afford to miss a day’s work. On 5 September, coinciding with the start of the school year, an école morte (school strike) was generally well observed, in particular in the cités, but some students stayed away because parents were not ready for them to begin school due to high fees, and others feared trouble. While many agree with the opposition that education is a pressing social issue, they worry about using children in the political struggle.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, businessman, Lubumbashi, March 2016; Congolese academic, Kinshasa, September 2016; community and youth groups, Masina and Lingwala municipalities, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Several traditional parties and social organisations have called on people “to take responsibility” (se prendre en charge), often associating this with Article 64 of the constitution, which gives them responsibility to protect the constitution. The call also relates to the general absence of credible institutions and services that requires the public to care for all daily social needs. This has led to the creation of new social groups unaffiliated to parties or other large organisations.[fn]Kibayu, “Portrait des quartiers populaires a Kinshasa”, op. cit. The slogan is complemented by others, such as “the fear has changed sides” and “the force of a united people is larger than an atomic bomb”.Hide Footnote

The current context has already shown its potential for violence, including between the militants of parties participating in the dialogue and those not. As a result, those taking part in the dialogue neither want the participants list published nor wear their badges in public.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society participant in the dialogue, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  There has also been a recent spread of violent incidents, including attacks on symbols of the state, some in response to local situations, others inspired by the political deadlock.[fn]Crisis Group interview, civil society representative, Kinshasa, September 2016. “DRC opposition calls for more protests despite recent deaths”, The Guardian, 23 September 2016. Recent incidents occured in Kasumbalesa (Haut-Katanga), Kananga (Kasai central) and Kavumu (South Kivu). “RDC: le temps des jacqueries”, La Libre Belgique, 24 September 2016.Hide Footnote

V. The Regime’s Response

A. The Majority Fights Back

The majority’s strategy has oscillated between using its control over state resources and repression and a more conciliatory dialogue. Wielding the stick and carrot, it has effectively exploited divisions among key opposition leaders.[fn]The government was in talks with the UDPS until the latter allied with Moïse Katumbi and the G7, the Rassemblement. UNC leader Vital Kamerhe did not join that platform and participated in the dialogue that started on 1 September. The Rassemblement then considered him part of a new majority, “the majority of the Beatrice hotel” (where the preparatory talks were held). Crisis Group interview, opposition politician, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Repression has increased markedly in 2015-2016, with particular focus on youth movements and the new opposition formed by majority dissidents, G7 and Moïse Katumbi. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) documented 260 cases of “restriction of political space” in 2015 and 563 through 31 August 2016, most in Haut-Katanga, Kinshasa and North Kivu provinces. Several demonstrations were banned, had routes changed and/or were met with violence. The tactic that led CENCO to cancel the “March of the Christians” was to schedule majority rallies at the same time as opposition meetings. While demonstrations in Kinshasa were largely peaceful, at least until 19 September, several in Goma, Beni and, particularly, Lubumbashi turned violent. With Katumbi and several Katangese G7 parties joining the opposition, Lubumbashi’s political importance has increased.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.; “Dismantling dissent”, op. cit.; “Analysis of the violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms linked to restrictions to the democratic space documented in August 2016”, UNJHRO document (undated). Crisis Group interviews, CENCO official, March, September 2016. Violence erupted in Lubumbashi during April and May protests, when Katumbi was being prosecuted on trumped-up charges. “RDC: manifestations de l’opposition, la situation dans le pays”, Radio Okapi, 26 May 2016. See also, Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Two factors informed the government’s temporary “softer” approach during Tshisekedi’s return on 27 July and the opposition rally on 31 July: the U.S. decision in June to sanction General Kanyama, the Kinshasa police commander, and preparations for the dialogue.[fn]The conciliatory stance included Kanyama meeting with Tshisekedi on arrival, to prepare his drive into the city. Crisis Group interviews, UDPS official, Kinshasa police commissioner, Kinshasa, September 2016. Dialogue preparations included releasing some political detainees and Kabila’s surprise meeting with Lucha activists in Goma. “Compte-rendu de notre rencontre avec le Président de la République, Joseph Kabila”, Lucha Facebook page, 19 August 2016. The U.S. sanctioned Kanayma for police violence against Congolese civilians. “Treasury Sanctions High-Ranking Government Security Official …”, Press Center, U.S. treasury department, 23 June 2016.Hide Footnote  In response to the oppositions’ “yebela” cry, the majority has used, less visibly, the call “wumela” (“stay longer”). The PPRD, Kabila’s party, has a new secretary general, Mova Sakanyi, and its offices, derelict a few years ago, are bustling with activity and sporting bold new banners. However, local inhabitants claim most visitors to them are paid per diem.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Congolese academic, Kinshasa, July 2016; Lingwala municipality community group, Kinshasa, September 2016. The office banners include: “… the President of the Republic remains in office (Art. 70 of the Constitution, Art. 2)”. Similar messages appeared on billboards in Tanganyika province during the president’s visit in late June 2016.Hide Footnote

The majority has also recruited youths, reportedly from the urban gangs, to disturb other parties’ rallies, as during the 2011 elections. It has also been reaching out to youth groups, such as motorcycle taxi riders (wewa), by distributing free helmets and other gifts. This increasingly important form of transport also functions as an information network and is useful during protests, as it does not depend on the main avenues. Reportedly, the gifts have not bought much allegiance among wewa in Kinshasa, however, partly because many come from the Kasaï provinces, Tshisekedi’s political base.[fn]Habibou Bangré, “La Nouvelle Opposition en RDC: Les Mouvement Citoyens de la Jeunesse”, Observatoire de l’Afrique australe et des Grands Lacs, IFRI, March 2016, p. 18. Crisis Group interview, youth activist, Kinshasa, September 2016. “RD Congo: la ligue des jeunes du PPRD, un bloc 100% pro-Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 26 May 2016.Hide Footnote

The government has increased its sovereignty and non-interference discourse, which is also nourished by an increasing degree of paranoia. From the majority’s perspective, the regime is facing an internationally-supported campaign to undermine it, including recent decisions about targeted sanctions and U.S. court proceedings detailing alleged corruption. After the U.S. sanctioned Kanyama, a Congolese National Television (RTNC) show denounced foreign interests wanting to keep control of the country. U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Thomas Perriello was verbally assaulted at Kinshasa airport on 18 September.

RDC, Affaires Sanctions Ciblées: Suivez la Réponse de la RTNC et du Gouvernement

The sanctions were called “the new version of the chicotte [a colonial-era whip]”. YouTube/john imagenews

The regime also continues to push back on the political role of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission, which despite some limited redeployment into urban centres, remains focused on armed groups in the East. Concerned about its image and even active efforts at regime change, the government does not support any MONUSCO move to cities outside the Kivus. Despite appearing composed and combative, however, many senior officials and ministers, sources indicate, are obtaining visas and hiding valuables lest protests escalate. Some Western embassies no longer issue them long-term visas.[fn]“RDC, Affaires Sanctions Ciblées: Suivez la Réponse de la RTNC et du Gouvernement”, YouTube Video, 3 July 2016. The sanctions were called “the new version of the chicotte [a colonial-era whip]”. “Alarm Over Protests and Harassment of the U.S. Special Envoy in the DRC”, press statement, U.S. State Department, 19 September. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Congolese politicians and officials, Kinshasa, July 2016.Hide Footnote

B. A Very Thin Blue Line: Repression and the Security Forces

UNJHRO and Amnesty International reports point to increased repression by the Congolese National Police (PNC) and domestic intelligence service (ANR). The armed forces (FARDC), in particular the Republican Guard (GR), have been deployed to help police quell unrest, particularly during the January 2015 protest and again on 19 September 2016. The presidency tightly controls the ANR, GR and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the PNC, mostly bypassing civilian structures in the process, and also uses the judiciary against its opponents. Its Maison Militaire, led by long-time Kabila confidant General François Olenga, has a central role.[fn]UNJHRO, op. cit.; “Dismantling dissent”, op. cit.; Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based lawyer, September 2016; security expert, Nairobi, October 2016. “U.N. Criticizes Congo for Response to Deadly Unrest”, The New York Times, 22 September 2016. The judiciary is involved in suits against the G7 and Katumbi. “RDC Congo: une juge de Lubumbashi affirme avoir subi des pressions pour faire condamner Katumbi”, Jeune Afrique, 27 July 2016; Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit. Olenga is also key in the military’s logistical network, via long contacts in Eastern Europe.Hide Footnote  The military’s 2014 organisational reform put loyal officers at the head of key military regions: Maj. General Gabriël Amisi (now sanctioned by the U.S.) in Kinshasa and Jean-Claude Kifwa, the president’s nephew, in Lubumbashi. Former police commander, Lt. General John Numbi was also recently sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in repression in the former Katanga province.[fn]“FARDC: la liste des officiers généraux et supérieurs nommés à la tête des grandes unités militaires”, Forum des As, 19 September 2014; Crisis Group email correspondence, local analyst, September 2016. Maj. General Amisi, sanctioned by the U.S. in September 2016, also chairs the popular Kinshasa football team, AS Vita Club, which gives him a strong profile, but not necessarily popularity. “Treasury Sanctions Two Individuals for Threatening the Stability and Undermining …”, Press Center, U.S. treasury department, 28 September 2016. “RD Congo: Foot, business & politique”, Jeune Afrique, 7 August 2016.Hide Footnote

The PNC has been responsible for most human rights violations. Its failure to respond in January 2015 and September 2016 led to the GR’s deployment in Kinshasa. Lessons learned after 2015 included the installation of video surveillance equipment in several sensitive locations.[fn]UNJHRO, op. cit. The 19-22 January 2016 protest was preceded by violently repressed smaller incidents. The intensity and spread were surprising. Police were ill-equipped so quickly used firearms, further fuelling the protest. Crisis Group interview, civil society member, Kinshasa, September 2016. Social media showed that several video installations were destroyed during the 19 September 2016 riots.Hide Footnote  In the increasing tension during the September dialogue, riot control units were visibly stationed at key locations and major transport axes in Kinshasa. MONUSCO and others have provided crowd control training, and the PNC has purchased non-lethal riot control equipment (such as water cannons). However, in the first days of the September riots, the water cannons were reportedly hardly used; instead, the government escalated the response role to the armed forces, as the police had difficulty coping.[fn]Crisis Group observation, Kinshasa, September 2016; interview, UN official, Kinshasa, September 2016. “Kinshasa: la police présente de nouveaux véhicules anti-émeute”, Radio Okapi, 14 September 2016. Crisis Group email correspondence, diplomat, September 2016. “Kabila chez le Pape, Kinshasa sous le choc”, Le Soir, 27 September 2016. The national police officials and Kinshasa police commissioner Crisis Group interviewed just before 19 September expressed confidence they could handle demonstrations without the military.Hide Footnote

The PNC has been responsible for most human rights violations.

Police morale is poor, undermined by low salaries and bad housing conditions (the intervention police mostly live in barracks). Their social position is seriously undermined by their tendency to harass and extort. People have intimidated policemen and their families living in the cités.[fn]Crisis Group interview, youth activist, Kinshasa, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Targeted sanctions on officers, such as those imposed by the U.S., may deter abuses and sap morale, though hardliners such as General Kanyama have wide support in the service.

FARDC is deployed mostly in the East. The division-size GR is in urban centres, notably Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, and strategic locations such as airports. It has heavier weapons than other forces, which are lightly armed, if at all. GR in Kinshasa reportedly received police training recently, and there are persistent rumours they have PNC uniforms, but there are loyalty concerns. GR, including those at sensitive locations, have a reputation for petty corruption, as rank and file salaries are not much higher than those of other FARDC units. Because many GR are from Katanga, there are also fears its unity could be weakened by the defection of Katangese parties and politicians from the majority.[fn]See also, Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Commanders allegedly warned the government in January 2015 of a limit to what the military could do. In a demonstration of the lack of trust between elements of the security forces, several military and PNC camps in Kinshasa were searched by GR and military police for weapons and looted goods after the massive September 2016 protest.

The ANR has increasingly been used as a secret police. This very powerful institution is present countrywide and is a highly centralised parallel administration. It has focused on youth groups, such as Lucha, and operations against the parties and individuals that have left the majority. For example, it blacklisted and harassed businesses and interests associated with Katumbi. The rival military intelligence service (Etat-Major Renseignement) on occasions has zealously engaged in political repression, most notoriously when it arrested opposition politician Martin Fayulu.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, businessman, Kinshasa, September 2016; diplomat, Kinshasa, March 2016. “RDC: Retour sur l’arrestation et la libération du député Martin Fayulu”, RFI, 14 February 2016.Hide Footnote

The increased capability and use of sticks and carrots against the opposition indicate a centrally-managed strategy. But competition between services, some haphazard actions and messy execution of repression point to considerable command and control problems that could allow violence to escalate quickly. The September 2016 protests ended a period of relative calm, and the regime is now likely to react more vigorously against the instigators of protests.[fn]There are already indications of people involved in the September protests disappearing. Crisis Group email correspondence with Kinshasa-based activist and diplomat, October 2016.Hide Footnote

VI. Conclusion: The Way Ahead

With rising political tension, the unpredictable variable is the urban population, which reappeared as a major political factor with the January 2015 protest. Since then, civil society and opposition parties have tried to rally public support to push the government to respect the constitution and organise elections, but they and the regime have only limited control over the largely impoverished, frustrated population, and the potential for violence was again demonstrated on 19-20 September. The most comprehensive way to prevent protest and urban violence is to break the political deadlock. Broad consensus between political and social actors is urgently needed. This was an important part of CENCO’s argument when it suspended its participation in the political dialogue.[fn]CENCO communiqué, 20 September 2016.Hide Footnote  The dialogue as launched had merits, but did not inspire the necessary confidence.

Since the violence of September, Angola and South Africa are increasingly concerned about the capacity of the Congolese security forces to control the situation, and they have met at senior levels to discuss the DRC crisis.[fn]“Angola: Message du Président sud-africain à son homologue angolais”, ANGOP, 3 October 2016; “RDC: sommet international en Angola pour trouver une sortie de crise”, RFI, 6 October 2016Hide Footnote  Major international actors, including these regional powers, have to increase their involvement and use all their diplomatic and financial tools to help Congolese negotiate an agreement that ends political polarisation and concentrates on organising elections with a specified, tight timetable.[fn]Crisis Group statement, “A Nuanced but Firm Political Approach”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Compromise is also required on who governs after 19 December and with what powers. Internationals can use good offices, targeted sanctions, the threat of withdrawing UN troops, especially the FIB, and other coercive measures to push needed compromises. The government’s recurring declarations that it wants MONUSCO to withdraw are mainly for domestic political reasons. In the field, MONUSCO’s logistical support of FARDC remains important. The FIB, mostly composed of troops of allied countries (Tanzania and South Africa), provides a reassuring security tripwire in the East at the sensitive border with Rwanda.

The opposition demand to lead a two-year transition and the majority desire for a seemingly endless extension of the current regime both lack legal and political foundation. Insisting on them would only polarise opinion and make violence more likely. An agreement requires nuance, flexibility and the active buy-in of regional and continental actors that have sat on the sidelines too long.

Measures are needed, as the parties negotiate, that can reduce the risk of violence and lessen the impact of polarising messages.

Both sides continue to engage in uncompromising language, inspiring hate and violence, delegitimising protests and potentially generating hard-to-control public rage. Measures are needed, as the parties negotiate, that can reduce the risk of violence and lessen the impact of polarising messages. Sanctions should target those from regime and opposition alike who call for and orchestrate violence.

It is vital in the difficult months ahead to protect media freedoms. Credible outlets such as RFI and Radio Okapi should be supported, not closed in times of unrest, but free expression must be balanced with responsibility. All leaders have primary responsibility not to disseminate inflammatory messages. Institutions tasked to monitor media, such as the Superior Audiovisual and Communication Council (CSAC), should be strengthened and grassroots mechanisms re-activated or initiated to monitor and discourage provocative pronouncements.[fn]Created in 2011, CSAC is meant to ensure fair accesss for parties, associations and individuals to official information and media but is seriously under-resourced and lacks political weight. “Congo: Une bataille électorale périlleuse”, Congo Research Group, August 2016, p. 27.Hide Footnote  Diplomats, the UN and other internationals must engage with the urban communities to discourage violence and carry the core message that political protest is legitimate but encouraging and manipulating violence is not.

There should be increased monitoring of and support for the police and other security forces. This is an area for the UN, which is engaged in capacity building, and the EU and other bilateral partners that have engaged in SSR programs and could build on experience and trust. No social movement has the leadership or following to manage a non-violent popular revolution. As tensions spiral ever higher, ways out will become fewer, hence the critical need to work in parallel toward a political solution and reduction of the scope for violence in the short term.

Nairobi/Brussels, 13 October 2016

VII. Terms and Acronyms

ANR National Intelligence Agency.

CENI Independent National Electoral Commission, led by Corneille Nangaa since November 2015.

CENCO National Episcopal Conference of the Congo.

CNS National Sovereign Conference.

CPP Popular Power Committees.

CSAC Superior Audiovisual and Communication Council.

DRC Democratic Republic of Congo.

DSP Mobutu’s Special Presidential Division (elite unit in the army during Mobutu regime).

EU European Union.

EUFOR RDC European Force for the DRC.

Filimbi “Whistle”, an activist youth group.

FARDC Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

G7 Opposition group formed by majority dissidents ACO, UNADEF, UNAFEC, MSDD, ARC, MSR and PDC.

GR Republican Guard, elite unit of the Congolese armed forces.

Kuluna Urban Gangs.

Lucha Lutte pour le changement, youth movement.

M23 March 23 Movement.

MLC Movement for the Liberation of Congo.

MONUC UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1999 to July 2010.

MONUSCO United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since July 2010.

PALU Unified Lumumbist Party, political party, allied to the majority.

PNC Congolese National Police.

PPRD Peoples’ Party for Reconstruction and Development (majority).

Rassemblement Opposition platform, created near Brussels in June 2016, led by the UDPS and supported by Moïse Katumbi.

RTNC Congolese National Television.

SSR Security Sector Reform.

Telema “Arise” or “Stand-up”, an opposition cry.

UDPS Union for Democracy and Social Progress, opposition political party led by Etienne Tshisekedi.

UN United Nations.

UNJHRO UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC.

UNC Union for the Congolese Nation (opposition).

UNILU University of Lubumbashi.

Wewa Motorcycle taxi riders.

Wumela “Stay Longer”, a cry of Kabila’s partisans.

Yebela “Know-it”, that is that your mandate is about to expire, an opposition cry.

An artisanal miner works at Tilwizembe, a former industrial copper-cobalt mine, outside of Kolwezi, the capital city of Lualaba Province in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, June 11, 2016. Picture taken June 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Report 290 / Africa

Mineral Concessions: Avoiding Conflict in DR Congo’s Mining Heartland

Copper and cobalt are the Democratic Republic of Congo’s two biggest exports. Artisanal miners often dig for these riches on lands licensed to large companies, sometimes prompting violent state intervention. The government should instead foster better ways for citizens to share in the mineral wealth.

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What’s new? Competition between industrial and artisanal miners is a source of tension in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the mineral-rich provinces of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, state security forces intervened in 2019 to expel over 10,000 artisanal miners who were encroaching on two of the country’s largest industrial mining sites.

Why did it happen? Artisanal miners lack economic opportunities. They are often denied access to industrial sites, even for purposes of exploiting commercially non-viable deposits, and the region lacks artisanal mining zones. Local politicians sometimes seek to advance their own interests by encouraging artisanal miners to take confrontational actions.

Why does it matter? President Félix Tshisekedi faces the twin challenges of defusing mining sector tensions and working within the fragile political coalition he has formed with his rival, former President Joseph Kabila. Whether or not he succeeds will bear on the country’s stability and prosperity, as well as on his political future.

What should be done? To create economic opportunities for artisanal miners, the DRC government should create artisanal mining zones and remove impediments to industrial subcontracting of artisanal miners. Mining companies should meet their legal obligations to support community development, and standard-setting organisations should make clear that they see industrial-artisanal cooperation as responsible corporate behaviour.

Executive Summary

In June and July 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s security forces evicted artisanal miners encroaching on two of the country’s largest industrial mining sites in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces. In addition to deaths and injuries, the expulsions caused more than 10,000 artisanal miners to lose their only means of generating income. Avoiding violence around mining sites while reforming this vital sector of the DRC’s economy to improve citizens’ livelihoods is an important challenge for President Félix Tshisekedi. A central goal should be to foster economic opportunities for the artisanal miners. Together, the government and the private sector should create viable new artisanal mining zones. Companies should work to reduce the risk of flare-ups by subcontracting artisanal miners to exploit deposits not central to company operations. The government should ensure that its decrees do not undermine the legal basis for such arrangements, and industry standard setters should make clear that subcontracting does not violate precepts of corporate social responsibility.

Artisanal miners and other mining heartland residents express frustration at the lack of opportunity industrial mining provides.

Tensions between industrial and artisanal miners in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba are partly economic in nature. Artisanal miners and other mining heartland residents express frustration at the lack of opportunity industrial mining provides – whether in the form of jobs, investments in community development projects or commercial relationships with local merchants. In addition, the DRC government has over time extended industrial mining permits to cover virtually all land where mineral deposits have been found, leaving almost no space for artisanal mining zones.

The government enacted a new mining law in 2018 that might help relieve some of these tensions. It compels industrial mining companies to spend part of their revenue on community projects and allows them to subcontract work to artisanal mining cooperatives. The planned creation of a new state entity with exclusive rights to purchase artisanally mined cobalt could, however, undercut the ability to subcontract and the economic opportunities that come with it.

Much as economic frustration fuels tensions around mining in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, the sector is potentially explosive for other reasons as well. Artisanal mining attracts workers from elsewhere in the DRC, which helps spin a narrative that “migrants”, in particular from nearby Kasai province, are “stealing” the Katanga region’s mineral wealth. Both Katangese nationalism and anti-Kasaian sentiment have led to violence in the past. These tensions shoot through the governing coalition that Tshisekedi, whose family hails from Kasai, has formed with his predecessor Joseph Kabila, whose power base was Katanga. The coalition’s internal frictions resonate especially keenly in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba.

Case studies of three different mining sites in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, two of which have experienced violence, highlight local factors that can exacerbate bad relations between artisanal and industrial mining operations, and offer clues about steps that might help with de-escalation. They indicate that artisanal miners have tended to become especially frustrated in cases where industrial site deposits were both highly attractive and highly inaccessible. Efforts by local politicians to manipulate miners to further their own interests, sometimes at the risk of provoking confrontation, were also important factors in stoking potential violence.

The DRC government should help artisanal miners earn livelihoods by carving out new artisanal mining zones.

To diminish tensions between industrial and artisanal miners, and the corresponding risk of violence, the DRC government should help artisanal miners earn livelihoods by carving out new artisanal mining zones, working with industrial companies to do initial groundwork to prepare sites within these zones for artisanal mining, and protect these new sites from being taken over by industrial mining companies. The government should also protect the right of industrial companies to subcontract with artisanal cooperatives by carving these arrangements out of the decree directing a newly established (but not yet stood up) government entity to purchase all artisanally mined cobalt. For their part, mining companies should subcontract artisanal miners to exploit deposits they cannot profitably mine – conditional on artisanal miners upholding basic safety, labour and environmental standards – and comply with provisions in the recently enacted iteration of the mining law that require mining companies to contribute a set percentage of their revenue directly to local development.

Organisations setting due diligence standards for mining also have a role to play. These organisations used to consider artisanal mining to be exclusively a channel for funding armed groups and reflected this view in their due diligence requirements. More recently, they have recognised its potential as a source of livelihoods. They should adapt their formal standards to convey that industrial mining companies can harm local development efforts and increase the potential for violence if they fail to adopt policies that take into account the needs of artisanal miners and the communities where they live.

It will not be easy for President Tshisekedi to make headway on the fraught issue of artisanal mining. But while the need to work in a fraying coalition with Kabila no doubt constrains Tshisekedi’s capacity to make many of the above changes, he can still press for them, seek to harness the support of political allies and begin generating momentum for their achievement. Even if the effort fails to achieve all of its goals in the near term, it can only improve prospects for peace and prosperity in the DRC’s mining heartland.

Lubumbashi/Nairobi/New York/Brussels, 30 June 2020

I. Introduction

In June and July 2019, soldiers entered the two largest industrial mining sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).[fn]TFM and the Kamoto Copper Company mine are the DRC’s largest as measured by government revenue in 2015. “Democratic Republic of Congo”, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), 10 June 2020.Hide Footnote  Their mission was to remove more than 10,000 artisanal miners, men and women who had been encroaching on these sites, individually or in small groups, in order to dig for cobalt and copper ore with little to no mechanisation.[fn]Thomas Hentschel, Felix Hruschka and Michael Priester, “Global Report on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining”, Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development, January 2002.Hide Footnote  The troops torched the artisanal miners’ homes and drove them out.[fn]Aaron Ross, “Send in the troops: Congo raises the stakes on illegal mining”, Reuters, 17 July 2019.Hide Footnote

One of the sites where the soldiers intervened was the Tenke Fungurume Mine (TFM), located in the Tenke and Fungurume localities in the country’s south east. Mining has radically changed life in this region, starting in 1972 with the first industrial operation. The company running TFM advertised over 20,000 jobs when it first opened, and attracted almost twice as many job hopefuls to the area. The region’s population trebled virtually overnight. The industrial mining operation was short-lived, however, and its new hires soon found themselves unemployed. Some turned to artisanal mining, digging up ore with shovels and storing it in sacks to be transported to buying houses. When this work proved remunerative, more people joined in. These included “locals”, as well as in-migrants from nearby towns and other DRC provinces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local officials, civil society representatives, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote

It was a recipe for over two decades of tense and intermittently violent relations among artisanal miners, the mining police and the army.

When industrial operations at TFM recommenced in the late 1990s, the new operator found thousands (20,000 by some accounts) of artisanal miners on the site covered by its licence.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, artisanal miners, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  It was a recipe for over two decades of tense and intermittently violent relations among artisanal miners, the mining police and the army. The mining police periodically expelled artisanal miners from parts of TFM, but proved unable to keep them off the site consistently.[fn]“China Moly struggles with artisanal mining in DRC”, American Metal Market, 23 November 2016.Hide Footnote  The miners kept encroaching on the site, protesting and at times rioting over their expulsion.[fn]“Congo police clash with illegal miners at Tenke Fungurume mine”, Dow Jones Business News, 28 October 2009.Hide Footnote  The army was present at the site for long periods and appeared to alternate between allowing artisanal miners access to TFM – to the point of fighting the mining police over the matter – and driving them off.[fn]“DR Congo troops exchange fire with police guarding mines in Katanga province”, BBC, 28 December 2005. “Tenke Fungurume ‘de-militarised’”, Africa Mining Intelligence, 19 October 2005. Raf Custers and Sara Nordbrand, “Risky Business: The Lundin Group’s Involvement in the Tenke Fungurume Mining Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, Diakonia, SwedWatch and International Peace Information Services (IPIS), 19 February 2008. Crisis Group interviews, local officials and civil society representative, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  In the early months of 2019, artisanal miners, cued by the sound of industrial explosives, invaded the site en masse and carried off tonnes of dislodged ore.

Several months later, the military returned in force. To the inhabitants of the nearby village of Kamfwa, the army’s June-July 2019 intervention differed from past ones because, for the first time, soldiers moved beyond the mining sites to burn the houses of miners and farmers alike.[fn]Ross, “Send in the troops”, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, local officials, civil society representatives, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  Within a week of the evictions at TFM, the army removed thousands of artisanal miners from the Kamoto Copper Company mine, less than 160km to the west, leading to three deaths according to some sources.[fn]Aaron Ross, “Congo army evicts illegal miners from Glencore project, sparks protest”, Reuters, 4 July 2019.Hide Footnote

Direct and sometimes violent competition between artisanal and industrial miners is pervasive in the DRC.

Direct and sometimes violent competition between artisanal and industrial miners is pervasive in the DRC. A 2015 survey of artisanal mining sites in the country’s east and south east found that 63 per cent of them were located on lands where industrial companies held mining permits. According to that survey, less than 1 per cent of artisanal mining was taking place in zones that the government had designated for that purpose.[fn]Analysis of the Interactive Map of Artisanal Mining Areas in Eastern DR Congo”, IPIS, October 2016.Hide Footnote

This report explores what stokes and ignites tensions between industrial and artisanal miners, and how those tensions might be defused. It examines the challenges that President Félix Tshisekedi and his government face in making changes to the mining sector and, against this backdrop, considers the circumstances at three individual mines. It is based on field observations from visits to areas around mining operations, interviews with local residents, community leaders and civil society figures, news reports on the mining sector, data sets recording violent events (see Appendix B) and other publicly available information. Crisis Group was unable to obtain formal comment on this research and analysis from either the state mining company Gécamines or the privately owned companies operating the mines discussed below, despite multiple efforts to contact local representatives and official headquarters.[fn]Crisis Group consultants attempted to contact the staff at all three mines that are the subject of this study (Kipushi, Luiswishi and TFM). The Kipushi mine community outreach office deferred questions to the main office, operating outside the DRC, which did not respond to subsequent Crisis Group inquiries. At Luiswishi mine, Crisis Group consultants could not locate a point of contact at either the mining site or an office of the operating company in Lubumbashi. At TFM, Crisis Group consultants were referred to the community liaison office, which declined to participate in the research. Prior to this report’s publication, Crisis Group also contacted the headquarters of the owners of all three sites, using public contact details, but received no response.Hide Footnote  This report is the first in a series of Crisis Group writings about extractive industries and conflict.

II. Tshisekedi’s Challenge: The National Political Minefield

When President Tshisekedi assumed office in January 2019, he vowed to combat poverty and stabilise the country. In order to deliver on that promise and have a successful presidency, it will be important for him to make clear progress toward converting the DRC’s vast mineral wealth into tangible benefits for its citizens. He could start with those who eke out a living through artisanal mining and others who reside, impoverished, in the vicinity of industrial mines.

Tshisekedi is playing an imperfect hand. Artisanal mining is a difficult, dangerous and under-regulated business presenting a wide range of challenges, from work site safety to environmental dangers to child labour exploitation.[fn]Artisanal miners face especially hazardous working conditions when they encroach on sites of industrial operations. As discussed below, for example, a landslide cost 43 artisanal miners their lives while they were working without authorisation at the Kamoto Copper Company mine in June 2019. “Death toll at DRC mine rises to 43”, Financial Times, 28 June 2019. Célestin Banza Lubaba Nkulu et al., “Sustainability of Artisanal Mining of Cobalt in DR Congo”, Nature Sustainability, vol. 1, no. 9 (2018), pp. 495-504. One study estimates that children are working at one in four DRC artisanal mining sites. “Interconnected Supply Chains: A Comprehensive Look at Due Diligence Challenges and Opportunities Sourcing Cobalt and Copper from the Democratic Republic of Congo”, OECD Working Paper, 2019.Hide Footnote  In considering which tasks he can take on, Tshisekedi must weigh constraints imposed by political reality and also consider how he can best work within a mix of old and new laws and decrees that in some cases operate at cross-purposes.

The global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is already affecting the mining sector and will complicate Tshisekedi’s ambitions.

Moreover, the global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is already affecting the mining sector and will complicate Tshisekedi’s ambitions to use the country’s mineral wealth to benefit a greater portion of its population. According to the mining ministry, falling global demand and world prices for major mining products will translate into revenues that fall short of the government’s targets.[fn]Jean Pierre Okenda, “How the DRC Can Defend Its Mining Interests during the Pandemic”, Natural Resource Governance Institute, 30 April 2020.Hide Footnote  Copper and cobalt prices have already significantly dropped over the past few months. South Africa’s lockdown measures have reduced commerce at its ports, through which the DRC ships minerals to China (its primary customer) and other destinations.[fn]Document published by the DRC mining ministry, “Analyse de l’impact de la pandémie du COVID-19 sur le secteur minier de la République Démocratique du Congo”, 13 April 2020; Okenda, “How the DRC Can Defend Its Mining Interests during the Pandemic”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  With the mining sector, which is the main driver of the DRC’s economic growth, in recession, the central bank has already predicted that the country’s GDP will shrink by 1.9 per cent in 2020, compared to 4.4 per cent growth the previous year.[fn]“Congo GDP to shrink for first time since war, central bank says”, Bloomberg, 1 May 2020.Hide Footnote

 Still, for all these challenges, there is room for the government to offer greater opportunities and protections for the country’s roughly two million artisanal miners.[fn]See the Delve database.Hide Footnote

A. The Political Battle

The contrast between the size of the DRC’s mineral wealth and the poverty of its citizens is jarring. The DRC has a large share of world reserves of highly sought-after minerals like cobalt, which is a key raw material for rechargeable batteries (see Appendix A). Its mining sector sits at the heart of the economy, constituting over 90 per cent of exports (see Appendix F).[fn]Rapport Annuel 2016, Banque Centrale du Congo, 7 November 2017, p. 122.Hide Footnote  Taxes paid by the extractives sector stood at $1.57 billion in 2018, a near-doubling compared to 2019.[fn]“Congo’s public revenues from mining sector nearly double in 2018”, Reuters, 3 April 2019; “Democratic Republic of Congo: Overview”, World Bank, 20 April 2019.Hide Footnote  Yet visible benefits to Congolese citizens are few: the latest World Bank estimates put the extreme poverty rate in the DRC at 72 per cent.[fn]Democratic Republic of Congo: Overview”, World Bank, 4 May 2020.Hide Footnote

Coalition dynamics continue to pose a significant obstacle to change in the mining sector.

President Tshisekedi faces significant challenges in effectively controlling the mining sector, and has been criticised for doing little to employ mining revenue to help DRC citizens.[fn]Romain Gras and Stanis Bujakera Shiamala, “DRC: One year in and Félix Tshisekedi is yet to make his mark”, The Africa Report, 27 January 2020.Hide Footnote  One of the main problems has been the extent to which he must share power with his predecessor’s political network, members of which occupy government positions key to the mining sector. Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition is obliged to work with former President Joseph Kabila’s Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), which controls the majority of seats in the national assembly. The dynamics of the FCC-CACH coalition have started to shift since the beginning of 2020, as Tshisekedi has slowly increased his autonomy by expanding his control over the security forces, fighting corruption harder and trying to sideline figures from the Kabila era.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, UN mission officials and government officials, Kinshasa, February 2020; Crisis Group telephone interviews, diplomats, former army insider and member of Tshisekedi’s inner circle, April and May 2020.Hide Footnote  Nevertheless, coalition dynamics continue to pose a significant obstacle to change in the mining sector.

Key positions in the coalition government, national institutions and state-owned companies are still occupied by Kabila allies, including Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, Minister of Mines Willy Kitobo Samsoni, Minister of Portfolio Clément Kwete Nymi Bemuna (who is responsible for public companies) and Minister of Finance José Sele Yalaghuli.[fn]Many of these officials have particular clout in the mining industry because they were born in the former Katanga, the DRC’s mining heartland. Katanga was a province before it was split into four new provinces (Tanganyika, Haut-Katanga, Lualaba and Haut-Lomami) in 2015. This report refers to those four provinces as the “Katanga region” and to people native to any these four provinces as “Katangese”. Despite Katanga’s disappearance as a province, “Katangese” identity is still important to some inhabitants of the region. Prime Minister Ilunga was born in Haut-Katanga, Minister Kitobo in Kipushi, Haut-Katanga and Yuma in Tanganyika. Ministers Sele and Kwete are from Sud-Ubangi and Kasai provinces, respectively.Hide Footnote  Another important figure, Albert Yuma, has since November 2010 presided over the state mining company, Gécamines, and is a long-time Kabila ally. With Kabila’s supporters firmly in place throughout the government, Tshisekedi will find it hard to realise his ambition of gaining greater control over mining revenues and thus improving citizens’ socio-economic conditions.[fn]“Discours-programme du gouvernement devant l’Assemblée Nationle présenté par son Excellence Monsieur le Premier Ministre Ilunga Ilunkamba”, 4 September 2019.Hide Footnote

Although Tshisekedi has attempted to dismantle much of his predecessor’s network, he has had limited impact in dislodging Kabila’s supporters from positions of influence, including at Gécamines.[fn]Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, “Albert Yuma, pris entre deux feux”, Jeune Afrique, 26 January 2020.Hide Footnote  In May 2019, Kabila reportedly pushed for Yuma to be nominated as prime minister, but Tshisekedi resisted, agreeing instead that he remain chair of Gécamines as part of a political horse trade.[fn]Tshiamala, “Albert Yuma, pris entre deux feux”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  To counterbalance Yuma, Tshisekedi appointed his ally, Sama Lukonde Kyenge, as the company’s new managing director. Kabila allies long blocked this appointment, but the public portfolio minister eventually approved Kyenge’s nomination in late June 2020.[fn]Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, “DRC appointments to Gecamines and the SNCC still blocked”, The Africa Report, 28 June 2019; Aaron Ross, “Congo president wins approval for nominees at state mining company”, Reuters, 26 June 2020.Hide Footnote  Having his own allies at the top of Gécamines will likely allow Tshisekedi to exert more influence over the state mining company, though the extent of this leverage is as of yet unclear.

At the end of 2019, Tshisekedi made an unsuccessful push to get rid of Yuma by calling the Congolese public’s attention to a prosecutorial investigation into Gécamines.[fn]“Congo prosecutors probe Israeli billionaire’s loan to state mining company”, Reuters, 23 December 2019; Tshiamala, “Albert Yuma, pris entre deux feux”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  The underlying facts date to 2017, when Gécamines accepted a controversial €128 million loan from businessman Dan Gertler, a close Kabila associate who is sanctioned by the U.S. treasury department.[fn]“Treasury Sanctions Fourteen Entities Affiliated with Corrupt Businessman Dan Gertler under Global Magnitsky”, U.S. Department of Treasury, 15 June 2018.Hide Footnote  Human rights and anti-corruption organisations have questioned whether this loan was a front for money laundering.[fn]Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, “DRC: Albert Yuma and Dan Gertler in complex Gécamines loan dispute”, The Africa Report, 7 January 2020.Hide Footnote  Though these claims are unproven, the prosecutor’s office requested that Yuma and other senior Gécamines officials remain at its disposal to participate in the investigation. Immigration authorities banned Yuma from travelling outside Kinshasa.[fn]Tshiamala, “Albert Yuma, pris entre deux feux”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

There has been no apparent movement on the file since, with Kabila seemingly protecting Yuma, and justice authorities preoccupied with other high-profile cases.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, Kinshasa-based lawyer, May 2020.Hide Footnote  Yuma’s travel restrictions could potentially be lifted after Kyenge’s appointment, allowing Yuma to travel to Lubumbashi to see Kyenge take his new position.[fn]“RDC: Gécamines, l’Assemblée Générale entérine la nomination des membres du Conseil d’administration”, Zoom Eco, 26 June 2020.Hide Footnote

B. Legal Developments

The government presented new measures primarily as an important step toward raising internal revenues.

The Congolese legislature recently changed the national mining code. The amended code, approved in 2018 under Kabila, significantly raised the level of tax for companies mining “strategic minerals” – including cobalt – and placed several additional demands and restrictions on companies, relative to the previous 2002 code. The government felt emboldened to make such changes because the high international demand for its minerals, especially cobalt, was generating significant profits for industrial mining companies. It presented these new measures primarily as an important step toward raising internal revenues for the state. The measures received backing from both national and international civil society organisations monitoring extractive activities but incurred mining companies’ displeasure.[fn]Fabien Myani, “Réforme de la législation minière de la République Démocratique du Congo: Regards sur la contribution des organisations de la société civile”, Cordaid, September 2018. Although officials consulted the private sector in developing the new legislation, many companies feel that the tax rates it imposes on their activities are excessive. Daniel Mulé, “Understanding DRC’s New Mining Law Power Play: Will the Congolese People Benefit?”, Oxfam America, 19 April 2018; Crisis Group interview, senior ministry of mines official, Kinshasa, February 2020.Hide Footnote  Tshisekedi has stated his support for the code, and therefore seems unlikely to work with the legislature to change it, at least in the medium term.[fn]“Discours du président de la République sur l’état de la Nation en 2019 (intégral)”, 13 December 2019.Hide Footnote

The code contains three key provisions that have the potential to shape relations among mining companies, artisanal miners and local communities.[fn]“Code Minière”, Journal Officiel de la République Démocratique du Congo, 28 March 2018.Hide Footnote

First, it requires that companies pay 0.3 per cent of their revenues to “community development projects”. The 2002 code required no such contribution. Civil society organisations welcomed the change, because it means that residents of mining areas will directly receive a (small) percentage of mining revenue and do not have to rely on funding trickling down from federal administrative entities. The provision has been unevenly applied, however, as discussed below.

Secondly, the code requires artisanal miners to be members of a cooperative and allows industrial miners to subcontract mining activities to cooperatives. This change, too, is significant because it gives mining companies and artisanal miners a legal basis for collaboration. Companies benefit in that they can subcontract with a cooperative to monetise deposits for which they hold a licence but that they cannot profitably exploit using industrial methods. Artisanal miners benefit in that, at least in theory, they can subcontract to mine legally on land under industrial licence and deal directly with mining companies. Subcontracting generally allows them to charge companies higher prices for the ore they extract than they could if selling through buying houses.

This reform, however, has been less than fully successful. To begin with, not all DRC artisanal mining cooperatives represent their members’ interests. Some are owned by representatives of the political elite and demand unofficial payments from their members that can amount to 20 per cent of their production.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit., p. 13.Hide Footnote  Moreover, the government recently created a new entity, discussed below, whose mandate is at cross-purposes with the 2018 mining code.

The likelihood that a mineral-rich property will be designated and remain an artisanal mining zone is very slim.

Finally, the 2018 code – like its 2002 predecessor – provides rules governing both the creation and closure of artisanal mining zones. In theory, these zones should allow artisanal mining to take place legally. In practice, only a very small fraction of artisanal mining takes place in formal artisanal mining zones – a mere fifteen of over 2,000 mines visited in a 2015 study.[fn]“Analysis of the Interactive Map of Artisanal Mining Areas in Eastern DR Congo”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  There are several reasons why. As a threshold matter, potentially mineral-bearing land in the DRC is already covered almost entirely by industrial mining permits (see Appendix B). Moreover, the mining code prohibits the government’s conversion of an industrial site into an artisanal mining zone. By contrast, the minister of mines is permitted by law to close any artisanal mining zone with 60 days’ notice if a deposit that can only be exploited by industrial means is discovered. Hence, the likelihood that a mineral-rich property will be designated and remain an artisanal mining zone is very slim.

In November 2019, the prime minister issued two decrees that foreshadow both further complications and some opportunities for helping artisanal miners share in the country’s mineral wealth.[fn]Décret N°19/16 du 05 Nov. 2019 portant création, organisation et fonctionnement de l’autorité de régulation et de contrôle des marchés des substances minérales stratégiques. Décret N°19/15 du 5 Nov. 2019 portant sauvegarde des activités relatives aux substances minérales stratégiques d’exploitation artisanale. See also “RDC: un monopole d'État pour le cobalt artisanal”, RFI, 6 February 2020.Hide Footnote  One creates a new body – Autorité de Régulation et de Contrôle des Marchés des Substances Minérales Stratégiques (ARECOMS) – intended to oversee cooperatives and ensure that they function correctly. This body could help counter the predatory activity by owners of artisanal cooperatives described above.

The other decree authorises Gécamines to set up a subsidiary, Entreprise Générale du Cobalt, which will have a monopoly on purchases of artisanal cobalt – artisanal production constitutes over 20 per cent of the national production of this mineral. According to the latter decree, the subsidiary was to start operations in early 2020, but in practice Gécamines is still looking for ways to finance its activities.[fn]Michael Kavanagh, “Trader Trafigura in talks with Congo over financing cobalt buyer”, Bloomberg, 13 February 2020; Crisis Group phone interview, mining expert, Kinshasa, June 2020.Hide Footnote  Despite both Gécamines’ and the authorities’ lack of financial resources, the mining minister announced in June that the state-controlled buying of artisanal cobalt by Entreprise Générale du Cobalt would start in September 2020.[fn]“Congo aims to launch state cobalt monopoly in two months, mines minister says”, Reuters, 25 June 2020.Hide Footnote

Although the creation of Entreprise Générale du Cobalt is ostensibly aimed, at least in part, at ensuring artisanal miners a fair price, there are reasons to fear that not all of them will get one.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese official, Kinshasa, February 2020.Hide Footnote  First, the measure that creates the new entity also prohibits industrial miners from buying directly from artisanal cooperatives, which would seem to directly undermine the new provisions in the 2018 mining code enabling companies to subcontract to artisanal miners. Secondly, in addition to questions about how the new subsidiary will finance purchases, it is unclear whether it will be in a position to offer higher prices to artisanal miners than those offered by buying houses.

The creation and management of Entreprise Générale du Cobalt could result in renewed tensions between Tshisekedi’s and Kabila’s factions. By decree the subsidiary is to include presidential and provincial representatives on its board, alongside those of the prime minister and the minister of mines. These appointments will likely be mired in power struggles similar to those seen for Gécamines positions - although the June 2020 approval of Kyenge’s nomination as director general largely solved the the dispute over the state mining company’s management. Some analysts who follow the DRC mining sector fear that, given the large financial stakes that would be involved in the subsidiary’s transactions, there is a substantial risk of funds being misappropriated.[fn]Crisis Group interview, mining expert, Kinshasa, January 2020. “Que pensez-vous de la création par la Gécamines d’une société pour encadrer l’artisanat minier?”, Radio Okapi, 20 December 2019.Hide Footnote

III. Haut-Katanga and Lualaba: The DRC’s Mining Heartland

Alongside political rivalries at the national level, Tshisekedi has to navigate tensions in the key mining provinces of Lualaba and Haut-Katanga. His main challenge is to avoid clashes between locally rooted Katangese in mining areas and a large population that has relocated to the region from nearby Kasai province to try to make a living from artisanal mining. Haut-Katanga and Lualaba have a history of anti-Kasaian violence, and recent demonstrations have scapegoated Kasaians for crime and lack of economic opportunities in the area.[fn]“Insécurité à Lubumbashi: des jeunes s’en prennent aux ‘Kasaïens’”, Congo Durable, n.d. Crisis Group observation, Lubumbashi, 5 March 2020. Miles Larmer and Erik Kennes, “Katanga’s Secessionism in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, in Lotje de Vries, Pierre Englebert and Mareike Schomerus (eds.), Secessionism in African Politics (London, 2019), pp. 371-401.Hide Footnote  In the near term, it may be difficult to reduce frictions if, as seems likely, unemployment rises further in the face of COVID-19.[fn]Some companies in the Katanga region have already suspended their activities because of the fall in commodity prices and the Chinese economic slowdown, which has hurt the market for Congolese minerals. For instance, Mutanda mining, a Glencore subsidiary, Sicomines and Kamoa Copper are not exploiting their mines at present. See Denise Maheho, “Coronavirus: le secteur minier quasi à l'arrêt en RDC”, RFI, 4 May 2020. On 22 June, Lualaba province registered its first two COVID-19 cases, after which the province’s governor halted artisanal cobalt trade for a week. See Michael Kavanagh, “Congo halts artisanal cobalt trade in key province on virus”, Bloomberg, 26 June 2020.Hide Footnote  Over the longer term, however, strengthening economic prospects for artisanal miners in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, regardless of whether they are locals or migrants, could be a useful strategy for Tshisekedi to decrease competition between the two groups.

Tshisekedi must strike a delicate local balance.

Tshisekedi must strike a delicate local balance. While virtually all copper and cobalt revenue, representing over 80 per cent of DRC exports (see Appendix F), comes from the provinces of the Katanga region, his political party has close ties to the Kasai region. Indeed, his political support in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba lies mostly with the large population of Kasaian descent. By contrast, Joseph Kabila and main opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who both come from Katanga, enjoy the support of distinct sections of its non-Kasaian population.[fn]See Crisis Group Statement, “A Nuanced but Firm Political Approach for DR Congo’s Decisive Autumn”, 15 September 2016.Hide Footnote  To be sure, Tshisekedi received an unexpected boost when Antoine Gabriel Kyungu Wa Kumwanza, former governor of Katanga and current member of Haut-Katanga’s provincial assembly, whose party is firmly anchored in the Katanga region, became the first major Katangese voice to accept his victory; although originally in the Katumbi camp, Kyungu has supported Tshisekedi since.[fn]Marie-France Cros, “Kyungu se rallie à Tshisekedi: l’opposition Lamuka est divisée”, La Libre Afrique, 28 January 2019 ; In June 2020, the public portfolio minister approved Kyungu’s appointment as head of the board of directors of the state railway company, which had been pending for a year, in the same set of actions that saw Kyenge become Gécamines’ managing director.. See: “SNCC : Kyungu wa Kumwanza notifié de sa nomination”, Mediacongo, 25 June 2020.Hide Footnote

Still, ethnic dynamics in the region remain a challenge for Tshisekedi. Tensions in the coalition that Tshisekedi formed with Kabila are keenly felt in Katanga. In November 2019, Kabila supporters in Lualaba burnt Tshisekedi posters in response to similar destruction of Kabila placards in Kinshasa.[fn]Crisis Group WhatsApp communication, local journalist, October 2019; “RDC: inquiétude face aux tensions entre communautés kasaïenne et katangaise”, RFI, 21 November 2019.Hide Footnote  In March, demonstrators in Haut-Katanga’s capital, Lubumbashi, sought to blame the Kasaians for insecurity caused by armed bands who frequently rob, extort and shoot civilians in the city.[fn]“Insécurité à Lubumbashi: des jeunes s’en prennent aux ‘Kasaïens’”, op. cit. Crisis Group observation, Lubumbashi, 5 March 2020.Hide Footnote

Katangese nationalist politicians, including Kyungu Wa Kumwanza, have in the past referred to mining to stoke ethnic grievances.[fn]“Zaire: Inciting Hatred – Violence against Kasaiens in Shaba”, Human Rights Watch, June 1993.Hide Footnote  In particular, they have spread the narrative that “outsiders” – referring to both migrant workers from the Kasai region and power holders in Kinshasa – are stealing “Katanga’s” mineral wealth.[fn]Larmer and Kennes, “Katanga’s Secessionism in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  In the early 1990s, this perception led to widespread violence targeting tens of thousands of people originating from Kasai.[fn]Larmer and Kennes, “Katanga’s Secessionism in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

 These anti-Kasaian narratives tend to find more resonance when livelihoods in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba are under pressure.[fn]“Insécurité à Lubumbashi: des jeunes s’en prennent aux ‘Kasaïens’”, op. cit. Crisis Group observation, Lubumbashi, 5 March 2020.Hide Footnote  For this reason, the combined effects of the June-July 2019 army intervention that deprived over 10,000 artisanal miners of their jobs and the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 outbreak are cause for concern.[fn]Okenda, “How the DRC Can Defend Its Mining Interests during the Pandemic”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Reforms that help secure safer, more stable and higher-earning livelihoods for artisanal miners, both those born in Katanga and those who have come from elsewhere in the DRC, could contribute to easing competition and tensions between the two groups. They could also benefit a significant number of people, as artisanal miners’ earnings support between 10 and 12 per cent of the region’s population.[fn]Haut-Katanga and Lualaba are home to an estimated 140,000-200,000 artisanal miners, representing roughly 2 per cent of the region’s population. Crisis Group interview, Catholic Church representative, 10 July 2019; “DRC: Statistiques des populations par zones de santé”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 13 September 2019. Because each artisanal miner is estimated to have four to five dependents, a further 8-10 per cent of the population may depend on artisanal miners’ earnings indirectly. Ruben de Koning, “Conflict between Industrial and Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Case Studies from Katanga, Ituri and Kivu”, in Sandra Evers, Caroline Seagle and Froukje Krijtenburg (eds.), Africa for Sale? (Leiden, 2013), pp. 181-200.Hide Footnote  As set out below, such reforms could include establishment of new artisanal mining zones and measures to support cooperation between industrial concerns and artisanal miners.[fn]In June 2020, Lualaba’s provincial governor stated that all minerals produced through small-scale artisanal mining, including cobalt, should be tested and sold at a centralised trade hub starting 29 June. According to the governor this should limit mining fraud and increase state revenues, but the impact and enforceability of the governor’s order are uncertain. See: “Cobalt-rich Congo province to centralise mineral sales”, Reuters, 25 June 2020.  
 Hide Footnote

IV. A Tale of Three Sites

Case studies of three mining sites – TFM, Kipushi and Luiswishi – illustrate the dynamics among industrial mining companies, artisanal miners and residents of the areas where mining occurs, sometimes with intervening Congolese security forces as well. All three sites sit atop copper and cobalt deposits in the south-eastern DRC, the first in Lualaba and the other two in Haut-Katanga. But each has experienced different levels of violence, owing in part to differences in the opportunities they afford artisanal miners to pursue livelihoods on their respective premises.

A. Tenke Fungurume Mining

TFM has experienced the highest level of violence among the three mining sites examined here.

Located in Lualaba province, TFM is a joint venture between the DRC’s state mining company Gécamines and China Molybdenum (CMOC). Industrial production of copper and cobalt at the site goes back to the early 1970s, when Gécamines started a short-lived pilot operation in the area.

The current joint venture dates from 1996, when majority ownership was held by Lundin Holdings, a Swedish-Canadian company.[fn]Custers and Nordbrand, “Risky Business: The Lundin Group’s Involvement in the Tenke Fungurume Mining Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  CMOC entered the joint venture by acquiring a majority share in 2016 and now owns 80 per cent of the operation.[fn]“China Moly to increase stake in Congo’s Tenke copper mine to 80 percent”, Reuters, 18 January 2019.Hide Footnote  According to the latest reported figures, TFM has grown to become the DRC’s largest mine in terms of government revenue generation.[fn]“Democratic Republic of Congo”, EITI, op. cit.Hide Footnote  In October 2018, the last month of available data, TFM accounted for more than a quarter of government mining revenue from Haut-Katanga and Lualaba.[fn]“Statistiques de la Redevance Minière par Quotité Emises pour la Période d’Octobre 2018”, Division Provinciale Des Mines/Katanga-Sud Lumumbashi.Hide Footnote

Artisanal and industrial mining at the TFM site led to a large influx of migrants from other provinces. The population of the Tenke and Fungurume localities has grown more than tenfold since mining started in the area.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local officials, civil society representatives, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  Population growth began with a mass hiring campaign by Gécamines in 1972, which attracted more than 40,000 prospective employees hailing mostly from Haut-Katanga and Kasai.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local officials, civil society representatives, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  Over the years, artisanal mining prospects drew additional migrants from other provinces, including artisanal miners expelled from sites in Haut-Katanga and Kasaians fleeing violence in their home region. Today, hundreds of people reportedly arrive daily from Kasai alone, and Kasaians make up the majority of artisanal miners in the area.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, local traditional chiefs, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote

From TFM’s inception, violent conflict and periodic army intervention have marred relations between the company operating the site and artisanal miners. After Gécamines’ pilot operation in the 1970s, the site was non-operational for more than two decades because the company was experiencing financial difficulties. Both migrants who had hoped to be employed by the failed venture and locals took to artisanal mining on the site. Hence, when the new joint venture was born in the late 1990s, it was confronted with thousands of artisanal miners present on the land it was licensed to exploit. In addition to artisanal miners, a reserve contingent of Congolese soldiers was housed at the site during the second Congo war (1998-2003); Lundin, then a joint venture partner, accused the troops of digging for ore at the site alongside artisanal miners.[fn]Custers and Nordbrand, “Risky Business”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Citing Gécamines’ and DRC authorities’ inability to stop such mining, among other reasons, Lundin froze operations in 1999.[fn]Custers and Nordbrand, “Risky Business”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

The result was intermittent violence, as the mining police and company security forces removed artisanal miners from the site yet proved unable to prevent them from re-entering.

When the joint venture restarted operations in 2005, large numbers of artisanal miners and soldiers remained at TFM. The result was intermittent violence, as the mining police and company security forces removed artisanal miners from the site yet proved unable to prevent them from re-entering.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local officials, civil society representatives, Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  TFM’s size – some of its pits measure tens of kilometres in diameter – hindered removal efforts. News reports also suggest that soldiers were still involved in artisanal mining themselves, clashing with the mining police.[fn]“Tenke Fungurume ‘de-militarised’”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

In 2005, the army and mining police exchanged fire on several occasions, and the army tore down roadblocks police had erected to stop artisanally mined minerals from exiting the area.[fn]“DR Congo troops exchange fire with police guarding mines in Katanga province”, BBC, 28 December 2005.Hide Footnote  Some members of the police and artisanal miners died in these clashes.[fn]“Katanga: des confrontations sanglantes signalées dans la concession de la société minière Tenke-Fungurume Mining”, Radio Okapi, 28 September 2005; “Accrochages entre éléments des FARDC et police des mines à Fungurume”, Radio Okapi, 27 December 2005.Hide Footnote  Local civil society representatives and traditional chiefs report that the armed forces were involved in both the expulsion of artisanal miners and (re)allowing them access to the TFM site, and human rights activists have alleged that soldiers participated in illegal mining at the site alongside artisanal miners for the benefit of high-ranking officers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, traditional chiefs, September 2019. Custers and Nordbrand, “Risky Business”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

After the 2005 clashes, the military temporarily pulled out of the TFM site, but the encroachment of artisanal miners on the site and associated violence continued. Miners often entered the site at night (sometimes cued by the sound of explosions used to loosen large amounts of ore) to mine or steal ore dislodged by industrial operations.[fn]“Tenke Fungurume ‘de-militarised’”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  In 2009, artisanal miners and the mining police clashed after a group of artisanal miners was once more expelled from the TFM site.[fn]“Congo police clash with illegal miners at Tenke Fungurume mine”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  In subsequent years, artisanal miners, whose ranks reportedly include demobilised combatants from regional conflicts and residents of nearby villages, staged repeated violent demonstrations demanding access to parts of the site.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, Lualaba and Fungurume; mineral buyers and artisanal miners, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote  The scale of ore theft sharply increased in 2019. The increase may have been facilitated by another round of demilitarisation of mining sites that April, which removed even the selective barrier to entry the military provided and left private security forces with the nearly impossible task of keeping the artisanal miners out.[fn]“L’envahissement des sites miniers des industriels et la problématique de leur sécurisation”, Rapport de la 32ème plénière, Cadre de dialogue pour les investissements durables au Katanga, July 2019.Hide Footnote

It is against this backdrop that, in June 2019, the army staged its largest intervention since 2005, forcibly expelling thousands of artisanal miners, killing at least one person, and burning miners’ houses built on land licensed to TFM and houses in nearby villages.[fn]Ross, “Send in the troops”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Yet even this intervention failed to stop the artisanal miners’ encroachment at TFM. Artisanal miners report that soldiers remained at TFM, either to engage in mining themselves or to use their control over access to extort entry fees or confiscate the miners’ work product, often physically abusing them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, artisanal miners, September 2019.Hide Footnote

There are some possible structural explanations for these recurrent phenomena. High among them is that there are no artisanal mining zones within 50km of the TFM site. Those that once existed have been placed under industrial licences or are now owned privately by politically well-connected individuals.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, artisanal miners, community leaders, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, 14-19 September 2019.Hide Footnote  The authorities appear to understand that this lack of alternative mining sites contributes to frustration. After protests demanding the establishment of new artisanal mining zones, provincial authorities in Lualaba promised in September 2019 to establish three such zones, but no location has yet been disclosed.[fn]Richard Muyej, “Mot de son Excellence Monsieur Le Gouverneur à l’occasion du lancement du Projet social Cobalt pour le Développement”, Cabinet du Gouverneur, September 2019.Hide Footnote  Given how much land is covered by industrial licences in Lualaba, creating such zones would likely require a licence-holder voluntarily to relinquish rights over an industrial production or exploration site (see Appendix B). Even that might not solve the problem. Artisanal miners at TFM worry that such sites might not have enough ore underground to provide them livelihoods, and in any case they cannot afford the up-front costs of groundworks to prepare a new site for mining.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, artisanal miners, September 2019.Hide Footnote

It might help if industrial mining companies were to chip in.

It might help if industrial mining companies were to chip in. Sicomines, a consortium of several China-registered mining companies including TFM’s CMOC, separately claims to have earmarked $2.5 million for the formation of new artisanal mining zones, which could cover the costs of groundworks.[fn]Muyej, “Mot de son Excellence Monsieur Le Gouverneur à l’occasion du lancement du Projet social Cobalt pour le Développement”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Up to this point, however, traditional authorities and area residents complain that CMOC has done precious little to contribute to local development, which further contributes to tensions surrounding TFM. Chiefs from villages around TFM mention that CMOC hires little local labour and that it terminated one of the few contracts that put money into the area’s economy (a contract to purchase food locally) when it acquired a stake in TFM.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society and church representatives, Lubumbashi, Luiswishi and Kipushi, July 2019; Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The villages have also had disputes with CMOC regarding TFM’s social fund. Ostensibly dedicated to local development efforts, it should, according to the 2018 mining code, be financed by the venture through an 0.3 per cent contribution of its revenue. In the past, funds provided by the company have been used to build a school and dig water wells, but village chiefs reported that money is no longer being disbursed.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local chiefs, September 2019. The company did not respond to Crisis Group requests for comment.Hide Footnote

Tensions relating to the social fund and other disputes between local residents and TFM are further aggravated by the absence of contact between the mining company and the population. The site does not have a community outreach office and chiefs claim to have no means of getting in touch with CMOC.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local chiefs, September 2019. A Crisis Group analyst attempted to get access to a community outreach office at the site, but was told there was none.Hide Footnote

Residents also suggest that local politicians and businessmen with personal interests in artisanal mining may contribute to the level of unrest at TFM. As described in a 2019 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) working paper, politically connected persons are closely involved in the artisanal mining sector throughout Haut-Katanga and Lualaba. According to the paper, these individuals sometimes control both buying houses for artisanal minerals and the “cooperatives” that are supposed to help the miners organise and work together.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Sometimes, the interests of local figures lead them to exploit volatile situations for personal gain.

Much as politicians in Kinshasa vie for control over industrial mining activities because of the economic and political stakes, local figures around TFM do the same with respect to artisanal mining. Sometimes, their interests lead them to exploit volatile situations for personal gain. For example, after the artisanal miners were expelled from the TFM commercial sites, some relocated to alternative sites controlled by a well-connected individual who demanded they give him a share of production and sell exclusively to one buyer.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, artisanal miners, community leaders, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, 14-19 September 2019.Hide Footnote  Some artisanal miners also report that a local politician encouraged them to enter a commercial site, using force if necessary.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, artisanal miners, community leaders, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, 14-19 September 2019.Hide Footnote  Yet, although this politician urged what could have been a violent encounter, he and others have cited unrest at TFM in attacking their political rivals and advancing public narratives that Kasaian “immigrants” are exclusively responsible for any nuisance caused by artisanal miners.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, artisanal miners, community leaders, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, 14-19 September 2019.Hide Footnote  Without a formal artisanal mining zone, artisanal miners are vulnerable to exploitation by powerful actors, who create instability when it benefits their political or economic agenda.

Finally, TFM’s sheer size may have contributed to the tensions that the region has seen. Elsewhere in the DRC’s mining heartland, many people – particularly native residents – rely on farming for sustenance at least part of the year. Because TFM is so big, however, it holds the prospect of year-round livelihoods for a large number of artisanal miners. Thus, it has drawn a substantial cohort that need not rely at all on agriculture to sustain itself. It seems likely that this group is particularly motivated to maintain continuous access to the mines for economic reasons. This cohort of full-time miners may be emboldened by its numbers – and perhaps by the presence of demobilised combatants in its midst – to continue doing so even at the risk of violent confrontation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, Lualaba and Fungurume; mineral buyers and artisanal miners, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote

B. Luiswishi Mine

Although lack of artisanal mining zones and resulting competition between industrial and artisanal miners is a common feature across Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, the Luiswishi and Kipushi mining sites illustrate that these tensions need not inevitably lead to violence.

Luiswishi is a medium-sized open pit mine close to Haut-Katanga’s capital of Lubumbashi. The company operating it is wholly owned by a Chinese mining company, Congo Dongfang International Mining, which acquired it in 2015.[fn]This company is a subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt.Hide Footnote  Prior to the acquisition, a Belgian company – the Forrest Group – owned a controlling stake.

Historically, Luiswishi had been the site of violent confrontation between industrial and artisanal miners. Amnesty International detailed how, in 2009, in response to a large influx of artisanal miners onto the Luiswishi mining site, the Forrest Group requested assistance from state security forces.[fn]“Bulldozed: How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, Amnesty International, 24 November 2014.Hide Footnote  Members of the mining police, local police and armed forces demolished hundreds of dwellings inhabited by artisanal miners. Similar to what happened at TFM, miners’ dwellings, as well as houses from non-mining nearby residents, were destroyed.[fn]Ibid. The Forrest Group has stated that only temporary structures belonging to artisanal miners were destroyed, that it believes those demolitions were legal, and that it was not responsible for the demolition of homes in Kawama. Amnesty judges these statements to be untrue. See also Ross, “Send in the troops”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Since the 2009 demolitions, however, no further violence has been reported in Luiswishi. There appear to be a number of contributing factors. Chief among them is that mineral deposits at Luiswishi are simultaneously less attractive and more accessible to artisanal miners. They are less attractive because the ore at Luiswishi is somewhat radioactive, leading to increasing health concerns on the miners’ part, although people engage in artisanal mining during the agricultural off-season nevertheless.[fn]Radiation levels at the Luiswishi mine”, Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa cable, 11 July 2007, as made public by WikiLeaks (07KINSHASA796_a).Hide Footnote  They are more accessible because since 2009, miners have been able to exploit at least some low-grade mineral deposits and “slag heaps” (ie, leftover material from past smelting that still contains mineral content) for ore. After the 2009 violence and prior to the mine changing hands in 2015, the then-owner appears to have informally permitted some extraction from low-grade deposits on the mining site.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local village chief, Luiswishi, 16 July 2019.Hide Footnote  Although the current owner does not allow it, there are still some off-site slag heaps and low-grade deposits where artisanal miners can prospect.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local chief, Luiswishi, 16 July 2019; local civil society representative, Lubumbashi, 11 July 2019.Hide Footnote

The profile of the artisanal miners at Luiswishi also differs from that at TFM. Artisanal mining around Luiswishi is a seasonal activity that occurs during the agricultural off-season, and miners are only partially reliant on it for their livelihoods.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local civil society representative, Lubumbashi, 11 July 2019.Hide Footnote  Also, unlike at TFM, Crisis Group research uncovered no evidence of presence of demobilised combatants among artisanal miners, nor evidence of manipulation of artisanal miners by local power holders.

Circumstances facing artisanal miners at Luiswishi overlap with those at TFM in certain key respects, all of which create friction (if not violence) within the community.

That said, circumstances facing artisanal miners at Luiswishi overlap with those at TFM in certain key respects, all of which create friction (if not violence) within the community. There are virtually no viable artisanal mining zones in the region, Haut-Katanga, given the breadth of licencing for industrial concerns (see Appendix B). Nor would many miners be willing to risk their livelihoods by moving to a new site should one appear, especially if it lacked the groundworks and proven reserves.[fn]“L’envahissement des sites miniers des industriels et la problématique de leur sécurisation”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Moreover, as in the case of TFM, inhabitants of villages close to Luiswishi mine resent the lack of benefits flowing to them. They complain that the operating company hires scarcely any labour locally (except for occasional, low-paid day labourers), that it is incommunicative and that it is not investing (to the best of their knowledge) in local villages.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local village chief, local leader, Luiswishi, 16 July 2019.Hide Footnote  Residents also protest diminished access to agricultural land, and damage to buildings caused by the use of explosives.[fn]Crisis Group interview, local village chief, Luiswishi, 16 July 2019.Hide Footnote

The Luiswishi mine illustrates that locals’ grievances do not inevitably lead to violence. What distinguishes Luiswishi from TFM is the combination of better access to livelihood opportunities for artisanal miners, in the form of access to slag heaps and low-grade deposits, and the lower demand for access, both because Luiswishi is smaller and its deposits less attractive to artisanal miners and because artisanal mining at Luiswishi is a part-time activity.

C. Kipushi Mine

The Kipushi mine shares certain characteristics with both TFM and Luiswishi. These include a dearth of artisanal mining zones in its surroundings and frustrations among inhabitants of nearby villages about the environmental consequences of mining. Like elsewhere in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, the mining industry around Kipushi has over time also attracted numerous migrants from other regions of the DRC. Many have come from the Kasai region. As early as the 1950s, the majority of the population in the Kipushi region was born elsewhere.[fn]Jean Omasombo Tshonda (ed.), Haut-Katanga: Lorsque richesses économiques et pouvoirs politiques forcent une identité régionale – Tome 2: bassin du cuivre: matrice et horizon, 2018, pp. 16, 21.Hide Footnote

Yet the mine has no history of violence. There are several possible explanations. Large portions of Kipushi’s mineral deposits can only be mined by industrial means, limiting the scope for competition between industrial and artisanal miners. At the same time, artisanal miners enjoy better access to the small share of deposits they can mine due to company practices. Furthermore, the Kipushi mine’s operator contributes more to alternative livelihood opportunities for the local population.[fn]Crisis Group interview, company representative, Kipushi, 19 July 2019. Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, Kipushi, 18 July 2019.Hide Footnote

Several distinct mining-related activities take place on or near the Kipushi site. Its largest operation is an underground mine, a joint venture between Gécamines and a Canadian mining company, Ivanhoe, which acquired a majority stake in 2011.[fn]“Kipushi Zn-Cu Project: Preliminary Economic Assessment”, Ivanhoe Mines, May 2016.Hide Footnote  This mine has a long history, having operated under state ownership in colonial times. As for other mining-related activities, Gécamines operates an ore concentrator at Kipushi, which processes ore mined at a separate nearby site. In addition, a third company operates near the site to reprocess copper-cobalt slag.

Kipushi’s underground resources are not physically accessible to artisanal miners, limiting the potential for direct confrontation.

Kipushi’s underground resources are not physically accessible to artisanal miners, limiting the potential for direct confrontation. At the same time, artisanal miners have better access to those surface deposits that they could feasibly mine. Artisanal miners can exploit slag heaps in the vicinity, and various site operators tolerate artisanal mining of low-grade deposits near the site. These deposits are mainly a source of livelihood for artisanal miners during the agricultural off-season; as a result, artisanal miners’ demands for access are less constant, for example, than those of their counterparts at TFM.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, Kipushi, 18 July 2019.Hide Footnote

Ivanhoe has also invested in livelihood projects and community outreach. Projects promoting alternative livelihoods include a textiles workshop for women, which also produces garments purchased by the company, and programs to increase the area’s agricultural productivity.[fn]Crisis Group interview, company representative, Kipushi, 19 July 2019.Hide Footnote  The company also runs a community outreach office that the local population can contact to raise concerns. Inhabitants of the area near Kipushi seem pleased with the community outreach office and the access to Ivanhoe that it affords them, although they consider the livelihood projects to be largely symbolic.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, Kipushi, 18 July 2019.Hide Footnote  Ivanhoe’s production operations have yet to start, and there is hope among the local population that jobs will follow once it does.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, Kipushi, 18 July 2019.Hide Footnote  The number of new jobs could be disappointing, however, as underground mining operations in Kipushi are not labour-intensive and require skills that most local miners lack.

The population around Kipushi harbours noticeable frustrations with industrial mining, particularly regarding its environmental and health consequences.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society and church representatives, Lubumbashi, Luiswishi and Kipushi, July 2019; Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, July 2019.Hide Footnote  Past Gécamines mining practices in Kipushi, and the concentrator it still operates at the site, are responsible for polluting a water body that runs through a heavily populated area.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local civil society representatives, Kipushi, 18 July 2019.Hide Footnote  To date, however, these frustrations have not led to violence.

V. Dynamics Sparking Conflict

At each of the three mining sites discussed above, the lack of artisanal mining zones in the region puts artisanal miners in direct competition with industrial miners. The sites also resemble each other in that local chiefs and populations are frustrated with the fact that industrial mining companies have contributed little to local development. At each site, addressing these frustrations is very important, as they fuel near-constant tensions between industrial mining companies, on one hand, and artisanal miners and inhabitants of nearby villages, on the other. That said, these sites have not had the same experience with tensions boiling over into violence. There appear to be important differences that have both made TFM more prone to violence and, at certain moments, pushed it over the brink.

A. Denial of Access to Attractive Deposits

As noted above, a significant difference between TFM, where tensions recently triggered large-scale violence, and Kipushi and Luiswishi, is that deposits at TFM are simultaneously more attractive and less accessible to artisanal miners.

The operating company at the TFM site, CMOC, leaves on its site exposed veins with lower-grade ore deposits that are attractive to artisanal miners. The company has no apparent intention to exploit these veins, but does not allow artisanal miners access to them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and Fungurume, July and September 2019. The company did not respond to Crisis Group requests for comment.Hide Footnote  Artisanal miners thus have an incentive to encroach on the mining site – either to exploit the deposits themselves or to steal minerals already extracted by the company – setting the stage for the kind of confrontations that occurred in June-July 2019.

Residents have made clear their frustrations with the company’s approach.

Residents have made clear their frustrations with the company’s approach. Over the past years, artisanal miners and other locals have staged repeated, sometimes violent, demonstrations demanding that CMOC give them access to areas with low-grade deposits, without success. The company similarly has rebuffed requests to allow artisanal mining at slag heaps, likely because such access would prompt more theft of company-mined minerals.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, Lualaba and Fungurume; mineral buyers and artisanal miners, Kolwezi, Tenke and Fungurume, September 2019.Hide Footnote

By contrast, at Kipushi and Luiswishi, the two mines experiencing lower levels of violence, deposits are less attractive to miners because they are underground or (in the Luiswishi case) potentially somewhat radioactive, although the possible danger has not completely deterred artisanal mining. Simultaneously, miners at both sites have access to slag heaps and low-grade deposits.

The notion that the attractiveness of mineral deposits to artisanal miners affects risks of violence around mining sites finds partial support when one compares the incidence of violence around regional mines containing both cobalt and copper, on one hand, to that occurring around mines where copper alone is present, on the other.[fn]This comparison speaks to the attractiveness of deposits, although not to artisanal miners’ (lack of) access to them, which is harder to measure.Hide Footnote  Although a handful of these mines facilitate semi-formal access for artisanal miners to part of the site, the industrial mining companies’ standard position is to refuse cooperation with artisanal miners.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

While artisanal miners are interested in both copper and cobalt, cobalt is a bigger draw because of its higher value-to-weight ratio and because efficient copper mining requires large-scale operations.[fn]“Summary of Key Trafficking in Persons Risk Factors in Copper Production”, Verité, n.d.Hide Footnote  Consistent with the theory that economically attractive deposits to which artisanal miners are categorically denied access can drive up tensions, dozens of violent incidents have taken place yearly over the past decade within a 5km radius of mines containing cobalt and copper, and many fewer around mines containing only copper (see Appendix E).

B. Capacity for Manipulation

Another key difference between TFM and the other two mines is that at TFM, some local businessmen and politicians acting out of personal interests appear to be encouraging artisanal miners to behave in ways that could lead to confrontation or violence, and to be scapegoating the Kasaian immigrants among the miners in ways that could contribute to unrest.

As artisanal miners lack legal protections or access to the state’s pledged specialised mining zones, they are particularly vulnerable to manipulation by power holders who see financial and political benefits to generating local conflict.

As noted above, economic interests in controlling local artisanal mining activities can be substantial and, when combined with pre-existing political rivalries, can create perverse incentives to exploit the volatile situations at industrial sites to generate profits and sow discord. As artisanal miners lack legal protections or access to the state’s pledged specialised mining zones, they are particularly vulnerable to manipulation by power holders who see financial and political benefits to generating local conflict. In TFM’s case, while underlying social tensions and the site’s economic scale contribute to a fragile situation, the opportunity for power holders to personally benefit by using their influence to generate instability seems to have contributed to increasing volatility that culminated in a significant military intervention.

Crisis Group research uncovered no similar recent examples of manipulation by local politicians at Kipushi and Luiswishi mines. Mineral deposits at these mines are less attractive to artisanal miners, and artisanal mining is a part-time activity, so potential rewards for such activities would be lower there.

VI. Opportunities for De-escalation

Tensions created by the encroachment of artisanal miners on industrial mining sites in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba could continue to prompt violence and even threaten provincial stability. President Tshisekedi, private-sector actors and civil society should have a mutual interest in de-escalating these tensions.

A. A Political Push by President Tshisekedi

Tshisekedi could use his political clout to steer the government toward carrying out the law for the benefit of the nation’s two million artisanal miners.

Tshisekedi has been torn between the need, on one hand, to make good on his political commitment to spread the benefits of mining to a wider group of Congolese citizens, particularly as the 2023 elections draw closer, and, on the other, to maintain the strained political coalition on which his government is based – even though his coalition partners have impeded his efforts to gain control over the mining sector.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interviews, Congolese politicians, diplomats and UN staff, April and May 2020. See also Elliott O’Carroll, “DRC: marriages of convenience rarely last a lifetime”, Africa Practice, 24 February 2020; and “RDC: ce que Joseph Kabila et Félix Tshisekedi se sont dit”, Jeune Afrique, 23 April 2020.Hide Footnote  This lack of progress presents a particularly worrying prospect for Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces, where protesters blame poor living conditions on migrant Kasai workers, feeding ethnic tensions.[fn]“Insécurité à Lubumbashi: des jeunes s’en prennent aux ‘Kasaïens’”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Still, even though Minister of Mines Willy Kitobo Samsoni, a Kabila ally, has legal responsibility for implementing the mining code, Tshisekedi could use his political clout to steer the government toward carrying out the law for the benefit of the nation’s two million artisanal miners.

First, the government could push for enforcement of the code’s requirement that industrial mining companies contribute 0.3 percent of revenue to local development funds – a step that might help address communities’ frustration with companies’ lack of investment in local development to date. Although his allies do not control the ministry of mines, Tshisekedi could insist that the ministry formally investigate companies for failing to meet their social obligations. Public pressure of this nature may help create higher expectations for enforcement by the ministry and could also be a vehicle for naming and shaming companies that have thus far fallen short of compliance.[fn]Under the 2018 mining code, such an investigation is conducted by the Congolese Environmental Agency (Agence Congolaise de l’Environnement) in consultation with the local communities concerned. As such an investigation need not involve the prime minister, minister of mines or Gécamines, Tshisekedi would be less hampered in triggering such an investigation than he might otherwise be.Hide Footnote

As for helping secure better livelihoods for artisanal miners, the government should focus on its promise to establish new zones reserved for artisanal mining, protecting these areas from being closed and subsequently covered by commercial licences.

Here again, Tshisekedi needs cooperation from the minister of mines, but he could enlist the support of provincial governors and authorities at the head of decentralised territorial entities. Because the mining code contemplates that these figures will all be involved in the creation of artisanal zones, they have a ready-made springboard for lobbying the ministry of mines. They may also have the motivation to do so, as several (including, as noted, the provincial authorities in Lualaba) have already promised artisanal miners the creation of more such zones.

Although the space for new artisanal mining zones is arguably limited, given the density of industrial licences, the government can create them out of areas covered by a Gécamines or state-held exploration permit, or an industrial mining company can voluntarily relinquish a portion of its licence not viable for industrial operations. The key will be to identify zones that have sufficient ore deposits and to raise the up-front investment, perhaps working with private-sector consortia like Sicomines that have pledged to help create artisanal zones, to do the necessary groundworks by clearing overgrowth and topsoil and making the zone suitable for mining.[fn]Muyej, “Mot de son Excellence Monsieur Le Gouverneur à l’occasion du lancement du Projet social Cobalt pour le Développement”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Once established, such mining zones should be protected from conversion into industrial mining licences. Closing an artisanal mining zone happens largely at the ministry of mines’ discretion, and Tshisekedi can again mobilise artisanal miners’ political allies against such action.

It is crucial that Tshisekedi and his government simultaneously promote ways for artisanal miners to work legally on land covered by industrial licences through subcontracting.

Finally, although new artisanal mining zones could draw artisanal miners and relieve encroachment on industrial mining sites, it is unlikely that they can be created at a scale sufficient to accommodate all, or even most of, Haut-Katanga and Lualaba’s existing artisanal miners. Therefore, it is crucial that Tshisekedi and his government simultaneously promote ways for artisanal miners to work legally on land covered by industrial licences through subcontracting. Here, as discussed, the 2018 law creates an opening for artisanal cooperatives to act as subcontractors, but the recent decree establishing the Entreprise Générale du Cobalt could undercut this by requiring the cooperatives to sell to the new entity.

While it is not clear how much leverage Tshisekedi might have to change the decree (which was issued by the prime minister), he could call on the ministry of mines to issue guidance to mitigate any negative impact. Such guidance might, for example, clarify that ore sold under subcontract to a mining company is exempt from the decree’s requirements, or provide for Entreprise Générale du Cobalt to function as a middleman in the subcontracting arrangements.

To start loosening the hold politicians and politically connected businessmen have on the artisanal mining sector – particularly those who own buying houses or land suitable for mining – the Tshisekedi government should seek to ensure that partners to such subcontracting arrangements are genuine cooperatives that will act on the miners’ behalf. Through the yet-to-be-established watchdog ARECOMS, the government should seek to ensure that these cooperatives are owned by artisanal miners, and not part of networks of politicians and businessmen that may exploit artisanal miners.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

With neither ARECOMS nor Entreprise Générale du Cobalt yet stood up, Tshisekedi ought to do what he can to ensure that they are led by individuals seeking to advance the interests of artisanal miners and, more broadly, the Congolese people. To that end, he should work on ensuring their boards include individuals with technical expertise in the mining sector and who are committed to advancing the interests of artisanal miners. If Tshisekedi’s experience in trying to appoint new members of Gécamines’ senior leadership serves as precedent, achieving such appointments will involve substantial political arm wrestling with Kabila’s coalition.[fn]Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, “RCD: pourquoi les nominations à la tête de la Gécamines et de la SNCC sont toujours bloquées”, Jeune Afrique, 17 June 2019; Tshiamala, “Albert Yuma, pris entre deux feux”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Because these organisations are new, however, there are somewhat fewer vested interests to contend with and Tshisekedi might be more successful. He also should commit to making these organisations subject to regular audits and publicising their decisions.

B. Cooperation between Industrial and Artisanal Miners

The private sector can and should help DRC authorities meet the challenges related to artisanal mining.

The private sector can and should help DRC authorities meet the challenges related to artisanal mining. As noted, for industrial mining companies, encroachment by artisanal miners can be costly and difficult to prevent. Large open-pit operations, which contain huge mineral deposits, are highly attractive to artisanal miners, invite profiteering by local power holders and are at particular risk. As the TFM case study demonstrates, private security forces can prove insufficient to guard big open-pit mines, and when the army is called in, it may continue to allow artisanal miners access in exchange for payment. The unregulated presence of artisanal miners on industrial sites exposes companies throughout the supply chain to reputational risks. In 2019, for example, an accident killed 43 artisanal miners – reportedly including children – who were encroaching on a Congolese industrial site.[fn]“Death toll at DRC mine rises to 43”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  On behalf of victims’ families, a human rights organisation filed a high-profile lawsuit against two mining companies and several tech giants that allegedly used minerals from these sites in their supply chain.[fn]“Top tech firms sued over DRC cobalt mining deaths”, BBC, 16 December 2019.Hide Footnote

To regularise arrangements with artisanal miners – reducing the risk of both violence and terrible accidents like the 2019 incident – mining companies should take advantage of the 2018 mining code to contract with artisanal miner cooperatives to exploit deposits that they themselves cannot profitably mine, including both low-grade deposits and slag heaps. Such access should be conditional on artisanal miners upholding basic safety rules, environmental guidelines and child labour standards. Furthermore, companies should ensure that the cooperatives they subcontract to are acting in the interest of the constituent artisanal miners, not a local power holder.

There are precedents for such arrangements in the DRC. Indeed, there are five instances of an industrial mining company contracting an artisanal mining cooperative to work on land licensed to it in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba. An OECD paper reports that such arrangements generally lead to more oversight over miners’ working conditions, health and safety.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Whether they deliver better livelihoods to artisanal miners appears to depend on the cooperative representing the artisanal miners. Some seem genuinely to represent the miners’ interests, whereas others seem to be vehicles for the cooperatives’ leaders and organisers to extract irregular payments from the membership.[fn]“Interconnected Supply Chains”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  The Mongbwalu Gold Mine in Ituri province has set a good example. It allows partnered artisanal miners’ cooperatives access to low-grade deposits on its site, monitors them and buys their product at higher prices than the buying houses.[fn]“Congo gold mine innovates to solve illegal mining dilemma”, Reuters, 16 December 2016.Hide Footnote

Subcontracting to artisanal miners would come with some costs to industrial mining companies, as they would need to undertake due diligence to ensure that artisanal miners meet the minimum standards described above. Such arrangements may also invite additional scrutiny from mining industry watchdogs. Still, mining companies should weigh these costs against the risks presented by the status quo – including operations disrupted due to flaring violence, production losses and reputational risks that come with continued artisanal encroachment or large-scale expulsion of artisanal miners.

For similar reasons, industrial mining companies should contribute to the establishment of new artisanal mining zones. Companies could relinquish sections of areas for which they hold a licence but that cannot be viably mined for commercial purposes, or donate funds toward clearance of overgrowth and topsoil needed in new artisanal mining zones.

C. Revisiting Best Practices

Organisations setting and monitoring standards for mining companies, such as the OECD (which issues a publication called “Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas”) should revisit their guidance relating to cooperation between industrial and artisanal miners. Currently, these guidelines mainly present the downsides of mining company collaboration with artisanal miners, informed primarily by the legitimate concern that artisanal mining can fund armed groups.[fn]Fidel Bafilemba and Sasha Lezhnev, “Congo’s Conflict Gold: Bringing Gold into the Legal Trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, The Enough Project, April 2015.Hide Footnote  Although expert thinking has since widened to acknowledge the contribution of artisanal mining to livelihoods, watchdog groups still tend to highlight the importance of scrutiny or risk mitigation relating to potential armed group ties when advising investors in, and customers of, industrial mining companies.[fn]Reports such as “Mining Together: Large-Scale Mining Meets Artisanal Mining”, World Bank, March 2019, have helped move thinking forward, along with work by projects such as the Delve database. See “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: Third Edition”, OECD, 2016, pp. 20 and 22 for more on reasons for scrutiny of artisanal mining.Hide Footnote

Such cautions feature in corporate decision-making and in mining companies’ assessment of reputational risks. They may dissuade mining companies that want to be seen as exercising corporate social responsibility from entering into formal cooperation with artisanal miners.[fn]Experts on mining in the DRC highlight reputational risk as an important barrier to formalising cooperation between industrial and artisanal miners. Crisis Group interview, DRC mining expert, 21 January 2020.Hide Footnote  These concerns should therefore be balanced by guidance that recognises the importance of artisanal mining to local employment and development. In addition to the emphasis on due diligence, guidelines should name cooperation between artisanal and industrial miners as a best practice and a conflict mitigation strategy when conducted in accordance with the safeguards described above.[fn]As an example, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance referenced above does not mention such cooperation in the main document, merely in an appendix.Hide Footnote

VII. Conclusion

President Félix Tshisekedi, mining companies and civil society should work together to decrease tensions between industrial and artisanal miners in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga. Steps they could take include promoting creation of new artisanal zones with functional groundworks on viable land, and ensuring that miners have access to at least some low-yield deposits on company-owned land. They also include increasing private-sector compliance with the mining code’s new revenue contribution requirement so that artisanal miners and their families and neighbours can share more of the benefits of industrial mining. Removing obstacles impeding mining companies from entering contracts that could provide artisanal miners with both a source of work and a fair price for their work product also makes sense. Absent such steps, tensions will almost surely continue unabated, to the detriment of the miners, Tshisekedi’s agenda and the fragile stability of the DRC’s mining heartland.

Lubumbashi/Nairobi/New York/Brussels, 30 June 2020

Appendix A: World Cobalt and Copper Production and Reserves

1. Cobalt production in metric tonnes, 2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data source: USGS.
2. Cobalt reserves in metric tonnes, 2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data source: USGS.
3. Copper production in metric tonnes, 2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data source: USGS.
4. Copper reserves in metric tonnes, 2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data source: USGS.

Appendix B: Industrial Mining Sites and Violence in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga

1. Location of Lualaba and Haut-Katanga provinces Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, Ministry of Mines, CAMI, Natural Earth, ACLED, UCDP.
2. Industrial mining sites by type of commodity Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, Ministry of Mines, CAMI, Natural Earth, ACLED, UCDP.
3. Protests and violent events 1989-2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, Ministry of Mines, CAMI, Natural Earth, ACLED, UCDP.

This graph portrays protests and violent events as defined by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). ACLED defines event types as follows. “State vs. non-state conflict” is a battle between two armed groups, one of which is associated with the govern-ment (ie, classified by ACLED as “Military Forces of DRC”, “Police Forces of DRC” or “Government of DRC”) and one of which is not. “Government (or non-state) violence against civil-ians” is an instance of use of force against those unarmed and not engaged in political vio-lence by an armed group associated (or not) with the government. “Protests” are non-violent group public demonstrations. “State (or non-state) violence against unknown” is an instance of use of force by an armed group associated (or not) with the government against an un-known actor.

Protests and violent events 1989-2018 Crisis Group / JL-C / KO / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, Ministry of Mines, CAMI, Natural Earth, ACLED, UCDP.

Appendix C: Case Study of Mining Sites

Crisis Group / JL-C / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, CAMI, Natural Earth, WFP, OECD.

Appendix D: Industrial and Artisanal Mining in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga

1. Industrial mining sites Crisis Group / JL-C. Data source: S&P, IPIS, Natural Earth.
2. Artisanal mining sites Crisis Group / JL-C. Data source: S&P, IPIS, Natural Earth.

Appendix E: Protests and Violent Events around Copper Mines and Copper-Cobalt Mines

These graphs portray protests and violent events as defined by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). ACLED defines “Protests” as non-violent group public demonstrations. “Govern- ment violence against civilians” is an instance of force against those unarmed and not engaged in political violence by an actor that ACLED classifies as “Military Forces of DRC”, “Police Forces of DRC” or “Gov- ernment of DRC”.

1. Protests and violent events near copper-cobalt mines by type Crisis Group / JL-C / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, ACLED, UCDP.
2. Protests and violent events near copper mines by type Crisis Group / JL-C / CB-G. Data sources: S&P, ACLED, UCDP.

Appendix F: Copper and Cobalt – World Price and DRC Exports

1. World price (1990 = 100) Crisis Group / JL-C / CB-G. Data sources: IMF, DRC Ministry of Mines, DRC Central Bank
2. DRC exports: percentage share of total, 2016 Crisis Group / JL-C / CB-G. Data sources: IMF, DRC Ministry of Mines, DRC Central Bank