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DR CONGO: Dirt Poor Above Ground, Precious Metals Below

Tito Drago

MADRID, Apr 9 2007 (IPS) - A coalition of non-governmental organisations from Europe, Africa and the United States launched an international appeal for the exploitation of mineral wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to yield a fair share of benefits for the Congolese people, and not only for the big foreign mining companies.

The campaign for “A Fair Share for Congo!” calls on the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila and its international partners to “renegotiate, revoke or cancel the contracts inherited from the war and the transition” some of which are “extremely unfavourable for the DRC” and will affect it for decades into the future, according to a press statement.

The NGOs that launched the appeal were the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO), the Study Centre for Social Action (CEPAS), and the Network of Christian Inspired Human Rights and Civic Education Organisations (RODHECIC) from the DRC; the Coalition of the Flemish North South Movement (11.11.11) and Brotherly Sharing, from Belgium; the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NiZA); Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) from the U.K.; the Bank Information Center (BIC) from the U.S.; and the international Fatal Transactions.

The NGOs said on Mar. 13 that the new Congolese government and its international partners should “clarify and revise all mining contracts inherited from the past, set up an independent mechanism to monitor the implementation of contracts, and ensure transparent and fair management of mining resources.”

The coalition calls on NGOs, civil and public institutions all over the world to sign the appeal, which will be delivered to the president of the World Bank, the government of the DRC and the partner countries of the DRC on the occasion of the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, on Apr. 14 and 15 in Washington.

Signatures in representation of groups that support this appeal can be added at Over 75 organisations have signed the appeal to date.

After 30 years of dictatorship and more than 15 years of war and transition, “the needs of the Congolese people are immense. Unless there is a fair division of the benefits from mining, the reconstruction and development of the country will be compromised,” said Pere Minani of CEPAS in Kinshasa, speaking on behalf of the Congolese organisations.

Paul Dianne, a young Senegalese who migrated to Spain five or six years ago, told IPS that he could never have imagined the magnitude of the social differences between Europe and Africa “when our countries have such great natural wealth.”

“I have never been to Congo (DRC). I am told that their natural wealth is greater than my country’s, but also that people are even poorer there… I find it very hard to imagine how that could be, because in Senegal people are very badly off, especially compared to Spain.”

The DRC, a former Belgian colony, became independent in 1960 and has suffered two internal wars since then. The more deadly took place from 1998 to 2003 and involved troops from nine countries and 20 internal armed factions. It resulted in the deaths of 3.8 million people, most of them caused by starvation and epidemics.

Violence continues today with occasional bouts of armed conflict, although at a lower level.

The DRC exports mainly to Belgium, which receives 38.2 percent of total exports, while 17.9 percent is exported to the United States.

None of the DRC’s exports go to other countries in Africa, although it imports a significant amount from the region. South African goods account for 16.5 percent of total imports, Belgium 16.1 percent, France 9.1 percent, Zambia 6.9 percent, and Kenya 5.7 percent.

The DRC possesses 30 percent of world cobalt reserves and 10 percent of all copper, as well as gold, uranium, oil, and between 40 and 50 percent of Africa’s water reserves, including the Congo River which crosses its territory and is comparable to the Amazon in South America in terms of its importance to the continent.

But per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is only 700 dollars a year, while in Belgium and the United States, which absorb most of its exports, per capita GDP is 30,600 and 40,100 dollars a year, respectively.

A group of United Nations experts reported in 2006 that seven to 10 airplanes a day fly illegally from eastern DRC across the border into Rwanda, each loaded with two tons of cassiterite, from which tin is extracted. But there is also illegal traffic in gold, diamonds, copper and cobalt.

Congolese gold is a particularly good bargain, because while the world average yield of gold per ton of earth removed is only 11 grams, in the DRC the average yield is between six and seven kilograms, and in some areas the yield is as much as 15 kilograms per ton.

Another abundant mineral in the DRC, which is estimated to possess 80 percent of world reserves, is columbite-tantalite or “coltan”, an essential constituent of mobile phones because of its lightness and high electrical conductivity.

In fact it was the attempt to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda. During the 18 months that the occupation lasted, Rwanda made a profit of 250 million dollars from sales of the mineral

There is no longer an ongoing civil war, although violent conflicts still break out sporadically in this country where 75 percent of its 60 million people live on an average of one dollar a day, 10 million people have no access to drinking water, and a similar number have no electricity.

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