By Juliet Hepker and Daniel Litvin – This article appeared in the Mining Journal publication, Mining Environmental Management
Criticisms of a new partnership between the UK government and mining firms in the Congo may be a case of NGOs barking up the wrong tree.
Criticisms have surfaced recently in the British media regarding plans by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to create a new partnership with its US counterpart USAID, the government of Katanga (the mineral-rich southern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and various mining companies to support development in Katanga. The proposed partnership commits mining companies to put more money forward, alongside USAID and DFID funds, to finance basic health and education services, improve the government of Katanga’s ability to collect mining taxes and promote transparency in the mining sector in the region.
However, some human rights groups have raised concerns over the partnership based on the fact that DFID will be working with mining companies alleged, fairy or not, to have been complicit in human rights abuses in the past. Concern has focused particularly on Anvil, an Australian mining company included in the proposed DFID partnership. The Congolese military used the company’s vehicles in an operation in Kilwa, in the Katanga province, in 2004. Anvil strongly denies any responsibility for the deaths of civilians that ensued.
Without making judgements in this case, external pressure on mining firms to uphold human rights is in general very healthy and to be encouraged. At the same time, the bigger picture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) also needs to be borne in mind: if the country is to ever overcome the resource curse, what it needs is many more public-private partnerships such as the DFID collaboration, not for these to be discouraged.
The DRC is often cited as a case study of the negative potential outcomes of dependence on resources, revenues from which until recently provided a personal treasure trove for politicians, as well as fuel and spoils for warring armies and factions responsible for horrendous human rights abuses; meanwhile the majority of the country’s people have remained desperately poor. Yet the country is now potentially at a turning point in its history: with relative peace and democracy restored, new mining legislation in place, and greater security of mining contracts following the recently published review, foreign mining investment is beginning to flood in. And importantly, research by ICMM and others has demonstrated that stronger development partnerships between companies, governments, civil society and donor agencies are precisely what is needed to ensure mining investment in such countries (that is, where governance remains weak) actually leads to economic growth and poverty reduction.
For this reason, a more appropriate focus for external scrutiny than the DFID partnership may be the DRC’s huge new mining deal with China unveiled just a few months ago. This represents a somewhat different model for state involvement in mining projects. In the $9.25 billion deal, China and the DRC have agreed a joint venture between their respective state-owned companies to supply China with copper and cobalt in exchange for the construction of roads, railways and other infrastructure. While potentially bringing vast benefits to the DRC, the deal’s relative lack of transparency and the weakness of its accountability procedures (at least compared with western donor-backed projects), raise various questions. In particular the mechanisms that will be used to ensure that the deal avoids creating further resource curse effects in DRC need to be clearly spelt out. Surely that constitutes material for an even better NGO campaign?