Widespread fraud and abuse in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines

The copper and cobalt mining industry in Katanga, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), continues to be plagued by fraud, abuse and political interference, Global Witness said in a new report released today.

“In the run-up to elections, politicians and companies have been scrambling to get their hands on ever-greater shares of the lucrative mineral trade, with little or no regard for the welfare of the Congolese population,” said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness. “The plunder of the DRC’s natural resources continues to undermine the country’s opportunities for peace, stability and development.”

The new report by Global Witness, entitled “Digging in Corruption: Fraud, abuse and exploitation in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines”, is based on field investigations in Katanga and neighbouring Zambia in 2005 and 2006. It documents corruption, extortion and illicit exports in the informal (artisanal) mining sector in Katanga, and the ruthless exploitation of artisanal miners by the government and trading companies.

Global Witness’s research confirmed entrenched patterns of illicit exports of minerals across the DRC-Zambia border, with government and security officials either turning a blind eye to false or inaccurate export certificates, or actively colluding with trading companies to circumvent control procedures. Large quantities of minerals are leaving the country undeclared, representing a huge loss for the Congolese economy – but a vast gain for a small number of powerful actors. The big influx of foreign companies pouring into Katanga since 2004 has presented yet more opportunities for the political elite to enrich itself.

The report describes how government and security officials are taking a cut at every stage of the process, systematically extorting payments from artisanal miners – who typically earn no more than US $ 2 or 3 a day – as well as from middlemen known as négociants, transporters and other actors in the mining sector.

Global Witness also documented the harsh labour conditions in the artisanal mines, the complete absence of safety precautions and the failure of both the government and companies to take responsibility for the health and safety of tens of thousands of artisanal miners.

“Scores of miners have died in 2005 alone, mostly when trapped under collapsing mineshafts,” said Patrick Alley. “No one is investigating these deaths or taking action to prevent further accidents. The government seems indifferent to their plight and trading companies are happy to continue buying products mined in these conditions in the full knowledge that miners are risking their lives every day.”

Corruption is also rife in the industrial mining sector in Katanga. The report highlights interference by political actors based in the capital Kinshasa, particularly in the negotiation of mining contracts. Several large contracts have been rushed through in 2005, signed by an unelected transitional government which has itself been responsible for large-scale looting of natural resources. The terms of many of these contracts provide for a disproportionately large share of the profits for foreign or multinational companies, leaving a negligible amount for the state mining company Gécamines.

Resentment is growing among the population of Katanga as they see vast profits flowing out of the country with no change in their own economic situation. An artisanal miner in Katanga told Global Witness: “We know that the Congo is rich. But despite this, we don’t even have enough to eat. Only one category of people profits.”

Historic elections scheduled for 30 July 2006 could provide a unique opportunity for fundamental reform. Global Witness’s report contains recommendations for priority actions by the new government, by companies and by international donors. These measures could have long-lasting effects for the development of Katanga province – and for the country as a whole – if they are embarked upon without delay. They include:

- measures to eradicate corruption
- strengthening of export controls
- improvements in labour conditions in the artisanal mines
- greater transparency and fairness in mining contracts

Global Witness’s full report, “Digging in corruption: Fraud, abuse and exploitation in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines”, will be available at http://www.globalwitness.org/reports/index.php?section=drc from 5 July 2006.

For further information, please contact:

Carina Tertsakian: +243 81 279 4687 or +44 207 561 6372
Patrick Alley: +44 7921 788897


Global Witness is an independent non-governmental organisation which investigates and campaigns on the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict and corruption.

Global Witness’s reports on the DRC and other countries can be found at www.globalwitness.org