Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Monday, September 13, 2010

The mineral export ban: What gives?

President Kabila announced the suspension of mineral exports from the eastern Congo last week, although soon afterward the mining ministry said that the measure would not concern the stockpile of minerals that trading houses had already purchased and were waiting to export.

The decision came after Kabila met with Kagame repeatedly in Kigali and after Rwanda said it would implement a tin tracking project of its own with ITRI, the tin industry body that is beginning a small certification project in the Congo. The decision was supported by the largest Malaysian Smelting Corp, the largest buyer of Congolese tin, as well as by ITRI.

This raises numerous questions:

1. The motive: Sources within the Congolese army and the mines ministry say that the decision is linked to a military offensive that the army is planning in Walikale to secure key mining areas. That alone, however, doesn't seem to be sufficient - the Congolese army has carried out many offensives in the past (Kimia I & II, Umoja Wetu) without banning minerals. It is more likely that both the offensive as well as the ban are intended to reconfigure the mineral trade in the Kivus. How it is to be reconfigured is another question.

Does the government intend to completely sanitize the sector before allowing tin exports to start up again? That would require clamping down on major mafia networks within the Congolese army and administration, instoring discipline in the security forces as well as pushing rebel groups out of mining areas. In other words, it would take months if not years. In connection with this, some analysts have suggested that Kabila may be talking with outside investors who are willing to engage in industrial exploitation of the mines, which would allow Kinshasa to benefit more directly, instead of allowing local mafia networks to flourish.

Others have speculated that there has been feuding within the Congolese government and the restructuring will just displace one patronage network in favor of another. For example, General Gabriel Amisi, the commander of the land forces, is irked that his allies in the field - Col Etienne Bindu, Col Samy and some even say Col Cheka - have been pushed out of the most lucrative mining areas by ex-CNDP commanders. Others point to the fact that Col Innocent Kaina (ex-CNDP) has recently stopped all exploitation in the Bisie mine and tightened control over the area. Will he re-start trade with new traders?

2. The consequences: Already, the price of cassiterite (tin) has reportedly dropped from $4,5/kg to $1/kg in the Bisie mine over the weekend. Mining sources are worried that the embargo could spark riots or general lawlessness in the areas around the mines. It is also likely that the embargo will encourage massive smuggling, which is often facilitated by military officers in Goma, Bukavu and across Lake Kivu. Of course, the ban will also diminish the profits of armed groups in the mineral trade, which, if managed correctly, could lead to increase rates of demobilization. You will notice however, that some commanders could make more money through smuggling while other stand to lose quite a bit.

A suivre.


Rich said...

Hey Jason,

It is clear now that the FRDC are readying themselves to launch anti-rebels operations, particularly, in the Walikale territory. It is said that the FARDC CEMG, Gen Didier Etumba, will be on the ground pretty soon to oversee the start of the operation.

The operation is said to last one to two months. Today, Colonel Bobo Kakudji confirmed this information to the press.

Although I can register the good intentions of this particular operation, I struggle to capture the wisdom behind the Congolese army’s need to publicise such a crucial operation before it has even get the troops on the ground, let alone the logistic to go with.

Obviously, the anticipated effect of such publicity will be to warn the so called rebels so that they can return their most reliable weaponries into the hiding, mix with the locals and wait for the end of the operation before starting again with their tragic enterprise of violating and killing vulnerable Congolese.

If the army is serious about its need to bring an end to the lawlessness in the Walikale territory, it must proceed through discreet, precise and decisive military actions; gattering better intelligence and communicating adequately with the command centre to target leaders of the armed gangs before it starts disarming the rest of the delinquents involved with those masochists armed groups.

With Rwanda put at bay by some of its supporters, a well planned, well resourced and well coordinated mainly DRC military and police raid can get Walikale rid of its insecurity in less than a week. But to do that, there must be a sincere political resolve from both the locals and Kinshasa.

A suivre...

Jason Stearns said...

Merci, Rich.

Unknown said...

Hi Jason, I was wondering where you got the price at the Bisie mine, is it reported somewhere?

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