DRC: President Tshisekedi drives a wedge between state and foreign mining operations

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Wednesday, 8 September 2021 15:29

Congolese President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, alongside Wang Qishan, vice-president of the People's Republic of China, during the Peace Forum, in Paris’ Porte de la Villette, in November 2019. Bruno Lévy for Jeune Afrique

DRC's government under President Félix Tshisekedi intends to implement new measures to prevent foreign operators from illegally exploiting mining sites. Chinese companies are not the only ones being targeted by these measures.

“The prime minister has called on the government to crack down on the perpetrators of this situation, which is also being facilitated by the presence of armed groups that prevent state control,” the Congolese prime minister’s office says.

During a meeting for the council of ministers on 3 September 2021, prime minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde – as per President Félix Tshisekedi’s instructions – made it very clear to the government that the head of state was determined to crack down on the illegal exploitation of mining sites in the country’s eastern provinces. Urgent measures must be implemented to prevent foreign operators from illegally exploiting mining sites throughout the country, the prime minister’s office says.

Suspending activities

Journalist Alain Foka broadcasted a video, which went viral on social media, denouncing various irregularities in artisanal and semi-industrial mining practices taking place within the territory of Mwenga, in the province of South Kivu. Subsequently, on 20 August, Theo Kasi (governor of the said province) announced that the activities of nine companies involved in exploiting minerals, which is considered an illicit activity, would be suspended.

The governor’s entourage explained that the rolling stock and mining machinery belonging to these companies would be “immobilised” until an ad hoc commission, charged with studying “case by case”, had finished its investigation.

We managed to retrieve a document, which states that “the member organisations of the Mines and Natural Resources thematic group of South Kivu civil society” accuse Chinese operators, on the one hand, of illegally exploiting minerals, and, on the other hand, of using chemicals that are harmful to the aquatic ecosystem and the population.

These accusations have not yet been independently verified or formally taken up by the Congolese judicial authorities. However, several Congolese civil society organisations have applauded the “precautionary measures” implemented by Governor Kasi, which are deemed necessary to “restore order to artisanal and semi-industrial mining”, according to representatives.

For its part, Beijing, through the Chinese ambassador to the DRC, says it “referred the matter to the Congolese authorities to verify the truthfulness” of these accusations directed against the companies in question. The Beijing authorities reiterated that they had always asked “Chinese companies and nationals to strictly respect Congolese laws and regulations.” In his message, the ambassador says he is open to investigations “conducted in accordance with the facts” but calls for “resistance to defamation, xenophobia and incitement to hatred.”

An ad hoc committee

In fact, several Chinese operators active in the DRC have been on the defensive ever since Kinshasa indicated that it would like to revisit the mining contracts that were signed with the Middle Kingdom’s industrialists under President Joseph Kabila.

At the beginning of August, an ad hoc committee was set up under President Tshisekedi, which included not only the head of state but also Guylain Nyembo (his chief of staff) and André Wameso (his minister in charge of finance). They are responsible for clarifying data on mineral resources and mining reserves, as well as assessing the activities of Gécamines – of which the state is the sole shareholder – with regard to the operations of its partner, the mining group Tenke Fungurume Mining SA (majority-owned by China Molybdenum).

“There are many other [actors of various] nationalities, besides the Chinese [operators], who are exploiting […] illegally. We are not against foreign investment in our country, but everything must be done in compliance with the texts [of the law] of our country,” says Antoinette Kalambayi N’Samba, the DRC’s minister of mines, in a message widely shared on social media.

It should be noted that in May 2021, President Tshisekedi was so moved by the Congolese “who are still languishing in misery” that he stated his intention to renegotiate mining contracts, including those that Kabila, his predecessor, had concluded with Chinese operators. Finance minister Nicolas Kazadi stressed the need to re-evaluate various contracts that are worth an estimated $6bn.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options